Attached (1) / 2010 / ink on paper / 35x43 cm
ATTACHED (1) / 2010 / INK ON PAPER / 35X43 CM


Notes on the Index: Mark Salvatus’ Wrapped Projects

In 1977, Rosalind Krauss wrote ‘Notes on the Index’, an influential text in its characterization of seventies art in America and the then emerging tide of postmodernism. Critical to Krauss was the index, examples of which were footprints, medical symptoms and cast shadows. On this, Krauss wrote, ‘As distinct from symbols, indexes establish their meaning along the axis of a physical relationship to their referents. They are the marks or traces of a particular cause, and that cause is the thing to which they refer, the object they signify.’

In 2010, Mark Salvatus’ ongoing Wrapped projects are instances on this index, with literal and metaphorical traces of its signifiers. From ‘Wrapped: Traces’ to ‘Attached’ to ‘Wrapped: Persona’, these projects examine the ideas of presence through the imprints left behind.

In ‘Wrapped: Traces’, Salvatus engages with a community by stationing himself by a wall and asking passersby in the community to trace outlines of the personal objects they have at hand. With a pencil, Salvatus then shades inside the outlines with a pattern resembling wrappings or bandages as in a cast or mummy, suggestive of themes of mystery, memory and preservation. These filled outlines give impressions of the objects that are either easily discernible or puzzlingly indistinct—whichever way, their veiled visages, through its prompting of recognitions, instantaneously confront the visual registers of those who encounter it. Collectively, the outlines form a picture of the community, allowing its members to connect with each other through the everyday things they value.

Performed so far in Goyang, Barcelona, Bandung, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Quiapo, Shatana, Angono and Mandaluyong, ‘Wrapped: Traces’ draws from the power of images as linkage, the ties it binds and the ties it can possibly bind. Nicolas Bourriaud, in his seminal book Relational Aesthetics writes of it, ‘Art… turns out to be particularly suitable when it comes to expressing this hands-on civilisation, because it tightens the space of relations.’ It is within this tightened space of relations that Salvatus makes not only mere objects ‘more present’ through their traces but more and especially so the community of its proprietors, revealing what they need, what they cherish and what they have in common.

Using a similar approach, ‘Attached’ has the artist cutting out pattern-filled outlines of objects, traces of loose and detachable things on persons. Perched in museum display cases—one display case per person and each accompanied by a photograph of the back of the respective person’s head—these traces compose individual portraits, the outlines of the objects providing a more singular representation of each personage than his or her actual face. Disclosing character and personal narrative through the individual material attachments and necessities, the contents snapshot the participants in their daily lives, the museum case further probing the ideas of art as archaeology. The objects’ ghosts testify to the seemingly simple existence of its owners—however, their identities, as the hidden faces imply, still remain tenaciously enigmatic.

These are further dealt with in ‘Wrapped: Persona’, in which persons are photographed wearing the same mask of wrapped patterns after which Salvatus approximates and makes an individual mask for each. Objectless, the project intimates identity under threat—identity as the indistinguishable, standardized persona, not individuals but, as its installation insinuates, overlapping masses. Questioning what is being used to define oneself, it also asks what anchors memory, nostalgia, existence and space. What is identity and presence in its dematerialization? ‘Wrapped: Persona’ is the artist’s counter to his own ideas of residuals to signify the disembodied un-faced other.

It is through these projects that the artist fathoms the possibilities in the abstraction of presence and its place in an increasingly alienated, consumerist, ‘individualist’ society. The Wrapped projects examine the larger allusions between traces, its referents and the prospects of its meaning and communication in the midst of the flattening of identity and inter-human exchange. Indeed, in this twenty-first century, Salvatus’ exhibition positions the potency of the index even as it questions it, locating it within contemporary concerns and the rhythms of its encounters.

By: Clarissa Chikiamco