Pedro Mesa: No One Listening
Sometimes the ephemeral sticks. We know it won't last so we pay attention. Pedro Mesa’s exhibition, No One Listening curated by John Elammar and María Alejandra Sáenz at Creative Drive, is just such an event. It was up for only three days, but its images and echoes still flash and reverberate. Mesa, a recent MFA graduate from SVA’s Fine Arts program, is a temporary immigrant from Colombia. The transient nature of his show, which included two videos and three sculptural wall pieces, embraces the precarity of his situation as a Latin American in Trump’s America and uses it as a device to speak about issues concerning colonialism, race, power, language, nationalism, and the many cloaks one must wear to navigate these existences.
On ViewCreative Drive
May 3 – 5, 2019
Two videos are projected onto large canvases, gessoed white, and used as screens for Mesa’s video works A cardboard box has sat in the sun too long and Rrrrrr’s (2018). The former rests on the ground in a landscape format (a nod to historical landscape painting, the Romantics of the Americas) and depicts the artist naked, sitting on a chair in an unidentified landscape, painting his brown body with thick white bands of paint which resemble the “razzle-dazzle” of camouflage invented during World War I. Slowly, Mesa covers his brown body with white which reads as a metaphor of European colonialism. But this tactic is also a defense against an unavoidable pest, a stealer of blood, a predator—the mosquito. It is easy, for us Americans, to see this space as the Mexican/United States borderlands, given the violent and racist rhetoric surrounding the site but I learned from the artist it is a landscape in Israel, another site of contention.
Rrrrrr’s (2018) is a projection which rises nearly to the ceiling. It is an extreme close up of the artist rolling stops and starts, like a choking engine on a dirt bike. His expression sometimes gives away to frustration or weariness as he struggles to maintain his language. At moments the Rrrrs become growls. The injection of gaps of silence into that natural flow of language and sound become important: his inhalation builds to a restarting that is a refusal to give up, a refusal to let go of this identifier. His face becomes earnest, sincere, open. Pedrrrro.
Behind this video, glows the phonetic spelling of the artists name: Paydrow. It looks at first like neon—a tired form of art-making—but it is made from the light stripping (LEDs in polyvinyl tubing) one finds on a shelf in any big box store in the United States. It is economical, easy to find, plastic. Reread Paydrow and it becomes "Paid Row.” His name no longer just changed into Americanized Phonetics but now asserts the very shelves he plucked the stripping from, and so of capitalist abundance altogether. On the wall opposite the video works hang two sets of balusters with colonial designs found on many dwellings in Colombia. These two works, ¡Cabrones, qué viva el partido Liberal! (Bastards! Long live the Liberal Party!) (2018) and Ni las sombras le han quedado (Nor the shadows have remained) (2018), jut out from the wall, white on white, like rib cages. The light from the videos, and from the window that overlooks the Hudson river, gives them form as their shadows shift in response to the light.
It is entirely fitting that in order to enter the building to see Mesa’s show, one must go through a security check, have their picture taken, bags screened, and otherwise be scrutinized before entering the innards of the marbled interior that houses offices for S&P Global, HUGO BOSS, EmblemHealth, and the New York City Department of Transportation. Once through the checkpoint, the viewer must ascend a two-story escalator and navigate DeLillo-like, labyrinthine hallways lined with security guards before entering a silicon-inspired workspace that includes a cafe, couches, ping pong tables, and a MAC Cosmetics photography studio. Around the corner, down a hallway, the viewer finally enters Mesa’s show, tucked away in the bowels of surveillance capitalism.
This show felt light and natural in the space. Yet to be housed in such a stale environment under the guise that “No one is listening” turns the exhibition into a kind of lament that rings in my ears in waves of r’s. It's as if the building had hidden his images and voice, locked away in an attempt to silence him but he was able to exhibit, to speak, and because of that, the sound and images from the exhibition are carried away with me. Perhaps the ephemeral and temporary nature of its exhibition in a screened concrete and marble “Labyrinth of Capital,” is the best way to give voice to a resistance, sounding from inside the cave.