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The very idea of childhood is earmarked as a valuable resource, and the objective is to revisit and identify one's earliest entry points into a constructed reality.

Mario Marzan's topography of memory and atmospheric phenomena 

After the storm

Mario Marzan: Transient Structures
Rebus Works
Closed Nov. 24

click to enlarge "Transient Structures" (2007), by Mario Marzan. Varied materials. - PHOTO COURTESY OF REBUS WORKS

A striking aspect of Mario Marzan's work is that it appears to be functional. One is not initially sure how his meticulous renderings actually work, but the feeling is that if one had access to the proper coordinates, they would bubble forth with information.

As it happens, Marzan's work is indeed functional—the pieces do pay off as diagrams saturated with meaning. What they track and ultimately convey is in the realm of the ineffable rather than the quantifiable.

Marzan's Transient Structures at Rebus Works in Raleigh consists of a series of mixed-media drawings in various sizes and a sculptural work in the form of an architectural model, with sound designed in collaboration with Cale Parks, all of which Marzan considers to be a single work. It is not immediately obvious how these discrete elements form a whole, nor is this question ever fully resolved. However, as one engages with the art, themes begin to emerge that are echoed and repeated in all of the component pieces.

The architectural installation of Transient Structures is set on low blocks. One must bend over or crouch down to face the work. The fact that the piece is low to the ground is the first clue that connects the work to a child's paradigm. Another result of the vantage point from above is that it can be construed as omniscient. The overarching viewpoint could also be seen as a cloud's P.O.V., where the viewer's gaze falls upon the work like rain. Meteorological forces turn out to be an essential element of Marzan's project, which deals with his memory of life in the impoverished region of Puerto Rico where he grew up, and where hurricanes repeatedly tore through the fragile infrastructure of his village, casting an indelible imprint on his psyche.

The scale model was built based on structures culled from Marzan's fragmented memories of island shantytown life. The first impression of the work is that it looks like a kid's project in its incompleteness and casual construction. It takes time to begin to notice some of its complexities. Marzan and Parks' ambient sound design facilitates this process. Reminiscent of Brian Eno's Music for Airports, the soundtrack draws one in with warm washes of synthesized tones set against the background noise of children at play. Slowly, one notices surreal displacements: a dinner table set precariously on an overhang, a ladder in the direction of a dead fall, a walkway leading to an open-ended abyss (no child-proof safety gate in sight). The viewer is asked to decode this construction, and the payoff is an adrenaline rush of fear. This cheerful wooden model turns out to be a dangerous place.

Miniature LCD displays add a hallucinatory dimension to the piece. A screen set into the floor of one room projects the image of floating jellyfish. Outsized relative to the structure, terrifying but also beautiful, the invertebrates take the form of sea monsters invading the domestic sphere. A still image shows a view from the island out to sea—only the water has been manipulated to appear to be in perpetual activity. Another display shows a child playing in a decaying courtyard strewn with debris. Still another features a window to a tornado scene, a kind of homage to The Wizard of Oz where Dorothy sees objects from her daily life churned in the air outside her window. Through Marzan's window we see many things, including flying chairs, a bathtub and an orange minivan. The LCD displays infuse the work with a psychological undercurrent. Their concise poetry speaks to the world of subjective perception, of how we act as co-conspirators in the construction of reality. The technology literally mirrors the act of psychological projection.

click to enlarge "Sinter Method, #17" (2007), by Mario Marzan. 24 in. x 28 in. Acrylic, graphite, ink on panel. - PHOTO COURTESY OF REBUS WORKS

Marzan's artist's statement includes the resonant phrase "Scattered memories flood my thoughts...," suggesting a psycholinguistic impulse impacted by climatological disaster. The series of mixed-media drawings on display in Transient Structures reflects this persistent theme. Delicate swirling ribbons of color intersect with vaporous passages. Swarms of octopus-like tentacles tangle against shapes that suggest the topography of mountains, roads, valleys. Zones of blue indicate cross sections of water. Liquids, solids, vapors are set against faint outlines of infrastructure. Shapes that echo the sea monster fears of Marzan's childhood imagination clash with warring cloud formations. Explosive meteorological events collide with land masses. Open areas of negative space frame the drawings as diagrams, graphical depictions of processes, chemical reactions and atmospheric events. In each of these elegant compositions, Marzan balances cataclysm with subtlety and precision.

Marzan works with a redundant vocabulary of images. The result is that, over time, the viewer gains fluency in Marzan's language of memory, topography, weather and subjective emotion. One small drawing sets forth the paradoxical image of a rain cloud stabilized by weights that hang from wires underneath. Another sets a red geometric matrix against atmospheric elements and abstract mappings of landscape. The largest drawing features a rainbow streak of pink, magenta, turquoise, purple, lavender, green and yellow jetting in like a laser from the upper left-hand section of the piece, a shot from the distance that causes a massive explosion in the center of the composition, where architecture scatters in all directions, floods issue forth and the earth seems to crack down the center. All of Marzan's drawings seem to be measuring something, as if he were attempting to calibrate the chaos of natural disaster.

The child's point of view is a subtext that permeates Transient Structures. In this way, Marzan participates in a trend visible in current cultural production surrounding the role of the child in a world besought with epic threats such as global warming, nuclear proliferation and manifold manifestations of terror. Note recent projects by artist Mike Kelley, whose architectural models from his childhood are also based on fractured (and manufactured) memory. The sounds of children playing on Marzan and Parks' soundtrack eerily echo the not-too-distant future of Alfonso Cuarón's dystopic parable, Children of Men. And perhaps it is not too big of a stretch to connect the above-listed aesthetic impulses with the recent CBS reality show Kid Nation that has built its own fictional pioneer encampment where cameras train on children in "survival" mode.

All of these projects, including Marzan's, spotlight the child as pivotal, catalytic, foundational. They speak to the continuum of childhood into adulthood as a process of remembering, forgetting and blurring the real with the imaginary. In these works, the very idea of childhood is earmarked as a valuable resource, and the objective is to revisit and identify one's earliest entry points into a constructed reality. These works negotiate the consequences of corrupted innocence, fear, danger (real and imagined), distortion and the limitations of language and perception. Marzan's Transient Structures incorporates childhood memory as a kind of filtering system with which to diagram the past as it impacts the present with hurricane force.

Transient Structures closed Nov. 24, but the drawings will be on view through the end of January 2008. Rebus Works is located at 301-2 Kinsey St., Raleigh. For more information, call 754-8452 or e-mail pete@rebusworks.us.

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