Theo Michael: I DIDN'T THINK OF ANYTHING I DON'T KNOW WHAT TO DO
Preteen Gallery, Mexico City
January 31st - February 20, 2013
One of the most striking aspects of Mexico City is its history. It is a place where the present intermingles with the past in a palpable way. Take the center for example, where sixteenth century Spanish palaces were built atop the ruins of the conquered Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan, giving rise to the present day archeological site where the evidence of this history is layered like sediment in the ground.
Greek artist Theo Michael, who moved to the Distrito Federal in 2010, makes work that resonates with the agedness of his new home. His practice consists of mining history and pop culture, unearthing and recycling images and objects and reconfiguring these to produce drawings, collages and vitrines that re-imagine history and question the present order of things. His drawn works and sculptures look convincingly like illustrations and artifacts from the past, and toy with notions of what we think we know. In his collage work, Theo Michael culls images from the extensive collection that he has amassed over the past several years in order to create all-over compositions comprised of tiny cut-outs. Bearing some resemblance to the results of a Google image search, these collages imply an array of complex relationships between seemingly unrelated forms.
For his recent solo exhibition, I didn't think of anything I don't know what to do, Theo Michael punctuated the stark, white space of Preteen Gallery with a series of dog-eared, sepia-tone collages. At first glance these look like pages torn out of old science or geography magazines. It was only after talking with Michael, that I learned that he had crafted these carefully by hand. Subjecting the paper to multiple washes of paint, chemical solutions and other tools he effectively "aged" the prints. Through the veil of this yellowed, worn surface, the images looked deceptively older than they were. In comparison to the hand-cut forms in his other collages however, they had a markedly digital cut-and-paste appearance. Tiled on the page, they overlapped in some areas and formed negative geometric shapes between others, challenging their antique appearance and suggesting that they had been composed on a computer.
Despite the amount of information and the delicate surface treatment, the most striking thing about these collages was not what Michael added to them, but what he took away. Unlike the cumulative process used to produce most collage work, the signature characteristics of these pieces were made using a reductive approach. After printing and painting them, Michael removed several of the images, leaving gaping holes in the surface of the paper. Hung unframed in the gallery, these pieces seemed to hover over the walls, the bright white surface visible through the amorphic voids. Slight shadows were also created around the edges of the holes, lending the two dimensional work a sculptural quality.
When considering the themes of history, archeology and systems of categorization that Michael's work suggests, these collages conjure up even more associations than his previous pieces. With the series at Preteen, Michael invites his audience to use their imaginations to fill in the blanks and to forge links between the clues presented. When viewing these pieces, one's eyes cannot help but to jump from one absence to the next, connecting the dots, trying to solve the puzzle. What was there and then removed? This work not only speaks to things erased from a narrative or a history, but also to a story that is yet to be written and gaps that are yet to be filled.
Emmy Skensved is a Canadian artist currently based in Berlin, Germany. She holds an MFA from the University of Waterloo and a BFA from OCAD University. She has exhibited her work across Canada and Europe, including solo shows at Greener Pastures Contemporary Art in Toronto and September Gallery in Berlin. Her review of Kathrin Sonntag’s Double Take at Galerie Kamm won second prize in the 2011 C Magazine New Critics Competition.