Carved polystyrene jelly worms glisten and swarm. They threaten to break their resin encasing in their inhabitation of Gasworks’ first gallery space. In the second gallery, a giant, phosphorescent replica of ‘God’s finger’ hovers accusingly, bewilderingly and humorously, seeming to poke fun and to bely some hidden meaning. These sensations – perhaps sensation itself – are the artist’s intention, for Guatemalan artist Naufus Ramírez-Figueroa’s works are rooted in intricate layers of history and conspiracy. The artist views context as a basis to create a spectacle – a space designed to submerge the visitor in an experience of pure absurdity.
The four jelly worms, which spill out from their gold nest, appear menacing – a feeling undercut by their vulnerable polystyrene form. Polystyrene has the potential to pollute but can so easily lose form and be broken down to nothing. Ramírez-Figueroa has coated the polystyrene in a pearly resin, giving the sculptures an ethereal, otherworldly quality, conjuring notions of religion, conspiracy and imagination.
Guatemala has a complex religious history that includes a disproportionate number of Mormon missionaries who have practised in the country since the late 1940s. Their work has been largely unsanctioned and has exaggerated Western influence in pre-Columbus America, stirring up all manner of postcolonial discourse. Ramírez-Figueroa has (mis)appropriated various mythologies, including the belief that the ruling classes are descended from reptiles. The work ‘God’s Reptilian Finger’, where God’s illuminated finger floats and points at several glowing rock sculptures, seems ludicrous in its divine representation. In fact, it is the artist poking fun at us, rather than God. The objects, painted in luminous colours and suspended in a dark room, occupy not a space but a place of nothingness. The emptiness that surrounds the work is redolent of conspiracy, superstition and a sidestepping of fact.
Ramírez-Figueroa has succeeded in his mission to conspire against conspiracy itself by literally illuminating delirium and hypocrisy. It is unlikely that the average visitor, unassimilated in Guatemalan history, the Book of Mormon, and the press release, will understand the context of the exhibition but this is not the artist’s concern. The playfulness of the works stands for more than their historical and political situation. In their sheer spectacle, the two works provoke a reaction, an engagement, a sensation – and this is Ramírez-Figueroa’s last laugh.