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How do we find happiness in the modern world? The vast majority of us look outside of ourselves to gain a sense of joy and pleasure. Smart phones, Facebook, Netflix, Internet porn, (whatever you vice or escapist route) all gives us access to immediate and cheap satisfaction that quickly fills us up and then almost immediately leaves us feeling empty, dirty and jonesing for more. So how do we escape the trivialities of cheap pleasure and experience deeper satisfaction? Bubi Canal would encourage us to look inward and muster up some old childhood magic.
Welcome to The Magic Garden, Canal’s second U.S show put on by the Munch Gallery. It opens with a series titled Beautiful Mystery, three still lifes of hand-made sculptures, made from colorful plastic vintage toys and photographed against a backdrop of a suburban den. This is a slight departure for Canal, who usually photographs people. Although the sculptures in these beguiling still lifes do read as life forms, they are the kind you could only imagine coming to life when no one is looking.
As we venture further into the gallery we get to the meat and potatoes of The Magic Garden. Anchored by an impressive short film titled Hologram, the rest of the show uses video, photography, montage and sculpture to move us beyond the interior isolation of a basement den to the freedom of the open sky. Its loose narrative involves three mute human characters and two puppets. The first human we meet sits in a meditative position on a rock as he surveys the world around him. The other two communicate telepathically and through synchronized dance. They are connected through colorful costumes made up of geometric shapes and primary colors. They carry tools––more like repurposed vintage toys reminiscent of magic wands and spiritual regalia. Central to the video, the puppets communicate through subtitles and utter four phrases: “Your eyes look sad,” “You can do magic,” “Enjoy the ride,” and lastly, “You can change the hologram.”
Now at this point, after having seen the film, it becomes clear that this is a show about creating and shaping the world around us. Which, admittedly, is a beautiful sentiment, but one that is relegated to childhood rhetoric, quite often through the use of puppets. Think Sesame Street or Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. Because the message felt so counter to the usual art world cynicism, it was almost imperative that I sit down with Canal and hear about his guiding philosophy.
Meeting the Spanish artist was like having a chance encounter with Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amelie. He is wide-eyed and soft spoken, but what is most immediately apparent is that he is very naturally filled with a sense of wonder at the world around him –– no small feat considering the current state of planet and the economic state of his native Spain. As expected when asked what the message is behind the video, he responded, “You can change whatever is around you and create whatever you dream.”
Perhaps after such a long cold dreary winter Bubi Canal’s The Magic Garden is exactly what we need to usher in the hopeful, child-like enthusiasm of spring.