J.D. Welch - User Experience Design

Ascetic Aesthetics

Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle and the deconstruction of science

While young artist Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle's work has been shown fairly extensively over the last few years, the literature reviewing and his work does is at best documentary-- in this exercise I aim to discuss specific works not in terms of the specific instance of their showing (as in a gallery exhibition review, which account for the majority of the literature), but rather for the sake of establishing a set of general parameters by which the works operate.

the garden of delights
Doug, Joe and Genevieve from
The Garden of Delights
, 1998

Born in Madrid, raised in Colombia and the United States, Manglano-Ovalle is the son of cancer researchers now working at the University of Chicago and has earned degrees in Spanish Literature and Fine Arts. The rather unique circumstances of immersion in a triad of cultures from childhood contribute to the situation taken up by Manglano-Ovalle to "question assumptions of globalism and internationalism (Pollack 132)" --and answer these questions using formal elements derived from scientific exploration, a technique obviously influenced by his parents. He has shown at Max Protetch, Rhona Hoffman in Chicago, the Museum of Contemporary Art (Chicago) and the Whitney Museum.

Generally, his pieces utilize audio/video and scientific elements (that is to say laboratory equipment and processes). Unfortunately, as a group they lack a sense of formal coherence that we can use to tie them together and (conveniently) come up with a general statement about the artist. Unlike the strong sense of identity we see in the individual pieces of, say,Barbara Kruger's, Donald Judd's or even Damien Hirst's, Manglano-Ovalle's oeuvre has not defined itself by a strict set of formal conditions. Of course, critics and gallerists have tried to make generalizations, including the assertion that the main issues at stake may include those of cultural difference, assimilation, immigration, and the concept of the "alien."

The next big chance we have to see where his work is heading now will be with his installation for the Mies van der Rohe show at the Whitney this June. Two pieces of last year used examples of Mies' architecture: The Kiss and Climate. They are quite interesting, combining the viewer-participation aspects of The El-Nino Effect with the beautiful formal presence of The Garden of Delights into highly esoteric and wonderfully evocative installations.

Before I get too far ahead of myself, let us now take a moment to examine some of the recent works in detail. The El Nino Effect (1997) is more interactive science museum exhibit than aesthetic object. An installation consisting of two sensory depravation tanks, two working changing rooms installed in the back of the gallery, and video and sound devices showing tape of clouds wafting back and forth across the Mexican-American border is accompanied by the digitally manipulated sound of a 9mm gunshot. Although the piece is rather lacking in 'beauty,' the viewer's experience of the work does not rely on the static aesthetic contemplation generally and historically associated with art objects; rather, gallery-goers are invited to directly participate with/in/for the work-- specifically in pairs. Encouraged by the artist to group themselves in 'intimate partnerships,' patrons spend an hour and a half (apart) in the twin sensory depravation tanks. The piece is characterized by one press release, albeit a bit generally, as "[reducing] form and content to solid, minimal elements that address social and political themes.(ArtPace)."

1998 brought The Garden of Delights, an installation of cibachrome prints in triptych groupings depicting DNA "portraits.". This piece is said to comment on the categorization of humans by race or specific physical features (Dougherty 66-68). In this case, by comparing formally similar parts of the individual portraits, the viewer sets up an arbitrary system of classification; individuals who "look" genetically related may not be at all. As in The El Nino Effect, the piece masks the 'true' identity of the individuals who participated in the creation of the work and invites the viewer participate in it.

Banks in Pink and Blue (1999) presents an unconventional pair of figures to the viewer: matching cryogenic sperm banks, each containing spermatozoa grouped by the presence of the X or Y sex-determinant chromosome. The banks are identified by the color of the lid: pink for girls and blue for boys. The rather straightforward comment that the piece makes is enhanced by accessory materials, which include (in the case of the installation at the Henry Art Gallery) a taped voice reading the stipulations of ownership agreed to by the donors.

Jill Conner asserts that Banks in Pink and Blue "establishes a link between the operation of an art gallery and that of a sperm bank: both organize by color and gender to better serve the majority of their clientele (71-2)."

In these scientific interventions into aesthetic space, the technological devices used are robbed of their legitimate purpose. In the case of Banks in Pink and Blue, a perfectly useful system for cryogenically preserving sperm is rendered a helpless sculptural object, manipulated into a manifestation of the artist's opinion and feeling. In The Garden of Delights, the utility of a DNA analysis is superfluous to the piece: the photographs are objects of abstract aesthetic beauty.

While critics have tried to extract 'meaning' from of these pieces, I feel that the most enduring quality of the work is this sense of uselessness. Manglano-Ovalle has taken a step forward for contemporary art— by rendering scientific tools (and processes) useless. Like junk sculpture and graffiti art, Manglano-Ovalle has exposed a wonderful new array of artmaking possibilities.

A recent piece for the show "Art in the Technological Age" at SFMOMA displayed much the same idea. In the gallery, an array of electrically driven devices were arranged inside a mesh cage. Outside the box, a bar code reader was offered; museum goers were invited to scan whatever bar-coded objects they had to illicit a response from the objects in the cage. During my visit, one woman's box of cold medication set a chair spinning, suspended on the end of a drill. In addition to being fantastically humorous, this piece did what Manglano-Ovalle's scientifically-based work does, that is undermine the proper use of the objects involved.

So, now what are we to think about The Kiss and Climate, two recent installations that do not utilize specifically "scientific" objects. Said to "address the relationship between Modernist architecture and global economics (Pollack 133)," They consist of "thin polished aluminum bars and tautly strung wires... [they] provided open structures within which projection screens are hung like sheets on a very upscale clothesline (Rush 134)." A projection is thrown from both sides, making the image identical on either side. The piece can be circumambulated, but the frame keeps viewers from getting very close to the video screen. The video for The Kiss depicts a man cleaning the windows of Mies van der Rohe's Farnsworth House, while a woman inside ignores him and listens to music. Very little happens in the video-- the sense of tension and the beauty of setting are the overriding elements. In this investigation, the pieces don't exactly fit into my framework-- that is, there isn't a specific integration of scientific technique. However, they demonstrate Manglano-Ovalle's ability to have "flexibility in choosing a medium to communicate his ideas of the moment. Here, he used the intimacy of video to infiltrate the intense, distancing formalism of modernist dwellings and let us peer into some fanciful dramas unfolding within them (Rush 136)."

So, even though I have tried to subjugate the more iconographic elements and conceptual stances behind much of Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle's recent work in favor of discussing them in terms of construction technique and materials, the range within which he works is too broad for such a generalization. It is too early for generalization about his oeuvre, but for the time being, I think it is interesting to think about what will make the work endure— to find out what ties a disparate body of work together. For Manglano-Ovalle, his contribution to the science of art (or is it the art of science?) opens up many possibilities for exploration and leaves us a richly textured body of work.


_____. "Paradise Now: Picturing the Genetic Revolution." Rpt. At: http://www.geneart.org/pn_home.htm

_____. Press Release: "Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle, New Works 97.4," Rpt. At: http://www.artpace.org/whatsnew/PR.jhtml?ID=21&Previous=/artists/artist.jhtml*I D~36

Conner, Jill. "Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle: Henry Art Gallery, Unversity of Washington." Sculpture volume 19, no. 7 (September 2000), pp. 71-2.

Cooke, Lynne. "Iñigo Manglano - Ovalle" Rpt. At http://www.artpace.org/artists/essay.jhtml?ID=36&Previous=/artists/artist.jhtml*ID ~36

Dougherty, Linda Johnson. "Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle: Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art (SECCA)." Sculpture, volume 18, no. 2 (March 1999), pp. 66-8.

Pollack, Barbara. 2000. "Chromosomes and the Sublime." ARTnews, volume 99, no. 11 (December 2000). pp. 132-5.

Rush, Michael. "Transparent Scenarios." Art in America, October 2000, pp. 134-7.