Itziar Okariz / Marie-Ange Guilleminot

The underlying impetus for showing the work of Basque artist Itziar Okariz and French artist Marie-Ange Guilleminot together remains obscure. Beyond gender and the geographic proximity of their home countries, there is little to link these two artists. Nonetheless, each artist merits consideration in her own right.

Though yet to receive a comprehensive solo show, Okariz is a familiar figure on the Spanish art scene, which is due, in part at least, to the group show “Años 90. Distancia Cero” (The ’90s. Distance zero) curated by José Luis Brea in 1994, in which her work first appeared. With their irreverent tone, her early artistic efforts breathed fresh air into the Spanish art world. The self-portraits in the series “Variations sur la même t’aime” (Variations on the same love you/theme, 1992) are a case in point. In one of the manipulated photographs, the face of the artist, who is clad in a blue coat dress, is superimposed on that of a weight lifter, his arms crossed. In another, Okariz lifts her eyes beneath spiky bangs like a virgin in ecstasy; over her face is printed “Variations sur la même t’aime,” a kind of Duchampian play on words (“t’aime” could be “thème”).

The same air of confidence envelops the eight color photographs shot at high speed, which capture Okariz dancing inside a room, perhaps her studio. At the same time, a video catches the viewer’s attention in which the artist’s torso, clad in a flowery shirt, moves to the agitated rhythms of Siouxie and the Banshees’s “Red Light,” a song from 1980 which has particular significance for her. These pieces recall ’70s Body Art (for example, some of Bruce Nauman’s pieces), and stand in sharp contrast to much of the less spirited art of the ’90s.

Viewed in the context of Okariz’s work, Guilleminot’s pieces take on a ghostly character—and not only because the performance that she carried out during her stay in Bilbao consisted of walking through the city in the middle of the night, like a specter, decked out in a reflective tunic. During her stroll the artist cast a phosphorescent dust on the ground, which outlined her handprints and footprints. According to Guilleminot, the people reacted in the following way: “For some I was an apparition, for others an angel, even a madwoman. I think that inside the city they saw me with religious implications that provoked fear in some, but also respect.” Beyond this somewhat stereotypical interpretation of Spanish culture, the videotaped image of this sparkling figure (always seen from behind) recalls the sophistication and mystery of perfume ads. Next to the video, the exhibition room houses a phosphorescent bag and hanger/mannequin on which shimmers the white dress Guilleminot used for her stellar journey to the end of night. In earlier shows, Guilleminot manufactured impossible apparel that could be worn by either gender—clean and immaculate, stylishly designed clothes.

In reflecting on the esthetics of the body, both these artists employ diverse techniques to radically different effect. Guilleminot and Okariz have little more in common than the space they shared at this new art center.

Juan Vicente Aliaga

Translated from the Spanish by Vincent Martin.