We live in a waiting world right now. Some of us wait for immediate things, like stimulus checks from the government; others for more urgent things, like a chance to get in line for a vaccine.
There are grander, life-or-death waits going on, such as those shared by thousands of children who wait in camps along the U.S.-Mexico border to learn if their next journey heads north or south. And there are waits that cross over with hopes and dreams, like the wait for a more equitable and inclusive world.
But the wait that frames all those things, the great expectation shared by everyone everywhere at the moment, is the long wait for the coronavirus pandemic to be over. We sit on our sofas, at our desks, in our backyards biding our time, thinking, tinkering, hobbying, noodling, sometimes staring at nothing as we stand by for the great reopening of planet earth, when we can do whatever we please without covid-19 shadowing our moves.
If you go
Jaime Carrejo’s “Waiting” continues through Aug. 22 at MCA Denver, 1485 Delgany St. Advance, timed tickets are required due to the current pandemic. Info at 303-298-7554 or mcadenver.org.
Jaime Carrejo’s “Waiting,” current filling the basement gallery at Denver’s Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, is a rumination on all of it, an invitation to think again about that lingering we have done at various levels over the past year as workplaces, schools, stores, restaurants and stadiums shut down and the responsible thing to do was simply stay home.
It was a sudden and fast shift that turned the romance of freedom into an endless and awkward first date with ourselves that we are still waiting, 12 months later, to be over.
Carrejo’s installation is, in one sense, basic. The large, open gallery is sparsely outfitted with just two chairs, a few plants and some colorful wallpaper. It resembles the fern-filled reception areas of offices and hospitals.
Museum visitors are invited to sit, listen to some elevator music, and simply wait a while. A year ago, that might have tried our patience; in the spring of 2021, the act is familiar, almost comforting. We are used to doing not-so-much and that, the artist hopes, will allow us to settle in to his work, and heighten our ability to consider the responses we have felt during this communal deep freeze.
In that relaxing way, the piece gets complicated and transformative. Cleverly, Carrejo converts waiting from an obligation to a choice. Instead of a thing we do between things, waiting becomes the thing itself, not a side attraction but the main event.
How do we live out this now-active behavior? By reflecting on who we are or where we can go, by reaching out to others with generosity? Or by resisting, settling into laziness, indulging the down time?
Carrejo’s piece makes all of those paths valid. There’s no judgment, and the details the artist weaves into this installation say exactly that. The chairs, stylish and mid-century, offer an inviting sit. You can use them to contemplate the world or check your text messages. You can worry about plucking dead leaves off the hanging plants or simply breathe the oxygen they put off.
Most importantly, you can stare at the richly-layered, optical-art wallpaper he’s designed for his waiting room in pink, fuchsia, black and electric blue. In the foreground are graphic silhouettes of common house plants. In the background is a pattern that resembles a chain-link fence.
The plants are reminiscent of all the indoor gardening many of us resorted to during winter lockdown, but also the cooking, sewing, painting, exercising and home improvements we dove into to pass the time. Flat and two-dimensional, they might also stand in for the people we mingled with virtually on digital screens.
The fence pattern questions our state of mind as we carried out those domestic acts. Fences can serve as cages. They can also serve as protection. Were we imprisoned during the pandemic or were we safe at home? Certainly, and alternately, we were both.
Carrejo doesn’t glamorize all of the waiting or suggest it was easy for anybody, even those who pollyana-ed their way through and made banana bread for everyone on their block.
The hanging plants are set on motorized pulleys that have them rising and lowering at excruciatingly slow speeds. Watching them move is tedious rather than meditative. The art that hangs on the walls of the waiting room is cut into quarter-circle shapes representing the face of an analog clock; we got through this thing 15 minutes at a time and nothing could speed it up.
There was pleasure in the lockdown (no gym dues to pay; wearing pajamas while you worked!) and pain (no grandparents to hug; following the charts on infections and deaths). The installation connects the dots between the full range of experiences.
It is also colorful, exciting and immersive as art can be when it wants to get our attention, when it successfully presents a thoughtful and complex picture of something and, at the same time, offers to help us sort out the world.
The exhibit comes at a good moment. The pandemic is not over but everyone knows the end is near. We are through it far enough to reflect, yet still stuck in it with enough time to change the ending of our own individual experiences going through it.
“Waiting,” which was curated by MCA director Nora Burnett Abrams, suggests that there is power in the act of waiting overall, whether it is for that recovery check or a shot in the arm or world peace, and it reminds you to make your next move in this current situation consciously, and soon.
Call a neglected cousin or binge-watch “The Queen’s Gambit” for a second time. Whatever completes this strange trip for you is just great. Just do it before your opportunity to wait is over.
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