Adrián Villar Rojas @ Serpentine Sackler Gallery

The historical grade II listed building known as the Magazine, a former early 19th century gunpowder store located in Kensington Gardens, is now the recycled sister venue of the Serpentine Gallery. The new-born Serpentine Sackler Gallery, and its restaurant extension with the signature of Zaha Hadid, celebrates its opening with the inaugural exhibition ‘Today We Reboot the Planet’ by Argentinian born artist Adrián Villar Rojas.

Despite his young age (b.1980), Villar Rojas has gained worldwide fame in the last few years with the colossal 28-metre long whale sculpture (Mi Familia Muerta) that he created for the 2nd Biennale at the End of the World in Argentina. His gigantic statues occupied a large portion of the Arsenale during the 2011 Venice Biennale and his works were also exhibited at the Weinberg Terraces in Kassel, dOCUMENTA(13) in 2012. This may be Villar Rojas’s first solo show in the UK but he is known to the British audience from his participation in the Serpentine Gallery Map Marathon in 2010 and his representation at Frieze Art Fair by Luisa Strina Art Gallery the same year.

The artist’s response to the gallery space encompasses a site specific intervention, where the reception area is dominated by a 3 ton elephant with its upper back suppressed by a heavy wall that seems to be floating on air, though concurrently appearing to be reinforced by the animal’s bodyweight. One of the two vaulted powder rooms has been converted into what it appears to be a theatre props storage room, or even a museum-like environment with some 2,000 objects parading on glass shelves. The adjacent barrel vaulted room has been left entirely vacant with the only addition of a set of stained-glass windows placed above each doorway at opposite ends and facing one another.

Villar Rojas’s main mediums are clay and mud, which at times are combined with an assortment of other diverse items. His iconography entails a network of myriad objects, originating from the macrocosm of nature (plants, fruits, animals) and the human domain; these range from quotidian and mundane apparatus to modern paraphernalia (such as ipods and small robots) and even anthropomorphic effigies like that of Kurt Cobain. Several of these decaying comatose objects sporadically seem to be permeated with some form of life, real plants sprout and escape through petrified surfaces.

The properties of clay and mud give a texture of timeworn, almost antique, appearance to each piece. The total withdrawal of colour intensified with the exterior of cracked surfaces is an element reminiscent of antique pieces, relics of bygone eras. This vast constellation of objects resembles some sort of a museum collection, a Kunstkammer, a Cabinet of Curiosities.

The underlying fragility of Villar Rojas’s items is juxtaposed against the robust megalithic shell structure, which like an ancient tomb encapsulates two secret chambers; one treasuring earthly symbols of a long-lived and long-gone civilisation, and another impregnating the allegories and esotericism of worship and religion. The compressed bulky animal, acting as a guard or an Atlas, holds up the entablature supporting and stabilising the entire structure. Is it nature versus human existence or nature cum human presence?

Although Villar Rojas’s survey humorously narrates the story of an archaeology of the future, his practice of documenting objects and their evolution phases, generates profound connotations about his perception of time and its effect on the collective and concatenated trajectory of human entity. By paving the entire space with some 45,000 bricks, he not only references the traditional Argentinian brick style but he engages its use as an intercultural conduit. It bridges his home land with every alien locus in the anthropological and cultural realm, while the viewer who walks over it, peregrinates between the semiotics of social manifestation and earthily detritus. Kostas Prapoglou