One flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest

While an annoying cuckoo pops out every fifteen minutes and a rifle with telescopic sight aims at it from the other side of the hall, Fernando Lancellotti displays a map of modern confusion.

By Santiago Rial Ungaro

Cuckoo! Cuckoo! The popping out of a mechanical bird from an old cuckoo clock shouldn’t surprise us, because that’s what cuckoo clocks are all about.

But when it’s part of an exhibition, and shares space with other paintings, it does bewilder, and even more so by the fact that it is installed on a wall whose pattern brings to mind the room of a young lady (in the old fashioned style of Sarah Key). Furthermore, while you continue ambling through the exhibition, spying at the closed down mirror of this adolescent room, wondering about the relation this circumstance might have with the arrows nailed to the wall... Cuckoo! Cuckoo! Out comes the little bird once more and what was previously bewilderment now becomes mild annoyance: there are few things in this context that are so annoying as a cuckoo clock lacking a pendulum, a clock that has not the use of a clock but has instead been transformed into a subtle tool of psychological torture.

Perhaps this annoyance helps justify the fact that a few meters away, on a platform, a shotgun with a telescopic sight is installed, and it aims —precisely— at the little cuckoo clock door where the small bird pops out, the easy prey that the work’s title refers to.

Is the artist making fun of us? Or might it be that the artist is the easy prey? Or are we?

If there’s anything in Fernando Lancellotti’s exhibit ‘Quizá no vayas a ninguna parte’ (perhaps you ‘re not going anywhere) that attracts our attention, it is his ability to spawn questions, to make every situation trigger a series of reactions and a chain of sensations. And we can’t help feeling amazed while looking around Wussmann’s hall, a feeling which might follow us even after leaving the exhibit.

In ‘Muralla China’ (wall of china), for example, a video registers the repetitive movements of a small mouse that can’t stop running on a spinning wheel, and no matter how much it runs, it never gets anywhere. It’s one of those simple, direct images, hard to forget, which inevitably lead us to identify our own everyday wall of china.

As when we approach the piece of furniture named ‘¡Te lo dije!’ (I told you so!) and hear (by means of a thermal sensor that makes the sound go louder the more you move) ‘I told you so! I told you so!’, which makes this unbearable phrase —censoring, endlessly reproaching, and endlessly occluding in its final tautology: if they’re telling us that they have told us, it is because, indeed, they have already told us... and they’re going to go on telling us!— question our generally passive role while facing these works.

Completing one of the two walls of the exhibition hall, a little open music box displays its inner mechanism, and in the earphones you can hear the repeating loop of typical Japanese music, with its ‘exacerbation of depression’, which enraptures us with the voluptuousness of its sadness.

Somehow, the wall that faces these works manages to open our minds and sooth the impact received from the above mentioned works: the two intertwined and useless tyres of ‘Atracción Fatal’ (Fatal Attraction); an installation of world map bearings without the maps (‘I discovered that my fascination for Earth globes comes from the fact that I love the bearings, which are slightly inclined’) joined to each other by strings; a hot air balloon without people —it doesn’t transport anything, it’s stuck against the ceiling—; the painting of some dreamlike ship-sails hanging in the air (of course without a ship), which could be a work by Magritte; and the paradoxical sensation you get from ‘Obstinado Visor’ (Obstinate viewfinder), one of those images you only need to see once to remember forever.

And it is so that if the differences between the bearings are acceptable, it is because in his ‘aesthetics of caprice’ Lancellotti is in tune with the zeitgeist of this confusing 2008: ‘you yourself can become the easy prey, or be the one that never gets anywhere, trapped by the unsynchronized time relativity of clocks that run one hour fast (some run always slow), with the consequent disorder that it produces in our biological rhythms; with the clocks hanging over the subway platforms showing a different time from the one shown by the train clocks or by the cell phones, which run subtly faster than the computer ones... This cuckoo, which comes out every fifteen minutes, is like a spectre that symbolizes this confusion, at the same time as it is the victim of its duty to announce —wrongly— the time. And, yet, it contrasts with all the perversely designed annoyance.’ How nice is this exhibit!

‘The exhibit was going to be called `El Gusano Se Enrosca Hasta Morir´ (The Worm Coils Around Itself To Death), that sounds like some soap opera by Alberto Migré. For me it’s got something of a faulty funfair over it; like going to Parque de la Ciudad in Buenos Aires, where you can see a roller coaster with a tree growing in the middle of it. Everything in the exhibit is emasculated: the cuckoo doesn’t work, the record is broken, the balloon has got stuck. And even if the mouse doesn’t know he’ll never make the climb, the first thing that comes into mind is that it does wish to get somewhere.’ But it is, of course, enough to listen to Lancellotti talk about such and such a work being an ‘homage to ‘La Fragata’ match boxes, which were always my favourite’, or about how he was fascinated by the `beautiful tragedy’ of the Brazilian flying priest that took off hauled by hundreds of party balloons and never came back, or mention that the day the exhibit closes (Nov. 22nd), he plans to launch hundreds of red balloons from the art gallery with messages to people that perhaps will never receive them, though it’s for sure that someone will receive them, of course, to understand, ultimately, that even knowing where we are and accepting the fact that we probably aren’t going anywhere, doesn’t prevent life from being unbearably poetic. And even though there are no human figures in the exhibit, Lancellotti dares (with the ‘I told you! I told you!’ in the background) confide to us something private: ‘I once had a girlfriend whose last words when we broke off were: `I told you so !’. And three years later, after I had come across her a couple of times without her saying hello to me, we met by chance in the street and she decided to calm down, chat a bit, haul up a white flag and share a coffee. And while we were at this, I suddenly heard her reprehending the waiter: `I told you  so! A toasted sandwich!´ That was exactly what she had said to me the last time we met!’ Cuckoo!