On and Off the Stage: Cristy Almaida and Angela Valella
by Matha Betancourt
On November 30, 2012 The Nightclub hosted an artistic production titled ‘On and Off the Stage’ by artists Cristy Almaida and Angela Valella at the Buena Vista Building in the Design District. The collaborative exhibition by the two Florida International University BFA students involved the implementation of a seamless orchestration between the workings of site specific installations, videos and performance.
The body of work was comprised of four installations which were presented in unison; all images, sound and movement complementing and feeding each other in an arresting cacophonous concert. Almaida’s Proj-ekt Pruh-jekt Rocks included a lit table on which various scratching and marking instruments, magnifiers, press tapes and a projector were haphazardly scattered. The items vocalized a participatory invitation to the audience for the purposes of splicing, editing and marking on a 16mm film about freight transportation called Why Communities Trade Goods. The lit table was anchored on two cinder block columns which Almaida carried and placed in situ herself. Visitors were welcomed to etch their musings onto the film and the resulting footage was projected at the end of the production.
In Bedrock: Pin-Pang-Pung, Almaida featured a video projected onto a fold bed suspended from the ceiling at the center of the gallery. Filmed from a bird’s-eye view and shown only up to the wrist, Almaida’s restless hand jitters in obfuscated labor. The dexterous hand deftly arranges, displaces, and manipulates a thin layer of rocks. Again and again, the hand builds a solid patchwork of rocks only to later clear a path straight through it. It subsequently distorts the winding path, erasing it with one onerous gesture. An orange tabby meanders through the metaphysical quarry with abandon, and the image of a horse made by aggregated rocks evaporates as her hand dissolves the composition by dismissing rock pieces into abstract forms once again. Structuring a mandala, Almaida erects forms and edifices; then, in muted acquiescence, surrenders to impermanence erasing all evidence of tangible outlines. The video is transposed with suggestions of the early medieval artistic device employed in painting of the Manus Dei (the hand of God), an artifice which here appears to contest the role of the divine in the theatre of human existence. A query unfolds before our eyes, one which is skeptical of the role determinism and fate irrespectively play between the itinerant path of human lives, and the veiled forces that propel them.
On the other half of the fold bed, rocks continue to be amassed and redirected on top of a metro map. The pebbles are marched along the map’s winding roads and freeways to be assembled randomly like steered pockets of population. At times, the little rock mounds hang precariously close to the water’s edge denoted in blue on the map, but every time they are guided with trepidation by the omnipotent hand onto solid ground. The underlying thematic of the videos entices a meditation on cryptic notions of predetermined destinies, self- fulfilling prophecies and the manifestation of resolute aspects of self-directed effort.
Beneath Almaida’s suspended fold bed, the light of a video projection is obstructed by a large bolder made of plaster and metal mesh in Angela Valella’s One Must Imagine Him Happy. The bolder blocks the projection distorting the transit of light, simultaneously bisecting the physical space continuum between the projector and the wall the image is displayed on. The conspicuous arrangement invites scrutiny; thereby prompting a
compulsory play on depth perception. It not only creates form juxtapositions between a dense object and the hollowed out vacant image on the wall; it also intimates a spatial dialogue between the dichotomy of the boulder’s inert mass and the transience of light. The content of the projection is rendered faceless by the boulder as light, bathing in its most evanescent quality, bounces off the hollowed stone in incremental pauses and travels unabashedly toward the wall in swollen shadows and valleys of white.
Angela Valella’s second piece is a video installation projected onto the back wall of the gallery titled Gliding wrapt in mantle, hooded. Here, an array of objects: wooden box, cellophane paper, photo paper rolls, glass panes acrylic box, light boxes, roll of acetate paper, lamp and a glass vase populate the space in an illumined parade extending at short intervals across the floor. The single channel video projection is forced to navigate the space piercing the forms and materials in its path. The prescribed shapes and sizes result in a graphic composition suggestive of a Dada inspired collage. On the wall, geometric shapes are manipulated into a simulated Bauhaus arrangement reminiscent of Kandinsky’s 1923 On White II. With clinical acuity, a gloved hand commands the film as it saturates the recurring image with latent tension and suspense. Driven by a neurotic compulsion and dressed as a hooded instrument, the hand incessantly formulates the layered visual scape which continuously mutates from geometric shapes to linear anthropomorphic configurations.
The artists’ preoccupation with notions of time and duration, routines and repetition, indeterminacy and impermanence was articulated in a holistic expression which manifested throughout the entire exhibition. Their approach allowed the aleatory to permeate the exhibit in a creative process where the procedural denominator was the collective production of meaning through experiential venues. The audience was seduced into a complicit stance by being invited to alter Almaida’s film strip, thus actively engaging in the creative process crafting the final product. Others unknowingly contributed in a more passive condition as, unaware of the matrices of the environment their bodies occupied, many became impromptu living screens by standing in the light of the projectors. With measured orchestration and passive withdrawal, the artists allowed the space, the ambient and projected light, and the humming presence of the audience circulating in and out of the gallery in anticipation of the final showing, to become co-conspirators in the element of performance. People congregated in inquisitive units around the lit table, observed Valella’s curated obstacle course gaging its projection from a distance, and made complete turns around the boulder in search of a hidden clue, all the while articulating the distance light traveled from the projector, to the boulder, until it reached the wall. In the process, the space became an active signifier in the context of relational aesthetics as interpreted by this exhibition. The continued mutability of the gallery space informed by the human factor, the physicality of the arresting lit table which acted like a flame calling moths to its warmth, and the projected images resonating in loop with perpetual self- generating meaning; all contributed to a gradual process of indeterminate transformation taking place in a responsive temporal sphere.
The work concluded with Almaida’s audience-edited footage. Engrossed in the mechanization of the projector, Almaida threaded the reel as an intimate grouping remained in the gallery. This piece personifies Almaida’s thematic which touched on concepts of movement, displacement and a feeling of constant flux. She insinuated the concern through the abnegating process of moving the pebbles in her video, transporting the cinder blocks to the gallery, and the edited film’s perceived commentary on the engrained nature of movement in the human experience. Whether in trucking freight, or the exchange of ideas, knowledge and information, all of our routines are predicated by some aspect of movement. In addition, the participatory nature of the work, the placing of the installations within the gallery space, and the marked duration of the final piece, all invited and instigated the movement of people and ideas through malleable swaths of light and space within the prescribed environment. The final edited piece echoed a Fluxus art piece of 1962 called Piano Activities, where a group of artist friends joined in playing, scratching, rubbing, plucking, striking and dropping a piano until there was nothing useful left of it. In her altered film piece, Almaida records elements of deconstruction, duration in lapsed time, transformation, the absence of determination, and relinquished control.
A sanguine fume envelops the projected image as the recorded marks display across the film. Ancient life forms in the guise of bioluminescent bacterial microorganism crawl on the film’s surface as if navigating a bloody circulatory system. Ethereal shapes adhere to the fiery red wall while white forms puncture the film; their immaterial essence suggestive of an unknown dimension, a source from where a glowing white light moves in our direction...and the piece reminds us of Spinoza’s warning that, “time is out there, eaten by light”.