Do you remember the movie ‘10’? Possibly the only thing you may remember from the 1979 film was starlet Bo Derek in a barely-there, onesie swimming costume sporting long cornrows in her hair. She later seduces Dudley Moore’s character to the marching sounds of Ravel’s ‘Boléro’. Derek’s character imagines that ‘Bolero’ is the ultimate piece of music to accompany a lovemaking session. There is more to be gleaned from Ravel’s great opera than just a contemporary soundbite, however. It is an aural masterpiece laden with subverted desire, unspeakable longing, and inevitable emptiness: it is also one of the forerunners of minimalist music. All of these significant elements of Ravel’s work are channeled into a new experience made possible by New York-based artist Matthew Weinstein in his solo show ‘É Lobro’ at Jacob Lewis Gallery in Chelsea.
‘É Lobro’ is an anagram of ‘Boléro’, both visually and musically. Ravel had envisioned a factory backdrop for his ballet, highlighting his deep-seated fascination and attraction to machines. Inherent possibilities of chaos, lust, and fantasy borne from the machine are considered heavily in Weinstein’s work, specifically his 14-minute animated film bearing the show’s title. Its accompaniment is an ambient score created alongside musician Francis Harris, both with soothing and haunting sensations. A loose narrative depicts the sinuous movements of a koi fish, seemingly birthed from a lacquered martini glass within the guts of a clock. Heavy eyeshadow, mascara, lipstick, and rouge suggest the fish is female. Her steel-grey eyes are constantly half-lowered, looking directly at the audience as if we were the target of her seduction. She wriggles through the air, encountering various figures and environments along the way. Two golden skeletons apply deeper shades of makeup to her face. She moves on to discover a character resembling a chauffeur (donning a wide driver’s hat and a bellman’s uniform), also made of a brilliant shade of gold. Writhing and winding hips are meant to ensnare the fish, but she overcomes the innuendos and the conductor implies his surrender as she leaves. She weaves through bamboo plants, a dimly-lit dining car on a train, and a series of rooms engulfed in flames. At the film’s end, she emerges from a fairytale castle on a cloud and comes nose-to-nose with the viewer.
Effectively, her narcissism results in complete submission from external forces or total destruction. The textures and luminescence of Weinstein’s film are primarily shiny, reflective, and metallic in nature. Even the protagonist seems to resemble a living piece of enamel. While the film, itself, is a series of abstract scenarios, its individual characters and backdrops are so finely rendered, that virtual reality swallows the viewer whole. There are references to the voyeuristic gaze, the coy flirtations of a beautiful but non-emotive female character, and the delicious precision of Death bathed in precious metal. Dancing with Death, rebuffing the androgynous seducer, and escaping danger are common literary and cinematic tropes that Weinstein mashes together to construct a truly engrossing, highly self-aware opus.
On the opposite side of the viewing room, two plinths stand side by side, each carrying a polished gold sculpture. The first shows a fist thrust upwards, a gesture suggestive of some unknown triumph. The second shows two fists, one stacked atop the other, in a similar manner. Their titles reference champion swimmer Mark Spitz, whose resounding victories at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich not only made him an icon of physical achievement, but also sparked his erotic appeal to both male and female admirers (he would later receive marked criticism for his support of his openly gay colleague Greg Louganis). The resemblance of these sculptures to solid gold addresses the colour of excellence, triumph, lust, and greed, but also recalls the ambiguous sexuality of Weinstein’s characters. Finally, an ante-room shows three paintings sprawled out on sheets of aluminum, replete with fluorescent pinks and blues and computer-generated lens flares (refer to J.J. Abrams’s 2009 film ‘Star Trek’ for a ceaseless reminder of the phenomena). Their collective impact is diminished partly because they are cordoned off from the room containing both the film and sculptures, but also because they come off as little more than digitized still-life.
The true pleasure of Weinstein’s ‘É Lobro’ is how it reminds us of pleasure’s own conundrum; indulging in it is fruitless, and ignoring it is impossible. Somehow, the wiggles of a fishtail and erect fists are enough to suggest an ever-increasing reliance on surface sensations versus deep-seated, visceral responses to our surroundings. The show is an exercise in recognizing the borderless landscape where man and machine already exist in turbulent limbo. The glimmering Futurist’s future isn’t on its way: for Weinstein, it’s already here.