The Murk of Memory
Enrique Martinez Celaya transformed nearly 12,000 feet of gallery space into an autobiographical journey at SITE Santa Fe. “The Pearl” spoke of loneliness, longing and and a troubled relationship to the landscape. Both through absence and explicitness, the work conjured the turmoil of memory.
Pushing past the entryway of the installation, the gallery-goer confronts the image of a German Shepherd eating a house-shaped block of meat. Hideous baby laughter bleats out intermittently as the canine devours its meal from the plate. The image was projected on thick canvas blinds that concealed the next part of the journey.
Once the canvas curtains hosting The Guardian are navigated, a small window appears on the left, giving a glimpse of the future experience ahead. The space opened up to 24 Casuarina pines leaning against the walls. Small nubs jutted from the tree trunks where the branches have been stripped off. The Forest (or The Others) borders an area enveloped with the cacophony of surging waves and tinkling piano music.
A thin ribbon of tubing hung from the ceiling and served as a trail of breadcrumbs leading further into fantasy. A carved statuette of a German Shepherd, its neck betraying its role as a cookie jar, greeted visitors to the room that seeped piano music. The cookie jar’s table was relatively unmarred, with a diminutive ash-splotched unicorn attached to its side. The music, Martinez Celaya’s first composition, sprang from The Stone and the Air, a kitsch-littered old Zenith radio. Twelve porcelain songbirds rested on the radio and walnut shelf, reminiscent of a warm, distant memory. The Short Journey was a rowboat that rested at the center of the room, tarred and feathered, containing a glimmering, toppled lighthouse. Water, possibly taken on during its journey, pooled in the bottom of the rowboat.
The Table, a charred dining set, brooded against The Ocean, a projected backdrop of black and white waves. At the center of the dining table was a bejeweled elephant, which, through stubbornness or ignorance, flaunted its opulence against the tragic setting and crashing waves.
The tubing continued to an immense space occupied by two paintings staring at each other past a weeping, jewel-studded boy. The first painting, The Dock, depicted three swimwear-clad boys on a pier. The nearest boy looked down the pier at the pair of other boys, one squatting while the other returned the onlooker’s gaze. The painting projects sadness, alienation and longing, although a gallery attendant offered the interpretation that depicts Celaya at different points in his life. Reconciling the two reveals a composite characterization of Celaya’s loneliness. The Separate Cascade slouched at the center of the room, weeping into The Fountain, a pine needle-laden trough that narrowed and snaked out of sight. Moving through the impressive space created distance from the bawling child, a passage of time accentuated by the trickle of water. Then, The New Comer came into view. An uncertain young boy reached out to a smattering of flowers as a hummingbird watched on. “This is where I made my stand” was scrawled along the bottom of the scene.
The trough ducked into a room that contained The North, a raw plywood house spewing stars through its roof. The night sky ceiling dripped into walls sprinkled with dozens of taxidermied cotton butterflies–petite cut-outs–interrupted by the sheets from which they were clipped, which gave the illusion of jet-black butterflies through the wounds.
The butterfly-infested walls spilled out to a shining white room shrill with songbirds. The Better Place consisted of a labored machine gasping into a set of lungs that floated on a gleaming pond, while a stuffed fox stood amongst a pine tree setting taking in the scene.
The asthmatic, desperate child that was Enrique Martinez Celaya brought the observer along with him on his journey through “The Pearl.” A journey through the stirred murk of memory.
Photos by Eric Swanson, courtesy of SITE Santa Fe.