By JENNIFER MCMACKON
A late afternoon light sifts through a grid of east facing windows revealing the warehouse studio of Carlo Cesta to be a room full of metals. All the utilitarian, shades of silver and grey, iron and aluminum find representation in this space. Ubiquitous overhead vents, sprinkler pipes and clunky, floor hugging radiators go with the territory of a light industrial studio. An assortment of blackened metal jigs strewn on a work table, and a bucket of bending rods down below suggest the industry goes far beyond the architecture. Because the room is full of other metals too – ones that have been bent and cut and welded by the artist into all manner of shapes, angles and curlicues. The work stands in various states of assemblage and chromatic patina, forming a sculptural thicket in the middle of the room that is simultaneously Baroque and Judd-like.
“How do you like my wine rack?”, Cesta asks me, holding up a kitschy metal lattice for about eight bottles of plonk. “I found it up the street.” Apparently the work in progress I’ve come to see has considerably eclipsed the scale of its template, standing a good yard over the top of my head. There is no way to step back and get a view. This piece, comprised of rows of stacked wine racks, resounds with a memory I have of a much earlier work at the Toronto Sculpture Garden . This artist is a master at coaxing iron rods into life size, transparent, cubic volumes, connoting with no slight degree of emblematic luxury, things mundane and familiar. The piece I’m looking at, (actually standing in the midst of) is still an infant. Cesta tells me it is soon to be chrome plated and likely topped with a garage door in abutment with a gallery wall.
It’s exciting to look at art in this stage of production and two things cross my mind as Cesta and I converse. One is the fantastic amount of sheer labor required to make these structures that take their formal place in the world so effortlessly. It’s so easy not to think about material and the actual way things are made. Seeing the emergence of such a piece in the studio is interesting because I know that in the end it will, to some extent belie the fact of its manufacture. It will become all pattern, surface and refracted light, a highly efficacious illusion even in its solidity and objecthood.
Second, though his work was recently shown here last spring in an exhibit organized by the Hart House Installation Collective at The University of Toronto’s St. George Campus, Cesta has, more often than not been exhibiting out of town. A show at Hallwalls, a residency at the Banff Center for the Arts , recent inclusion in the massive endeavor that was Beyond in Western New York and exhibitions (most notably in Paris) with the collective, Persona Volare have all meant we haven’t seen as much of his work in Toronto lately. So it is with some anticipation I behold this baby winerack as it will be part of an upcoming solo exhibition at Diaz Contemporary. We look at variations on its design in the form of schematic drawings. Various works are proposed as companions. He tosses around a couple of potential titles and they’re all witty as Hell. They should be because the idea of a garage door perched on top of a wine rack is pretty funny. Don’t you think?
Cesta’s works are often entitled in good humour. Sometimes, it is bald faced directness that renders the smile. Mellow Drama –Sandwich Board illustrates this to a tee. I can only imagine the luncheon fare signified by this wrought iron grill. And of course that’s the point. Often, Cesta’s titles allude to relations between base (materials) and decoration (ideology). A white garage door, emblazoned with a beautiful Italianate flourish of shiny silver aluminum tape is called Decorated Shed (2005) – no doubt in reference to Robert Venturi’s Learning From Las Vegas. Even without the allusion, the piece screams haute lowbrow or should I say bas-bas highbrow? Regardless, an implicit economy is registered. In almost every case, decorous solemnity and giddy empathy commingle in equal measure.
The afternoon comes to an end as the light bath from outside starts to fade and the lustrous sheen on all the metal objects in the studio recedes. So many plans unfolding – information exchanged – wheels turning. How deluxe to pause for an hour or two in Cesta’s factory, where dense metals are bent, fused and rendered compliant, emerging almost alchemically as new forms that are lighter than air.
All images are courtesy of the artist.