The Douglas Hyde Gallery has just re-opened following its closure in March as Trinity College Dublin took precautionary measures against the potential spread of Covid-19. One of the exhibitions that can now be seen is Spending Static to Save Gas by Mexican Artist Gabriel Kuri.
A chance observation by a relative sparked the idea behind the latest work of Mexican artist Gabriel Kuri.
We’ve all gone to some pretty extreme measures to save money on the heating bill; after all, there’s a reason why the Irish mammy obsessing over the immersion being left on is a meme in and of itself. But when a family member came to visit Brussels based sculptor Gabriel Kuri, he discovered a cost-cutting measure that soared past extreme and into the absurd.
“We have a relative who is very tight with money,” explains Kuri. “And once he came to our apartment and said, ‘Ah, I can’t believe how you can live with such high ceilings! I would put up a sheet of plastic and save on energy!’”
While Kuri didn’t go to his nearest hardware store to try lower his ceiling, the idea percolated in the back of his mind. When he was invited by the Oakville Gallery in Toronto to create a new exhibition in collaboration with The Douglas Hyde Gallery, he saw an opportunity to exercise this bizarre concept. Now the exhibition, spending static to save gas, makes its way to the Dublin for what Kuri considers chapter two of the show.
Like most of the Trinity Arts Block, The Douglas Hyde Gallery is a prime example of brutalist architecture. Angular concrete walls combine with huge open spaces to make an imposing room. This makes Kuri’s centerpiece, a DIY static shield that halves the gallery ceiling, even more of a deliciously absurd proposition to those familiar with the space.
“When I first saw the gallery, I thought they would have a very high consumption of energy because of the anatomy of the space,” Kuri says. “Of course, this is a little bit of an exercise in futility, because we invested nearly all of the budget of the exhibition in creating this device that in the end, is going to save only a little bit of money. But part of this meditation is trying to think about whether sculpture is an act of adding, or if maintaining is also a way of making sculpture.”
There’s a rich vein of irony running through the project; after all, it costs almost as much money as it will ‘save’ and Kuri would be the first to admit he’s not proposing any kind of viable environmental solution. To my mind, the static shield reflects our own society’s obsession with ‘practical’ technological progress, even when it becomes far more unwieldy and un-ntuitive than simply changing our day-to-day actions.
Dotting the panels of the static shield are the assorted remnants of lives lived; cigarette butts, discarded pennies, dead moths. “I kind of, tongue-in-cheek, say that I don’t know how these things ended there, they just accumulated. But it’s sort of the debris that you would find on top of a dropped ceiling or behind a false wall. It’s funny that very often you wouldn’t be able to explain how they got there.
“I’m constantly driven to comment on these traces that I think are part of the sculpture of everyday life. I think rather than things neatly and purposefully lying in the middle of a very precisely lit environment, sculpture is about a lot more than that. There’s a lot in the incidental that I think tells me more about the nature of sculpture than, let’s say, the more conventional and canonical way.”
In addition to the dropped ceiling, Kuri has also altered the make-up of the gallery with smoke drawings that snake along the walls of the gallery, created by burning sheets of paper printed with figures that relate to the logistics of the dropped ceiling and the estimated cut of the energy bill. To Kuri, it was important that all these figures were correct before they were used to scorch the gallery walls.
“But again, all this information becomes just stuff. And that’s another commentary that I want to make in light of this being an exercise in futility. You go to these lengths to find something that, in the end, becomes background music. Or a necessary step that you needed to take in order to muffle it or ignore it, just to see what was on the other side.”
I suggest to him that in the internet age, the sheer volume of information available about the ramifications of our actions can become paralyzing.
“Yes, and where do you draw the line? Of how much you feel you’re in control of the consequences of whatever it is that you do. Your choices are enabled by a series of conditions, and all these have consequences too, so where do you draw the line in order to be able to move forward? Unfortunately, some of the consequences our lives have are not the most welcome, or ones you would feel proud about.”
Tying the exhibition together are four sculptures in the center of the space. Presented in thermally insulated wooden cases, the sculptures are pristine, with each piece sitting snuggly in foam, or resting carefully on the cases. Kuri wanted the works to feel like kits, ready to be deployed in any art space. Rather than making some statement about art coming pre-packaged, the utilitarian nature of the sculptures is very much part of the appeal for him.
Objects found on the ceilings are magnified in the four sculptures; cigarette butts become a foot long. Moth wings are made out of huge transparent plastics. But to Kuri, there’s no symbolism behind the scale.
“Experience is something that is vast, like staring out the window. And then we have to extract that experience and code it into the language, and the plasticity of the form. And, of course, there’s something that happens with scale, and I don’t know what it is, I don’t think I could define it in quantitative terms. But this is why I think enlarging or reducing is well within the nature of abstraction.”
“I think that there is a lot of eloquence in the normality of life, if you’re in the right mode and you’re able to perceive and re-create it,” he continues. “That is the type of experience I’d like to convey in my work. And through that familiarity, I would like to connect with the audience. That’s probably the hardest thing, I want my work to have that immediacy.”
Words: Jack O’Higgins
Photos: Louis Haugh