'Transfer Lounge' art works being shown concurrently in Spain, U.S. By Kurt Shaw

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Nearly everyone is familiar with the lounges in airports, train and bus stations. These "transfer lounges," for lack of a better term, are temporarily inhabited spaces that serve as a connecting point between two different places. Characterized by ambiguity and anonymity, they can be downright boring places to be. At the same time, they represent a period of transition that can lead us to new circumstances.

Imagine then, if you will, a different kind of transfer lounge in which you await an entirely new you. "Transfer Points," a video work by Hyla Willis and Jen Morris on view at SPACE, Downtown, explores a conceptual link between airport transfer lounges and the spaces of waiting within the medical industry.

The piece is part of a larger exhibit based on the themes of mobility and transition. "Transfer Lounge" resulted from a cross-cultural project with art professionals from Spain and the United States, creating a unique opportunity for these artists from different parts of the world to actively exchange their views and ideas around these issues. And in a truly cross-cultural format, the end result can be seen concurrently here, at SPACE, and at Forja Arte Contemporaneo in Valencia, Spain.

"Transfer Points" has a monitor mounted high, like one you'd see in an airport that displays various "departures" for a wide range of body-altering medical procedures. The point of the piece is that the transitional occurrences that take place in medicine are not all too different than those that take place in the travel industry. We make appointments, undergo physical change in form or location, and money is exchanged in the process.

"These are spaces of extreme discipline," Willis and Morris wrote in their statement, "where surveillance, architectural elements, personnel, controlled wait times and a facade of 'comfort' authoritatively collide with one's own natural bodily rhythms. What are the expectations, desires, and needs placed on people, or that people themselves bring to these complex globalized transactions?"

Beginning back in March, the "Transfer Lounge" project's co-curators, artists Carolina Loyola-Garcia of Pittsburgh and Ima Pico of Spain and Spanish art critic Toni Calderón, invited 20 artists to respond to the theme and establish a dialogue within the frame of current cultural mobility.

As a result, much of the work is digital-based, in either digital-video format or as Internet-based pieces. Loyola-Garcia says that the digital format was inevitable because it was much more "economical" in terms of delivery and set up between both exhibit spaces, especially considering that 10 of the artists are from this country, the other 10, all of Spanish heritage, are from several different countries.

"Even though that is the case, you wouldn't be able to tell from the work," Loyola-Garcia says. "Most contemporary artists deal with similar technologies and deal with similar issues." The only slightly discernible difference, Loyola Garcia says, is that, "American artists are a lot more conceptually driven, whereas the Spanish artists are more emotionally driven."

For example, one of the most emotionally jarring works in the show is Madrid-based video artist Filippos Tsitsopoulos' three-part work "Craze." Situated at the back of the gallery, it draws the viewer in via three larger-than-life self portraits in which the face of the artist can be seen covered in a wide variety of natural objects, both animal and vegetable, such as thorns, shrimp, fish, butterflies and chicken feet.

In each, Tsitsopoulos slowly manipulates his facial muscles to bring the attached objects seemingly to life. It's strange, visceral, almost tribal in appearance, making the cumulative effect of these various objects into transformational mask-like forms even though they are anything but.

Conversely, David Maroto, also of Madrid, presents his "Patchwork Man" video not far away. "Patchwork Man" is inspired by Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borge's short story "Funes the Memorious." The story begins with a character who, after an accident, is able to remember every moment of his life. The consequences are, however, not in Borge's tale.

"Patchwork Man," who is actually a collage of many characters, faces and textures, tells us how he found out that his life was a permanent borrowing of ideas, feelings and desires in which it is eventually impossible to distinguish anything to be called "me." "Patchwork Man" is shown as a sound piece in Forja Arte Contemporaneo, but as a video installation here. So, it really is a special treat to see the piece in its entirety.

As to be expected, many of the U.S. artists represented are Pittsburghers, such as the aforementioned Willis and Morris. And, for the most part, they hold their own quite well alongside the works by the Spanish artists. Not the least of which is Loyola-Garcia's own video work, "Hibridos sin Lineaje," in which she has compiled snippets of numerous video interviews of people she has met over the past year and a half of traveling between Spain, Chile and the U.S. Loyola-Garcia says the interview format is just "an excuse to have conversations." The five-minute video plays on a continuous loop. "I tried to put everything in a blender and just turn it on," she says.

Other works give the show a bit more of a tactile quality than just video and digital work alone. Pittsbugh-based Nicaraguan artist Patricia Villalobos Echeverria's site-specific installation "Rash" looks like one wall of the gallery has grown the measles. Pittsburgh Puerto Rican artist Nayda Collazos-Llorens' "ESCaperucita & Little Flying Hood" is a bilingual text-based work consisting of 26 prints depicting the journey of Little Red Riding Hood,

But in a way, Loyola-Garcia's video very much represents the vast variety of dialogues going on in this show, making for a compelling exhibit in its own right that must be seen to comprehend the whole cross-cultural experience.

What: A cross-cultural exhibit featuring works by U.S. artists and several artists with Spanish heritage from around the world

When: Through Nov. 21. 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays

Where: SPACE, 812 Liberty Ave., Downtown

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