Plastic Darkness: Carlos Rigau and His Work
Carlos Rigau is a Cuban-American artist, raised in Miami’s Little Havana and currently based in Brooklyn. He works principally (though not exclusively) with the moving image and what he terms video-sculpture. Rigau co-founded and now runs General Practice, an experimental space in Bushwick dedicated to exploration and collaboration between artists. Rigau also hosts “General Practice Presents,” a New York cable access show filmed at BRIC studios and broadcast on Wednesdays at midnight. The program expands General Practice’s ethos toward collective behavior, and has featured interviews with the Jack Roy collective, artist-run music label Primitive Languages, and end/SPRING BREAK, a Miami/NY artist group.
Underpinning Rigau’s prodigious output is his natural facility as a charismatic social organizer. This manifests through his ability to bring people together via art events, after-parties, and openings, from the Lower East Side scene to major city institutions, where he often DJs. During Art Basel Miami in December, Rigau worked between his solo show, “Santa’s Toy Shop Goes to Cuba,”“at Meeting House, a presentation at Pulse Fair with LMAK Gallery, and an extensively covered — yet controversially cancelled — beachside performance called Dance of the Designer Refugee, for Untitled Fair in collaboration with Helper Gallery.
Within his own practice, a founding interest and constant theme, is the subject of artifice. Rigau explains: “It’s to do with where I grew up. Artifice is a big part of Miami life, and accepting that aspect of the city is to acknowledge my own upbringing within it and how that background informs my work.”
It was during a trip to Las Vegas — a city that takes artifice to greater excess than perhaps anywhere else — that an informative irony was revealed to him. “I was standing there among these facsimiles of great buildings, these copies of European capitals and iconic works of art — the Sistine Chapel, the garish beauty, the pinging cacophony of slot machines. It just hit me, that it isn’t fake. The facsimile is more lifelike today, certainly in terms of our data selves and the skewed realities we present. The plasticity of Miami (or Las Vegas) is real and it is authentic and it is a great thing — not as a copy of the original Venice or New York, but great in and of itself.”
Relatedly, Rigau looks to the the darker side of Miami life: the extremes of social economics, lurid newspaper headlines, drug use, unusual behaviors. “Sensational things happen in Miami. Maybe it has something to do with its position as an apex of the Bermuda Triangle,” he says. “I love that aspect of Miami that is like an adolescent looking for attention.” This too percolates into his working method, so that a thread of discontent is extant. He asks “Why do so many weird things come out of the city?” He aims to locate the viewer in a moment where accepted understanding of one’s place in the corporeality of daily life is jarred or shaken by confrontation with the unexpected, the esoteric or even the mystical. “The frustration of the underclass and the anger permeating some of my work is an outcome of the artifice. It’s not an antidote — it’s an outcome. I want to create through artifice, and to create some kind of disturbance in the everyday.” That attitude is exemplified in Rigau’s current solo exhibition “Delusions Through Details” at LMAK Gallery in New York.
The exhibition consists of a single video sculpture with two projections, seen from opposite sides of the gallery. The films are housed in a box-like structure typical of department store-style Formica display pedestals. One video shows a window with an unremarkable urban view across city buildings. Through extensive editing, the scene becomes dislocated, as layers, including crackling bubble wrap, appear to obscure the window. Strange symbols of an unfamiliar language emerge on the panes, and spots of melting flames drip and sizzle in gravity-defying directions. The other screen shows a model skull on a white workbench, replete with hat and pin, in enigmatic, muted colors. An aproned figure standing behind the skull begins to break it apart, fingers frantically working, until it is in pieces, at which point the video reverses and the skull is marvelously reformed, as fragments of Styrofoam cranium weld back together.
Both videos are so painstakingly altered from their opening frames that visual understanding is arrested and any linear narrative of what is happening is corrupted. “Everyday materials sometimes are charged with something beyond their functionality,” he explains. “When I’m around bubble wrap, I want to pop it. It is at the point where your senses are fully engaged, that things start to feel otherworldly.” A potent aspect of the work is the seeming contradiction of quotidian items and magical symbolism. “Through editing and shooting, the image reveals optical tricks,” says Rigau, “as when a glass in front of the window ‘breaks’ and the viewer sees another layer of glass behind. Other times layers are removed by ‘cheesy’ artificial editing effects. These approaches to editing add up to an affect of disembodiment upon the viewer.”
“Some members of my family have practiced African-Caribbean religions such as Palo and Santeria. For example, you’re driving your new car and you feel under the seat and find that there’s a decorated coconut shell, and you think, How did that get there? It turns out to be a good-luck amulet — blessed, I believe, by Elegguá, the custodian spirit of travel — and placed there without telling the recipient, Rigau says, returning to his familial and cultural background in Little Havana to provide insight into this area of his work. “This interaction with an unknown realm pierces the humdrum of what we expect while driving from A to B. That has imbued me with an acceptance of a certain darkness in life. I’m not a practitioner of these beliefs, but they are a part of my early experience and I do think that there is a supernatural world, or a not visible or understood world.”
Ultimately, Rigau considers artistic process to be art world language for what could be more accurately described as “ritual.” His ritual — subtly informed by autobiographical, magical and historical frameworks — involves a constant process of making and destroying within the physical backdrops he sets up for his videos, similar to the way that a priest or shaman would set up specific environments to aid the practice of their rites. The results are often mesmerizing spatial and dimensional experiences where visual uncertainty and symbolic motifs cause a temporary fusion between the familiar tropes of daily life, and unknown planes that may lie just beyond our comprehension.