Leyla Cárdenas: Vice Versa
FEBRUARY 4-MARCH 31, 2017
The solo exhibition Vice Versa: Leyla Cárdenas inaugurates the new Dimensions Variable gallery space, located in Building 1 of Miami Dade College’s Wolfson Campus on the site of the former Centre Gallery. Cárdenas is an inspired choice to be the first to activate this historically influential space, as the exhibition leads visitors through its very walls and into a recent past subsisting just beneath the surface. Borrowing a phrase from critic and filmmaker Jennifer Reeves, Cárdenas describes her practice as that of a “scavenging reconstructionist.” Her work is not fabricated, but rather mined from site-specific environments.
The exhibition opens with two works that employ photographic transfers of archival images of the Pacific Building, which was razed in 1970 to make room for Building 1. Some other beginning’s end, which centers on a large-scale mirrored image of the demolition of the final wall of the Pacific Building, will remain in place even after this exhibition closes. It will then be painted over as subsequent exhibitions are installed, re-creating a physical connection between past and present architecture. This gesture of continuity feels particularly meaningful in Miami, where history and landscape have been largely defined by real estate development cycles, a phenomenon that is well known to Dimensions Variable, which opened its fourth location in just six years. Backwards (#1–#18) uses smaller archival images transferred onto fragments of the recently removed Centre Gallery walls, which are arranged chronologically along a line that turns a corner to occupy two planes of the gallery space. The piece culminates in a photo of the architectural model for Building 1 sitting on the empty lot. The artist carefully placed specimen pins among the images to highlight certain features and to secure the printed wall fragments in position.
In the rear of the L-shaped exhibition space, several “peelings” are also on display. Stratum, a horizontal strip of paint installed in a visual continuation of Backwards, is something between a found painting and a minimalist sculpture, created by removing all but traces of the supporting drywall and wooden baseboards. Scattered specimen pins support the paint at key points to form a relatively straight line. The now bare baseboards lean against an adjacent wall in a vertically oriented sculptural arrangement. For Reversed, peelings are split internally, and the mirrored faces of the exposed paint layers are placed face-up along a diagonal on the floor. In this case, the artist’s excavation process reveals preserved graffiti and drawings, including a smiley face, a peace sign, and a heart with an arrow through it.
The peelings of Wolfson’s Stratigraphy are installed perpendicular to the wall, as if they are sharp shards penetrating it from the storage room behind. The white surfaces of the fragments are worn away to expose traces of bright blue, red, and ochre. When viewed head-on, these colorful fragments disappear into ghostly shadows whose impermanence is palpable. Made from layers of paint stripped away from the former gallery walls, the peelings were created in a practice that references techniques employed in art conservation and archaeology, but without the premise of scientific objectivity or search for an overarching historical narrative. The direct process evokes history while resisting answers in favor of exploration and discovery.
Kristen Adsit is an art conservator, nature enthusiast, and dog person based in Miami.