Felix Gonzales-Torres work at The Mac is without a doubt one of this years must see exhibitions. The works; a conceptual, immersive collection spanning all 3 floors of the gallery, have the ability to cross through the boundaries of conceptual/contemporary art allowing themselves to be both a challenging and welcoming exhibit for enthusiasts and novices alike.
For anyone unfamiliar or uneasy in approaching contemporary art, this exhibit is an excellent starting point to wet the appetite. The ground floor gallery is home to a selection of 355lbs of sweets, wrapped in silver fool. The concept is both simple and beautiful in equal measure. The sweets, placed in a nonchalant fashion in the corner of the room, represent the combined weight of Felix and his partner, Ross Laycock. The audience or contributors are invited to take a sweet, or not if they prefer, thus altering the shape and density of the pile, and consequently the work. By the end of the exhibit the work may have completely vanished, or could indeed be altered only very marginally, if at all. Felix leaves it up to us, the audience and accidental collaborators of this work, to decide the fate of the piece. I believe this piece in particular, to be a homage to Felix’s late partner at the time of creation, and the self inflicted destructiveness, in leaving the fate of the work up to others, is reflective of the destructiveness of Felix’s partners death, something out of his hands. It’s almost suggesting that all Felix can do as the creator of this work, is to sit back and watch it’s eventual end. Something that you can’t help but be move by when experiencing the work. The taking of one of the sweets from the pile, allows us to keep the artwork, but consequently Felix’s intimacy with his partner, alive.
The theme of participation is recurring throughout the exhibition. Each piece challenges the viewer in one way or another. Even choosing not to participate is an active choice made based on the juxtaposition of the artists demands to engage, or withdraw, each one a deliberate participatory decision in itself. This dependency on audience engagement makes this exhibit a brilliant introduction to the field of conceptual art, an area of art that many people may deem to be exclusionary or difficult to penetrate. The second stand out piece, involves the audience making the choice to put on headphones which are offered up on a stand alone holder on the wall. Below the fairy lights above, participators will hear soft waltz music and can make the decision whether to dance along to the enticing tunes should we please. It’s hard not to notice, amongst the often serious themes of Felix’s work, a recurring theme of playfulness. Sweets, dancing, and in other pieces, jigsaws and beaded curtains; the works remain playful and earnest in their delivery. Another reason for this exhibit to be such a perfect example of welcoming, accessible, yet extraordinarily executed conceptual contemporary art.
Felix Gonzales-Torres:This Place runs from 30 Oct – 24 Jan at The Mac in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter.