Carlos Irijalba, Pendo 1, 2014, steel, resin, fiberglass, stone powder, 35 1/2 × 82 3/4 × 23 3/4".

Carlos Irijalba, Pendo 1, 2014, steel, resin, fiberglass, stone powder, 35 1/2 × 82 3/4 × 23 3/4".

Carlos Irijalba

Carlos Irijalba, Pendo 1, 2014, steel, resin, fiberglass, stone powder, 35 1/2 × 82 3/4 × 23 3/4".

Viewers already familiar with the work of Carlos Irijalba might have been surprised that his latest show consisted almost solely of sculpture, given that, over the years, he has built a strong reputation with his videos and photographs. However, sculpture is by no means new to him. He studied in Bilbao, where some of his teachers were the chieftains of the so-called Basque school of sculpture, a rather dogmatic group. Perhaps in response to their doctrinaire attitude toward the medium, he veered toward photography, with a particular interest in the ways in which representations of reality are unavoidably obstructed by its ubiquitous contemporary counterpart: spectacle. In making this ostensible obstruction visible, he revealed his oeuvre’s core to be blatantly physical, though the work itself is only very rarely three-dimensional. Most eloquently, in a work called Twilight, 2009, Irijalba moved the lighting posts from a soccer stadium in Santander, Spain, to Irati, which is located in the northern region of Navarre and is one of the few remaining rain forests in Europe. An unequivocal metaphor of spectacle, the huge lighting post stood triumphally over what may seem to be the last stronghold of nature, the ultimate domain of uniqueness.

Spectacle and history are also some of the issues at stake in Irijalba’s latest body of work, “Skins,” 2014–. Many of the caves in northern Spain where prehistoric painting are found were closed to the public starting in the 1970s; in the ’90s, digital technology was used to scan their interiors in order to create replicas that could be visited by large crowds. As the files containing these scans were stored in formats that have since become obsolete, the information in them has become difficult to recover—a problem acutely felt in the case of certain less important caves for which replicas were never made. Following a complex technical process, Irijalba has now given physicality to those forgotten files. They unfold as fragmented replicas made out of stone powder and fiberglass, offering sharp comments on the tension between past and present, serialization and originality, technology and craftsmanship, spectacle and truth.

Here in the gallery, two of those sculptural fragments were leaning on steel industrial props against the wall, but a third prop supported no sculpture at all. This gave the work a sense of a sequential rhythm that seemed to invoke the proliferation of cave replicas created around the world for the sake of mass tourism. Irijalba resorted to ultrasound scanning for data recovery. It provided a detailed account of the caves’ interior surfaces but was obviously unable to pick up images on those surfaces. A question soon arose: What appeal would these caves have had were it not for the wall-painting program that made them so well known? As human evidence in the form of wall paintings is denied here, Irijalba steps back toward a sort of ahistorical scenario, one in which language has yet to develop. The allusion to spectacularized mass production therefore found its paradoxical counterpart in the dullness of these leaning works. Devoid of iconographic content, they exert a sheer monumentality but unfold as utterly unspectacular and rather melancholic forms, as if worn out by the delirious cadence of manufacturing.

This superb body of work evidences the coherence with which Irijalba’s recent practice blends research, process, and presentation. In the corridor leading to the gallery’s back room, a hanging fragment of the Altamira cave unfolded as yet another take on origins and their reproduction. Made from a 3-D scan of the real cave, it provides a rich array of great visual appeal but unambiguously projects its fake condition. Unlike the leaning works, which make clear that they could be subject to endless reproduction, this work is unique, as if highlighting the singularity of the Altamira cave.

Javier Hontoria