Lara Almarcegui, Rocks of Spitsbergen (Svalbard), 2014, self-adhesive vinyl, dimensions variable.

Lara Almarcegui, Rocks of Spitsbergen (Svalbard), 2014, self-adhesive vinyl, dimensions variable.

Lara Almarcegui and Mohamed Namou

Lara Almarcegui, Rocks of Spitsbergen (Svalbard), 2014, self-adhesive vinyl, dimensions variable.

A shared concern for the composition of territory was revealed through a visual dialogue between works by eminent Spanish artist Lara Almarcegui and Mohamed Namou, a recent graduate of the École National Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Such intergenerational pairings are favored by mor charpentier, and in this case, the common vocabulary that emerged from the artists’ concrete conversation enabled a deeper understanding of each practice.

On the ground floor, Almarcegui’s Rocks of Spitzbergen (Svalbard), 2014, plainly listed, in crisp black text on the gallery’s white wall, the range of mineral deposits (carbonate to vulcanite in kilometers cubed) present within land the artist has leased on a Norwegian island. “My project consists of acquiring the mineral rights to a subterranean mineral deposit, which is not being exploited, with the intention of studying it,” Almarcegui recently explained.To either side of this tally, the feathery pencil lines of two large-scale drawings, Mineral Rights: Magnetic measurements of iron deposits, Graz and Mineral Rights: Magnetic measurements of iron deposits, Tveitvangen, Oslo (Norway), both 2016, reflected her tentative, nonproprietorial gaze upon two other sites she had chosen for close inspection. The loosely rendered veins of iron ore—otherwise invisible forms detected with a magnometer—are here rendered for the first time in large format (fifty-five by thirty-nine inches) on white paper. “I like iron,” she says, “as it is a structural material that is essential to modern architecture.” She values its ubiquity and accessibility: “Iron ore is certainly not a precious or unusual mineral—it is amazingly cheap.”

While Almarcegui’s drawings charted natural occurrences of this ubiquitous urban material, Namou’s works privileged richly foliated, polished slabs of marble extracted from Belgian quarries. In the lower-level gallery, the mottled granite boulders that dominate the still frames of Almarcegui’s video Mineral Rights, Tveitvangen (Norway), 2015, anticipated the finished surfaces that extend from Namou’s two works. Both were titled Scholie, 2016, referring to scholia, scholarly comments found in the margins of a text. In these works, undulating slices of gray-veined pink marble emerge, like tattoo-covered arms, from openings in cotton canvases that have been thickly layered with dark acrylic and glue. The larger of the two Scholie rested on the floor, presumably because of the great weight of its marble elements, making it a sort of sculpture-painting.Its cracked surface, revealing gashes of dark-red acrylic beneath an uppermost layer of black, attested to the physical pressure that Namou has forced the work to endure. But the practical solution of connecting the work to the ground beneath it also allowed for its expansion into the surrounding space. As if plugged into the very structure of the gallery, the brightly illuminated work became a plastic commentary on its given context.

Questions of territory are likewise central to the determination of mineral rights: fixing boundaries, identifying and mapping exploitable contents, and assigning the resulting profits. Sovereignty, citizenship, and the legal status of land further mold the nature of territory—not to mention the power of international mining corporations and the degree of complicity and corruption of local authorities. For some thinkers (Maurice Halbwachs, for example), territory is essential to the definition of a group’s identity within the collective memory. The idea makes sense: A culture or religion—and certainly the art world—needs places to visit and congregate in order to affirm shared histories and rituals. But what happens when the underlying matter is mapped and mined, as in Almarcegui’s and Namou’s work? How does this shape the conception of a community or a country? In today’s terror-stricken and socially reactionary France, at the heart of a Europe that has been thrown into doubt, these earnest examinations of boundaries and content were sharp and timely.

Lillian Davies