The Invisible Cities: A Two Person Show Featuring:
Inas Al-soqi and Patrice Aphrodite Helmar
BOSI CONTEMPORARY, Lower East Side, NYC
Curated by Giulia Trabaldo Togna
Runs through June 20th, 2015
By GREGORY DE LA HABA, JUN. 2015
NEW YORK – First time curator and Sotheby's Master Graduate, Giulia Trabaldo Togna, presents an exhibition in our city based on fifty-five imaginary cities, the ones outlined in the award-winning book Le Città Invisibili (Invisible Cities) by Italian author Italo Calvino. The intention behind the show at Bosi Contemporary on the Lower East Side, according Trabaldo Tonga, is "to present a contemporary dialogue between two artists who visually interpret the essence of urban life described by Calvino" four decades ago. With the work of Inas Al-soqi and Patrice Aphrodite Helmar as exempla, Trabaldo Togna sets forth on her curatorial colloquy between literature, art and urbanism.
Marco Polo and Kublai Khan, the protagonists depicted in Italo Calvino's work of fiction, do not speak in the same tongue nor share the same perspective regarding those imagined places within Invisible Cities. Herein lies motive: using random items from each city as a tool to communicate, Marco Polo not only paints a picture of the aging emperor's vast empire per his request, he also transcends the linguistic barrier, all while becoming a translator of a certain kind, allowing Kublai Khan and the reader the pleasure of interpretation. One could argue such elucidation the ecstasy of all art. Through Marco Polo's voice, artistry and overall sensitivity, a magical and surreal world is illuminated, and the imaginative potentialities of man and city become limitless (and why Calvino's writing remains so appealing). Bring on the modern day translators to Invisible Cities and artists for the exhibit: Inas Al-soqi (b.1987, Romania) and Patrice Aphrodite Helmar (b. 1981, Juneau, Alaska).
Al-soqi's colorful collage works are meticulously hand cut yet playfully arranged to a near-perfect compositional framework of hyper-surrealist frenzy. They should succeed in “bringing the noise” (think city noise) to the show. Despite the work's overall ambiguity, an air of familiarity prevails as the imagery utilized in their making were repurposed from old art books, magazines, newspapers and sheet music. Works like “The Heart Of Saint Marco” and “Taksim Square” recall places we perhaps read about in an Agatha Christie novel or visited while backpacking across Europe in college.
But as it is with any summer jaunt or vacation, students tend to travel much the way a tour group views paintings on the walls of the Louvre, hurriedly from one to the next, devouring (think swallowing without chewing) as much as possible because time is limited. Or, precisely as Calvino (Marco) proclaimed while exiting one of his cities: "You leave Tamara without having discovered it".
Yet, so long as you're not trying to catch the J train back to Brooklyn, Al-soqi's work has the power to keep us fixated on it a little while longer. There is much to discover, decode and sift through in her imagined places of interest. Like the ancient biblical city of Ashkelon in Israel, destroyed and re-built upon again and again and over thousands of years with varying tribes and cultures involved, Al-soqi's collages conjure a similar, multi-layered richness of history and storyline.
The American photographer Walker Evans (1903-1975) comes to mind with Helmar's black and white photographs. Especially in “Whitehouse”, “House Car” and “Elijah After The Storm”, imagery of trailer-type homes and dilapidated ones where the actual setting seems secondary to the thematic documentation of destitution, a motif Mr. Evans so vividly portrayed with his photographs of white sharecroppers in southern Alabama during the Great Depression. For a young photographer fresh out of Columbia's MFA Program, Helmar's work conveys a solid sense of personal confidence, craft and maturity of vision. In these pictures, however, the influence of Evans and the gesturing to the past appear obvious. The press release states, 'Helmar's photographs reflect the actual urban reality' which in these photographs is lacking entirely unless we're now viewing Prada Marfa as comparable to Mall of America.
In contrast, Helmar's documentation of the inhabitants of New York City or Reykjavik (Iceland), earn her some urban-street-cred. Images like Paige and Their Dog Taz, Primping Before The Band Plays, After Bar Close, and Say Yes, do the contemporary urban setting justice while also revealing a gentler, softer side of a compact and dense metropolis. These works capture a joy and youthful energy, much like a Ryan McGinley piece would, save for the nudity. Helmar’s photographs are calming, almost meditative, like stills from a late night commercial advertising “cool” and "fun" with a caption that might read: “Wish You Were Here”. They give pause to the fact that in our contemporary concrete and steel jungle and fast-paced lifestyle, moments of solace and reflection can still be had, savored even, if one slows down for a moment and acknowledges that it will be ok if we miss the bus or the train to elsewhere. City dwellers should know, afterall, there'll be another right behind it soon enough.
The Invisible Cities show at Bosi Contemporary presents a cogent visual dichotomy of two artists intrepretations of Calvino's work. Yet, from what was seen at the show and to what was imagined after leaving, I could only wish for more from curator Giulia Trabaldo Togna. As Calvino states in Invisible Cities: “You take delight not in a city's seven or seventy wonders, but in the answer it gives to a question of yours.” And so too it is with art. Italo Calvino took us far and wide throughout nine unforgettable chapters. Trabaldo Togna can, and should, travel further with him and the Invisible Cities theme. And if she does, book your tickets early. WM
Gregory de la Haba is an artist and writer from New York City.view all articles from this author