A Review of Jorge Mayet's Broken Landscape at Richard Taittinger Gallery, New York
Heartbreak is at the root of Jorge Mayet’s latest exhibition Broken Landscape on view at Richard Taittinger Gallery, New York. Upon entrance the viewer is struck by a large upheaved tree, a hallmark of Mayet’s oeuvre and the repeated sculptural realization of this motif comprise his latest body of work. The uprooted trees fabricated from sponge, wire, papier-mâché, textiles and acrylics hang suspended in the gallery space creating an eerie hovering garden. At first glance the installation appears to be an ode to our current state of environmental decline. Through this perspective is comparable to Matthew Barney’s De lama lâmina installed at the Brazilian sculpture park Inhotim. Barney’s sculpture is housed in a glass dome and has a stark white tree in the clamped grip of the digger that uprooted it – a blunt reminder of the forceful and detrimental relationship between nature and machine/human. However, although Barney’s work deals with an upheaval, Mayet’s deracinated trees serve as an allegorical self-portrait. Even though his work can be seen as a portrait of our time, it is very much a portrait of the artist; a Cuban living in exile in Spain and the uprooted sense of longing he feels as his experience of his homeland is but a memory.
The trees appear in flux, a visual metaphor of how Mayet feelings towards his inability to put his own feet on his home turf. This mournful sentiment resonates as it is not exclusive to Mayet, but serves as a timely mouthpiece for the reportedly 65 million people in the world who have been forcibly displaced. The ethereal nature of the exhibition draws the viewer in, then upon realisation of the symbolism of these works it gives one cause to consider the broader dialogue these works speak to.
Some of the trees’ extensive root systems show just how embedded in their home they once were and infer the harrowing removal they endured. Works such as Demolición (Demolitian), take pieces with them, such as the fragments of masonry. These relics of a time passed cling to the web of roots like weighty tombstones. This allusion paired with the hourglass structure of the tree and its roots in a permanent state of abscission give it a ghostly quality, as if a spectre from a past life. In a way, that’s what they are to Mayet, shadows of his former life/self.
Other works such as Se Jodió el Dominó (He Screwed Up the Domino) are in full bloom, instilling a sense of vitality. This work at the beginning of the exhibit is a charming landscape of magenta florals. However, as the viewer loops around the show and gathers a contextual insight into the meaning of these works, symbols of severance become apparent. For example, these works lack any sort of root system, as they are disjointed both physically and metaphorically from their homeland. In the context of Mayet’s Cuba, they obscure the political strife in a veil of superficial prosperity of the society. The absence of a root system delineates the physical disconnect between what is shown and what lies beneath and articulates Mayet’s own personal history of exile. The title itself is perhaps an allusion to Mayet’s own experiences of nonconformity that led to his forced departure from his home.
The show does have moments of optimism as seen in Y Llegó la Luz (Then Came the Light) in which a house with a working light inside sits alone under the shade of a tree on a piece of grass, bringing to mind the Wizard of Oz fable. It is hopeful in its title, referring to the relief that comes after a dark period. It still sings a song of solitude, but although these works are alone, they are alone together. This uniformity and attention to displacement, especially at this time of the global refugee crisis is a poetic expression of a heartbreaking experience. Mayet’s use of metaphor is both visually appealing and an appeal to viewers in the comfort of a New York City gallery to consider the detrimental nature of forced displacement on the self.
Written by Isabella Howard, contributor to Arteviste.