Nando Alvarez-Perez: Portentology

Review

Nando Alvarez-Perez: Portentology

By Forrest McGarvey November 14, 2017

An uncanny feeling strikes immediately at the entrance of Portentology, a solo exhibition by Nando Alvarez-Perez currently at Interface Gallery in Oakland. Eclectic objects paired with brightly colored digital prints—some with dowsing pendulums attached—and a central seating area for reading the I Ching occupy the gallery space. The result is a lighthearted atmosphere that straddles the subjective line between satirical self-awareness and occult kitsch, and yet retains the tension between seduction and unease that is so often experienced when encountering the unknown. By analogizing portentology—the ancient Chinese practice of astral divination—with a contemporary desire to find meaning among our objects and media, Alvarez-Perez inverts the assumption that a work has an inherent truth or meaning. Here, it is the viewer who is responsible for constructing the final meaning and message, which are reportedly hidden somewhere within the exhibition.

Alvarez-Perez skillfully utilizes open-endedness, providing space for an unhurried exploration of his constructions of images and objects. In Existential Coping Complex II (City of Illusions) (2017), a glass shelf displays a variety of items—old books, geodes, small ceramics, and a potted sativa plant—next to an unframed print on aluminum. Looking through everything feels familiar, like perusing a friend’s living-room bookcase, or items in a boutique. In the nearby image, a Polaroid camera and loose flowers are illuminated by a vivid, electric green light. Standing upright is a copy of Ursula K. LeGuin’s book City of Illusions, whose cover features a large, moonlike cat eye. Towering over pale pink ceramic pieces (which physically appear in another work, titled Existential Coping Complex I) is a sculpture of a cat wearing Egyptian adornments. The cat is the most central aspect of the image, and leads the eye to a backdrop of soft-focus marijuana leaves.

Nando Alvarez-Perez. Dowsing Unit I (Pantaliamon), 2017; pendulum dowser by Sarah Cathers, dye-sublimation print on aluminum, pendulum dowser (silicon carbide, plastidip, sterling silver); 18 x 45 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Interface Gallery.

Using repetitious forms and related objects—the cat eye and statue, the living plant and its matching motif on the tapestry, the science-fiction novels and the cosmic tie-dye sheet covering the table—Alvarez-Perez is asserting that connections exist between these carefully selected things, and that they are meaningful rather than arbitrary. In the materials list for Existential Coping Complex II, Alvarez-Perez lists each object in great detail, including the names of the authors and the artists of certain objects in his vignettes. While he may intend to provide these as helpful clues, the added information also alienates those who are unfamiliar with the names or stories. How you might connect the disparate elements varies infinitely depending on what or who you know, and instead of using what is presented to divine personal fate, the viewer is more easily occupied with solving a puzzle. When one attempts to consider it all together, Portentology’s tableaus betray the notion of a singular, authorial code. Quite effectively, the work draws you in only to spit you back out, and insists on its own indifference toward your decision whether to pursue a subjective process of association, or to contemplate a larger metaphysical conversation about coping with uncompromising existential conflict.

Nando Alvarez-Perez. Existential Coping Complex II (City of Illusions), 2017; chalcedony sourced by Anna Nearburg, ashtray by John Zane Zappas, dye-sublimation print on aluminum, tempered glass, chrome brackets, blue chalcedony, The Snail on the Slope by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky, Nebula Maker and Four Encounters by Olaf Stapledon, The Centauri Device by M. John Harrison, The Claw of the Conciliator by Gene Wolfe, The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester, ceramic vase, Purple City Shapeshifter marijuana clone, soil, wooden ashtray, sativa ash, ceramic tile, found images, Polaroid; 50 x 30 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Interface Gallery.

But where does that leave us? Alvarez-Perez's play between didactic gesture and mimetic representation captures the shaky ground on which reality currently seems to exist, for when we seek truth, even the most earnest gaze is not immune to the illusion of coincidence. Unfortunately, to simply point this out—regardless of how clever the method—leaves one wanting. To be reminded of our own futility serves no other purpose. An unhealthy reliance on objects and images may be all there is to bring comfort during moments of crisis, when the ability to reach a satisfying conclusion seems permanently out of reach. Perhaps portentology is the answer, and all we need to do is keep looking.

Portentology is on view at Interface Gallery in Oakland through November 26, 2017.

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