Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle

Donald Young Gallery

Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle has probably passed enough professional milestones—participation in Documenta (in 2007), the Whitney Biennial (in 2000), and various other exhibitions in museums and galleries around the world; receipt of a MacArthur “genius” grant—to indulge himself in a one-liner. Dirty Bomb, 2008, is a full-scale replica of Fat Man, the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki in August 1945, immaculately translated by the artist into white fiberglass and aluminum. Suspended from the ceiling, the bulbous, dirigible-shaped colossus has mud slathering its otherwise pristine snout, much of it dripping to the floor. There’s undoubtedly precious little humor in the arena of dirty bombs, but however much there is Manglano-Ovalle manages to suggest in this somewhat obvious visual pun. Fat Man, though, was the last nuclear weapon actually employed in warfare, and rendering it now as a crisply designed object besmirched with mud seems an earnest gesture, however small, toward leavening the unimaginable, the bomb presented as a sculpture to contemplate.

Juggernaut, 2008, a digital video transferred from 16-mm film shot at the Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve in Baja California Sur in Mexico, seems more in harmony with Manglano-Ovalle’s usual concerns. Stupendously eerie and sober, the work possesses the stately rhythms and suggestive sparseness found in his earlier films. The video opens with a slow tracking shot moving from left to right about eighteen inches above the stark, flat salt plains, a landscape of white crystals extending to the horizon, appearing not unlike an arctic ice field. Spooky and amplified ambient noise adds to the expectant and dramatic quality of this place, which seems to be at once earthly and otherworldly. Suddenly, from the left, seventy-six wheels belonging to an enormous vehicle, perhaps a series of linked flatbed trucks—the camera’s low positioning makes precise identification difficult—begin to crunch their way across the landscape, and off stage right. This sense of human intervention instantly overwhelming the environment gives the film a kind of Herzogian feel, as it presents nature as eternal and humankind as temporary and capable of incredible damage during its relatively brief stay.

Guerrero Negro, 2008, another film shot by Manglano-Ovalle in Baja California Sur, is a loop of ten still images taken in and around the landscape filmed in Juggernaut; in each case the artist has included a figure whose face is never seen and who holds a GretagMacbeth ColorChecker chart. Offering only the type of shot used to evaluate color and tone before the “real” work of representation begins, Manglano-Ovalle zeroes in on the human need to impose frameworks onto nature, and reminds us that photographs are not faithful renderings but manipulated constructions. In each image, various items appear in the background—broken road signs and whale bones, for example—but the camera focuses on the color chart, leaving everything else blurry and secondary. Here, Manglano-Ovalle cunningly shows that the sense of immersion produced by a film like Juggernaut is always an illusion, offering a sobering paean to the photographic play that always precedes and underpins such work.

James Yood