THE IMPLODING CUBE MEETS THE BEATING HEART: THE GESTALT OF ANDRÉS RAMÍREZ GAVIRIA’S “0.” AND “RESONANCE”
Edward A. Shanken
From Andrés Ramírez Gaviria, catalog published by Metroverlag, Vienna, 2008
Andrés Ramírez Gaviria creates subtle, ironic, and compelling visual and sonic experiences that are critically engaged with the forms and discourses of historical avant-garde art. His work reconsiders De Stijl, Russian Constructivism, Minimalism, and other 20th century stylistic fountainheads from a 21st century viewpoint, employing a combination of conventional and new media. He admires and asserts the brilliance of his aesthetic forbears while challenging their ideological convictions and lapses of logic. By sustaining dual perspectives and operating on both formal and theoretical levels, his work generates complex meaning that cannot be determined by the individual elements but which, in Gestalt theorist Max Wertheimer’s words, consists rather of “the intrinsic nature of the whole.” Indeed, Gestalt Theory is an important influence on the artist’s practice, which frequently unifies flipsides of a coin to push the meaning of a work beyond its constituent elements. His exhibition, “When Forms Become Processes,” joins two new works, “0.” and “resonance” that individually embody this approach and that together forge complex synthetic meaning.
Ramírez Gaviria’s Gestalt approach is explicitly exemplified in “Modal Patterns” (2006). Employing the Gestalt mantra, “more than the sum of its parts,” the artist formulated the anagram, “A misshape of truth torments.” Although the two phrases are equivalent in the sense that they consist of precisely the same symbols, because the order of those symbols differs, they convey divergent semantic meanings. The artist used each phrase as the source to generate corresponding abstract visual animations, which, in turn, were used to produce corresponding sound elements. These audiovisual animations were typically displayed side by side in the final work.  Again, because the order of the symbols differed in the source, each channel conveyed a distinct visual and sonic meaning. Although, in theory, the original phrases could be decoded from the highly abstract animations, in a gesture subverting the logic of visualization/sonification the artist intentionally produced audio-visual forms that do not permit the semantic meaning of the texts to be directly legible. More importantly, meaning accrued as the number of parts and the complexity of the whole increased: 1) text, anagram; 2) visual abstraction of text and anagram; 3) sonic abstraction of visual abstraction of text and anagram; 4) critique of data visualization/sonification. Following Gestalt Theory, the work’s meaning exceeds that of its individual elements and can only be experienced as an intrinsic nature of the whole.
“0.” offers an ironic critique of the minimalist cube. In the 1960s, this ideal geometric form became an emblematic counterargument to the emotionally charged, bravura brushwork of abstract expressionism. Donald Judd, Robert Morris, Sol LeWitt, and others theorized their geometric and architectonic forms as autonomous objects that had no external referent and whose meaning was entirely self-contained. These artists sought to challenge conventional distinctions between painting and sculpture by working between the flat horizontal plane of the wall and the 3D space of the pedestal. Moreover, in an attempt to subvert stylistic pretensions, their works were often industrially manufactured, thus eliminating the artist’s hand. Art historian/critic Michael Fried lambasted such work, which he referred to as “literalist art.” He interpreted these forms as ominous, surrogate beings that created a “situation” demanding a viewer’s direct corporeal involvement and empathic connection. Fried passionately claimed that this “theatricality” had “corrupted” or perverted” sculpture and threatened the “grace” of the genre’s essence.
“0.” engages the terms of minimalism and its critics. Indeed, the artist pronounces the title of this work as zero point, which suggests a small quantity between something and nothing but not yet a whole number, a fraction that defies the geometric perfection of the archetypal minimalist cube. Although Ramírez Gaviria’s cube seems a direct quotation of the movement’s obsession with pristine, commercially manufactured, 3D geometric forms, the work occupies the spaces of neither painting nor sculpture. Following the logic of conceptual art but using the medium of video, the artist has dematerialized the minimalist object, which exists now as a projected moving image. The image itself, however, does not perceptibly move until the last few seconds of its eight-minute duration and thus, like the minimalist cube, asserts an ineluctable presence, an idealized proposition of eternality. Shot in HD high-speed digital video, the actual scene took approximately 30 seconds. Indeed, the temporal dimension of the work is indeterminate and highly confounded: what appears to be a still image is, in fact, half a minute long but stretched 16 times. At first, one sees only a 2D image of a glass box flattened on the screen. Then, suddenly, the glass walls begin to implode in slow motion as their hyaline shards are sucked in. These shards then explode outwards as the cube silently shatters and crashes to the ground, its former shape reduced to a pile of rubble and a black steel frame. This spectacular climax is unique in Ramírez Gaviria’s work, which tends to flow consistently with subtle modulations and which is devoid of a distinct beginning or end. Historically akin to Gustav Metzger’s theories of autodestructive art (1959) and Jean Tinguely’s self-destructing sculpture “Homage to New York” (1960), this dramatic event subverts the logic of minimalism by - irony of ironies - pushing to unimagined heights the theatricality that so perturbed Fried. The idyllic, autonomous, minimalist object – and, by extension, the ideological and aesthetic values associated with it - have metaphorically imploded. At the same time, this destructive and deconstructive act recapitulates those ideals: Ramírez Gaviria’s cube is perfect and commercially manufactured; the filming was similarly outsourced to a professional cinematographer; the engineering was aided by a physicist; and numerous experiments were conducted to choose the proper glass and regulate the vacuum pressure to achieve a consistent implosion from multiple walls of the cube. In other words, “0.” is a highly aestheticized film object that was made possible only through an extraordinary degree of precision, resulting in a perfect, idealized implosion, the autodestructive equivalent of minimalism. Herein lies perhaps the most important component of the work’s Gestalt: the pairing of a critique of idealized form by its destruction with the presentation of an idealized form of destruction. It is in this interplay of conflicting significations that the work accrues added meaning.
While “0.” is a meditation on perfect autonomous geometric forms, produced commercially absent of the artist’s hand, “resonance” consists of the most intimate internal presence of the artist – his heartbeat. From the opening at 7 pm on August 6 to its closing at 7 pm on September 7, Ramirez Gaviria will wear a sensor around his chest that monitors his heartbeat and translates it into live sound in the gallery during business hours. There are significant historical precedents for this work, such as Les Levine’s “A.I.R.,” which used closed-loop video to provide audiences of New York’s Software Exhibition in 1970 with a live feed of the artist’s activities in his studio. More recently, in “Mobile Feelings II” (2002-3) Christa Sommerer and Laurent Mignonneau embedded biosensors, transmitters, and receivers in hand-held objects, which measured and conveyed the pulse and breathing rate of paired users back and forth to each other over a short distance. “resonance” joins aspects of these two works but adds a greater sense of mystery. Whereas “A.I.R.” makes the location and activities of the artist transparent, “Resonance” obscures them while simultaneously revealing a profound internality. The electronically generated, metronome-like sound representing Ramírez Gaviria’s heartbeat is at once more intimate yet also more dislocated than Levine’s video stream. Unlike the immediate and interactive user-based exchange of “Mobile Feelings II,” in “Resonance” the audience becomes immersed in a disembodied sound, the source of which is not immediately clear. What are we hearing? Where is it coming from? Once we learn that it is the artist’s heartbeat, further questions follow: Where is he? What is he doing? Can we be sure it is really he? Could it be someone else or a recording?
Just as the combination of elements in each work creates a Gestalt, so the union of “0.” and “Resonance” creates an experience that exceeds the sum of the individual works. What Fried interpreted as the anthropomorphic internal cavity suggested by the minimalist cube - an interior space, which is typically invisible - Ramirez Gaviria has made transparent and gloriously demolished in “0.” This finds a striking parallel in “resonance,” which relies on the internal beating of the artist’s heart in his chest to generate disembodied sound at a remote location - the “white cube” of the gallery space. The unflappable autonomy and static perfection of the industrially manufactured cube harmonize in counterpoint with the contingency and kinetic imperfection of a human heart, which contracts consistently but irregularly and at varying tempos, depending on physical exertion, emotional duress, and other extrinsic factors. Although the loud whir of the vacuum system and the climactic implosion of the glass cube generated a great deal of sound during the process of the work’s creation, “0.” is silent, its shrill sonic qualities existing only in the viewer’s imagination. In “resonance” the artist’s heartbeat, normally inaudible except at a very intimate distance, is magnified greatly from distant and changing locations to become a sound object, or rather, an immersive presence that fills the gallery space with sound. “0.” and “Resonance” are autonomous, individual works that successfully engage in a critical dialog with the history of contemporary art, expanding its discourses. The two works also complement each other, creating a whole that is greater than its parts. Paired together in “When Forms Become Processes” meaning accumulates and grows, exceeding that of each in a way that can only be experienced as the intrinsic nature of the whole.
 When displayed on the architectural shell of BIX at the Kunsthaus Graz, the animations were shown sequentially.