Regina José Galindo, El gran retorno (The Great Return), 2019, HD video, color, sound, 12 minutes 56 seconds.

Regina José Galindo, El gran retorno (The Great Return), 2019, HD video, color, sound, 12 minutes 56 seconds.

Regina José Galindo and Iva Lulashi

Vicino altrove” (Nearby Elsewhere), a two-person show of work by Regina José Galindo and Iva Lulashi, established a convincing duet despite the age difference between the two artists—Galindo was born in 1974, Lulashi in 1988—and their far-flung origins in Guatemala and Albania, respectively. Their work is very dissimilar, too: Galindo creates performance and video, while Lulashi is a painter.

Galindo’s work is the more structured of the two. Her performative reflections on real-world situations deploy image and action in a way that is extraordinarily metaphorical and at the same time immediate, penetrating, and incisive. Without getting lost in reportage—and without insisting on the specificity of a particular setting, such as Guatemala in particular or the developing world more broadly, her work bears on social and political situations that, on various levels, involve all of humanity in any place whatsoever.

The exhibition featured two of Galindo’s videos, die Feier (The Celebration) and El gran retorno (The Great Return), both 2019, along with five photographs. In die Feier, three pairs of dancers, dressed as if for a debutante ball in Vienna, waltz with their feet immersed in mud (or shit?). As they twirl, the women’s filmy white dresses and the men’s tuxedos become soiled with splashes of muck. The symbolism is possibly all too obvious. But El gran retorno is infinitely subtler. The artist, dressed in black, plays the part of a majorette leading a marching band, also in black, strutting backward as they play their oompah music. This reverse walk—which is real, not produced by manipulating images postproduction—suffices to trigger a series of thoughts, beginning with the sensations that seeing or hearing such a band usually provokes. First and foremost, a band always marches forward, never retreating; it precedes and announces something or someone to celebrate. Galindo’s trick of reversing its movement says much more about power and its representations than thousands of more direct denunciations. We’re in something like the realm of Hans Christian Andersen and “The Emperor’s New Clothes” here. The pompous gait of the band members, as we realize when they walk backward (and through the absence of dazzling uniforms), shows itself for what it really is: a flashy and vulgar nothing, like the hierarchical system it represents.

Lulashi, on the other hand, paints personal, individual stories, sometimes rooted in some distant memory of collective violence, as in Avversario dell’ordine (Opponent of Order), 2019. But the imagery is more often marked by remembrances of postadolescent eroticism, in which desire is tamped down by the timidity of a young person venturing out into a territory that still feels strange and unknown, as in Visibile e mobile (Visible and Mobile), 2020, in which we see a young couple who have taken their rowboat into a spot surrounded by foliage; the girl seems about to remove her bathing suit. Lulashi’s paintings are strongly evocative, conjuring never-quite-told stories amid settings that, for the grown-up person now recalling them, take on an Edenic gleam, though they were really just next door.

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.