View of “Rometti Costales,” 2016. Photo: Paul Nicoué.

View of “Rometti Costales,” 2016. Photo: Paul Nicoué.

Rometti Costales

View of “Rometti Costales,” 2016. Photo: Paul Nicoué.

For this show of work by Julia Rometti and Victor Costales, who exhibit as Rometti Costales, the gallery’s window was a surface of both transparency and obstruction. On one side was mounted a 35-mm slide, turned red from long exposure to daylight, showing a statue of an Aztec god with plants tattooed on his arms and legs (Xochipilli in Magenta, 2014). The slide was made from a reproduction in the catalogue of the Museo Nacional de Antropologia de México. Like those threatening sculptures that flank the entrances to Asian temples, the image of the statue protected the exhibition from the outside. On the other side of the window, two framed black-and-white photographs were placed back-to-back, one facing inward and one facing out to the street, depicting the skin of a rattlesnake arranged in a diamond-shaped diagram, with one of the reptile’s vertebrae at the center (Summer solstice angle [repeat], 2016). This was a cryptic reference to the little-known practice of crotalometry, whose spatiotemporal unit of measure is the rattlesnake. Although the snake vertebra was a fundamental element of Mayan civilization, from mathematics to religion, from astronomy to architecture, the Yucatán poet and anthropologist José Díaz Bolio’s mid-twentieth-century efforts to replace geometry with crotalometry soon sank into oblivion.

Beyond the entrance, the space was blocked off by Le mur de pluie, courtesy Azul Jacinto Marino (Wall of Rain, Courtesy Azul Jacinto Marino), 2016, a barrier of braided palm leaves, a material used to cover and waterproof straw huts in the American tropics. This motif took on dynamic form at the end of the exhibition, in a 16-mm film, Palm Reading, Reading Palms, 2014, that plays on the homophonic relationship (in both Spanish and English) between the palm tree and the palm of the hand.

In the disorienting universe of Rometti Costales, something of each work’s conceptual and visual complexity is always held in reserve. The moldy fragment of a Roman column, at one time stored in the warehouse of a French museum, lacks further identification and thus cannot be classified (Forme à astéries [Shape in Asterias], 2016) acacia branches were discretely arranged in the corners of the exhibition space, like sculptures by André Cadere (Escalas psiconáuticas de un espacio de igualdad en flor I–IV [Psychonautic Scales of a Space of Equality in Bloom], 2015). Above all, the spread-out pages of an artist’s book, Blue has run, 2016, based on a 1979 catalogue of fabrics from Chiapas, convey, with an abundance of details, the textiles’ dimensions, material, patterns, color combinations, function, and state of preservation. The images are reproduced in low definition and the texts are elliptical, with only a few words floating on the empty space of the page. It is in one of these fragments that the exhibition’s title appears: CUP OR CAT, an expression of doubt about the translation of a Tzotzil word, xalu’.

The works in this show captured the productiveness of both linguistic and cultural miscommunication—the result of a cross-pollination of disparate themes. This recalls the Amerindian perspectivism of Brazilian anthropologist Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, who points out how, in a radical reversal of Western thought, wherein a multiplicity of cultures appears within a universal Nature, indigenous cosmology is “not a plurality of views of a single world . . . but a single view of different worlds.” In it, nonhuman creatures—animals, spirits, plants, objects, meteorological phenomena—are recognized as having perceptual and cognitive abilities akin to those of humans. As the artists say, “Magic can interlace with anarchism, as a geo-botano-animo-logo-palimpsestic incident.” This would appear to be the challenge Rometti Costales have taken up: to give substance to the interstices that open up between one word and another.

Riccardo Venturi

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.