Diving into the Plasma Pool

Added by Kristine Thompson on March 22 2010, at 5:36 am
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  • Plasma Pool, Marco Rios’s first solo exhibition at Simon Preston Gallery, suggests that Rios is a modern day Dr. Jekyll: artist, scientist, inventor, lovesick patient, and potential monster. In keeping with this LA-based artist's previous projects, literary and film influences abound, and the pieces materialize in the form of sculptures, drawings, and photographs.

    Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886) serves as a grounding reference. The book, a classic example of gothic fiction, combines elements of romance and horror and is lauded as a quintessential tale of morality and the plurality of self. We know Dr. Jekyll to be a man filled with lust and desire that is repressed under his respectable Victorian veneer. His scientific experiments result in a liquid potion that, when consumed, transforms him into Mr. Hyde, a monstrous alter ego that indulges his every desire. Playing off of Stevenson’s narrative and Rouben Mamoulian’s film adaptation (1931), Rios suggests various modes of physical and emotional transformation.

    In an untitled instant photograph, the artist is positioned on the edge of a seedy motel bed wearing a tuxedo top and boxer shorts. His face is a gnarled mess, reminiscent of Mr. Hyde. The mirror in the bathroom evinces a scantily clad woman as the photographer. She could be there as a lover, making a snapshot to memorialize this particular tryst. Or, she could be there against her will, acting as instructed, like the women that Hyde terrorized. The vernacular style and intimate subject matter—evocative of photographers Nan Goldin and Larry Clark—collides with uncanny facial alterations, like those found in Ralph Eugene Meatyard’s photos. The resulting image is deeply unsettling. This intermingling of the good/evil and beauty/monstrousness that resides in all of us is also alluded to in drawings on dry erase boards, like those that we might encounter in educational settings.

    Rios addresses the brain and head as a site of complex thoughts and conflicted desire—a part of the body to be worked on. Another untitled photograph depicts the artist, impeccably dressed, with a rock tethered to his head. It’s unclear whether this rock is a kind of protective helmet, grounding agent, Victorian healing device, or Sisyphean burden to bear. Further alterations to the head are possible in Neurochemical Squirt, a hyperbolic nutcracker scaled to imply that one’s head is the nut to be cracked. A black and white photograph, in which Rios’s head is replaced by a walnut, accentuates this idea.

    Much of the sculptural work presented here is about literally getting inside someone else’s body. Affectionate Cranial Scoop is an over-sized drill bit with the head of a spoon. The title and shape suggest that it is meant to channel (tenderly) into a brain. Perhaps it is used to excise melancholy or undesirable feelings, making room for something more pleasant. Perhaps it enables the tasting and ingesting of a loved one’s thoughts and memories. Filmmaker David Cronenberg’s influence can be felt here. The show’s title is a nod to his film The Fly (1986), and the hybridized utensils/tools created by Rios relate, in part, to the bizarre instruments that appear in Dead Ringers (1988).

    Two other sculptures facilitate the exchange of liquid emotion. In Tear Sips (700 ml at a time), a glass device is shaped to precisely wrap around the necks of two people. The positioning of the vial’s openings implies that one body expels tears into an eyepiece in order for the other body to consume via the mouth. In Orificial Juice Exchange, this swapping of fluids is pushed further by attachments for eyes, ears, nose, mouth, penis, and asshole. The modesty of the Victorian era is abandoned here. Tears and other bodily fluids are collected as elixirs or as language-less means of understanding or transforming someone else.

    There is something simultaneously hopeful and disturbing about Rios’s creations. Affection, violence, and potential failure co-mingle. In a near future, I can imagine Rios, Jekyll, Hyde, Stevenson, Mamoulian, and Cronenberg working side by side in a shared lab. Love, horror, fear, desire and history alternately motivate their experiments and inventions. They swap tales. They influence and disagree with each other. Electromagnetic fields are altered. The floor is stained with cranial fluid, blood, and tears. Bits of metal and glass clang, and Nick Cave can be heard on the stereo.

    -Kristine Thompson

    Marco Rios: Plasma Pool is on view through April 25, 2010
    Simon Preston Gallery
    301 Broome St
    New York, NY 10002

    All images courtesy of the artist and Simon Preston Gallery
    Top to bottom (& L-R, where applicable):
    Installation view; Untitled, archival pigment print; Neurochemical Squirt, aluminum; Untitled, archival pigment print; Affectionate Cranial Scoop, 3-D printed ABS plastic; Tear Sips (700ml at a time), glass, rubber and aluminum; Orificial Juice Exchange, glass rubber and aluminum.


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