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Iñigo's Clouds

The Spanish-born Chicago artist has exhibited his cloud sculptures in several U.S. venues.

By SIGALIT ZETOUNI

In 1999, Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle exhibited a large-scale, double-sided video installation entitled Le Baiser/The Kiss. Digitally shot with a wide-format camera and set in Mies van der Rohe's historically renowned glass and steel Farnsworth House outside of Chicago, the filmed narrative showed the artist as a window washer, gently and methodically cleaning a luminous glass house. Inside the transparent walls, a woman stood by a keyboard, wearing earphones and utterly engaged in spinning music. The minimalist soundtrack combined whispers of wind, rustling leaves, intermittent noise of wet sponge strokes over glass and the repetition of a single note recorded from a solo guitar by KISS.

The film was projected on a transparent screen suspended from the ceiling of the gallery, and the architectural theme expanded to a constructed aluminum framework that seemed like an extension of the Farnsworth House itself. In this formal gesture employed by the artist, the viewer, framed by The Kiss, is invited to explore the space, walk in and around the extension and perhaps find himself/herself in a dialogue with the powerful elements of the installation.

West of Chicago, in the town of Plano, the elegant simplicity of the Farnsworth House, overlooking the Fox River, has transformed the structure into a temple. The house has effectively transcended its domestic function to become the architect's work of art. Manglano-Ovalle's work of visual art has correspondingly assumed architectural qualities and in the process created a monumental seduction of the eye and the mind.

The freshness of Manglano-Ovalle's installation, his homage to Mies' modernism and the subtle references to social dynamics and class structure made an impact. Le Baiser/The Kiss was exhibited at several contemporary art venues, including the MCA and the acclaimed 2000 Whitney Biennial, and Manglano-Ovalle received superb national and international response. In 2001, he was awarded a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, widely known as the "genius grant."

In recent years, Manglano-Ovalle's work has evolved into ambitious and intricate sculptural installations that involve multidisciplinary collaborations with contemporary architects, scientists, musicians and engineers. The works reflect the artist's interest in exploring patterns and events of global climate.

The artist worked with architect Colin Franzen on an iceberg project in 2003-2004. They simplified the topographical data of a scanned iceberg, obtained by the artist from a Canadian Hydraulics laboratory. Iceberg (r11i01) was con-structed as a matrix of more than 1,600 tubes connected by more than 500 plastic and nylon joints. The tubes were cut from aircraft aluminum at the artist's studio in Chicago, and finally, in the winter of 2005, the 25-foot iceberg sculpture was installed inside the Art Institute, suspended in the spiral staircase area of the Morton Wing.

To his terrestrial object "floating" in the museum, Manglano-Ovalle added an extra-terrestrial work entitled, Vanishing Sky. Three screens projected imagery converted from mathematical data depicting the lifecycles of the universe. In the words of the artist, "Every 15 minutes a universe is created and simultaneously extinguished, star by star." The viewer, yet again, stands witness to Manglano-Ovalle's spellbinding oeuvre, encompassed by the space of representation, between the metaphors of earth and sky.

The hero of a 19th century Austrian short story was gazing at warm colored clouds from his window when suddenly he was overcome by the urge to steal and preserve one of them. Along these lines, in the 21st century, New York saw Manglano-Ovalle's own cloud. The striking titanium-clad cloud in the Chelsea gallery was derived from digital scans of a southern Illinois storm cloud.

Cloud Prototype No. 1 was constructed of fiberglass and titanium alloy foil, measuring 132 x 176 x 96 inches. The artist modeled his cloud after a 30km-long cumulonimbus thundercloud scanned and mapped at the department of atmospheric sciences at the University of Illinois and the National Computing Center, Beckman Institute, Urbana-Champaign.

The Art Institute's curator James Rondeau says of the piece, "A masterpiece of engineering and construction, it is, before anything else, a formally sophisticated, beautifully abstract sculpture. The poetic aspect of the work also comes from the contrast between the architectural solidity of the form and its immaterial, phenomenal, fugitive origins; here, an event is rendered as object."

The Spanish-born Chicago artist has exhibited his cloud sculptures in several U.S. venues, but the first storm is coming home to Chicago. Manglano-Ovalle's sculpture La Tormenta/The Storm is one of two works of public art commissioned through the U.S. General Services Administration's Art in Architecture Program for the renovation of the 536 South Clark Street Federal Building, Chicago's new immigration building. The sculpture is scheduled to be unveiled in October in the atrium.

For his Chicago storm, the artist, in collaboration with architect Douglas Garofalo, created two identical clouds, each weighing about 1,500 pounds and composed of 11 fiberglass components covered with titanium alloy foil (with an interior interlocking metal system.) The plan is to set the clouds 24 feet and 16 feet above the atrium floor.

"For me," states Manglano-Ovalle, "La Tormenta is a metaphor for arrival. The storm arrives as simultaneously destructive and productive forces, unleashing itself on the land below. It is a metaphor for both globalization and migration; it recognizes no borders and envelops all nationalities. La Tormenta is a commemoration of present and historical waves of immigrants. I arrived in this country with my parents and older brother at a very young age. We went through the trauma of documentation several times in buildings much like where La Tormenta hangs now. I don't do many public art projects, especially in Homeland Security buildings, but this was a chance to use art to make my own statement about arrival, one that I hope to share with the public that uses the building and hence acknowledges their own turbulence and tenacity."

In so many ways, Manglano-Ovalle's clouds connect with everything that surrounds us and with ourselves.

Published: August 01, 2006
Issue: November 2006