View of “Caroline Mesquita,” 2017. Photo: Rebecca Fanuele.

View of “Caroline Mesquita,” 2017. Photo: Rebecca Fanuele.

Caroline Mesquita

Fondation d'entreprise Ricard

View of “Caroline Mesquita,” 2017. Photo: Rebecca Fanuele.

“I really like when things suddenly go out of control,” French artist Caroline Mesquita has said. Here, she set the scene as a plane crash. Three installations constructed from steel and resin—The Plane Wing, The Plane Sidewall, and The Wing Tip (all works 2017)—stood as parts of an imagined aircraft. Like a stage, each installation was peopled with sculptures made of plates of brass and resin; cut, bent, and welded together, these life-size anthropomorphic figures are composed of tubular and cylindrical shapes. These are the survivors. Although static, their jointed appendages are fixed in postures of interaction.

Nameless but labeled by type, the twelve figures carry the titles The Young Businessman, The Little Prince, The Gothic Woman, The Mechanic, Mrs Doubtfire, The Pilot, The Teenager, The Berliner, The Stewardess, The Red-dressed Woman, The Pyjama Man, and The Peasant. The brass (an alloy of copper and zinc) figures have been oxidized, introducing a crystalline texture and lush hues of green and turquoise to the joints and the abrasions of their polished yellow surfaces. Mesquita is interested in the source of her materials, their chemical composition and potential. Recently, driving across the southwestern United States with Martha Kirszenbaum, the curator of this exhibition, the artist insisted they stop to see the copper mines of New Mexico and Arizona. “I was already working with copper plates, and I was so curious to discover the origin of this material and how it is extracted from the earth,” Mesquita explains.

Projected onto the back of The Wing Tip, Mesquita’s digital video The Ballad pictures the artist in a series of disguises (worthy of the early work of Cindy Sherman) that correspond to each of the sculpture’s titles. The pilot—a neat moustache and gold-trimmed epaulets give the character away—is the first to emerge from what appears to be a makeshift airplane body fashioned from metal tubing and loosely attached sheets of white-plastic film. The musical accompaniment is non-lyrical, structured by orchestral crescendos and diminuendos and a rhythmic pulsing of drums, bells, and wind instruments. Mesquita displays a palpable exuberance in role-playing, a visible pleasure in costuming and makeup, and a sense of humor that seems to motivate her movements and the stop-motion animation that brings her metallic sculptures alive. The sculptor’s body and the sculpted bodies intimately, at times perversely or violently, interact in a battle between creator and created. When the sharp edges of her sculptures push against her skin, they leave marks on her face and ankles. Streaks of red paint remind the viewer how easily blood could have been drawn.

The early twenty-first century has seen planes fall from the sky, and the monsters such disasters have made of humankind. In the physical and existential rubble that defines the territory that is 2017, Mesquita’s sculptures are charged with a potential for life, one that must be negotiated with those already alive. She shows us beautiful bodies, and an encounter that is more than messy. She asks that we do not look away.

Lillian Davies