Carlos Irijalba at A Tale of a Tub, photo: LNDWstudio

The mysterious life of matter: Carlos Irijalba at A Tale of a Tub

Issue no2
april - mei 2022
platteland & biënnale gids

Everything in the world and the cosmos is in constant flux: this is what Carlos Irijalba’s exhibition at A Tale of A Tub communicates. Strikingly, the artist manages to do so with relatively static sculptural, installation and photographic works. Manuela Zammit visited Joined an Avalanche, Never to Be Alone Again and shares her experience of the exhibiton.

Carlos Irijalba’s solo show Joined an Avalanche, Never to Be Alone Again at Tale of a Tub, traces underlying similarities between natural and industrial processes, organic and inorganic matter and the behaviour of human and non-human entities. Spread across the gallery’s three floors, Irijalba’s work communicates that everything in the world and the cosmos is in constant flux, caught in perpetual processes of moving and becoming that are mostly imperceptible to humans and yet deeply affect our existence. Bodily boundaries - ours and those of everything around us - are not fixed forever but only temporarily stable, not impenetrable, but porous and receptive to external forces and materials.

I found particularly striking the way in which the artist presents notions of perpetual change through relatively static sculptural, installation and photographic works. In this sense, his works straddle a tension between being aesthetic objects fixed in time and space and materials undergoing transformation at the atomic level. As soon as I enter the exhibition space, I am met by Hiatus (2021), a set of pillars integrated within the gallery’s architecture, made from hydraulically-pressed aluminium which were rejected by the factory because they did not fit the mould. Rather than being completely straight and smooth, the pillars exhibit ‘weak’ points where the aluminium gave way and folded onto itself.

Bodily boundaries - ours and those of everything around us - are not fixed forever but only temporarily stable, not impenetrable, but porous and receptive to external forces and materials

Carlos Irijalba at A Tale of a Tub, photo: LNDWstudio

Carlos Irijalba at A Tale of a Tub, photo: LNDWstudio

This work speaks to long-standing philosophical ideas about form and matter used to describe a basic duality between the ‘essence’ of something and the stuff that it is made of. While traditionally, the factory mould as form would have been seen as actively shaping the passive material, Irijalba demonstrates that the material possesses its own agency and can spontaneously ‘disobey’. In this way, the artist posits the material world as an exciting, unpredictable space full of possibility rather than pre-determined existence shaped by capitalist forces. Through this lens, the aluminium’s folds become imbued with a certain sensuous, rebellious appeal rather than being perceived as a failure of non-conformity.

In a similar way, Shape of Thought (2021) exposes the myth of permanent fixity. A series of three photographs show data about cerebral activity collected using a MRI scanner and rendered physical by means of 3D software. The use of 3D imaging technology comments on the fictitious real fixed in time and space created by human imaging technology. I am not sure how to describe the content of the images, except as 3D scribbles that someone was caught drawing in a hurry. What I found the most illustrative about the works was not what was depicted as such, but rather the tension between the photograph as a ‘slice of time’ and its dynamic content, acting as a to-and-fro between the actual and the immaterial. The relative stability that we perceive in the world around (and within) us is not a static fixity, but constant, invisible processes of crystallisation.

Carlos Irijalba at A Tale of a Tub, photo: LNDWstudio

Irijalba engages with industrial processes of production in order to study humans’ fraught relationship with the environment. The human-designed operations of industrial capitalism are based on continuous resource extraction, rigidly-structured production chains, quotas, and linear time. The break in this incessant endeavour, exemplified by the aluminium defying its mould, functions as a metaphor for the ecological crisis. Wet Blue (2021), exhibited in the basement, is named after a leather tanning processes involving the colour blue that leaves a metallic tint in the leather. Just like Hiatus, the two full cowhides on view exist at the convergence between industrialisation, capitalism, animal rights and environmental issues. The capitalist illusion of total measurability and endless growth is exhausting a finite and fragile planetary system, disrupting cycles of vast temporal and spatial dimensions that humans cannot possibly fully comprehend, let alone control.

Irijalba engages with industrial processes of production in order to study humans’ fraught relationship with the environment

Carlos Irijalba at A Tale of a Tub, photo: LNDWstudio

Carlos Irijalba at A Tale of a Tub, photo: LNDWstudio

Yet despite our limitations and current alienation from nature, our lives remain dependent on and embedded within planetary cycles. The video work Coriolis effect (2019) is a term in physics that explains the deflection of an object moving with the Earth’s rotation, usually noticeable only for motions occurring over large distances and long durations. As I approach the screen from the other end of the subterranean corridor, I find myself looking at what seems to be satellite imagery of a major metereological phenomenon such as a hurricane. What I am in fact looking at, is water rotating down a drain. Abstracted, a mundane occurrence easily observable on a human scale, resembles a far greater and hard-to-grasp event. The other video work in the exhibition, Wanderers (2021), focuses on the migratory patterns of humans and other species. While for non-human species migration remains a natural thing to do instigated by seasonal rhythms, humans have turned it into a political process.

Even our industrial dreams are inspired from biological phenomena and mimic evolutionary structures, as demonstrated by Muscle memory (2014-16) and Strange Stranger (2016-18). Muscle memory, installed alongside the aluminium pillars at ground level, is made out of pieces of metal foam, a material with a texture and consistency very similar to human bone, initially designed to be used for manufacturing prosthetics. I dip my hand into the water- filled container in which they are floating, and lift a piece. Were it not for its dark grey colour, I could have believed I was holding a fragment of human skeleton. Deemed unsuitable for its original purpose, metal foam was later taken up by the automotive and aerospace industries. Meanwhile, hanging off a wall in the relative darkness of the basement, Strange Stranger did not look like an exhaust manifold, but more like some sort of arterial structure. Thinking about it, it can be said that vehicles are built on similar principles as the human body - they too are fleshed out skeletal structures, albeit mechanical.

Carlos Irijalba at A Tale of a Tub, photo: LNDWstudio

Carlos Irijalba at A Tale of a Tub, photo: LNDWstudio

Joined an Avalanche, Never to Be Alone Again runs until January 21, 2022 at Tale of a Tub, Justus van Effenstraat 44, 3027 TK Rotterdam

Manuela Zammit
is a writer and researcher

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