Mandla Reuter

Ilaria Bombelli

July 13, 2017
Francesca Minini, Milan
May 7–July 29, 2017

The invitation to the third solo show by Mandla Reuter at Francesca Minini bears no title or explanation. It relies on just one image, evocative enough on its own: a moonless sea, rippled by waves. Even the press release, stripped of all syntax, is reduced to a chain of words that hint at some meaning but mostly conjure a mood. They include “water,” “island,” “forest,” “sewage,” “dusk,” “stamp,” ”chocolate,” and “remnants,” plus geographic locations, names of cities, and numerical measurements. So we visit the exhibition with this sea in our heads, so to speak, and a few inorganic clues.

At the entrance, the exotic image of a bronze cocoa pod (Cacao, 2017), along with other specimens still nestled within their plaster molds, summons all the various things associated with this fruit (prosperity, exploitation, luxury, poverty, etc.). The viewer’s gaze is immediately drawn—with the sense of the sea growing stronger—to a huge salvage airbag (its crate also exhibited nearby) whose hyperbolic bulk fills and almost seals off the gallery. This sort of obstruction is not a new device for the artist, who in the past has blocked gallery entrances with boulders so that visitors had to strain for a glimpse of the exhibition through the windows. This buoy, we are told, comes from the Isle of Wight and is used to recover wrecked vessels (the eloquent title is Atlantis, 2016). The sunken wreck is hooked on and the bag is slowly inflated, pulling it to the surface.

Everything beyond this trophyless float remains hidden from view until one goes all the way around. Behind it, scattered across the floor around an iron manhole cover, are about 30 water tanks (The Grid, 2015): the ordinary blue plastic kind, with the manufacturer’s label still stuck on. Viewers are told, though of course there’s no way to check, that this water is from the Amazon River, about 1000 liters that have traveled long and far through the skies before flowing into the artist’s Berlin studio (from Rio de Janeiro, via Los Angeles, Rotterdam, and Hamburg, as one can see from the waybills posted here and there on the walls).

We are also informed that we have moved from the surface of the sea to the surface of the earth, and the tanks and manhole cover are there to represent the urban grid of pipes and sewers. That in short, a city is laid out under our feet—the city of Iquitos (in northeast Peru), since we only need look at the manhole cover to read the delicately engraved name: a place described as something out of a fairy tale, it can only be reached by riverboat or plane, and this isolation is greatly emphasized. We are then invited to look up at a row of shimmering, purplish-bronze prints, a grille of gratings that echo the grid on the floor. We later learn that these are six sections of a single, hugely enlarged underwater photograph (Untitled, 2017), showing the stretch of riverbed from which the water in the tanks was taken.

In large part, this show by Mandla Reuter is about removing weight. The artist does this with the Amazon River, lifting its water through the sky, borne by the wind and clouds. Or he turns it upside down and dematerializes it into a bed of pixels—just as he once froze Niagara Falls in a diorama of light and color. He relieves a buoy of its tonnage, and a block of marble and a drainpipe (shown here in another room) of their inertia and weight, turning both into an allegory of fluidity: Fountain, 2015. Or he buys a plot of land in LA that apparently has an address (330 E Waldon Pl, Los Angeles, CA 90031) but doesn’t show up in the city’s land registry—this is one of his best-known works, Untitled (2016-17), exhibited here next to Fountain—and begins mailing letters to this chimerical domicile, which promptly come back to him (this exhibition features six missives sent from Panama, Mexico, Greece, and Italy: each is stamped “Return to sender. Not deliverable as addressed, unable to forward”), merely exacerbating its nonexistent status.

Most of all, Reuter strips weight from the notion of the world—the map, the globe—and gives it wings: at Francesca Minini, its time zones are condensed into the sodium lamps (blue for night, yellow for day) of Confusion Mystery (2017), the work many visitors see last, which plunges the gallery into an endless twilight. (In the photos from Prospect 330 E Waldon Pl [2011], another sunset also bled across the background of an upended LA.) And yet, the artist has an equally stubborn penchant for indirect vision—as well as panoramic overviews—for what is impregnable, inaccessible: the sealed envelope, the islands and unlocatable locations that turn up in his works, Waldon Place, the recesses and obstructions he creates, the roundabout detours we must take to view his works. For what is submerged, unexpected—which some call abstraction, others fiction. And which snakes across the surface of this exhibition in broad meanders, until it flows out into the real world. Like fresh water into brine.

Water & The Sea, Geography, Maps, Dematerialization

Ilaria Bombelli is a writer based in Milan. She is the publishing editor of Mousse Publishing.

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Francesca Minini
July 13, 2017

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