To visit Nando Alvarez-Perez’s show “Totems for a Flattened Now,” anticipating a classic photography exhibition is to have your expectations scrambled. Part sculptural and part photographic, Alvarez-Perez’s installations at CEPA Gallery reanimate, narrate and recycle images. A web of meaning unfolds in the gallery, but this meaning is always only alluded to and never fully conferred.
“Totems are familiar cultural objects which act as matrices of significance, complex structures of symbols that have the practical effect of forcing images into physical proximity to one another in a way that individually framed images cannot,” Alvarez-Perez said in an interview, explaining the concept behind the title of the show. Through juxtaposition and proximity, Alvarez-Perez’s works play between the foreign and the familiar in a way a single photograph could not.
While there are only five works in the show, “Totems for a Flattened Now” commands the optical space of the gallery by combining aluminum framing, wallpaper, digitally manipulated imagery, modernist inflected aesthetic and saturated colors. Each of these installations, however, contain smaller works within them.
Along the back wall are three large photographic installations: “Post-Industrial Totem for Home or Office 1 (A Vision of Horizons),” “Post-Industrial Totem for Home or Office 2 (Ouroboros)” and “Post-Industrial Totem for Home or Office 3 (The Evaporation of Nostalgia).” Alvarez-Perez sets these works off with fields of differently patterned wallpaper, from which they jut into the gallery space with industrial frames.
In the center of the gallery space, “Post-Industrial Totem for Home or Office 4 (Lines of Sight)” and “Post-Industrial Totem for Home or Office 5 (A Prism of the Mind)” move his photography fully off the walls and into the realm of sculpture. Photographs occupy all sides, inviting viewers to move around them to engage with them fully.
Alvarez-Perez’s installations are truly ecosystems — to borrow the artist’s term — of images, pattern and color. Just as you grow comfortable making sense of a photograph of a Venus among lilies and mirrors, you move on to the next work of an out-of-focus image of a woman regarding a painting. Alvarez-Perez’s work is a set of parts in continual operation, and always at play.
What was most striking about the show was that Alvarez-Perez not only irreverently forced images into contact, his images force viewers into contact with an ecosystem of potential meaning. The limes, found source images and flamingos turned to me for meaning, seeming to ask that I draw the necessary historical and aesthetic conclusions.
Alvarez-Perez’s complex, compelling works refused any easy or immediate visual resolution. Like the word “Carnivore” in one of his photographs, his totems are accented with a litany of such subtle touches, keeping concrete meaning always just out of reach. This is not a show to miss.
What: “Totems for a Flattened Now” by Nando Alvarez-Perez
When: Through March 5
Where: Flux Gallery, CEPA Gallery, 617 Main St.