Review of Débora Delmar: Debora Delmar Corp. Upward Mobility, Modern Art Oxford

Born in Mexico City in 1986 you’d expect Débora Delmar, aka. Debora Delmar Corp. to have something interesting to offer Modern Art Oxford with a major new site-specific installation entitled Upward Mobility. Working with sculpture, video and installation, Delmar aims to explore the manner in which globalised consumer culture has come to influence modern life. Faced with the large open-plan exhibition space in central Oxford, it’s fair to say Delmar transforms the space with her “intricate assemblages” into a far off universe, a world in which very little seems to make sense.

Delmar’s work might be best compared to Tracy Emin’s infamous Bed, a piece that will soon be brought back into the public limelight after its controversial 1988 debut. Like Emin’s Bed the “art” in the “artistry” of Delmar’s project appears absent, yet where Emin at least retains some sense of conceptual unity Delmar presents us with an uneasy vision of a chaotic dystopia where hospital-like sinks house piles of sand and empty bottles, and sections of strange topiary watch on, adorned with costume wigs. Nature and modernity are set strikingly at war, contrasted to the utmost degree.

Invited by Delmar to “consider the implicit messaging within the advertising imagery” it’s evident that the all the messages in this exhibition are pretty implicit, hidden carefully everywhere. Nevertheless even in the strangest of objects and arrangements it’s possible to unearth and discern Delmar’s overt wish to counter the culture she is so clearly a product of. Nothing in this exhibition sits silently; everything speaks, loudly asserting its place in a world of carefully composed disorder.

Objects are thrust into several perpendicular hedges, iPads intertwined with leaves, and souvenirs too. The proud declaration of Delmar’s “residency” in Oxford becomes a painful self-conscious presence upon which the artist comments. The only evidence she leaves us of her stay becomes a few upset souvenirs, some badges and branded hats sprinkled into the hedges for apparent good measure. They sit proudly as the products of a market we ourselves have witnessed in the street leading up to the gallery, filled with unwanted commercial consumer goods created to fulfill the hungry appetite of the traditional tourist, yet here they sit abandoned for us to openly question and ridicule, strikingly out of place in Delmar’s wilderness. What emerges from this rigid staging is an unnerving beauty, in which the garden before us loudly declares its polluted state.

The few floor to ceiling banners are perhaps the greatest and most impressive part of the piece. The imagery used on them taken from the social media page of a bank in Mexico; they send a clear message out to the viewer through the very mode of their construction. For the rest of the installation the messages remain less clear-cut, left open and ambiguous for an audience to find their own way through. However for an artist who seems to have so much to say, and so much to give, it’s disappointing that the results of such intense examinations aren’t made a little more evident in the work produced. When considering the abundant materials available to Delmar and the importance of the messages she does explore in presenting a critique of modern consumer culture, the results feel slightly tame. Even the name of the exhibition Upward Mobility promises a sense of movement, when all that a viewer really encounters in the gallery is a sense of stasis, a nagging feeling that they’ve stumbled in before the installation has been fully assembled.

Delmar’s desire to reconfigure and deconstruct familiar brands and iconography is a noble one. There’s deconstruction certainly, but it’s more evident in the fragmented sections of the strange sci-fi hedges, erected like eerie B&Q advert sets and abandoned just as quickly. A curious and provocative exhibition, Delmar will certainly make you think.

Debora Delmar: Debora Delmar Corp. Upward Mobility, until 17 May, Modern Art Oxford, 30 Pembroke Street, Oxford, OX1 1BP

Thea Hawlin

1. Luxury Study, 2015 (detail) Modern Art Oxford 2015 © Ben Westoby.