By KAREN MOE October, 2018
Happily, emotion is having a come back in the world of art. Many of the galleries featured at Mexico City’s Art Gallery Weekend this year prioritized the sensorial and the corporeal over the conceptual. One rarely had to rely on an artist or curatorial statement in order to understand, not to mention feel, anything. We could walk right by any proffered information, enter the installations blind, so to speak, with our senses and eyes wide open.
Columbian artist Venuz White kicked off my personal tour with her “breath paintings” at Licenciado Gallery in Roma. Fascinated by alchemy, in her studio cum lab, the artist experiments with a variety of pigments, powders and stone. The alchemical blend composing her breath paintings or “Pinturas de Vaho” (‘vaho’ being the condensation left when breathing onto a window pane) are red pigments, nacar powder, soap and the artist’s breath: the result, bubbles that lace into a mosaic made up of what could be rose coloured jellyfish, blossoming up towords the painting’s surface. The diptych, “Pequeñas historias de amor,” (Little stories of love) began as human shadows that were traced onto the nacar-dusted wood in one fluid brush stroke. When applying her potion of pigment and breath, the nacar powder preserves the outline of the shadows and, as vibrant phantoms, the human figures are inscribed in the memories of the artist’s breath.
At PROYECTOSMONCLOVA, the title of Mexico City artist Martín Soto Climent’s exhibition, “Everything begins somewhere else,” is a direct reference to Argentine poet Roberto Juarroz’s line: “Everything is always somewhere else: there where it begins.” Large format compositions of women’s tights poetically stretched across raw linen hang from the vaulted ceiling of the gallery and are, in gallerist Polina Stroganova’s words, “in a state of limbo as they float from above.” However, these are not your average stockings: the artist has chosen black fishnets, the quintessential fetish for a feminine leg, that serve to extend living flesh into the realm of the imaginary, and back again. As the assemblages levitate in a state of luxurious ambivalence, the conflation of materiality and air results in a play between the dis-embodied and the body—Juarroz’s line is fulfilled in full: in an always state of flux between mind and body, simultaneously in the somewhere and its origin.
Roma’s Galería Terreno Baldío was founded upon the work of Javier Marín. Known best for his sculpture, Marín is almost a cult figure in Mexico with his bronze epics that celebrate the essential human standing as public art in many of the county’s cities and pueblos. The artists represented by Galería Terreno Baldío follow in the tradition of the gallery’s origin. This year, Terreno Baldío is showing “Project Multisensory,” a group exhibition that evokes memory through the activation of the senses. Upon entering, we are greeted by Hector Velázquez’s shamanistic cloak. The piece was inspired when he was an artist-in-residence at Canada’s Banff Centre for the Arts. Velázquez explained to me how he was deeply affected by the rugged Rocky Mountain landscape and started to quilt a coat inscribed with the topography of his personal journeys, a physiological documentation of memory and, in his words, a ‘second skin.’ The density of the quilting process gave him the ability to build a 3-dimensional topography, fusing the human body to the land where rivers become veins and organs, lakes. Many of the panels are held together with pins, the construction of the garment perpetually poised to continue the fluidity of our senses and the ever-shifting apprehension of memory.
Humanity aside, in an anthropocentric world, people often neglect, in order to exploit, non-human animals—especially those used purely for our entertainment and consumption. San Raphael gallery BWSMX is showing American artist Morgan Mandalay’s paintings of apes. The series is called “Thank you, Squash Banana. I’m not an ape, you are” and, despite the playful title, the images narrate the reality of condoned torture. The work was provoked by Mandalay’s time in San Diego where he lived in close proximity to the San Diego Zoo. In the paintings as in zoo, the ape is the central figure, on display behind bars, and human arms and hands reach in from outside of the cage and from beyond the frame, cell phone cameras snapping, wine glasses about to be clinked, half-smoked cigarettes balancing on the edges of the cage. As we spectate upon ourselves spectating upon, we realize that we are the bodies left out of the frame, and we become entrapped within our own complicity.
The innate connection between the body and its environment is alive in the work of Mexican artist Maria José de la Macorra. Her project, “Herbarium,” showing at Ethra in Juarez, is a multi-media installation of sculptures, drawings, and samples of plants. The collection enacts a taxonomy where the origin exists along side its interpretation and the human overlaps with her habitat. The artist told me how she is primarily interested in the immersion of the human within their environment, be it urban or rural. She vitalizes this connection with her wire sculptures of Tillandsia, also known as the air carnation, its presence spanning the jungles of Chiapas to the electrical wires of Mexico City. The artist has magnified her Tillandsia to over one hundred times its size and they hang, in the corners and crawling along the ceiling of the gallery, reaching out towards us and offering the world we share.
Inspired by her residency at DEDAZO in the jungles of Chiapas, Mexico, Estonian artist Kristi Kongi is “Mapping the Jungle” at The Karen Huber Gallery in Juarez. Kongi has recreated her experience of a tropical rain forest, a landscape that embodies all of the colours in the spectrum of light. The artist is giddy with such excessive stimulation and ramps up her palate into blinding shades of the hyper-real. It is as though she is painting through a kaleidoscope that simultaneously focuses and expands her ecstasy. Like the insatiability of a rain forest, Kongi takes over the gallery space: a geometric web is woven across the gallery that is at play between the pieces and their projected shadows; the floor is a dazzling mauve that builds a back and forth of reflection from above; a geometric map of the artist’s jungle journey criss-crosses the floor. Kongi maps beyond the origin of her inspiration and we tingle amidst these abstracted instances of colour, form, shadow and light.
At long-standing Roma gallery, OMR, we are given a retrospective of photographer Thomas Ruff’s multiple universe. For the past 30 years, Ruff has extended the boundaries of how the image both traces and defines who we are. His images are diverse, the collection eclectic; so much so that, at first, it feels as though we could be viewing the work of more than one artist. Ruff’s curiosity is voracious. His is intent upon exploring all image-making possibilities available and, as such, engages the viewer with his particular take on the history of photography. His subject matter spans the realm of human experience in tandem with an exploration of photographic possibilities, from luscious and ethereal pornographic controversies to the inside out intimacies of printed negatives to fictional documentaries of Mars. His 2015 project “phg” re-invents the photogram. Traditionally a dark room technique where one places a literal object onto the paper during exposure, Ruff uses 3-D imaging technology to digitally build his objects, creating bodies that are ostensibly made out of nothing and enfolding the past into the present.
At Galería Hilario Galguera, up in San Raphael, we are assaulted by the brutal raw of human interaction. When experiencing Argentine artist Enrique Ježik and Mexican artists Joaquín Segura’s “Teatro de operaciones” (Theatre of Operations), all that is needed is emotion in order to be affected. Indeed, Ježik’s pieces of dynamite exploded wall plaster exemplify the velocity of the affect. The art and research of both Ježik and Segura is focused on the human capacity for violence and power abuse. “Teatro de operaciones” is a re-enactment of past atrocities, revolutions and resistances, a digging up of archaeological affects such as Second World War bunker diagrams and phrases from protests against fascism. However, the installation is also in dialogue with this situation as unrelenting: such tendencies are far from dead. With the so-called first world’s relentless exploitation of Mexican and Latin American resources and the devastating war on drugs, there has been no cessation of violence here; indeed, it can be said to have accelerated. Ježik’s bone-filled trolley crowned with barbed wire alongside Segura’s burnt and mangled national flags pull no punches while two bullets on a plinth offered as objects for contemplation and worship, aimed heavenward, pretty much say it all.
On the fringes of Art Gallery Weekend, there is a heart of Mexico, both broken and resilient. Galería Progresso, the first gallery in Colonia Escandon, is showing a group exhibition by young artists hailing from Nezahualcóyotl, or "Neza,” an impoverished municipality on the edges of Mexico City. The show is called “Bordo” which means ‘side’ and is also a reference to the Bordo de Xochiaca landfill that serves the mega-metropolis and that, according to my garbage men, receives at least half of the 22 million inhabitant’s garbage every day.
Nevertheless, despite being the dumping ground for the oblivious urban centre and having the highest rate of violence in the already extremely violent State of Mexico, Neza is also home to the award winning youth orchestra, Orquesta Sinfónica Infantil y Banda Sinfónica de Nezahualcóyotl and is the birthplace to a generation of young artists who are determined to tell the stories of their marginalized home.
Magda Ramírez has covered a wall in Galería Progresso with a tautology of posters that she also hangs on the streets of Neza. These humble photocopies tell the brutal truth of gender violence in a community that is exacerbated by poverty and disempowerment. Called simply “Acosa” (Stalking), the modest posters with their fringes of information tags along the bottom are a confrontation aimed at the Metro rider, public and private transportation driver, police officer, pedestrian, cyclist, motorcyclist, taxi driver, male gendered person: “You the one that harasses me; you the one that keeps calling me obscene names; you the one that touches me without my consent; you the one that masturbates while I am scared of your words. Do you know how your mother, daughter and sister feel when they are harassed?” Tonatiuh Cabello’s photo from his series "Por Aquí No Pasó Dios" (“Here God did not pass”) is a pile of broken cherubic figurines that tell the story of the impossibility of innocence in a broken place.
Mexico City is a place where it is impossible not to feel: here is a locus of extremes. The haves are few and have too much; the have not’s are too many and, well, have nought. With its elegant boulevards and barrio squalor, it is a city that evokes both rage and romance. Yes, there were some galleries over the weekend that continued the anaemia of austere conceptualism where a tour by the curator or a careful study of the statement was integral to the work; however, these were the minority. Such art is anathema to not only this city, but also to the country at large. If art is going to be given back its capacity to lift us up or cut us open, the galleries of Mexico City are already doing it. WM
Karen Moe is an art critic, visual and performance artist, author and feminist activist. Her work focuses on systemic violence in patriarchy: be it gender, race, the environment or speciesism. Her art criticism has been published internationally in magazines, anthologies and artist catalogues in English and Spanish and she has exhibited and performed across Canada, in the US and in Mexico. She is the founder of the Vigilance Fierce Feminisms Magazine. Her debut book, Victim: A Feminist Manifesto from a Fierce Survivor is being published on April 2nd, 2022. Karen lives in Mexico City and British Columbia, Canada.
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