The Void Looks Black
Vincent Como: Paradise Lost
May 10 – June 15, 2013
Minus Space, 111 Front St, Suite 226, Brooklyn, NY.
Down under the Brooklyn overpass, it’s hot, it’s sunny and I don’t know where I am. Drawing out a phone, I peer into the screen. The tip of the right index finger depresses the phone’s ON button as the right thumb types into the map application “M-I-N-U-S – S-P-I-C-E [sic] F-R-O-N-T-S-T”. I appreciate the phone’s reassuring weight centred in the palm of the right hand; the bevelled edge around which little, ring and middle fingers curl. It’s too bright to see the results, however: rounding a street corner, reveals a wall of midday sun and suddenly the obsidian surface reflects only a dim face in the glare; my features sheened with sweat, my brows drawn together, my lips pursed in irritation.
At Minus Space I read that monochromatic artist Vincent Como’s show, “Paradise Lost,” takes its title from John Milton’s seventeenth century account of Satan’s fall and biblical man’s banishment from Eden. Como’s paradise appears to be a world in which idealism or univocal signification held sway: thus, the artist contends that his works are vectors of a post-Edenic era, “manifest ideas with multiple meanings.” Yet it seems to me that the blackness perceived by Milton’s blind eyes while envisioning paradise in his epic poem, also intrudes upon the fringes of Como’s pieces.
Eight rectangular black canvases are evenly distributed along three walls of Minus Space’s rectangular gallery. A black shelf two inches beneath each varnished canvas holds between three and nine black candles, protruding at irregular intervals from dark stalagmites of mounting waste wax. Excrescences of hardening wax cascade over the shelves, casting dark, reaching shadows on the wall below. Here and there a dark pearlescent glob haltingly descends from the lighted tip of a candle; some of these have dropped splattering onto the floor. It’s an imposing, somewhat sepulchral scene, made more oppressive by the intense heat generated by so many lighted candles in this small space.
I snap a photo with my phone that I’ll post on Facebook later. As the candles’ flames bounce and flicker, reflected in their shiny black backing, I’m five years old again, golden-curled and uncomprehending, as my mother places a Christmas candle in the window of our home in rural Ireland. “To guide the baby Jesus on his way,” I’m told, so: a messianic ritual. Wind moans through our house on a hill in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by nothing: outside it’s pitch black and I imagine a figure stalking towards the winking flame. I remember that I haven’t been home in a while.
The phone’s camera doesn’t pick up tones well, however: the candle flames are fuzzy orange smudges, black is washed out to the miserable charcoal of an old band t-shirt and, in the canvas, a spooky human shape in darker grey. After “Paradise Lost 006,” whose nine candles have together excreted a monstrous but seemingly immobile accumulation of waxy detritus, comes “Paradise Lost 015.” Another trinity of candles erected before another jet black window, it initially seems indistinguishable from works like “Paradise Lost 007,” which has attracted three other visitors – all now gazing into its glassy depths.
It is different, however; or rather it shows its difference more plainly: here the surface is slightly scorched in two places, dull teardrops tarnishing the burnished coating of the canvas. My reflections are quickly interrupted: the flames are slowly burning these artworks, imperceptibly cooking varnish, oil and, eventually, linen. Incremental and almost imperceptible, too, is the coagulated accretion of wax created by them. Their evolution or devolution as artworks proceeds regardless of a viewer; changes in size, shape and shadow occur behind one’s back. The epiphanic effect is more than disconcerting: looking around the room, all appears as it was, but a vague unease has imposed itself upon the scene. My engaged appreciation is quickly supplanted by an indeterminate, but palpable sense that, all around, these artworks may be alive, partaking of an organic but inhuman vitality… The sudden bleep and throb of an incoming text message is a welcome distraction, and I depart, eyes locked upon the screen.