Exhibition Review: Transformative Structures By Maria Martinez-Cañas
By Ilana Jael
Maria Martinez-Cañas is a familiar presence at the Julie Saul Gallery with her current exhibition there representing her seventh solo show at the prominent Chelsea space. Appropriately enough, this exhibition, entitled Transformative Structures and on view there until April 28th, also documents an exciting transformation for Cañas herself, as she aims to create a “dramatic shift” in her “style and medium” by infusing her photographic work with drawing and sculpture.
Some of the showcased images from her 2016 Rebus + Diversion series are relatively conventional collages exploring Cañas’s Cuban roots, drawing from her personal memorabilia as well as the archives of other Cuban art personalities and family friends José Gómez-Sicre and Cundo Bermúdez, who represent Cañas’s continual “attempt to synthesize” her life as seen through amalgamations of photographs, newspaper clippings, and even handwritten letters.
Less straightforward are creations like “Untitled 018”, in which obscure and tinted photographs are surrounded by protrusions of metallic wire tubing. Such tubing is also one of many elements in the equally abstract and eerie “Untitled 013”. With it’s paper drawing backdrop, mysterious netting, and sticky-note reminiscent squares, it comes across as an everyday workspace as filtered through a fragmented mind. While these works do not address Cañas’s heritage explicitly, one could easily conceive of them as expressions of the sense of displacement the photographer feels as a result of having to leave her native land.
Similar themes can be detected in “Untitled 026,” an image from Cañas’s second featured series, “Estructuras Transformativa”, in which an array of conspicuously test-tube like glass cylinders are scattered across wooden and metallic surfaces. The effect is one of a bizarro-world laboratory, or perhaps a bizarro-world darkroom. On the other hand, complex and mysterious 3D mixed media work “Untitled 022” more aptly calls to mind a disassembled computer. These mechanistic motifs continue into “SI_033”, in which a central and prominent discoloration seems to evoke the past, possibly harkening back to photography’s black and white roots, a resonant touch that also calls to mind the inside of a camera.
While many of the individual shapes and objects that comprise such images are familiar, their integration into a unique whole is pleasantly disorienting. When photographic work and mixed media compilations are displayed together such as they are in this exhibition, they seem to suggest that the world itself is a mere machine, liable to be taken apart at will and rearranged as one pleases. Luckily for us, when molded by the hands of as gifted an artist as Cañas, this reconstructed world will likely please countless viewers.