View of “Oa4s,” 2016.

View of “Oa4s,” 2016.



View of “Oa4s,” 2016.

As Joyce Carol Oates would have it, “Our lives are Möbius strips, misery and wonder simultaneously.” Yet in a climate of xenophobia, political tension, and violence throughout the European Union, the Amsterdam- and Mexico City–based Oa4s (On All Fours) used this single-planed surface as the prompt for an exhibition heavy on wonder and free of misery. The duo (Michael Ray-Von and Temra Pavlović) positioned the Möbius strip as a literal and figurative motif by which to frame a collection of poetic (if occasionally precious) meditations on atemporality. The exhibition’s weighty title, “The Fencer and the Beekeeper: A Treatise of the Mechanics of Engagement of Two Discrete Objects in Space and the Miracle of Collaboration Outside Time,” introduced the viewer to its protagonists and theme, while the twenty-three-minute looped video work A Spiral Is a Circle Without Hands or Time (all works 2016), installed on the floor of the gallery’s front room, outlined its stakes. The video—surrounded by a wall-mounted fencing glove (Narrator’s Glove), a cast-latex Möbius strip draped over a two-by-four suspended between two sawhorses (Bricolage), and a paper Möbius strip takeaway that served as the show’s press release—was shot in 1857’s vaulted main gallery and depicts the actions of two characters: the fencer, who is positioned as defensive, guarding against her competitor’s attacks, and the beekeeper, who must move forward “to stay one step ahead of the bees.” In the voice-over that accompanies A Spiral, the latter is described as a hobby apiarist and frustrated would-be photographer. “He knows exactly the type of photo he wants to take: one of a true subject, only itself, without a veil of its circumstantial relationship to the camera or to him as a photographer,” the narrator intones, as if the character is seeking to counter Barthes’s notion of “time as punctum,” which inextricably links the photograph to linear time and thus death. When not battling each other, the two characters alternately face off against and interact with sculptural objects that loosely reference their individual pursuits—the fencer sparring near a large spiraled wire (Épée), the beekeeper fiddling with a box of aluminum sheeting and a crude bellows (Hive Box, Hive Lid, and Bee Smoker). Interspersed are illuminating documentary views of the sculptures being constructed on-site by a team of collaborators. They assist and advise each other as they jointly manipulate the metal rod that will become Épée, using a vise charmingly constructed from a hewed tree trunk.

If the show’s theme was primarily asserted via text (in the form of titles and the video’s audio narrative), its nine collaboratively made sculptures demonstrated the collective process that shaped this production. The sculptures are spare and straightforwardly constructed: primarily industrial materials bound together with putty, tape, thread, and other such things. Presented side by side were the handcrafted headgear Fencer’s Mask and Beekeeper’s Hat. Fencer’s Mask is a steel-mesh cage that loosely recalls the protective gear that inspired it. Beekeeper’s Hat is comparatively abstract—an upturned bowl form woven like a straw hat from aluminum wire, with spokes that widen at the headband into a crude brim, and a polyester skirt that billows in soft, fleshy peach folds at the base of its support. Installed on the wall behind the pair was Bundle, a 52-by-116-inch panel to which mounded steel mesh and plaster were adhered. The video lingers on the structure midway through construction, surrounded by tools, tarpaulin, and metal scraps, as the artists mill around it; a later close-up shot follows the hands of the suited-up beekeeper and fencer as they trace the finished work’s contours.

Time is as tricky to pin down as it is to get away from. And this exhibition ultimately left the viewer unclear how Oa4s intended to operate outside it. For that matter, its catalyst, the Möbius strip, is best known as a spatial (rather than temporal) didactic tool—an easy-to-make model whose construction reveals how a two-sided plane can be made into a single unified surface. Yet if, in the end, this show was unable to escape its own time, it succeeded in quietly demonstrating what collaboration looks like.

Cat Kron