“Stones Above Diamonds” — Ignacio Gatica
by Tess Edmonson
At Ignacio Gatica’s “Stones Above Diamonds,” a thin aluminum display shelf borders the gallery walls; on it rests a straight line of custom-printed smart cards bearing images of barricaded storefronts. The display is bifurcated by a pole-mounted monitor installed in the centre of the space. On the left side of the monitor, the smart cards are printed with photos of Chilean banks— their facades sheathed in plywood or metal hoardings— taken during the civil protests of late 2019. The cards to the right of the monitor are printed with photos of New York flagship retail stores equally fortified during the George Floyd protests of 2020. Gatica makes use of symmetry in his exhibition design: viewers attuned to pattern recognition might conclude that some things are different, and other things are the same. In Chile, graffiti across the entrance of a Scotiabank says ACAB. In New York, a G-Star RAW is spray-painted with George Floyd RIP. Common to both image archives is the implication of a phantom public of rioters and looters, anticipated and yet out of frame.
As a whole, the photos offer a taxonomy of emergency architectures, especially plywood, inflecting the exhibition with a kind of rigid, repetitive maximalism. There’s concision here, and spareness: despite their abundance (there are over 100), the cards are small, as are their visual planes. Each image is also punctuated with a gold integrated-circuit chip, and the verso bears a magnetic stripe. Viewers are invited to pickup the cards and carry them to the monitor at the centre of the gallery, whose side is outfitted with a magnetic-stripe reader. Each card, when swiped, is programmed to make a given line of text appear in a white script against the black background of the monitor. The Scotiabank card prompts the appearance of so then what. The G-Star RAW card cues you have to be happy. These phrases are transcriptions of text spray-painted or otherwise marked on public surfaces in the vicinity of where each photograph was taken.
So one walks around the exhibition, choosing cards at random, and swiping them in the reader. A Balenciaga store clad in plywood yields under the pavement the oasis. Window barriers spanning the front of a The RealReal (and printed with the offensive corporate platitude It’s Time To Take Real Care Of One Another) bring up they will never have the comfort of our silence on the monitor. In succession, the street writings are alternately aphoristic (memory is fragile only when it suits, decorating the cage does not free you), succinct (thief bank), mysterious (wound, burning in your hands), and lyrical (if nothing lasts forever you will be my nothing). Displaced from the streetscapes in which they originally appeared and transposed onto the digital surface of the screen, the phrases take on the appearance of a chaotic, machine-generated poem.
I was especially pleased to swipe a card fixed with the image of a boarded-up Madison Avenue Pradastore in the reader, which delivered all resentment is alid. There’s a kind of inversion at work: I’m thinking about Prada, I’m swiping a card—a mechanical gesture that’s already opening some well-established dopamine pathways—but in lieu of luxury commercial products I receive only a maxim. (Nonetheless, I am grateful for this reminder. I believe it to be true. I ran the card through the reader several times. All resentment IS valid.) The integrated-circuit card is a technology central to debt economies—a conduit by which its users become indebted to the same banks Gatica shows fortifying themselves against the public (thief bank). In making this technology the material of his exhibition alongside a visual archive of barricaded capital, Gatica compels an evaluation of what belongs to whom and why.
Leaving the exhibition, I think of the images of graffitied aphorisms I keep on my phone: those I’ve captured in the wild in Toronto—other West End residents might be familiar with email god —and others I’ve come across on social media and saved— no cops no jails no linear fucking time. I identify with Gatica’s impulse to document these spontaneous and illicit truths, as well as to index their relationship to larger mechanisms of power and capital. The exhibition comes at a time when narratives about the popular uprisings of the early pandemic era are being evaluated and canonized. Shortly after Gatica’s exhibition closed, the Kenosha County Circuit Court endorsed Kyle Rittenhouse’s authority to carry out public executions in service of property, in particular an idea of property that perpetuates anti-Black disenfranchisement and the material legacies of American enslavement. In Chile a different course: in December leftist student leader Gabriel Boric was elected to the presidency, making him the youngest person to ever hold that office. (At Cooper Cole, swiping a card printed with an image of graffiti painted over metal cladding yields the proverb being young and not being a revolutionary is a biological contradiction.) Gatica reminds viewers of the ways in which unrest and violence are routinely mistaken for each other: that violence lives in the hoarding of wealth and power in the hands of the few, and not in the inscription upon civic surfaces by the many. We are reminded, too, who stands to benefit from this confusion.