Visual Preview

Code-Switcher

The small wax faces adorning the walls of the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies (DRCLAS) seem to follow passers-by with their ghost-like presence and identical, penetrating open mouths. These strange voyeurs are part of the center’s new exhibition by artist Rosalia Bermudez titled “Code-Switcher.”

Among the office furniture, and above the stacks of informational pamphlets hang a number of installations. The lack of gallery space in the building, allowed for the integration of the installation into the regular work environment of the center.

But these works require more than a cursory glance: you are forced to get close, to touch, to inspect. As a viewer you soon realize that you gain nothing by simply standing in front of the individual pieces.

Bermudez, a Uruguayan-born artist now living in New York, plays with a particular type of memory in this installation—a memory that is fading and hard to retrieve. The installation is based around the process of trying to remember the unclear, undefined moments stored inside the mind.

She attempts to recreate that particular process for viewers as they try to understand the different pieces. Understanding each piece in the installation demands a closeness between the viewer and the art rare to most exhibitions—a process that is likened to the retrieval of a fading memory through introspection.

Bermudez is a photography-based installation artist and many of her pieces make use of old photographs transferred to glass, cloth or steel. However, these photographs are rarely perfectly visible or in good condition; they are often purposely deteriorating or simply difficult to see. They represent vanishing memories, most of them images from Bermudez’s childhood, including several photos of herself and her family. Viewers have to manipulate a set of lamps made available to them in order to reflect the images from the glass etchings onto the wall; only by doing this will they be able to view the full image. Like the copies of the Braille alphabet provided next to the piece entitled “Correspondence,” the lamps are tools Bermudez offers for decoding what isn’t initially seen in the glass.

She also plays with the ideas of personal and collective memory. The installation is filled with images from her own past as she contemplates her private memory yet also images that we all share in our minds as part of our collective memory. The piece titled “Maps” consists of two images, a heart and a welcome home sign, embossed on white paper. As always viewers are forced to press their noses to the glass in order to see the piece right in front of them. However, the image being revealed is no longer that of Bermudez as a young girl but rather your heart and the welcome home mat that’s been at the entrance of your parents home for longer than you can even remember. The images are universal; they have the ability to spark a personal memory in every one of us.

It is therefore unlikely that if you stop by the DRCLAS on a side trip to pick up a pamphlet you will be departing as quickly as you had hoped. The little wax faces will pull you in and you will leave with much more than the piece of paper you came in for.

“Code-Switcher” shows at the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies’ Art Forum at 61 Kirkland St. until Jan. 15, 2004.