ArtsATL > Art+Design > Review: “We Are Stars” mixes ancient symbolism with contemporary insight

Review: “We Are Stars” mixes ancient symbolism with contemporary insight

Martin Ferreyra, Fuego serpiente transformación, 2017 (All images courtesy the artists/The Gallery at Wish)

We Are Stars / Somos Estrellas, at the Gallery by Wish through August 31, was organized in conjunction with OYE Fest’s August 10–12 music festival and celebration of Latinx diversity, illustrating the continuing evolution of an exhibition space committed to presenting art alive to the dynamics of a fast-changing cultural moment.

It’s particularly appropriate, then, that the two-artist show is about transforming the spirits of the past into a new, living form for the present moment, in the same way that the Day of the Dead in Mexico playfully but seriously celebrates not death but transformation.

An installation view of works by Pablo Gnecco and Martin Ferreyra (foreground sculpture) at the Gallery by Wish

Martin Ferreyra, born in Argentina but living in Mexico City, presents his own version of traditional ceremonies in paintings and sculptures featuring animal figures dressed in ritual costumes drawn from a number of Latin American cultures. Colombian-born light-and-sound artist Pablo Gnecco translates the theme of transformation into mirrored grids or rhythmic flashes of brightness. The two together wrote a bilingual statement that makes the point poetically, and it’s worth quoting it whole: “Somos luz y sombra, parte de todo en continuo movimiento, iguales hasta el final desconocido. En la oscuridad, brillamos. Somos estrellas. . . . We are light and shadow, part of a whole in continuous movement, equal to the unknown end. In the darkness, we shine. We are stars.”

Martin Ferreyra, Ceramonia de fuego nuevo, 2017

Gnecco’s lights in motion communicate the starry part of this idea more directly, while Ferreyra’s bright-colored figures are shown “in continuous movement” in such scenes as a Ceremony of New Fire (Ceremonía de fuego nuevo) that only vaguely resemble the ancient Aztec new year ceremony of that name. A recumbent figure resting on a bed of dirt and surrounded by actual green plants is “equal to the unknown end,” making the point in the visual impact amplified by a title, La muerte no es el fin, that translates to “Death is not the end.”

An installation view of works by Martin Ferreyra at the Gallery by Wish

There is a sense in which the situations and shapes of Ferreyra’s art speak for themselves, even for viewers who can’t translate the Spanish titles or don’t recognize the ritual objects from ancient Latin American societies that appear in such works as Chac Mool entuega fuego (“Chac Mool plays with fire”). In this painting, the figures cutting up a tree into pieces being burned in a bowl on the chest of a reclining statue communicate a mood, and that may be enough in today’s American society, in which all viewers have different types of knowledge and previous experiences, all of which influence their response to a work of art.

Fans who came for a scheduled meet-and-greet at the gallery with music star Cuco also saw, at least in passing, art that relates to a cultural history that is all too likely to be unfamiliar to Americans of any ethnic background. As the official statement from the gallery put it, the show was created to “give the audience a reason to reflect on what could be the reunion with our ancestors and keep their precious memories alive,” an immediate encounter involving a new level of realization. In a town where gallery owners have tried for decades, with mixed results, to “educate the audience,” the Gallery by Wish may have done as good a job with this encounter as any attempt in recent memory. As T. S. Eliot put it in a whole other poetic context, “For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.” There are still almost two weeks left for other viewers to have their own encounter with this intriguing reinvention and re-creation of ancient symbolism mixed with contemporary insight.

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