Oakville Galleries at Centennial Square
In the fall of 2000 Manglano-Ovalle turned his camera to Mies van der Rohe's last great building for the creation of Alltagszeit (In Ordinary Time). In this new video work, Mies's Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin becomes the breathtaking backdrop for an elegant choreography of portraits staged in the building's magnificent glass-walled entrance hall. A monumental clear-span building, the Neue Nationalgalerie is marked by a massive square roof structure poised on eight perimeter steel support columns. Designed and built between 1962 and 1968, the austere Neue Nationalgalerie is perhaps one of Mies's most classical buildings and is the realization of his concept of a universal architectural space—a space that both fulfills the client's needs and allows for individual freedom of organization within that space. Built to house a collection of twentieth-century art, the Neue Nationalgalerie is situated in Berlin's cultural center at Kemperplatz, a site that also includes the seventeenth-century St. Matthew's Church, the Museum of Applied Arts, the Chamber Music Hall and the Berlin Philharmonic.
Shot in 35mm film and transferred to video, Manglano-Ovalle's Alltagszeit features manipulated footage from a twelve-hour performance shot from daylight to dusk in the museum's huge glass central hall. During this day-long performance, figures walk in and out of the entrance hall space. Some enter from the left, others from the right. Some enter in groups and stand still in the space for a period of time, while others enter alone and seat themselves on one of the Mies van der Rohe-designed Barcelona chairs that populate the hall. Segments shot in the morning are marked by a glorious and vibrant sunrise streaming through the windows, while the afternoon shots are framed by the rich green foliage of the trees outside and the elegant form of the nearby St. Matthew's Church. As dusk approaches, shadows grow dark and long on the building's granite floor while sunlight low on the horizon pierces through the windows a final moment before the hall is filled with darkness.
Manglano-Ovalle's initial conceptual inspiration for Alltagszeit came from Jacques Tati's 1967 film Play Time, an epic of the modern world in which the film's protagonist gets lost in a maze of modern architecture. A design-collage of the Neue Nationalgalerie by Mies that features a figure standing in the building's glass-fronted main hall further defined how Mangalano-Ovalle would use Mies's space and how its reductive and expansive qualities have the effect of investing the inhabitants of the building with a grand importance.
In the final cut of Alltagszeit, the hours of footage that were created during the performance have been condensed into a mesmerizing dance of light and movement. Using a combination of time-lapsed and real time segments, in a matter of about sixteen minutes we see the entire day and all of its activities elapse. Set to a hypnotic newly composed Jeremy Boyle soundtrack Alltagszeit is marked by the recurring appearance of individual video portraits of Manglano-Ovalle's performers who appear full-screen and for only seconds at a time. Of all the figures who pass through the hall during the day, one male figure emerges as the focus of this choreography; in fact, all movements seem to be in relation to him. Appearing alone in the hall at both daylight and dusk and at moments throughout the day, he becomes Alltagszeit's heroic protagonist in a narrative that becomes a poetic allegory for one man's life. In contrast to Le Baiser/The Kiss's ironic homage and Climate's icy images of isolation, Alltagszeit has an emotional, almost spiritual tone. With a title that references the Catholic Mass calendar and prominent views of St. Matthew's Church, Alltagszeit underscores Mies's own desire that this architecture become the new church, the new temple and a timeless and universal stage for the individual.
The riveting series of brief video portraits that recur throughout Alltagszeit are some of this work's most gripping images in their directness and individuality. They related to a number of Manglano-Ovalle's earlier works that explore identity and representation. In Assigned Identities (1990), for example, Manglano-Ovalle addressed the photographic images of immigrants that are used for identifying individuals on a United States “green card". In a series of works that resemble these ID cards, the artist presented individual portraits without any additional identifying information as a means of undermining the identification categories and often dehumanizing classificatory procedures of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Services. Since the artist's subjects for these works actually were individuals seeking amnesty from the INS, this project also served to guide participants through the bureaucracy of the application process.
Later in Street Level Video (1992-93), video portraits of and by former Chicago gang members from the artist's predominantly Latino West Town neighborhood became a central feature of this significant community-based project that sought to explore the real and artificial borders between cultures and neighborhoods. This long-term video collaboration featured interviews with residents conducted by the youths that began a dialogue about identity, territory and gentrification, which ultimately became part of several installations, including a West Town block party, that fostered a greater understanding of Latino youth and neighborhoods.
A more abstract form of portraiture became the center of The Garden of Delights (1998), an installation that recalled the reductive forms of color field painting through a series rich chromatic digital DNA portraits. By making visible an individual's DNA “fingerprint," this project examined the changing nature of the portrayal of individual representation, raising questions about the ethics and cultural ramifications of the new scientific technology that made these images possible. The Garden of Delights is comprised of a suite of forty-eight life-sized Cibachrome prints representing the DNA of individuals from around the world. To create these portraits, Manglano-Ovalle invited sixteen people to participate, each in turn choosing two additional people with whom they wished to form a triptych. A genetics laboratory then analyzed DNA samples collected from each participant and created a computer-generated image of a segment of each individual's DNA “fingerprint." With colors chosen by the participants, each portrait was then output as a human-scale digital photograph and labeled with the individual's first name.
Experienced as a room-sized installation, The Garden of Delights—titled after Hieronymous Bosch's similarly named triptych of morality and perversion in the Middle Ages—becomes a vibrant field of abstraction that, like Bosch's visions of excess, is as seductive as it is sinister. These portraits raise alarming questions about the use/misuse of this new scientific means of identification and what role it will play in future classifications of identity. At the same time, The Garden of Delights provides an opportunity to reassess stereotypical constructions of identification and to consider how an individual's biological identity might impact our understanding of more visible surface traits such as “race" and ethnicity.
Today, almost three years after his first engagement with Mies van der Rohe, Manglano-Ovalle has begun to look beyond the great architect. His intimate interaction with Mies's landmark buildings over the past several years has produced a seductive and provocative body of video works that conduct an ongoing discourse about the ideals, failures and contradictions of Modernism and an exquisite tension between homage and critique. As subjects in Manglano-Ovalle's ongoing political observations and social criticisms, Mies's iconic spaces become invested with evocative new meanings, revealing themselves to be the universal and socially-engaged sites Mies always hoped they could be.
Curator of Contemporary Art
Orange County Museum of Art
Excerpted from Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle © 2001 Cranbrook Art Museum, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Catalogue published in conjunction with an exhibition and tour of Manglano-Ovalle's work organized by Cranbrook Art Museum and curated by Irene Hofmann, then Curator of Exhibitions, September 2001 through June 2003.