We stand in a liminal borderland, situated on the dividing lines of materials, in the vicinity of thresholds (umbral). Nicolás Lamas’ exhibitions, entitled Umbral and The End of Motion were held in mid-summer of 2022 and explored the liminal regions of geography while attempting to artistically reimagine them. While the former was held in the industrial environment of the Longtermhandstand Hall, the latter was held in the clean inner spaces of the Longtermhandstand Gallery, where we could follow the development of an extraordinary specific flora. The exhibitions presented not individual works, but rather works that treat the given place as a kind of material to be worked on, breaking it down, and fitting new ones into the existing „landscape elements”.
Entering the exhibition spaces, landscapes without people were revealed before us, where hybrid elements of the world abound. In these spaces, dehumanized body parts grow almost organically into the fabric of mechanical elements, while the cognitive ties that solidify the field of everyday experience and establish a logical connection between things are loosened. Unruly particles deviate from their previously assigned trajectories. No longer held in place by the attraction of a knowing subject: they tear through space almost empty so that new constructions can be born resulting from the explosion of collisions. And if the number of free radicals remaining is sufficient, then nothing can deter two arbitrary substances from entering into a special bond with each other.
The use of the exhibition space showcases a specific duality, as the boundaries between the unified space and the design of individual groups of works, i.e. the totality of objects and the systematically constructed composition of separate works, becomes uncertain. Here, inorganic and organic, the coordinated functioning of a developed organism and the concept of space understood as totalized mathematical homogeneity, constantly alternate. This is beautifully exemplified by the way individual materials and details are built into each other. One of the essential parts of Lamas’ practice is the way in which his works gradually come to inhabit their own spaces. Among them, we can discover previous works and elements of already existing series. However, as the current artistic material matures, these works grow organically into the contextures of newer and newer exhibitions. Such is the work entitled Tendon, consisting of a combination of bone, carabiner, and climbing rope, which has already appeared at a previous exhibition. But the series entitled Nomadic conditions, which thematizes the problem of homelessness, is similar, which at the same time, becoming divorced from its „original” meaning, is integrated into the multitude of Umbral’s works as a whole. A tent filled with dried plants and sand, or a sleeping bag stuffed with wires and straw, no longer only shows the signs of the lack of a permanent residence by squeezing the sense of outside and inside into each other. These dichotomies become in turn materials for the „nomadic” elements of Lamas’ work, occupying new and new areas within a constantly evolving oeuvre.
Lamas primarily concentrates on the given place and its characteristics, adapting individual works to its specificities. In accordance with this goal, he selects his objects, which are often made up of locally available tools, so that they can then find their rightful place again as works of art in the gallery space. For the most part, these are elements usually pushed to the periphery of our material world, the stretched, torn, cracked, burned, and melted materials of junkyards for example. The artist often utilizes conventional installation solutions, through which the objects come to stand out from the environment that provides them with a home. However, there are also works that almost completely disappear into the secret background world of weathered walls, bare pipes, and worn windows. In the case of the 2022 Earthwake, for example, the remains of a mannequin’s head bulge out of cracks like a ripe fruit, the synthetic material thus seems to become organic again, almost shedding its artificiality altogether, becoming a single moment within a breathing, changing, shifting whole. The works are apparently not demarcated by a sharp dividing line. Sometimes we see them in larger groups, sometimes as fragments situated in the exhibition space. However, the assemblages thus created do not merge into the elements of a coherent, unified space, since they also continuously separate from each other along thin cracks. Lamas’ works (i.e. his exhibitions) are animated by an underlying logic and productive power, with a theoretical machinery behind them, which, however, at the same time separates (for example, by emphasizing the question of space) and also blurs these ontological boundaries due to the similarity of the work processes over time.
Lamas simultaneously de- and re-territorializes the objects taken out of their former environment, bringing into play oppositions between different details, and simultaneously ensuring continuous transitions between opposing qualities. In the work Petrified Limb, for example, a ruined prosthesis, a yellowed femur, and half a pair of shoes meet on the worn floor of an old factory building. In place of the absence of the long-gone roles of individual objects, new types of attractions are emerging. This is the dialectic of function, where the signs of absence are constantly re-created and brought into play, as a tool detached from objects. Even the lines of the floor plan left behind the knocked-down walls evoke the ghostly appearance of their past function. This is a threshold state, which can be understood as an existence between being and passing away, or even a broken tool situated in the empty desert of „unwork.”
We see, for example, a car part and an ancient head fragment, and from these two a dark hole stares directly at the viewer. However, while in the case of the first object this opening was necessary for the proper functioning of the (by now) motionless car, in the case of the statue’s head, the same opening acts like a malign emptiness drilled into the forehead. The head sheds its characteristic intactness, entering into a monstrous symbiosis with the corpse of the still-oily machine part, in order to revitalize the material dimension that appears to us in the form of something lifeless yet interactive. (Cyclops I, 2022).
Lamas’ art practice is characterized by a kind of archaeological attentiveness. A constant characteristic of his work is the representation of various forms of decomposition or decay. Not only through various registers of decay (such as, for example, in the shape of the cantaloupe displayed in the Umbral space, which pushes the limits of didacticism), but also through listing the elements of our material culture. Various antique-looking dishes and vases, or fragments of decaying sculptures, for example, are a regular feature of his exhibitions. They simultaneously revive and break down codes of the archaic past, in order to make new cracks on the worn surfaces of meanings we attach to objects. However, this by no means implies a purely melancholic contemplation of the impermanence of things. Lamas’ objects do not necessarily gravitate towards some kind of end or foreclosure. Rather, they enduringly take on new forms, being in a state of constant evolution.
Although the methodology of the two exhibitions is almost identical, they do not „work” in exactly the same way. They differ in terms of both implementation and environment, but the concept remains unaltered. Umbral makes full use of every detail of the given space, creating a special atmosphere. Although The End of Motion operates with a similar „wreck aesthetic,” it does this within the conventional white cube space of the Longtermhandstand. The exhibited works come to be seen here in a different light, operating with much more subtle solutions. In this case, not only the characteristic „threshold state” of Lamas’ works is displayed, but this is projected onto the walls as a frozen moment. The interplay of fragility and brutality appears in the image of a used airbag masquerading as an abstract painting (Impact Zone, 2022) and a porcelain vase connected to a power source, apparently capable of operation, but in reality attached to a stationary circular saw (Torno, 2022).
The exhibitions cannot be understood via separate observation and evaluation of individual works, as they form an extremely heterogeneous group. It is worth approaching these two exhibitions from a holistic perspective, in terms of the consistency and integrity of creative practice. However, the aesthetic verdict remains unclear, since the question may arise as to whether conceptual posthuman art is any good. However much it aims to question the functioning of our material world and the established worldviews behind it, posthuman art too ends up on the art market. There is something diabolically ironic in the fact that artistic wrecked objects are commodified, bought for thousands of euros, and exhibited in perfectly regulated clean art spaces, where, thanks to the ideal temperature and humidity, works of art are protected from the bony, rough hand of time. Observers of Lamas’ work may be left with a feeling of ambiguity: how sustainable is the „panta rhei„, or the principle of eternal change and transformation, which made the concept of the Umbral and The End of Motion exhibitions so inviting?
This English translation was produced in collaboration with Longtermhandstand Gallery. Translation by Ádám Lovász