Riding an elevator is distinct from other ways of getting around: passengers are not only enclosed in a box without windows, but their bodies are actually positioned in the very line of movement the machine takes, preventing their eyes from following its trajectory. This fact, obvious as it may be, is seldom felt. By stripping the elevator of its function and subtly deforming its qualities, Leandro Erlich’s sculptures for “Two Different Tomorrows” invite visitors to consider the effects of a mode of transportation in which perception is distracted, muted, and reflected back onto the immobilized body of the passenger.
The Argentinean artist’s installations operate on reality with surgical precision, each time de-familiarizing a specific environment—living rooms, swimming pools, psychoanalytic offices—through minor structural alterations. Yet since Erlich began exhibiting in the late 1990s, his modest realignments have accumulated force, giving voice to the arbitrary within the ordinary and chipping away at the persuasive power of structures that produce our shared realities.
Erlich’s current show consists of four distinct operations on the elevator. In the first gallery, the artist seduces viewers with a Duchampian riddle: an elevator carved from its structure and set in the center of a room, as if stuck between floors. In lieu of cables suspending the car, there is a painting representing such cables. On the car’s marbled floor, a newspaper is folded open to a crossword puzzle. Erlich’s enigmatic object is something of a word game, shuttling between the thing and its representation.
Mirrors are a persistent feature of Erlich’s installations, as in the stories of his compatriot Borges. Yet he is more interested in the gap between illusory appearance and nothingness than in the intimation of infinity. It is the disquieting absence of the reflection that recurs in his work, from El Living (1999)—a carefully furnished living room that includes two mirror frames, the second of which is empty—to the present exhibit, which features a grid of elevators missing certain anticipated mirrors. “The trick of the eye triggers the detonation of experience,” Erlich has stated. The artist effectively ruptures his found objects, and through such acts of symbolic violence, he elicits more active, less habituated modes of perception.
Erlich’s most successful works are sweeping reversals of ordinary situations, applying a simple trick and magnifying its effects. In this show’s central piece, he flips an elevator shaft by 90 degrees, creating a path from one “floor” to the next that crucially returns the perception of travel to the elevator rider. The visitor walks down the hall flanked by steel ropes and low bulbs, emerges near a skylight video projection of clouds that momentarily take the shape of the Americas, and then faces yet another elevator. By the time the doors open, so far down the rabbit hole of Erlich’s narrative, the Japanese passengers laughing in the viewer’s direction come as little surprise.