239 Things

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239 Things

Somewhere, high up in the mountains, there was a tiny village where only blind people lived. Although they were of a very curious sort, none of them had ever travelled, so that no one could describe what kind of an animal an elephant was. This is why they ventured into the valley to meet the mayor, an understanding and accommodating man.

Some days later, he climbed the slope, bringing with him an elephant. Moments after arriving at the city hall with his gift, the blind villagers threw themselves at the animal.One hugged its leg, a second wrestled its trunk, a third caught hold of a floppy ear and a fourth lifted the entire table in his enthusiasm.

‘The elephant is round!’ cried the first. ‘No way, he’s square!’ the last urged. None of them could come to an agreement, because their friends insisted that the elephant was long, thin, and respectively as flat as a pancake.

The Cuban artist Ricardo Brey (1955) first heard of this story when he was a child. The story of the elephant with its many forms inspired him since he, as a sculptor, is constantly trying to mold reality to his own vision, and in doing so, repeatedly runs into the blind man’s righteousness. Their completely different perceptions form a metaphor for our inability to truly know reality.

During the legendary exhibition De Rode Poort, with which exhibition maker Jan Hoet welcomed the public to the new Museum of Contemporary art in Gent, Brey brought a homage to the blind villager’s elephant. He made a sculpture from a harmonious collection of junk: the apparent remains of a mystic ritual, which through its titillating transformation of the everyday is exemplary for the many adventurous metamorphoses within art.

Brey scattered masses of inner tubing over the floor: big ones, small ones, inflated and deflated, round and stretched out flaps of matte, grey rubber, reminding one of elephant skin. Above it hung a bunch of gloves, a totem of downwards pointing fingers. They all pointed towards the centre of the installation. There, on a plinth made of tyres covered in horse blankets, stands a taxidermied elephant leg.

It’s as though Brey has convinced the beast from the story to take himself apart and turn himself inside out, in order to please our curiosity. But that doesn’t mean that this heavyweight reveals his mysteries. Instead of reducing the animal to a dismembered sacrifice in the name of art with its innards exposed to offer us a vision of the future, Brey allows him to rise from his youthful memories, into a new union of discarded and advanced functional objects. In spite of his fragmented appearance, the abstracted creature respires. A number of mini ventilators strung in the air by wire urge his environment to shiver, and thus, he blows his magical powers into the space.