Eduardo Basualdo at Scrap Metal

My experience of Argentinian artist Eduardo Basualdo’s installations is secondary; my words capture only my imagined voyage through the artist’s monumental light-absorbing installations. The Scrap Metal Gallery has provided photos and a press release as a virtual experience of the show, though, as I flipped through the photo gallery, my eyes longed for more material, my belly’s still not quite full.

Installation view of Eduardo Basualdo, Shedding at Scrap Metal

Though reduced in size by the photographs, the actual exhibition aims to depict the fascination with the “sublime sense of one’s smallness” that Basualdo addresses in his installations. The viewer is faced with a towering boulder. The form is jagged and organic with sedimentary layers that seem earth-like, yet it is entirely matte black which, according to the press release, gives the undertone that the form is alien. The boulders are described as, “landed meteorites still eclipsing light and space”. It has an organic opening that has seemingly been carved away by the elements, large enough for the viewer to enter. Once inside, contrary to the look from the outside, there are holes that allow openings for white light. The pinpricks of light resemble constellations which gives the viewer the feeling of being surrounded by the Earth yet simultaneously encircled by the sky. The meteorites themselves are as much part of the Earth’s landscape as they are beyond the atmosphere.

Installation view of Eduardo Basualdo, Shedding with the outside and inside view of the boulder at Scrap Metal

The light consuming, monumental organic forms seem immovable to the viewer but are deceptive. The shapes are created by using Cinefoil, a light weight and matte-black aluminum foil which absorbs light. The use of the material is inspired by the artist’s background as an actor and puppeteer. The installations mimic the state of being in a black box theatre. The black box theatre allows the viewer to be completely immersed in the action on the stage yet there is a paradox. The dark and quiet atmosphere makes the audience extremely aware of their bodies since any noise will disrupt the performance. The effect of the black box feeling heightens one’s own physical presence while the mind is carried to other realities.

Installation view of Eduardo Basualdo, Shedding at Scrap Metal

Another installation lays low on the ground, the Cinefoil resembling a scorched earth. Encrusted by the ash, human bodies lay haphazardly on the ground, fossilized. Some were petrified while still trying to move, some were captured groveling over the earth, while others laid still as if they had given up and settled down to sleep forever. The site unsettles the viewer as it’s like looking at an archaeological excavation that reminds us of the fate of Pompei. The uniform black material gives the impression of a futuristic event of a meteorite hitting Earth and decimating the land and its people yet the figures come from the faraway past. The scene is terrifying and reminds the viewers of their own physical form and how it is the only body through which they can experience the world. The existence of people is fragile, especially in the presence of such monumental and destructive forces. Looking at the installation make us feel a sense of the sublime indeed; but it is also such a cruel vision.

Installation view of Eduardo Basualdo, Shedding at Scrap Metal

The two Cinefoil installations that share the same room, are interrupted by metal bars that appear to be a blockade but as you have a closer look you recognize that there is enough space in between them for a grown person to pass through. Basualdo in his “world of permeable gates” makes us aware of the absurdity of institutional structures and their function in limiting the freedom of individuals. Purposeful barriers seem to be a part of the aesthetic landscape (such as fences and architecture) until they need to be crossed, when they become controlling devices. One can still find a way to overcome them, as Josi Smit mentions in her introducing essay: “The limits have limitations.”

Installation view of Eduardo Basualdo, Shedding at Scrap Metal

In an interview with Adratus Collection, Basualdo speaks of what this exhibition may mean in the context of the current pandemic, “In relation to this moment we live, I think that it colors everything we see, it cannot be otherwise. We could relate anything we see to what is happening to us today…This work indeed focuses on a collective catastrophe, but hundreds of them happen all the time at all times. They are part of our history and obviously of our future too”. Extreme and uncontrollable situations cause people to step back from their daily routines and look at their lives with more attention. Amidst these artworks, viewers shed their original bodily experience and replace it with a new, more dramatic one, that strips back the layers of institutions for critical review.

Like the props on a stage, Basualdo creates a fictional world set so the viewer can contemplate their lives and bodies. He creates a space for a humbling experience, forcing one to acknowledge their own limitations.

Olivia Musselwhite

Images are courtesy of Scrap Metal Gallery.

*Exhibition information: Eduardo Basualdo, Shedding, February 20 – May 30, 2020, Scrap Metal Gallery, 11 Dublin Street, Toronto. The gallery is temporary closed.

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