Cracks in the Walls

Hannah Gregory
Oct 7, 2013 2:40PM

'Today We Reboot the Planet' is built from red bricks and unfired clay, steel shelves and stained glass. This is Argentinean artist Adrián Villar Rojas' response to the architecture of the newly restored Serpentine Sackler Gallery, for its inaugural exhibition. In contrast to the exaggerated curves of Zaha Hadid's adjoining extension, Villar Rojas' installation is earthily monumental, materially present in a different sense. Where ZHA's materials are performance-enhanced plastic-coated glass, the kind of Teflon that recalls airplane interiors, Rojas' clay is made to decay. 

This clay has been used to cast a simulacra of the nineteenth century gunpowder store's façade, against which a big bent over elephant leans. Small handmade bricks from the Rosario brickworks in Argentina, where Villar Rojas has a warehouse studio, cover the floor. Loose, the bricks clink together beneath footsteps so that the old building is filled with the sound of soles on rough, baked ceramic. The building's smell also resonates: damp, like an outhouse, it summons memories whose referents are confused. 

Villar Rojas' sculptural response to the Sackler's architecture actually works to mask the building's restoration - it is hard to tell what the gallery will look like when these bricks and clay are removed. The space has the form of a Chinese box: a new white-washed rectangle surrounds two dark interior chambers of identical size, again in brick; the 'Powder Rooms' of the building's first life. 

Rojas fills one of the chambers in a hotchpotch assemblage of detailed and delicate clay-cast objects, denoting industrial production (scythes, tools) or dead life (a body, birds), stored on shelves and scattered also with real plant shoots, bread, potatoes.  This amassing of objects which evoke an apocalyptic aftermath, an interplay between life and death, is countered by the emptiness of the other chamber, which is unaltered, save for the addition of a pale stained glass pane; a balancing void. 

Weathered and cracked, Rojas' clay sculptures act as what Eyal Weizman calls in his essay 'The Matter of Memory' both "sensors" and "agents": "the aesthetics of matter itself, its ability to sense, detect, respond to and register slight changes." Here, cracks are also "surface events…a result of the evolving contradictory forces that operate around and within them."  Weizman's statements are a convictive way of witnessing Villar Rojas' art: your senses leave you little room for other reactions than the viscerality of matter left to crack. Their premature ageing emphasises the fractures and quakes of the world around them. For these cracks are our cracks too: the broken glass, the wrinkle, the fault line, the thirsty, ruined field. 

Hannah Gregory