San Francisco

View of “Alejandro Cesarco,” 2015. From left: Untitled (Blue Frame), 2015; Allegory, or, The Perils of the Present Tense, 2015.

View of “Alejandro Cesarco,” 2015. From left: Untitled (Blue Frame), 2015; Allegory, or, The Perils of the Present Tense, 2015.

Alejandro Cesarco

Kiria Koula

View of “Alejandro Cesarco,” 2015. From left: Untitled (Blue Frame), 2015; Allegory, or, The Perils of the Present Tense, 2015.

Alejandro Cesarco’s show at Kiria Koula comprised two films, a print, and a wall silk screen, each of which revisited his abiding themes of time, memory, and the visual and textual signifiers that mediate our experiences of them—rendering (however imperfectly) such immaterial phenomena communicable. One of the artist’s interests is books, as both material objects and conceptual systems that organize narrative, structuring the relationship between author and reader. He is especially attuned to those aspects of writing that are slightly marginal to the text proper. For example, in a series of works made between 2000 and 2012, Cesarco created indices for unwritten books—keywords and themes that evoke stories obliquely rather than simply tell them, as well as a book consisting solely of reproduced dedication pages, which foreground authors’ personal rather than public readership. Cesarco’s preoccupation with texts and printed matter recalls his Conceptualist and Pictures generation forebears (whom the artist diligently references throughout his work), though he departs from the dry, “administrative” quality of much of this earlier art, instead privileging the lyrical and emotional aspects of language.

The two films on view—composed of sequences of still and moving images, interspersed or overlain with written narratives—felt almost like slide shows because the discrete clips, all shot with a stationary camera, were so uniform in duration. Musings, 2013, recounts dreams, visions, and uncanny incidents through which writers have gained inspiration. Spare black-and-white images—of an inscription on the back of a photograph, the sun coming through the trees, four women dressed in white, a building seen from the street—are accompanied by a male voice-over in Spanish with English subtitles (Cesarco is Uruguayan but based in New York). Clichés and gendered stereotypes about literary genius abound, starting with the mythical female figure of the muse, who appears in several engravings at the beginning of the film. Ultimately, however, the creative process is revealed to be less about the generation of original ideas than a deeply allegorical act of appropriation, translation, and interpretation—techniques that are mirrored in the film’s fragmented formal structure, which brings to mind Walter Benjamin’s description of the practice of allegory as “piling fragments ceaselessly.”

Similar motifs attend Allegory, or, The Perils of the Present Tense, 2015, though here the focus is on reading rather than writing. A young woman alternately peruses a novel and stares into space as a series of generic yet evocative images pass before the viewer, like empty sets awaiting characters and action. Enigmatic texts resemble intertitles from silent films, except instead of providing explanation or dialogue, they disrupt any sense of narrative coherence. The phrases, a number of which are syntactically incomplete, combine melodramatic content with understated tone, mediating on topics such as love, beauty, truth, and the precarious construction of the self via memory and language.

Despite its thematic engagement with allegory, Cesarco’s work is often surprisingly literal—more an illustration of an allegorical mode than an enactment of it. The exception (and my favorite work in the show) was The Dreams I’ve Left Behind, 2015, a diaphanous rectangle of pale-magenta paint silk-screened directly on the gallery wall. Based on a photograph of the wall where the artist’s bed rests, the vague, pulsating shape suggests nothing so much as that ghostly, physiological memory known as an afterimage—an emblem of the deeply phenomenological and subjective nature of perception if there ever was one. As one stares at the piece, however, it slowly becomes what it portrays, burning itself onto the retina, and giving rise to its own hallucinated mirage, which is, of course, only visible once we look away. Here, representation’s allegorical nature is poignantly experienced as both the inexorable drive toward meaning, and its inevitable loss.

Gwen Allen