Agua Caliente/Hot Water

Carlos Rodriguez Mendez 2

For his exhibition Agua Caliente/Hot Water, the Spanish artist Carlos Rodríguez-Méndez (Pontevedra, 1968) is installing a gigantic minimal sculpture in the Kunst Nu room at S.M.A.K. 

It comprises thirty-nine huge white PVC tubes, each thirty-five metres long, which are literally stuffed into the room. Each tube is filled with five litres of vegetable oil, and in the course of the exhibition this will gradually begin to leak out.

By using such simple everyday materials as soil and peat or, as in this case, plastic, and by employing a minimalist visual idiom, the work of this artist can be situated somewhere between Arte Povera (’70) and Minimalism (’60). But there is more to it than that. The ‘scars’ the tubes left in the room as they were being installed will remain visible and tangible to the viewer. In this way the work negates the typical discourse of Minimalism, because rather than aiming for balanced proportions, it becomes a sculptural examination of the (overblown) relations of scale between body, sculpture and room. The leaking oil is also characteristic of Rodríguez-Méndez’ highly physical approach to sculpture and can be interpreted as a bodily fluid slowly seeping out of the ‘body’ that this sculpture forms. This means that the sculpture, however ‘Minimalist’ it looks, is more like a living body that has wounded itself by its aggressive desire to penetrate the surrounding space at whatever cost. The many performances Rodríguez-Méndez carries out – or has carried out for him – and which act as some sort of ‘performative sketches’ for his sculptures, also illustrate this highly physical, almost sexual view of minimal sculpture, even though in those works he seems to want to go down the opposite road. A typical example is the action entitled Batir Saliva/Beating Saliva, which is performed at an unannounced time in the course of the exhibition. A performer, sitting in the entrance of ‘a’ public building in Ghent, whips up Rodríguez-Méndez’ saliva into a foam. Instead of a sculpture that takes possession of the architectural space and thereby secretes fluids and leaves scars, as is the case in the Kunst Nu room, in this action fluids from Rodríguez-Méndez’ own ‘sculptural’ body are themselves secreted and are once again ‘moulded’ into sculpture by means of a physical act taking place in an architectural setting. And there are other possibilities too. In the performance called Agua Caliente/Hot Water, which is also the title of the exhibition, a performer drinks glasses of boiling hot water. In this case it is the external fluids which in their turn penetrate the ‘architecture’ of the sculptural body and there cause harm or leave scars. In this way the artist intelligently mixes up the ‘traditional’ minimalist triumvirate of body, sculpture and architecture to end up with a highly corporeal, almost ritualistic-eschatological approach to ‘sculpture as a body’. In so doing he uses both aggressive activist aspects that refer to the performance art of the ’70s, headed by Chris Burden and the Wiener Aktionisten, and more traditional minimal means of presentation such as white PVC, playing with the white cube and the glorification of the object as a work of sculptural art. Rodríguez-Méndez’ work is only complete when it is present and observable in its physical performance (the sketch), the process of its physical creation (the installation) and its sculptural presentation (the work as the body itself). And all within the various corporeal possibilities that architecture itself possesses. The body as architecture and/or architecture as a body.

More info: Carlos Rodríguez-Méndez | Agua Caliente/Hot Water (PDF)

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