Javier González Pesce's "The Island of the Un-Adapted"

Deconstructing identity at Darling Foundry

Archipelago of the Invisibles has an astonishing sense of storytelling for an exhibition of non-narrative works.

The Darling Foundry’s fall programming celebrates the 10-year anniversary of the Residency of the Americas, a program bringing curators and artists from across Latin America to work at the Foundry. Both the Chilean artist Javier González Pesce, whose work currently occupies the Foundry’s Main Hall, and the Puerto Rican curator Marina Reyes Franco, who curated the group exhibit in the Small Gallery, were past residents in the program, invited back for this dual exhibition entitled Archipelago of the Invisibles.

The first work in Pesce’s exhibition, Two Ways to Disappear Without Losing the Physical Form (curated by Ji-Yoon Han), is “Untitled (Human Face),” and consists of immense sculptural props of eyes, ears, a nose and lips, all of which are built to fit inside boats that appear in an aerial video projected beside three of the sculptural face pieces: the nose, lips and one ear. In the video, this expressionless face floats and reconfigures, occasionally with the aid of a person struggling to push the boats together or apart. Bodies in water, especially fragmented, have an obvious tragic undertone, but standing beside a minivan-size nose built to occupy a row-boat is nothing if not slapstick. As Pesce explained during a walk-through of the gallery, the piece is “very close to comedy,” it “has this desire to be playful,but I sometimes push more dramatic subjects into it.” 

Pesce’s second piece, “Island of the Un-adapted,” presents abandoned objects collected on Santiago rooftops, arrayed on a low corrugated roof recreated for the exhibit. It’s so low to the ground that curator Franco observed that it immediately recollects a flood, especially as it rests at the same level as the boats in “Untitled (Human Face)”

The objects on the roof include not one but two plastic bats (the nocturnal creature, not the baseball accoutrement), soccer balls, plastic bags and one lone and surprisingly un-grubby Teletubby toy — a tragi-comic grab bag of what we leave behind.

The Small Gallery, meanwhile, is host to work by three Caribbean artists (Deborah Anzinger, Leasho Johnon and Joiri Minaya) brought together by Franco under the title Resisting Paradise. These artists engage in various ways with subverting the conflation of landscape and the female form that was so prevalent in colonial imagery and notions of “paradise,” in particular by reworking racialized and sexualized images of tropical places.

Particularly striking is Minaya’s installation #dominicanwomengooglesearch, where various pixelated and disembodied female forms are cut out and hung in space, all of which are backed by either tropical prints or low-res Google Maps on their far side. These photo cut-outs look at first like debris from a construction site, the bizarre semiotic mash-up of a condemned mall whose obliterated ads hang as shards in that half-second after a detonation. 

Yet, these fragments also read as evidence of tragedy, of the people and meaning shattered in the wake of a natural disaster, under which lies the figurative subtext that objectification is a natural disaster. With a single blurry leg, a belly, four fingers, a contrapposto ass, a woman across whose neck we read the fragmented watermark “w.LatinAf,” Minaya has created a strange and compelling exploration of how we create and dismantle identity, and whose allusion to internet imagery, with its explicit critique of the colonial gaze, manages to avoid the sometimes self-referential vortex of “internet art.”

Archipelago of the Invisibles as a whole functions as a testament to the power of creators to manipulate and subvert symbologies to their own ends. The selected works have an astonishing sense of storytelling for an exhibition of non-narrative works, and manage highly effective intersectional critiques of tourism in particular. The exhibition comes through on its promise to “make concrete the issues of memory and oblivion, identity and how we view the other.” ■

Archipelago of the Invisibles continues at the Darling Foundry (745 Ottawa) until Dec. 8, 127 p.m. Wed and Fri-Sun, 1210 Thu, free