Enrique Martínez Celaya took over Fredric Snitzer Gallery in November 2013 with his installation Burning as It Were a Lamp. The installation created an environment that questioned identity, memories, and our relationship to loss. Enrique’s poetic works transformed the white cube into a meditative space that morphed a feeling of isolation into a sense of hope.
Today at the tip of so many and perplexing.
Wandering ears under the varying moon,
I ask myself what whim of fate.
Made me so fearful of a glancing mirror.
– Mirrors, Jorge Luis Borges
The environment of Burning as it were a Lamp installed at the Fredric Snitzer Gallery in Miami consisted of few elements: a painting on one wall, three other walls tiled with mirrors, and a bronze boy who stands in a pool of his own tears. The reflection of the pond is dark and faint while the one offered by the wall mirror is fractured, as if we were looking at facets of a world carelessly brought together. The boy has big circular holes cut out from his metal shell, water comes out of his eyes, and a valve is visible by his heel. Although we can only see him from the back, we discover his face in the mirror along with our own reflection and the reflection of the painting behind us; a mid-format vertical painting of a burnt angel crashing into the sea.
As we move, the relationship between these elements shift, and we shift with them. This change as well as the nature of the imagery makes it difficult for the visitor to establish a point of view free of contradiction. Take the boy, for instance, his holes and his valve suggest he is a metal conduit, nonetheless, we do not completely forget him as a boy. He is not lost to his own image, like Narcissus, but are his tears not vanity also in the end? And why does he weep? For his distance, we assume—for what will never be his. And so, although he is metallic—solid—he becomes absent.
The painting of the burnt angel also invites contradiction and ambiguity. It has ambition and surrenders into clumsiness; it represents and destroys; it is theatrical and hermetic; bombastic and mute. Can it really be more than an allegory of itself—more than a painting about the act of painting a fallen angel? And where are we in relation to this painting? Do we, like the ship in Auden’s poem, have somewhere to get to and cannot be held back by those falling from the sky? Or is it that the vanishing of things like angels, memories, and who we used to be or thought ourselves to be, is drowned by images rustling in time?
As sources of both, confusion and revelation of our place in the world, the mirror on the walls, the reflection on the floor, and the shifting point of view, seed the cloud of generative questions. The mirror suggests recognition of self, but it also invites misrecognition, lack of familiarity, and ultimately, the assumption of a self that does not completely, or at all, fit who we feel ourselves to be. Are we that burnt, abandoned angel? Are we the boy? Are we the seer who can only inhabit this house of mirrors as a ghost?
To me, this world of repeated, intertwined, anachronistic, images announces our uncertainty as well as our fragile and limited apprehension of ourselves and of the world in which we believe ourselves to be. The reflected burnt angel and crying bronze boy are phantom consciences whose existences echo ours, and so as we interact with this reflected world our own dissolves. Our image in the mirror, like a painting, invites a dialectic between the perceiving/experiencing subject and a perceived/experienced object. Thus, to look at the image in the work of art or in the mirror is to recognize our distance from what we see while at the same time being offered the suggestion, if not the promise of unity, a promise that is frustrated as soon as it is recognized.
Burning as it were a Lamp brings forth those questions that have an effect on our own identity and memories, and maybe also on our relationship to loss, especially the loss of who we had been and of those places in which we had been. The environment places the duality of self and reflection at the center of a visual, literary and philosophical web of relationships that tries to represent—to catch— the irrepresentable. The project also suggests any non-trivial knowledge of who we are in the world depends on our recognition of the movement of those invisible gears of history, world, and individual experience, and that even in the best of cases, this knowledge is inadequate. This inadequacy hovers around Burning as it were a Lamp in the form of the instability and, perhaps also, of the dislocation of one’s relation to the work, as well as in the uncertainty we feel in knowing what the work itself is.
Featured image: Enrique Martínez Celaya, Burning As It Were A Lamp, bronze, mirrors, and concrete block, variable dimensions, 2013. Photo by Frank Casale © Fredric Snitzer Gallery
All images © Fredric Snitzer Gallery, Photographs Frank Casale