Fernando Mastrangelo, 2009. Sugar, vivak 53 × 16 × 12 inches. Edition of two.
In Fernando Mastrangelo’s “LoVE is a smoke made with the fume of sighs…” at KUMUKUMU, love is presented as painful, cloying, very temporary, and frequently cliché. It’s ephemeral and evanescent (hence the candles, sighs, things that melt or fizzle out), and we can’t really describe it. We mark it with other things instead: inscriptions, banners, tattoos. What washes up from the sea, or whatever it leaves in its wake.
Like love, the show can be irritating. The kitschy staging portends disaster: the lower half of a mannequin-like woman, made of sculpted sugar, sprawls on the floor, its sparkling substance crunching into dust at our feet. She’s been flung off a charred wooden plank it would seem, that lies a foot away. Further back in the gallery space is an anchor made of black sugar, and a long, fraying rope. But none of this is real disaster. It’s more the performance of pain, a keyed-up sensibility of panic or despair: flung off, crumbling away, empty inside.
Mastrangelo’s references are often over-obvious, but they have a potent stickiness to them. There’s the sculpted sugar, for starters, that speaks of sweetness, sickness, and dissolution. Seashells and broken timber evoke tidal pulls and shipwrecks. And the black pigments and white candles are almost funerary, pat meditations on death and love and loss. There’s also a real preoccupation with trying to capture love, to make this slippery and precarious thing hold still. A series of pencil drawings show bulging hearts with lettered ribbons across them. Like tattoo designs or sailors’ scrimshaw, they make a concrete sign out of something nebulous.
And they do more than just mark it: they announce it, too. They perform it, like a monologue. You can pick up a love letter at the front desk addressed to “My Dearest Juliet” and signed “YOUR TRUE LOVE Fernando.” It reads like a bad pop song, stringing together lovers’ clichés and clunky, deeply-felt metaphors. “So maybe it was the moment you walked into my life, that moment I first saw you waiting for me,” it begins. “Because I’ll run, I’ll walk, I’ll fly with discernible yearning … .”
There’s a lot of ‘discernible yearning’ going on in the show, which is what finally makes it work. Love is cloaked in layers of platitudes and staged feeling: we yearn, and suffer, and sigh. We quote Shakespeare. We perform. It’s all been done before, and it doesn’t quite feel ‘real.’ As stale or histrionic as the show becomes at times, there’s something about the hackneyed intensity of it all that’s distressingly familiar.
“LoVE is a smoke made with the fume of sighs…” will be on display at KUMUKUMU through March 22, 2009.