BOULDER, Colo. — After extensive renovation and expansion of the University of Colorado Visual Arts Complex, the CU Art Museum inaugurated a new residency program this spring with an installation by Janelle Iglesias, which involves multiple university archives, student participation, found objects, and sculpture. The program bodes well for the university’s efforts to create a relevant landmark for contemporary art in the middle of a cultural wasteland (not to suggest that Boulder doesn’t have culture, but it’s a culture mostly of mountain sports and Lululemon, not contemporary art).
Curated by CU Art Museum Director Sandra Firmin, Iglesias’s residency took several forms over the course of the semester: the installation that currently occupies the main exhibition space, but also performance, ephemera, and video documentation. The installation is chaotic, but manages to draw corollaries between selections from the CU Museum of Natural History, the university’s greenhouse, and the art museum’s permanent collection. One of the sweet spots in the show is a Salvador Dalí print juxtaposed and surrounded by forms that are repeated in the image: brain coral, plaster casts, and taxidermy collide into a typical Dali composition, which is materialized into three dimensions in the surrounding installation.
An exploded diagram of visual research, “Even a Simple Call Can Turn Into a Complex Racket” embodies the university’s vision for the new residency program, with an emphasis on engaging with the university’s collections and archives. Iglesias takes the concept of collection very literally, using cast-aside and found objects as foundations for her installation and sculptural work. She appears to have visualized how her mind connects objects in space, combining forms that seem to have little in common. For example, brain coral — both real specimens and plaster reproductions — is repeated throughout the installation and underlined by casts of heads and hands, personifying the installation with the human form and connecting our origins to the natural world.
The way Iglesias makes work by reproducing, drawing from archives, and using collective labor brings to mind the image of the internet as a web where information is collected and connected by links, an idea contradicted by the seemingly organic forms of the installation. But look again — there’s nothing organic. Other than a few living plants, the installation is composed entirely of reproductions and imitations of natural things, or dead animals (taxidermy and preserved coral specimen). In fact, the installation is overwhelmingly industrial, despite its organic mask. Even taxidermy is a form of industry and serves as a substitute that suggests life, without pretending to be alive. This pseudo-naturalism is compounded by industrial steel and acrylic platforms on which the work is displayed and file cabinets that suggest a place of origin for the discombobulated archive.
Today, we think of files as digital archives and their material origin as antiquity. By referencing objects taken from a natural history museum alongside prints by famous modernists, however, Iglesias reminds us that all digital reproductions have analog origins.
Janelle Iglesias: Even a Simple Call Can Turn Into a Complex Racket continues at the CU Art Museum (1085 18th Street, Boulder, Colorado) through July 9.