NOWs: Altbau by Alvaro Urbano
Friday, 24 November 2017
6:00 – 9:00 pm
Alvaro Urbano’s installation evokes and distorts deceivingly generic spaces that ultimately escape into inaccessibility, unfamiliarity and abandonment. The exhibition completely appropriates the three stories of the gallery, inviting the visitors to step into the everything-is-possible realm and to fall in and out of this artist’s fiction.
Alvaro Urbano’s installation Altbau evokes and distorts deceivingly generic spaces that ultimately escape into inaccessibility, unfamiliarity and abandonment. The exhibition completely appropriates the three stories of the gallery. On the basement level, metallic cigarette butts and withered leaves linger on the floor next to an invented infrastructure made up of paper pipes and paper ventilation shafts. One story up, paper and cardboard boxes—made out of metal like the letters—are scattered across a grey carpet, underneath the suspended paper ceiling. A corridor guides the viewer past shut office doors. Upstairs in the attic, unaddressed letters pile up below the mail slot in the entrance door. On the walls, Urbano’s collection of anime cellophane backgrounds from the 80s, on watercolour paper. They are exhibited in diorama-esque frames that curve inwards to create a trompe-l’œil of depth. Their bent flatness and their generic papery presence resembles the spaces downstairs, they too are backgrounds for unidentified protagonists.
All the artefacts and infrastructure on show were made by Urbano, using paper with printed textures and hand-painted metal. The effect of this camouflage is a mixture of stepping into the everything-is-possible realm of a rendering window where texture-tiles are seamlessly plastered onto cylinders, spheres and squares, and touching the actual fragility of a physical sketch model.
An office space feels real to most of us, although the generic office itself, much like the mythical non-place, is a powerful illusion. It is meta-fiction composed of a grey carpet that fits but not perfectly, a suspended ceiling with light and acoustic panels, cardboard boxes that have contained office supplies and documents, stacks of loose paper that fed a bulky photocopy machine—I think of office gossip and bored interns. Urbano’s office could be anywhere and anytime. It entices with pretend-familiarity: Haven’t we all walked past rows of shut doors, disoriented? Haven’t we all waited downstairs, by the vents, next to an impatient woman with lipstick and a nervous man with a moustache, pacing and smoking Parisienne Rouge?
And yet, Altbau is weirdly dreamlike, it is other and it is inverted. In Urbano’s universe, the camouflaged materiality takes on a fictional existence and the viewer hovers somewhere between the representation of a space and the evasive idea that makes something feel real. The installation invites the viewer to step in for an absent protagonist-inhabitant of this abandoned office and its locked rooms, and it simultaneously prevents any interaction. The installation excludes and frustrates on a material level: if you were to look for traces or information in one of the sealed letters, its metal edges would resist viciously. Paper is metal and infrastructure is paper: the art work’s materiality creates its own fictional temporality that exists right here and elsewhere—somewhere you can’t quite picture: the backdrop of a painted story, a cartoon or anime universe that we can watch but never enter. Urbano’s Altbau promises and withholds our entry into that space on paper, behind the screen, within sealed metal and beyond paper doors. This is what it feels like to fall in and out of fiction.
Text by Natalie P. Koerner
All images by Trevor Lloyd; Courtesy the Artist and ChertLüdde, Berlin