Space is the Medium: Runo Lagomarsino at the DMA

Installation view: Concentrations 61: Runo Lagomarsino, EntreMundos on view at the Dallas Museum of Art through Feb. 17, 2019.  Photo courtesy of the Dallas Museum of Art.

Concentrations 61: Entremundos, on view at the Dallas Museum of Art through Feb. 17, 2019, is the first solo museum exhibition in the United States by Swiss and Brazilian-based artist Runo Lagomarsino, although he has shown work throughout the country.

Entremundos fills two adjacent galleries just off the DMA’s barrel vault which are joined by wallpaper designed by Lagomarsino with the simple, repeated motif of a crusader and caravel, a small Spanish boat common in the 16th century. It’s an interesting gesture; the gold outlined figures are delicate and small, easy to miss if you don’t look closely, a clear reference to the violence of colonial history but rendered so delicate, so subtle, it belies the history of its violent subject matter.  “What I try to do in my work is construct frictions between language, iconography, and dominant narratives—frictions that connect these two spaces and times,” says Lagomarsino.

Lagomarsino’s medium is the installation; physical space and our relation to it are central to the experience of his work. Almost all of the work on view at the DMA forces viewers into motion to experience it in its entirety. In the western gallery Lagomarsino has suspended a number of rolled-up maps, the kind you may have had in your elementary school classroom, from the gallery’s ceiling. The nine maps hang at the height of visitors and are staggered strategically throughout the space, forcing visitors into what Lagomarsino and the DMA’s Associate Curator of Contemporary Art Katherine Brodbeck referred to as a kind of dance. “Maps are given to us, we don’t have any control over how we will see them,” Lagomarsino notes. “I’m not showing the content of these maps and I think it’s a way to give the audience the idea of projecting their own idea of how geography looks. Having them hanging too, avoids the classical, horizontal way of viewing maps.”

West is Everywhere You Look, the title of the closed map piece, gently gestures at the closed nature of our understanding of the world, “West is everywhere you look—West is in our way of looking,” Lagomarsino adds. The Western understanding of the globe may be “embodied,” but Lagomarsino is offering an alternative, proposing to his viewers that they imagine what the maps contain. We may know what is inside, but until the maps are unfolded, perhaps we can imagine something else.

All of Lagomarsino’s work plays gently with the notion of abstraction. “The way you meet your viewer is…in between the images, and you give them many possibilities of how to read a work,” he notes, placing his work in opposition to the more prescriptive strain of political art which populates contemporary museums.

Surrounding West is Everywhere You Look is another abstract piece that places viewers in motion; spaced equally along the gallery’s walls is an enigmatic series of photographs, Crucero Del Norte, which documents a bus journey Lagomarsino took from Buenos Aires to Rio De Janeiro. The trip was performative, a re-creation of the journey his father had taken 36 years earlier when his family was exiled from Argentina. The photographs are a document of the journey but instead of snapping photographs at stops along the way, Lagomarsino waited until he arrived in Rio, where he simply exposed the photographic paper to sunlight, developing the dark images as a way of gesturing towards the limits of representation, especially in the face of loss: “What I hope then, is that the history of this journey is embedded in these prints.”

In the adjacent gallery AMERICAMNESIA, another wall piece composed of hand-stamped letters combining the words “America” and “Amnesia,” serves as backdrop for When Gold Was King, a collection of found pieces of broken pottery reassembled using the ancient Japanese technique of kintsugi, which mends the shattered pieces with gold. “I’m interested in the possibility of fractures and cracks as a point of meeting, the idea of the break and the process of putting them back together is central.”

A pair of Incan quipus are the final objects in the exhibition, flanking the assemblage of poetry. Part of the DMA’s permanent collection, the quipus are delicate woven objects, the purpose of which scholars are just beginning to understand. “It’s been really beautiful to move these quipus from another part of the museum into the contemporary,” Lagomarsino states, “To break that divide and say there is no past per se.” A gesture towards “dissipating the fog of amnesia,” as Lagomarsino notes, and a means of coming full circle for an artist who puts objects but also language back into the flow of discourse, back into the spaces in which it is possible they will move, shift, and open to the possibility of remaining in the flow of history, a history that moves both forward and backward at the same time.