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  • Mariana Baião Santos

Not for the living – Out of an instance of expiration comes a perennial showing

Gala Porras-Kim, Out of an instance of expiration comes a perennial showing, 2022. Installation view. Commissioned and produced by Gasworks. Courtesy of the artist. © Andy Keate.

Mould is not a condition of art, but it can be. Dust is not a condition of art, but it can be. The false is not a condition of art, but it can be. Art is not a condition of art.

Several of these elements should not be integrated into art, but often are. The entire collection of the British Museum has approximately 8 million objects, about 1% on public display.[1]

Out of an instance of expiration comes a perennial showing is Colombian artist Gala Porras-Kim’s first solo exhibition in London. In Gasworks, on the south side of the Thames, in two intimate rooms, lies a collection of faux artefacts.

In one room, an aesthetic abstract composition, with greenish flecks and black circular shapes, occupies most of the wall just opposite the entrance. What appears to be an unframed canvas turns out to be a muslin fabric that has been breeding fungal spores from the British Museum archives – in other words, it’s mould. Mould with something Pollock-esque about it.

While mentioning Pollock, there are also Warhol references that surface, perhaps to his lesser-known works, as the urine paintings which were concerned only with the process and accepted the impossibility of control over the outcome. Mould Extraction is a literal exercise in title and concept, in peace with its uncertainness, and strong in message. Strong as the cube of compressed dust collected at the Metropolitan Museum.

In another room, stands a replica of a sarcophagus from the British Museum found at Giza, dating from 4500 BC. It is positioned on an arch with arrows suggesting a rotation. Egyptians were buried with their heads facing North in order to watch the sun rise and set. The artist suggests this rotation of the original artefact in the museum to give a more dignified afterlife to its occupant.

This is just one of many suggestions. Alongside several works, there are letters that Porras-Kim wrote to the Metropolitan Museum in New York, the National Museum in Rio de Janeiro and the Gwangju National Museum in South Korea. In them, several concerns were expressed about the afterlife of the museum occupants, who could never imagine their physical remains were to be an element of study and an object for spectators. The artist says she tried to contact one of the deceased to understand where they would prefer their remains to be, by reading drawings of paint poured over a pool of water – of which an image is displayed. This exercise was unfortunately inconclusive…

But the exhibition’s most striking piece serves as a backdrop to the sarcophagus. A huge sheet painted entirely in graphite represents the darkness of the temples’ interior. Mastaba scene is described as “not meant for the living”. It is a critique of the intrusion of modern men into the private and sacred spaces of the ancient Egyptians. This piece is the exhibition’s epitome. The defined graphite marks transcribe presence in deep darkness, a demonstration of strength, of the human hand’s existence where its intervention is questionable.

The works are above all concerned with materiality. They are objects expressed by their physical features and the ideas they materialise. The artist’s work challenges the establishment of some museums in particular, questioning concepts of property, conservation, ethics and life after death, both for ancient civilisations and contemporary society. This remark makes us ask: what place will we have in future societies? Will we care?

[1] Info from museum’s official website

Originally published in Portuguese on Umbigo Magazine 



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