"Mauricio Alejo: Doubting St. Thomas" at Galeria Ramis Barquet
4 November 2004 – 7 January 2005
A camera wraps snugly around a crumpled ball of paper. The backdrop is neutral and ambiguous, white like the paper itself. Almost imperceptibly, the ball moves, unraveling as if gently exhaling or stretching. We imagine what comes next. The paper will regain its original form, retrieve its composure, reassert its purity, the camera put on rewind and the sequence of events that led to the balling up reversed. But instead, the image fades out after approximately five seconds, and is replaced by another shot of a tightly crumpled sheet, which begins to unravel only to be cut short and replaced yet again. Forty-three times this occurs in Memory, a component of Mexican artist Mauricio Alejo’s series White Videos (2002-2003), the paper locked in a Sisyphean struggle, an eternal loop of striving for and falling short of.
And what if we take as a reference point not the Greek sinner but the Christian saint specified by the exhibition’s title, the apostle Thomas? In Line, another work from the series, a pair of black lines, one thin, the other thick, bisects a white screen. A finger emerges from the right and probes the lines, at which point it becomes apparent that they are created by falling water, the steady stream of which only appears to be solid. If St. Thomas believed Christ’s resurrection only when allowed to handle his wounds, here, the reverse is the case: upon physical contact, the artist’s visual trickery is unveiled to be just that. Touch begets not a confirmation of faith but the opposite: demystification. Doubt remains in play here, and in Alejo’s version of the story, St. Thomas stays mired in that 8-day period of uncertainty between the first and second apparitions of Christ.
It is precisely in this liminal, in-between state that Alejo places his viewer. Drawing from Situationist detournement and Surrealist photography alike, the main feature of the exhibition, nine 110 x 140 cm photographs, capture anomalies in the artist’s apartment. Some are clearly arranged, like a pearly white sink filled to the brim with milk in Milk (2002); others are incidental, like a short length of tubing that peeps out forlornly from behind a plaster wall in Room (2004). All are enigmatic in the way that riddles are, offering just enough information to intimate a narrative presence but not enough to achieve narrative closure. What is the tubing doing there? What appliance did it once serve? Is the wall hiding the scene of a crime, in which the tubing played a part and to which it is a clue?
Needless to say, the balance between providing and withholding information must be flawlessly calibrated, and Alejo is not always entirely successful in this regard. Two Cubes (2001) and Hot Water (2004) each consist of a trio of photographs documenting a sequence of events: respectively, the imprinting of a clear acrylic box on a bed of fresh snow and the progressive steaming up of the artist’s bathroom. Systematically recorded and chronologically displayed, the processes are purged of secrets and suspense alike. Indeed, these works uncover a potentially systemic problem. Alejo’s emphasis on photography’s documentary function, on its dogged claim of authenticity (despite the advent of Photoshop), sterilizes the matrix of doubt upon which this body of work rests. Fortunately, "Doubting St. Thomas" leaves little doubt of this: that resolving this problem will not prove Sisyphean for Alejo.