Rafael Domenech, installation view of “Imperfect Fragments of an Uncertain Whole,” 2021. Photo: Courtesy the artist and the Hua International, Beijing

Rafael Domenech


Hua International

Cuban-American artist Rafael Domenech contends that exhibition-making is an expanded form of publishing, an active site of production. His current exhibition, “Imperfect Fragments of an Uncertain Whole” (on view through June 18, 2021), presents a multipart installation consisting of a table, handmade artist books, mobile light sculptures, and ceiling tiles, all made between 2018 and 2021, as well as a large outdoor sculpture in a nearby public square. What links these discrete objects is an invitation to pay attention to the exchange between ourselves and our built environment and to read the discarded materials of our surroundings like we would a text.

Dictum (horizon diagram) (2021), a table-like structure occupying the entire gallery space, forms the centerpiece of the show and serves as a platform for displaying artist books. Made of cut wood board, black vinyl, and IKEA table legs, it mimics readily available home goods. Though Domenech’s structure uses minimal, low-budget components manufactured through a computerized cutting process, the design—unlike its mass-produced counterparts—exhibits site-specific and complexly crafted production values. The shape of the table is informed by the dimensions of the gallery, the nature of the objects displayed, and the scale of the human body as it navigates cutouts and pathways leading to one or several book-objects.

The 20 handmade artist books are composed of urban materials from Domenech’s walks around his current residence in New York, his former studio in Miami, his old home in Havana, and other unknown concrete landscapes. The balanced accumulation of industrial chaff, fragmented documentary photographs, and graphic poetry asks us to examine what Domenech calls “the skin of the city”: to look up, handle, and pay attention to the cast-off stuff of our buildings, roads, signs, and furniture. As we navigate the space, moving from one reading nook to another, we participate in his exercise of looking—and look at each other looking. Domenech does not propose a linear statement in these works or a straightforward, didactic lesson. The objects and materials are treated with high regard (placed on a pedestal in a white cube setting), yet they remain radically welcoming of “contamination” (visitors can turn and even rip pages to reveal the dizzying photo essays inside).

Four mobile light sculptures, each titled Billboard, light publication (signage, poem, interplay) (2021), are installed below and through the table. Display devices, the lamps expose layers of text in their Plexiglas shades: “when information is brushed against information.” Dropping from the ceiling above, the lights pass through openings in the table and draw attention to the often-overlooked space below, with its view of cropped bodies and legs. In counterpoint, text incised in a drop ceiling hovering above the installation reads: “a purposeful misconstruction of a small situation with no future the right to the city.” Rather than masking architectural infrastructure, Domenech’s modular drop ceiling reveals interior mechanics and acts as a gridded plane for a visual poem in space.

Basic rotation, Beijing, Capital of the generic century (2021), Domenech’s public sculpture, is located a short walk from the gallery in the 798 Art Zone, surrounded by a complex of decommissioned factories built in a functional Bauhaus-influenced style with its characteristic saw-tooth roof. The moveable work is made from four panels of steel-framed construction mesh, provisional materials emblematic of a changing urban landscape. Red, orange, yellow, and blue semi-transparent mesh is laser cut with repeating elliptical shapes and texts that Domenech rendered with Josef Albers’s stencil typeface, a modular font combining the square, circle, and triangle. Open to the public to reconfigure and use, the structure rotates to create new pathways in which language, space, and people collide with the urban vernacular of the historic art district.