Entering the exhibition space, one encounters two large, dusty metal boxes. They provoke a powerful physical sensation of scale and grandeur. It takes a second look to realise that these are indeed elevators the artist has obtained from old buildings and reconstructed inside the gallery, just as he found them. Elevators are places where one can spend a lot of time, especially when you live in a big city.––great places to get bored in as well as important organs inside the bodies of buildings. In our daily interaction with these machines, we experience solely their insides, never seeing the complex mechanisms which support their lives.
With this work (Untitled, 2021), Alex Chalmers makes a discectomy of these mechanical organs, enabling us to see their outer surface. Covered by minimal geometric patterns, big black strokes, multiple cables, steel structures, and some dust that shows the accumulation of time this object endured during its functional life. It is possible to see a few footprints in the dust, made perhaps during the transportation to the gallery or a reminiscence of a repair job done long ago, when they were still working in the building. The origin of those footprints is not clear, but they are the first human traces seen on these big machines.
These curious objects and the dust they contain also sparks the sensation of being in an archaeology site of our present time. The exhibition becomes a place to take time and contemplate the utilitarian artefacts surrounding our contemporary urban settings. In this sense, the artist’s action allows us to see these elevators not only as robust objects of study but also as vulnerable bodies who have been stripped away from their original utility, trying to find a new one in the gallery space.
Besides these two structures, other important works inside the exhibition are the metal spheres hanging on the wall (Untitled, 2021). They catch one's attention with their shiny material that invites you to come closer. While staring at one of these balls, a particular reading that connects these objects appears, making me realise an intense masculine mood in the exhibition. The industrial materials, hard steel, the vertical lines of the elevator, the metal spheres in the walls…
But after this raw first impression, the reading of the show turns to a different direction with the discovery of the tiny scratches inside the walls of the elevators, bringing a more gentle, soft and ambiguous layer of meaning. All these small gestures that people made during their time locked in this box. They were possibly made using a key or a coin, carving out bits of the synthetic paint or directly scratching the metal walls, as an attempt to leave a human trace in the soulless concrete buildings–while waiting to get somewhere else.
Did the artist himself draw on the elevator’s walls? Or were they made by all the people who spent their time inside those machines?
Despite not knowing the creator(s) of these drawings, this gesture of leaving a mark in a wall reminds me of graffiti, with the difference that one is produced in the intimate space of an elevator and the other in the disputed public space of the contemporary city. In both cases, the clear line between art and vandalism gets blurry. This fuzziness helps us recognise a common trace of a profound human need to leave a sign of one's own life in its immediate environment that has been with us since the times of the caves. Where does this desire come from?
The artist consciously reinforced this connection of languages in the accompanying publication. He intervened in the pages of a strange old print from the juridic document of Insolvency Public Act and bankruptcy. In some parts of the publication, the link with graffiti becomes direct and concrete. Chalmers intervenes on some pages using stencils and spray paint, building geometric figures and a series of numbers. Other pages, covered with fast-paced lines, smudges or outlines of figures, retain some qualities of that very particular time during a telephone call or a Zoom meeting, where one is guided by the impulse to start doodling on a piece of paper and images free of conscious control begin to appear. The remaining pages are covered with drawings and paintings depicting emojis, happy faces, bodies and pop symbols, such as dollar signs, the mickey mouse silhouette, the anarchy sign, amongst others.
The recurrence of emojis in the publication could be pointing on the one hand to the fact that when we are in this waiting-time, we tend to use the mobile phone to fill the empty void. It is as if this kind of time carries an attribute that threatens some part of ourselves, or makes it too much for us to handle, forcing us to cancel or delete it, stuffing it with something else -like emojis. On the other hand, with all the gestures covering the exhibition, the artist shows us that waiting can also be a precious and worthy experience.
The narrative of the Purgatory as a vessel that encompasses the objects in the show appears more clearly at the end, as one sees the doodles in the elevator walls, the images, emojis and symbols inside the publication emerging from the experience of this diverse time-in-between.
I leave the show thinking of all the things we do while holding on for something else to happen. All the small gestures, movements, perceptions, ideas that emerge during this specific time and the tensions generated by it.
Why is it so hard for us to wait if waiting could be such a luxury?
23. November 2021 – 26. February 2022
60311, Frankfurt am Main.