I love it when artists explore the most fundamental issues of philosophy, as in, flux and fixity, time and space, the extents and limits of knowledge, choice and determinism, the nature of being itself. Santiago-based Uruguayan artist Pedro Tyler (born 1975) has developed an interesting practice dedicated to the investigation of some of these big—and abstract-sounding—ideas in tangible form.
His exercises revolve around “the tension between measure and freedom, between the permanent and ephemeral”. There is an abundance of measuring systems in Tyler’s work. Rulers long and short, thick and thin—of wood, metal, plastic—have been a constant component of his presentations since 2000. These are used to represent Western notions of “rational thought”. But the stuff beyond the numbers and markings is often haphazard in organisation, difficult to control. Rulers are placed upon phenomena to cover and capture it—but they project themselves up and down, side to side or spiral away chaotically and vertiginous, making the diagrammatic and statistical efforts seem futile.
We endlessly want to reason out things—determine the whys, hows, whats, whens and whos of existence. We want to map out everything from outer space (say, stars) to human personalities (say, Vincent van Gogh). To what extent are our calculations successful? What security do we gain from our attempts? Do we, in the end, gain any at all? We try to impose vast amounts of logic upon our exterior surrounding and interior disposition, but aren’t we disoriented and stumped now and then? When strange happenings occur doesn’t everything we know suddenly seem elusive? The artist invites us to reflect upon such questions.
For his first solo project “Not Space nor Time” (2012) at Sicardi Gallery, Houston, Texas, Tyler presented several meditative works on measurement, colour and light.
The title of the show was inspired by philosopher Gilles Deleuze, who once said that “Colours appear in space and time but in themselves they are neither space nor time.” One wall-piece consisted of 100 bas-relief portraits of visual and performing artists who have committed suicide, colour-coded according to occupation, and created by scraping, sanding and burning rulers. But can any such endeavour of categorisation and computation fully conquer the mystery of life and death, genius and madness?
In 2015, for his show “Extensa”, on the idea of immensity, Tyler transformed metal rulers into installations that connected the sculptural object with the history of philosophy. In Principio y Fin (Beginning and End), Tyler bent sections of metal measuring tapes, turning them into the symbol for infinity. Connecting each piece, the linked chain emerged from the wall and split into several strands, which connected to the ceiling.
The artist wrote on the themes behind “Extensa”: “Making sculpture is providing matter with form, organising the space in which we move. How then to make an inanimate body transmit thought and emotion? According to Descartes, body and thought are quite distinct. He maintains that there are only two things: the extended thing (bodies, measurable space) and the thinking thing (the immaterial, thoughts, ideas and intuition). And inside the thinking is perfection and infinity, that is, God. But if each body is infinite within itself, are we not saying, like Spinoza, that God is in everything?”
Sometimes, as in Principio y Fin, measurable space and infinity seem perplexingly contained in each other. Elsewhere, as in Big Bang, they come together in what looks like a loud and dissonant clash.
Tyler is concerned with his own, and our collective uncertainty. His own view is that although rationalism provides a sense of structure, the world is ultimately immeasurable. According to him, the hold of measuring instruments on phenomena physical and psychological is, finally, quite slippery.
It is fascinating how the artist’s deceptively simple visual experiments can lead to wildly different, negative and positive, interpretations—either to a sense of despair and nihilism (at an irrational and shabby universe) or tremendous wonder and humility (before a grand and suprarational cosmos).
Pedro Tyler obtained a Bachelor of Arts in Sculpture in 2001 from the University of Finis Terrae in Santiago. In addition to Sicardi, he is represented by Mario Mauroner in Vienna. His work is park of major collections in South America, such as the Contemporary Arts Space of the Uruguayan Ministry of Education and Culture and the Museum of Contemporary Art of Santa Cruz de la Sierra in Bolivia.