New York

David Lamelas

Maccarone | 630 Greenwich Street

Of the many contradictions that inflect “A New Refutation of Time” (1944–47), Jorge Luis Borges’s critique of idealist philosophies, perhaps the greatest comes last: “The world, unfortunately, is real; I, unfortunately, am Borges.” Prior to this line, Borges uses the measured logic of philosophers like George Berkeley—who claims that matter and the self do not exist outside perceptual parameters—to argue that temporal succession is also a mental construct. Borges, however, makes an endgame of idealist doctrine, commandeering its terms in order to negate it, thus reinstating an “irreversible and iron-clad” material order that subsumes time: “Time is the substance I am made of. It is the river which carries me along, but I am the river.”

Borges’s dialectical summation seems a fitting model for discussing the Conceptual practice of David Lamelas. In fact, Lamelas’s silent film Reading of an Extract from Labyrinths by J. L. Borges, 1970, features a woman mouthing the text as subtitles vanish too quickly to be read completely—a hermetic work that, like Borges’s essay, both refutes the temporal flow (by manipulating it) and affirms it (by emphasizing its untamable force). Likewise, the five films that constitute Lamelas’s series “Time As Activity”, 1969–, and that were the main attraction of his first New York solo exhibition since the early ’90s, thematize the problems of time (its framing of our subjective, physical, and visual navigation of the world).

Shot with fixed cameras—sometimes attached to moving vehicles—each film depicts three locations in one city (Düsseldorf, Berlin, Warsaw, Los Angeles, and New York) for the same length of time at different points in the day. Footage of the bustle of pedestrian and vehicular traffic follows that of less populated, more “contemplative” sites, like a parking lot in Warsaw, a fountain in Düsseldorf, and the Statue of Liberty in New York. The most seductive film, dated 2006, is the one of Los Angeles, which combines the serene, uncanny tone of a Bill Viola video, minus the high-tech histrionics, with the spare, elegant action of a Jack Goldstein film. We see the rolling ocean over a man’s shoulder; a woman in black shades on a hilly stretch of Venice Boulevard; and a female night swimmer in a glowing pool in the Hollywood Hills with the shimmering valley as backdrop. As in the other works, each person moves into, then out of, the frame, the camera remaining static (though here the action feels oddly choreographed).

Perhaps unsurprisingly, watching such banal activities is not especially thrilling, and eventually one may even feel that time is being “wasted”—but it is this rendering of time, activity, and viewing as elements of the same current that ultimately makes the films most rewarding. Lessening the putative distance between Conceptual object and subject, Lamelas’s project idealizes all-inclusiveness. Of course, such all-encompassing subjects as “time” and “activity” can never be filmed fully, but it is this half-glimpsed comprehensiveness that gives the visually straightforward work its structural tension. Bolstered by a selection of stills hung in chronological rows like filmstrips, the “Time As Activity” works, as with Reading of an Extract, seem to rail against the rigidity of time by visually extending moments, only to then establish a heightened sense of sequential order.

One Formica and two plywood refabrications of lost or destroyed sculptures from 1965 are less engaging. The most eye-catching is El Super Elastico, 1965/2007, a yellow, green, and blue wooden mass, spreading over the floor and up the gallery walls, which is meant to evoke a rugby shirt. Yet while such reductions of form and color can seem generic, regarded in the light of Lamelas’s films they read more rigorously, as interrogations—and affirmations—of objecthood.

Kyle Bentley