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María Gabler’s “Klein Space”

Sergio Rojas


Somehow I ended up getting bottled,

and I found myself floating

simultaneously inside and outside the Klein Bottle,

something that has neither inside nor outside.”


-E. Anderson Imbert, La botella de Klein (The Klein Bottle), 1975


Typically, the art gallery operates not just as a space for storing and exhibiting works of art but also as a framework for recommending the works on display inside it. Because these works are housed by the art institution, the fact of having made it to such a place, in a sense, implicitly suggests certain credentials that will determine the value ascribed them by the viewers who visit the show. With that in mind, artist María Gabler has inverted the sense or logic of this operation in La Galería (The gallery). Now, it is art —or, more precisely, the idea of art and its quest for contemporaneity— that will act as the mechanism of recommendation and interpretation of the gallery in the concrete materiality of its space. 


For some time Gabler’s works have explored the spaces of artistic exhibition. In Ruina (Ruin), held at Galería Bech in 2011, she intervened directly in the space through the use of pillars arranged diagonally between the walls and the floor, thus negating the space’s status as a gallery and underscoring instead its function as a conduit between the front door and the offices on the second floor. In Fachada (Façade), held at Cancha SCL in 2014, she cut through a part of the gallery’s ceiling, establishing a link between it and the landmark building it was part of. In Mirador (Skylight), at Galería Tajamar in 2015, she built an exact replica of the gallery space that viewers could not enter physically: they could only peer inside it through a picture window connecting the gallery and its copy. For Ciudad H (City H), at Matucana 100 in 2015, she erected a staircase in the gallery that led up to a panoramic image that showed, in the semi-darkness of its awkward placement, the exterior landscape that would be visible if, in fact, it had provided access to the outside world. More recently, in Molten Capital, at MAC Quinta Normal in 2017, a TV screen shows the space that remains hidden above a false ceiling, generating a tension between the place’s two conditions: the accessible and observable space and the inaccessible, suggesting a kind of double identity that may well be inherent to all inhabitable spaces.


The essential meaning of an art space is to give works (a) space to reside. In La Galería, the artist reflects on this function by positioning the Sala de Arte CCU in a relationship with itself. This is not to say she is transforming the space into a work of art: this is about reflecting upon the space both materially and conceptually. Here the space folds into itself: the viewer proceeds down the hallway that leads to the exhibition space, but in fact is already walking through the exhibition space, because the hallway has been constructed inside it. So, even though the visitor has entered the gallery he or she hasn’t fully entered it, even as he or she advances toward the “exit,” which one would expect to be inside the gallery. At the end of this path, the visitor finds him or herself facing the gallery space, but in order to get to that point the artist needed to generate the condition for a contemplative distance. In other words, the requirement is that visitor is not entirely “in” the gallery space. So, how does one enter this space without ever really getting inside it?


This installation by María Gabler is neither interactive nor relational. It does not seek to use the viewer as a kind of “performer.” The project behind La Galería is, more than anything, a concept —that of the artistic exhibition space— whose internal complexity has been placed on display. From the start, one of the first ground rules for the development of this project was the condition of anonymity that is, presumably, the natural state of an art space. To a certain degree, this anonymity always “disappears” in each exhibition. Yet it is precisely the pre-established architecture of the space that resolves, in advance, a number of very decisive issues such as the distribution of the works of art; the different paths viewers might take through the exhibition; the angles and distances that establish the perspectives from which viewers take in the exhibition; and even the possible relationships that may occur, either intentionally or not, between viewers as they visit the exhibition. Gabler coaxes out the role of the gallery space, more often than not a silent and invisible role, as a neutral support for displaying works of art. Does that space belong to the art world or is it more of an internal exteriority? The idea here is not to suggest that the space ought to abandon its usual role as a backdrop: on the contrary, by maintaining its usual status it begins to “happen” in the space. This project proposes a reflection on this issue, by making the space enter the gallery. But then, how can a space come to contain itself without simply dissolving into it, as in an exercise of innocent objectual tautology?


In the field of set theory and logic, we find similar types of questions. Does the set of all sets contain itself? Russell’s Paradox, on the other hand, asks whether the set of the sets that don’t contain themselves can, in fact, contain itself. Perhaps the example in this vein that comes closest to Gabler’s project is the Klein Bottle, which was conceived by the German mathematician Felix Klein, who first described it in 1882 as the expression of his research on the so-called non-Euclidean geometries. A product of geometric construction the Klein Bottle is a strange volume, in which one of its extremities folds into the volume itself (apparently, the original name was the “Klein Surface”). Representations of this figure are deceptive, because we typically perceive them in three dimensional spaces, but in fact it creates a space that is, in fact, more complex than four dimensions. Strictly speaking, the Klein Bottle has neither interior nor exterior: the difference between the two has been canceled out. What, then, does this figure have to do with María Gabler’s La Galería? The two are related by the fact that reflecting upon the relationship between interior and exterior spaces, and folding the difference upon itself, poses a question about the habitual parameters of our spatio-temporal intuition. In the installation, the visitor does not enter into the space just by virtue of having physically gained entry to the gallery, because to a certain degree that access has been shifted, or more precisely it has been put off, prolonged. For the visitor to actually become a viewer in the gallery space in its anonymous disposition, the space must structurally relate to itself. In other words, this space must somehow enter its own body. This is the effect that I call “María Gabler’s Klein space,” in which that fourth dimension becomes, to a certain degree, the visitor’s own subjectivity.


To resolve the problem posed, the work of the artist consists not of modifying this space so as to fill it up with meaning by, for example, making a reference to its “memory” (transforming a non-place into a place, as per Marc Augé’s distinction), but of making the space emerge exactly as it is. As such, there is no simulacrum or sensationalist mechanism at work. Even the lighting remains the same, renouncing the seductive and easy device of producing a staged illusion. The visitor, winding down the elevated corridor, arrives at the lofty position of the viewer looking down on the room from two meters above the floor. In a sense the visitor has entered the gallery space, not to walk through it aimlessly but to observe what he or she has never before seen: the space itself. The visitor can even see the body of the structure that he or she has traveled through until reaching the lookout that is the final destination.


It would not be an exaggeration to propose an interpretation that considers the heart of this installation as a kind of readymade. As we all know, as Marcel Duchamp pointed out some time later, the selection of these objects was dictated by a “complete anesthesia,” in order to transfer them to art spaces by transporting them to art spaces from specific contexts in which, based on their inertial use and function, they had been emptied of all meaning and aesthetic qualities. It was in this light that Duchamp reflected upon the performative power of art’s institutional spaces, positioned through their own inertia to infuse meaning into anything exhibited within their sanctioned interiors. The hypothetical question that La Galería asks with regard to this would be: can an art space recommend itself as art? This is not Gabler’s explicit objective in this project. We already said that this is not about turning the art space into a work of art, or a work of non-art, either. Yet, precisely in its typical function as a space for the exhibition of artworks, didn’t the gallery disappear in a sense? Here, we witness a kind of readymade: a space that, in its exhibition program, has been emptied of meaning by the artistic objects that are brought into it. But it would be more accurate to say that what has led this interior to its ground zero of meaning have been the expectations of the visitors, oriented from beforehand to find meaning and aesthetic pleasure in those prestigious ciphered signs that works of art are. With regard to the vicissitudes of language and comprehension, an art exhibition space always takes a step backward, disappearing beyond the backdrop.


The Gallery reflects on that expectation, delaying the moment of its empirical verification and making the visitor radically aware of his or her entrance into the art space, delaying the moment at which the effects of presence and representation should begin to reflect off each other. At the end of the route, as the visitor’s body stops at the lookout, as if standing at a threshold, it is only the visitor’s gaze that enters the space. As occurs with the difference between art and non art or interior and exterior, the difference between the beginning and the end of the exhibition path folds onto itself. Afterwards, the visitor leaves the space by retracing his or her own steps, with the certainty of having contemplated the space as no-one else ever has, though not entirely sure of having passed through the entrance to the gallery.


At the beginning of this essay I said that all art spaces function as unnoticed spaces of recommendation of what is exhibited inside them. By arranging an atypical entrance, María Gabler’s La Galería leads viewers to the framework itself, leaving them in the presence of the space contained by the gallery. In the end, interior and exterior refer not to a materially objective difference but to orientative parameters that, on occasion, our own experience questions.

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