by Drew Martin
I love small galleries that give their artwork a fair amount of space. The Fridman Gallery on 287 Spring Street in Manhattan is such a place.
I am glad I got to see the current exhibit Invisible Hands, an installation of three videos, before it is comes down on Friday.
Curated by Omar Lopez-Chahoud, the video work of Donna Conlon and Jonathan Harker deals with social and financial power, history, and unpredictability. Conlon is from Atlanta, Georgia; Harker from Ecuador. Both now live and work in Panama.
Invisible Hands is also, more specifically, the name of the first video you see when you enter the space. Very visible hands, actually, with invisible bodies, spin, gather, and stack coins: in this case Panamanian balboa coins (for the Spanish conquistador), which are synonymous there with corruption.
I found this video to be the least interesting only because regional money loses its symbolic currency when it goes abroad and coins have a finite and modest value when you think of the more abstract transactions that happen with the big players.
That being said, when you learn that $40 million of these coins were put into circulation in Panama without retiring the U.S. dollars they were supposed to replace, then they have more weight. Nonetheless, I try to think about how they could be used in a more poignant manner. Like the way Chris Burden laid out 50,000 nickels, with a matchstick on top of each, to represent the 50,000-strong Soviet tank division in his 1979 piece The Reason for the Neutron Bomb.
What I found worked really well were the other two videos, Domino Effect, and Tropical Zincphony. Both of these are simple, but have a lot to say in their movement and the personality given to the inanimate objects that star in them: discarded colonial-era bricks and mangoes, respectively.
For Domino Effect Conlon and Harker set up a domino run with old bricks through a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Panama, which is now in jeopardy due to surrounding development.
While the video addresses a local issue, the symbolism, especially in Central America, has a greater political meaning.
It is a little bit unnerving to watch the bricks knock each other over because the first reaction is one you would have as a kid: it is colorful and cool. It is also a cheeky editing trick: of course this is not one continuous row. So you watch it with a kind of innocent joy, but then you realize it is symbolic, and has another meaning, which feels a bit dark; perhaps it could be about colonizing/invading.
My first reaction to that feeling was that I do not know as much as I should about the history of Panama, and the region.
Tropical Zincphony has a similar set up but is more random and is a bit more light-hearted.
A mango falls from a tree and goes on an impossible journey over corrugated zinc roofing. Unlike the domino bricks, which have predetermined rules, the mango is more prone to chance.
For me this video is less political, more social, and much more about the journey of life. If the roofing were in good shape, i.e. ideal conditions, the path would be more predictable but the corrugated metal is dinged and dented and not perfect, like life. Additionally, the mango itself, like us, is not perfect for the journey. It is not spherical, and those distortions from the ideal rolling object, a ball, are like our own imperfections.
When I looked back at the first video, Invisible Hands, with its stacks of coins, which seem at times to be casino chips, a theme of gambling emerges, but not in terms of a betting game, but rather more in terms of the chance that controls our destinies.