The young Swiss artist (born in 1990) is known for installations that weave art, music, and performance, seamlessly, which is evidenced in his first solo show with Ellis King, titled “November.”
The first clue to the unusual nature of Merlo’s stage set is the use of light. The artist replaced the gallery’s lighting with dim, industrial grade light bulbs, strung on a single wire across the space. These drops of light are not meant so much to illuminate, but to establish the tone of the show, to mix with whatever natural light is available and create a dimly lit, mysterious aura and a slightly obscured line of vision throughout the nearly vacant space. A dramatic, deep crimson curtain fills one wall, a nod to a classic theatrical stage yet it’s not hanging before the trio of bare-bones platforms. The layout of these small stages are more suitable to theater-in-the-round rather than proscenium, which calls for a divider, a hint that perhaps the gallery’s inhabitants and the exhibition’s performers are one in the same.
However, the seven artworks mounted on the walls, guitars realized in biomorphic forms that resemble geographic regions, may be the real stars of the show. Merlo created each of these seven guitars by hand, adopting the methods used by Dada artist Hans Arp in the early 20th century. They make clear reference to the raw material from which they are constructed; it is the wood itself that first asserts itself in these pieces. The knotty surfaces and asymmetrical shapes bring to mind the nebulous patterns of tree rings, those murky fingerprints of a tree’s lifespan.
Within the space of the exhibition, Merlo’s guitars, like Arp’s absurdist wooden reliefs, reject apparent functionality—music-making—in favor of pure referentiality. Alluding to music that will never actually be heard but only suggested in this space, the instruments patiently hang on the walls, waiting indefinitely for musicians to take them off the walls and mount the small open stages; tokens of muted music, they still resonate within the silent void that pervades.
“November” is on view at Ellis King, Dublin, Nov. 6-Dec. 12, 2015.