7 February – 25 March 2017
“What is this sight?”
“What is it ye would see? If aught of woe or wonder, cease your search.”
Taking a Shakespearean play as source material is a precarious act; tiptoeing between two extremes, one either renders a well worn story anew or weighs down age-honoured words with inappropriate contemporary resonances. Typically the challenge is taken up on in film and theatre, be it Macbeth in feudal Japan, the Taming of the Shrew in an American senior school, or the Young Vic’s sex-doll filled Measure for Measure. Less common are exhibitions which take a grain of Shakespeare and spin it into solid dimensions. Yet, this is exactly where OMR’s latest group exhibition begins, with a snippet of stage instructions: [the QUEEN falls.].
Sourced from the final act of Hamlet, these words are emblazoned in bronze upon the gallery’s exterior; they are a greeting, an indication of where [within the play’s chronology] we enter, and an anticipation of an indeterminable result. Between the stage instruction and the subsequent line, chaos is unleashed: two sets of concrete plans, put into motion by Claudius and Hamlet, are shattered, the dice are rolled and for the briefest of moments any outcome is possible. It is within this space, between the lines, that you enter, stepping onto set a hair’s breath before the second parentheses, before the body has hit the floor. And quite literally the sight before you is a contemporary art contemplation of that stage, sans actors. Arranged around four centralised cement columns (part of OMR’s existing architecture) are five cloud-topped-window shaped canvases by Ugo Rondinone painted in gradients of blue to white, echoing a royal hall (and speculatively the final setting of Kenneth Branagh’s 1996 version of Hamlet). There is a palpable sense of being a courtier awaiting the final flurry of foils. The view out of the stage-set trompe l’oeil windows suggests ascension upwards, the death of our protagonist and our movement onwards.
Climbing the stairs to the usually off limits parts of the gallery, you come across a second set of instructions, [the KING dies], marking a movement forward in time to when fates have been sealed and we have closed in on the curtain call. In the gallery’s showroom are arranged works suggesting an ethereal passage to that “undiscovered country.” A LED lightbox by James Turrell transitions between differing hues, a vivd spectral entity who’s palette of colours alters each time you pass; a loop of bright metal frameworks by Jose Dávila speaks of uncertainty, dominating centre stage with its crumpled form; and across the space the flight of a bird is abruptly ended by Gabriel Rico as it smashes into a glass pane. Onwards Alicja Kwade’s Adimaginemachine presents a contemplation on the realm of dead Kings with an iPhone and rock spun in celestial orbit, tracking the heavens on a 5.5 inch screen.
Out through the library and office you follow in the footsteps of the departing souls of Laertes and Hamlet, onto the patio and up. Until on the rooftop oasis you come to a vantage point looking out across the city and over Avenida Álvaro Obregón to the exhibition’s closing lines. Atop the roof of Hotel Milán, Rondinone has erected a rainbow billboard of bubble writing which reads: WE ARE POEMS, an epitaph to the fallen price and a rumination on our existence as pieces of prose; lines in a narrative whose scope cannot be perceived from the confines of our bodies.
[The Queen Falls. places us within the great halls, libraries and passageways of the court, challenging the visitor to reconsider every space of OMR’s premises as part of a story. The genius of the show is to cast us as ghosts (like Hamlet’s father), spectral entities which occupy the negative space between the scenes of the play, tracking events which have passed or are about to unfold. It is an act of uncovering and analysis, picking up on the remains of a performance and attempting to infer what has transpired. Rather than use art as artworks they serve as stage directions, hinting towards a story we are familiar with but typically read from the page or watch from a seat. Instead, activated by our passage, the gallery becomes a living performance, a container of everything Shakespeare had to say and the countless interpretations that have been lain atop his lines. It is without a doubt one of the best renditions I have ever seen.
Elliott Burns is an independent curator, exhibition production-er, writer, ex-artist, sometimes photographer, occasional teacher, approximate art technician, able bartender, decent cook, events co-ordinator, budget organiser, spreadsheet handler, competent admin-er, and happy copy-editor.
Since graduating from MA Culture, Criticism and Curation at Central Saint Martins he has worked exhibition production on Art Night, a one night contemporary arts festival in central London, and co-curated What Do You Meme?, an exhibition of meme culture. Recently he has co-founded Off Site Project, an online exhibition space.
[The Queen Falls. is at OMR gallery, Mexico City, until 25 March 2017.
Featured image: We are poems (2011), Ugo Rondinone