This was art that transformed the museum viewing experience by plunging us into the sacred. It even transformed the language we used to think about art into language that described the sacred: looking became “viewing”; moving through became “observing”; thinking became “contemplation.” As we entered the exhibition, the intense reverence of the space overwhelmed us. Sculptures looked like coffins, half-buried, furniture incomplete or disappearing, wood, steel, cloth, animal skin – all created that space where things are dense and heavy, yet disappearing and irrecoverable. A space impossible to travel through, as in “to see the end.”
Atrabiliarios was installed in a room that was in a section of the exhibit where much of the work interwove the gossamer and delicate with the heaviness of wood and steel. A grim guard stood in the very center, occasionally using a radio device and otherwise silently observing our behavior. As we approached the entrance, austere and still, we noticed blurred shoes; perhaps these were life-size paintings, or actual physical shoes inserted into the walls. This was ambiguous until we arrived at an intimate distance, right at the wall. A revelatory horror stunned us. We walked side to side and discovered that these were real women’s shoes – some solitary, most in pairs, inserted into small rectangular vertical alcoves in the wall, covered in a thin animal membrane that rendered them yellowed and blurry. They seemed ready for the wall to swallow them up; encasement was not enough, but too much to bear. The flat membranous alcove covers had been stitched into place with black surgical thread, and the shoes stood vertically on their tiptoes. In the corner of the room there were several stacks of slightly larger boxes also entirely constructed out of animal membrane, like packages or moving boxes. These looked empty and fragile, and were not visible from the entrance into the room.
The room felt like a memorial to a mass-murder, with a strong ghostly presence of encasing, missing, shutting in, and blurred memory. The animal membranes, like frozen blocks of yellow ice or thin, aged shrouds, obscured the shoes as they dragged our gaze through flesh that was once alive. Layers of meaning surfaced slowly. The empty, impotent boxes provided additional hollow to the vacant shoes, whose cavities also were empty. They appeared haunted as they near levitated in their tightly fitting alcoves, surrounding the room at eye-level, to be viewed in a row, not a grid. The spacing between them seemed to have some significance as to when the people departed, or how many people went missing during particular periods of time, leaving voids, empty boxes, and sutured hollows. Into these hollows, with their presentation of loss and the persistence of a visible emptiness, inhabited by missing things, we grasped for a way to make these objects and these spaces complete again.