In the first instance Beatriz Olabarrieta’s artwork is crooked. Like an oversized yoga mat, ‘Open relationship (almost failing red)’ (2017) is placed askew of the demarcation grooves set by the floorboards. Only just slightly, which gives it a sense of the accidental. The temptation is to correct its placement, though of course the work remains untouched and introduces an exhibition teasingly just short of the definable and the ideal.
To begin with this work appears as a puzzle of logic. Like a flatpack which, if you follow all the die-cuts, will transform into an object. Only it won’t. Recalling Lucio Fontana’s slashed canvases, the ominous slices through the matting are purposeful and precise but are like clues to nowhere. Cutout shapes are half inserted into slots with the likelihood they’ll be re-located and re-inserted elsewhere. It’s all very shifty. Temporary. Stuck in a mode of forever figuring out, amplified by the sticky notes on the nearby wall with their sketchy little figurations.
Continuing the playful oddities, the nine works downstairs tiptoe into each others’ spaces and confuse delineation between one thing and another. It’s a theatrical scene where mother, father, brother, you and token relatives, arrange themselves partway through configuration or else they’re being dismantled. And ‘5 bell soundtrack, you choose’, made in collaboration with Harriet Pittard, backdrops the show in a denial of exact time and place, overlapping with street noise and goings on in the office.
What you see, is what you don’t get. Not for sure anyway. A collection of oversized black spectacles hint at all the better to see you with, though without lenses there’ll be no seeing at all. Profiles are almost faces, landscapes and support props, engaged in a game of pareidolian shapeshifting. Pieces which might otherwise deliver minimalist clarity, are interrupted with surface cuts and scribbly drawings. Almost to the military precision of Richard Hamilton’s ‘Five Tyres remoulded’ (1972), Olabarrieta slices out shapes from a sequence of semi circles to create a speech bubble, with the comic jolliness of a stabbing bird’s beak. A series of light bulbs take on different roles with their source of power unseen as their cords trail out of the room. It seems everything here is avoiding being pinned down to an agreed meaning. It’s little wonder that a dislodged concrete floor tile, which wobbles on contact, is easily mistaken as part of the show.
‘The only way out is in’ suggests any hope of escape relies on some sort of internal undertaking. Yet Olabarrieta’s work, teetering between comedy and nasty, with large linear gestures and gritty details, overlappings and unknowns, testifies to a fraught process of misfires, only ever arriving at approximate and temporary. While all the devices and systems at our disposal might make for an excellent world, they just don’t quite fit together. There’s an eternity of the ideal in sight and a persistent inability to get there. And at the heart of all this failed utopic idealism is a sharp edged reality met with simmering rage.