Joseph Magliaro is an American writer and artist living in Beijing. Pash Buzari is a Berlin-based artist whose work was on view in the exhibition Sites, Routes and Traces at Universal Studios-Beijing in November 2007.
As the title suggests, Sites, Routes and Traces is an exhibition concerned with place and the effects of placement. Conceived for the simultaneous staging of three solo positions in a 4000-square-meter gallery space, the exhibition was itself re-sited to Universal Studios’ auxiliary space when it became clear that the main gallery would be under renovation on opening day. What adjustments this shift incurred can’t be guessed, but the resulting three-piece installation by Berlin-based Pash Buzari still offers plenty to negotiate.
Buzari is known for his deployment of a broad range of media that includes sculptures, photographs, films, wall drawings, found objects, and light works. His installation elements often appear formally unrelated, but tend to strengthen each other through an overlapping of theoretical concerns. His Beijing debut is no exception. Buzari offers three spare gestures that adhere to the installation format he presented earlier this year at Galerie Martine Aboucaya in Paris–a large sculptural piece, a text-based wall drawing, and a single photograph. What these pieces have in common is an examination of the contextual production of space and identity.
Buzari’s cast bronze sculpture Stereoopticon (2007) presents an immediate focal point upon entering the exhibition space. The piece features two cast-bronze elements suspended from the ceiling support beams by invisible wires. Each elongated diamond-like framework floats just inches from the concrete floor, belying the density of bronze. A studio lamp positioned to the left of the sculpture projects disparate shadows of each form on the far wall, giving presence to a semblance of the physical objects. This three-part arrangement evokes the work’s namesake–a 19th-century optical device that consists of two vertically mounted projectors used to enlarge and display transparent slides. Buzari’s piece does not present a rigorous reconstruction of a stereopticon, but rather a formal likeness: projector, transparency, and image. While it would be easy to devote one’s attention to the twin bronze “transparencies” dangling from the ceiling, the title of the piece suggests that we are to view all three elements–light source, sculpture, and shadow–as of equal valence. In Buzari’s expanded sculpture, the typically marginalized trace of the object cast upon the wall demands as much consideration as that cast in the smithy.
After relocating our attention from his sculpture to its shadow, Buzari then forces us to step back to take in the nearly 11-meter-long wall drawing Where Does Where Do You Come From Come From (2007). The letters that comprise the piece are uniform in size and proportion, traced from a bold weight sans serif typeface, but they remain incomplete. They appear to have been hastily rendered, each form defined only by a simple unfilled outline. If not for previous works such as Voto x Voto (2007) and Por el bien de todos (2007), which were executed in a similar fashion, one might assume that Buzari simply ran out of time on this one. This work-in-progress appearance does, however, align itself with the sort of off-hand provocation for thinking that the piece seems to propose.
Buzari’s question can be read as a call to examine his work’s immediate context–contemporary Beijing hurtling toward the 2008 Olympics. Despite talk of advanced globalization, open trade routes, mass tourism, loss of dialects, and the homogenization of cultures, the question, “Where do you come from?” remains an essential tool employed to assess an individual’s identity. This basic fact of geographical birthplace remains, it seems, significant to the establishment of social distinction and grounds for interaction.
After walking the length of Buzari’s wall drawing, one arrives at Colima (2006), a C-print that has been float-framed in a deep shadowbox. The content of the image appears unremarkable–rocky undergrowth captured at night, some green ferns in the lower right, the upper two-thirds of the image lost in India ink darkness. Given some time, the image begins to reveal more: several black wires, possibly electrical cables, run left to right across the image, sloping down toward the green ferns. Their function or significance is not revealed by the limited information offered in the picture, or that provided by its title. The title, Colima, is likely a reference to a region of west-central Mexico, or its capital city, which both go by the same name. Colima was one of the first cities in Mexico established by the conquistadors, and is known primarily for its inaccessibility and noninvolvement in Mexico’s political revolutions.
Before us, we can imagine, is an image of a forest in Mexico that has been photographed, removed from its original site, and relocated to a gallery in Beijing. This dislocation is enhanced by the image’s mounting and framing, which lends it a subtle three dimensionality, almost as if it had been cut from the ground like a block of sod. It has been decontextualized and recontextualized, traveling from one remote location to another. Its original history may have been lost along the way, but in its current situation, this mundane image of Colima is invested with new significance. Here, as in Buzari’s two previous pieces, the viewer is invited to consider how arbitrary constructions of place are related to the formation and marginalization of identities. Evoking theory through disparate material forms is a strength for Buzari–one that makes Sites, Routes and Traces worth seeking out.