Commonwealth and Council

For Prospective Rock/Artifact Projection

Gala Porras-Kim


Commonwealth and Council presents For Prospective Rock/Artifact Projection, Gala Porras-Kim’s fourth solo exhibition with the space wherein she continues her exploration of the potential of undeciphered languages to transmit meaning.

The artist invites viewers to consider the composition and communicative capacity of rocks transformed into artifacts through human inscription and then over time, eroded into mere geological specimens. The rocks featured in the exhibition have been traced to the Papaloapan River in southern Mexico, where in 1986 fishermen uncovered four artifacts bearing an undeciphered Isthmian script.

In Porras-Kim’s video installation, footage of an underwater boulder conceals as much as it reveals, allowing glimpses of the indeterminate surfaces of rocks that fade in and out of view along the river’s murky bottom. Nearby, illuminated rock formations composed of matter found in abundance in Oaxaca amount to projections of what they may have been in the past, before exposure to the elements caused their fragmentation.

Two maps in the main gallery space offer graphic representations of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in Mexico, which includes the states of Oaxaca to the south and Veracruz to the north. The maps provide two distinct types of information. One charts the Zapotec variants spoken in Oaxaca that have been documented to date. Another diagrams the predominant types of rocks found in the Papaloapan river basin, several samples of which may be seen throughout the exhibition. These rocks as past and potential bearers of the Isthmian script motivate the remaining sets of works featured in the gallery, in which smaller rocks as projected artifacts are ordered and affixed against a vertical support or arranged in groups upon multi-tiered inset cases. These installations play on the legibility of the rocks’ forms as a proto-language. Classified into typologies and arranged into sequences, the rocks come to mimic language itself: they approximate grammatical categories and the proper word order of a coherent sentence.

In a final series of drawings displayed as a backdrop beneath plexiglass, the artist presents renderings of multiple views of the surface of a rock that bear curious surface details, including variations in color and texture and linear patterns. Gallery visitors are invited to highlight, enhance, and expand upon the rocks’ visible features using a felt-tip marker atop the glass surface. If human intervention changes the epistemological status of mere found rocks into cultural artifacts, Porras-Kim seems to suggest, what further meanings could these specimens transmit to us in their (il)legibility as natural and human-altered forms?

This exhibition comprises part of Porras-Kim’s larger project examining the transmission of languages in the Mesoamerican region known as the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. In contrast to the as-yet undeciphered samples of Isthmian script found inscribed on rocks in the Papaloapan River, an initiative to compile a standardized dictionary of indigenous Zapotec languages is currently underway in the state of Oaxaca.

—Doris Chon

Porras-Kim was born in Bogotá, Colombia in 1984. Her work has been included in exhibitions at The Bindery Projects, Minneapolis; 18th Street Art Center, Santa Monica, CA; Ex-Teresa Arte Actual, Mexico D.F; La Central, Bogota, Colombia; FOXRIVER, Singapore; and Dobaebacsa HQ, Seoul, Korea. She received a BA from UCLA, MFA from the California Institute of the Arts in 2009, attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in 2010, and will be an artist in residence at Triangle France in 2015. She is a 2013 California Community Foundation Fellow and a 2015 Creative Capital recipient.