Martin Soto Climent

The site-specific show titled “The Intimate Revolt”—quoting the book of the same name by Julia Kristeva—literally closed itself off from the viewer: The gallery was locked and could not be entered. Instead, one had to view the show through a long rectangular slot set into an interior wall that separated the exhibition space from the gallery’s entryway. How disorienting to find oneself standing before a locked door during a gallery’s open hours, and to have to view the show from a distance! The exhibition was thus reduced to a framed picture. We wandered through it with our eyes rather than our bodies.

Mexican artist Martin Soto Climent is known for his graceful manipulations of found objects, which he combines, recasts, and arranges to create poeticized and eroticized artifacts not unlike Surrealist objets. In his first solo show in Switzerland, he presented two series. “Phantasy of an Immigrant Dream,” 2009, consists of seven worn-looking broomsticks whose brush ends have been replaced with both new and frayed hairpieces. Leaning against the wall—gaunt sculptures threatening to topple over—they lend a rhythmic structure to the space. Along with these, Soto Climent also presented samples from a series that has been in progress for quite some time now: “Tights on Canvas,” 2007–. True to the title, these are white, medium- format canvases, each of which has one or two pairs of nylon stockings stretched across it. Some of the stocking feet hang down like dripping paint, and the series as a whole makes reference to both abstract painting and the female nude.

Like many of the everyday objects used by Soto Climent, stockings, brooms, and fake hair carry multiple layers of association. A title like “Phantasy of an Immigrant Dream” helps give those associations a more specific focus: The figure of the immigrant typifies a subject with utopian hopes that gradually wane as hardships exceed the fulfillment of these dreams. Are the worn hairpieces melancholy signs standing in for the longing for another identity and a more glamorous reality? Can the brooms on this polished stone floor, which no one is allowed to walk on and sully, be understood as an allegory for social obligations taken to the point of absurdity? The separation between subjectivity and objectivity, representation and reality, is performed here by the act of peering through the window. But the weight of such topics is mitigated by the charm of the objects themselves, which, like all of Soto Climent’s works, perform a balancing act between melancholy, seriousness, and humor. The stocking pictures, with their naked canvases and splayed legs, join the brooms with hairpieces in marking the absence of the body and the insistence of its desires. And it was amusing as well as discomfiting to be forced into the role of voyeur while peering through the window. With this estranged gaze, Soto Climent forced us to confront the way in which we go through the motions of life blindly, as our perceptions and imaginations become more and more impoverished.

Valérie Knoll

Translated from German by Oliver E. Dryfuss.