PLEASE LOOK AWAY | LUIS CAMNITZER
Skeptical about universal beauty standards, such as symmetry, Luis Camnitzer (Germany, 1937) leans more towards the philosophy that art’s role is not to reinforce traditional practices and widely accepted notions, but rather to explore innovative processes that can stimulate new thoughts and thus expand the perspective of the viewer as well as that of the artist themselves.
Pursuing this ‘change of perspective’, the artwork Please Look Away is composed by a series of strips of black adhesive tape of varying lengths, upon which are printed in white several brief phrases, including: “My emotions are invisible”, “Breathing will stop”, “All lines are prisons”, and “Please look away, you are invading my territory”. The order is intentionally chaotic, with the black plastic strips crisscrossing and overlapping one another, not confined to just the wall but also invading the floor and ceiling of the room. Actually, this disorder is only apparent and corresponds to the artist’s statement, which seeks to overturn conventions, even in places designated for exhibition: the wall is the same as the floor, which is the same as the ceiling, with equal expressive dignity, and an invitation to shift the viewer’s gaze, both literally and metaphorically.
Please Look Away is an installation that both welcomes and confuses: positioned in a way that allows for physical immersion, it initially draws the viewers in, surrounding them. They may even walk on it to read the phrases. However, doing so, the meaning of the words becomes clear and the artwork reveals a hidden side, almost like a trap, a web of negative and repellent thoughts from which one cannot escape.
With this project, Camnitzer demonstrates his interest in language and the expressive potential that arises from it. Instead of expressing himself through images or sculptures, the artist has chosen to use words as a form of visual communication and a vehicle for thoughts and reflections. In the language of visual arts, words can be seen as a set of graphic signs, stripped of the ability to convey complex concepts. The sequentiality and overlap that Camnitzer employs restore this potential complexity through a formal sleight of hand, the overlapping of the tapes, as if they were the lines of handwritten, disordered notes on a notebook page. It is, therefore, a vindication of the medium, of the context that the act of looking away accomplishes, generating new signs and new meanings.
Please Look Away, 2014
Adhesive vinyl. Dimensions variable. Installation view: Luis Camnitzer: The Mediocrity of Beauty, Alexander Gray Associates, New York, 2015. Courtesy Alexander Gray Associates, New York © 2023 Luis Camnitzer / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.