Juan Zamora, Untitled, 2009, at A Coney Island State of Mind, Galería Moriarty in Madrid. Photo: 16 Miles.
In the past three days, in three cities, we have seen open flames in three different works of art. First we entered Galería Moriarty in Madrid to find a gentleman igniting the candle on the installation / drawing by Juan Zamora [above], who just had a solo show at the gallery that was reviewed in Artforum this month. It marks time - looking at the piece, wandering the gallery, running the space (the wax has accumulated on the floor) - and becomes the source of anxiety for the little man standing precariously on his plank.
Cildo Meireles, Volatile, 1980-1994, at Cildo Meireles, Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA). Photo: 16 Miles
On to Barcelona, where Cildo Meireles's manic retrospective (which was just at the Tate Modern and also reviewed in Artforum) at MACBA featured his creepy Volatile (1980-1994) installation in a neighboring building. A dark room, anonymous powder lining the floors and floating in the air (which appeared to be flour but was later revealed to be talcum powder by a friendly guard), the faint smell of gasoline, and a single open flame. Suddenly we have become Zamora's terrified figure.
AIDS-3D, OMG Obelisk, 2007, at The Generational: Younger Than Jesus at the New Museum, New York. Photo: 16 Miles
Returning to New York and the New Museum's triennial, we saw that AIDS-3D had returned the open flame to its primordial associations, staking torches around their OMG Obelisk (2007) a site that appears destined for some sort of mysterious, prehistoric ceremony.
Though I am sure that I am missing dozens of examples, two precedents come to mind: Urs Fischer's Untitled (Branches) (1995) [below], which was featured prominently at the 2006 Whitney Biennial (and before that at the Palais de Tokyo) and Gina Pane's 1973 piece, in which she laid on above a bed of candles for thirty minutes (extended by Marina Abramović in 2005 to seven hours, broken into intervals, as part of her Seven Easy Pieces performance). Fischer's piece defines the ritualistic possibilities for the candle, while Pane's action more clearly hints of danger and violence - the startled surprise - that Meireles seems to covet.
Zamora's quirky drawing piece ends up standing out as the hardest to place and easily the funniest. After being activated by an observer, it runs a slow-motion play: the figure staring nervously at the candle until it completely burns down, uninterested in our presence.