Whitehot Magazine

The Matter of What We Think With: Horacio Quiroz’s Medusa’s Retina (through Donna Haraway)

The Enthronement of Medusa Oil on Canvas 70x100cm. Photo Courtesy of the Gallery.


Annka Kultys Gallery
Goddesses of Spoiled Lands
August 4 through September 2, 2023

By KAREN MOE, July 2023

In the beginning, there was rock. And, as is believed in Judeo-Christian circles, immediately after the who-really-knows-how-it-happened creation of the rock, an almighty hand reached down and put things into place. As the somewhat less miraculous theory goes: somehow, there was a big bang and then millions of years of nebulous dust and gases floated around a void or, what has been poetically called: a ‘flood of matter.’ After an unfathomable eventuality, gravity emerged from somewhere and, in tandem with spinning, the sun and our solar system formed and heavy rocky materials clumped together to compose smaller terrestrial worlds, like earth. And, as the Judeo-Christian god said in his story: it was so. 

I’m no astronomer or theologian; I write about art and revolution and what happens in the universe of an artist’s studio. For Mexican artist Horacio Quiroz, in the throes of creating something new, there was his palette and, through the mysticism of an artist’s creative big bang, the palette birthed rock. Well, not exactly. Not literal rock of course. As he swirled and mixed spontaneous decisions of colour, the striations of strokes formed the appearance of rock. Shown at Mexico City’s Galería Enrique Guerrero from September 22nd to November 19th, 2022, the world of his series Medusa’s Retina became painted acts of revolution where the artist asks: “What are we made of?” 

Like mythology, art tells stories, builds cultures and affects ways of thinking which, in ecofeminist scholar Donna Haraway’s words, create “which thoughts think thoughts.” As representations of rocks arose in Quiroz’s newfound process, he explained to me how the origin of this work is derived from what he calls ‘anti-painting,’ where he plays with the leftovers, happy accidents, what happens on the unseen margins of the origins of the artwork that is charged with the alchemy of serendipity. Combinations of hue have been pushed aside on the palette as decisive colour not yet realized; textures of painted rock are arrested mid-mix creating foundations of possibility primed to build elsewhere. 

The Romance of Xochipilli (diptych) Oil on Canvas 280x400cm. Photo Courtesy of the Gallery.

However, despite this utopia of an unfettered ‘re-worlding’ in Quiroz’s paintings, there is still constraint, excessively so. When describing his process, Quiroz told me how the figures are premeditated sketches on paper that he derives from cultural inscriptions that compose his own psyche. These personal figures are transcribed onto the canvases and filled with what he describes as a collage of brushstrokes. The divisions are so sharp between the premeditated and the in-the-moment-process of anti-painting, if one were able to run their finger down the edges of the separations, it feels as though blood would be let—these hyperbolized binaries tremble upon impending overlap. 

As the namesake of the series, what’s happened to Medusa? Shorn is her notorious serpent-hair and she looks like she’s been beaten up. “Medusa has suffered,” Quiroz told me. “I wanted to honour her abuse, what she went through.” Greek mythology, as the initiating slash of absolute misogyny that founded Western patriarchy, rapes, murders, and beheads the beautiful young Medusa not only once but by multiple gods as an incessant deployment of female disempowerment through a divine gang rape and polymorphous femicide. In his painting, her eyes are swollen, her gaze downcast, and Quiroz explained to me how his Medusa is introspective and looking inside for what came before the systemic oppression of women and, paradoxically, her own creation. Her face has been scratched and scuffed with brightly coloured pastels like the brilliant dilapidation of Mexico City walls that, unlike in cities where anything unruly is immediately tamed, are spaces of inherent temporality alive on the edges of human culture as control. On top of Medusa’s now androgynous bald head, Quiroz has deified the reality of her suffering with a crown. Hers is a reverse celebration. 

As a Mexican, Quiroz is infused with Pre-Hispanic and Catholic mythology; the artist lives a mythological duality with all of its ontological overlaps. The pre-colonized and the colonizer are interwoven into the Mexican consciousness and Quiroz surfaces these entanglements of what came before and what will be after. In sync with the artist’s re-called mythology, Haraway writes how “[t]here is nothing in times of beginnings that insists on wiping out what came before or, indeed, wiping out what comes after.”

Quiroz’s diptych The Romance of Xochipilli is a romance with the Aztec god of music and dance who is also known as the Flower Prince. However, the artist does not represent this god in human form. Connecting godliness beyond the human, the painting romances a flower which is also another flower; the curves of the stems mighty as tree trunks are grounded in the earth, the pink marble petals lean skywards as simultaneously worshipping and worshipped, connecting earth to sky and back again. Both stems have been cut; and yet, the stems hold the tension of their erasure, their angle tracing what has been momentarily gapped as an arc that extends beyond the confines of the painting. When was the connection cut as it is poised to begin again? Speaking to Haraway’s Cyborg, fecund dew drops are as technological as they are organic and yearn towards one another, portending possibilities of what can be to come when.

The Castration of Cibeles, Cibeles has been pulled through Millenia: from the hermaphrodite Agdistis, through the Greek Empire with her castration and the segregations wielded by sky-centered Zeus and, through the artist’s playful addition of graffiti, memorializing Cibeles as an unruly “Now” when militant Mexican feminists blaspheme and destroy colonial monuments that symbolize their continued sex, gender, and racial oppression. However, Quiroz has enacted Haraway’s revolutionary re-thinking of “response-ability” where he simultaneously re-members and re-invents Cibeles as preceding all human civilization as the diptyched ‘it’—painted as all rock that verges on more earth’s crust than artist wrought—is roughly hewn so as to barely achieve human form. Through the telling of the before, he shows the tenuousness of after. 

The Castration of Cibeles (diptych) Oil on Canvas 280x400cm. Photo Courtesy of the Gallery.

Mirrored, the diptych activates the dependency of unity and separation in reflection, like the infinite back and forth of waves and rock, each side laps against the other in a state of unstopping overlap. However, stop it did, polarized into the two sides that are virtually identical except for a hole representing a vagina and a tube we can presume is a penis that, as sterile, unsexed and unsexy as painterly possible, animates Haraway’s cyborg once again as mechanism enfleshed and her revelation that “truly nothing is sterile; and that reality is a terrific danger, basic fact of life and critter-making opportunity.” Quiroz’s over the top sterility exposes the artifice and the opportunity for transformation that underlies all construct. 

The Copulation of Ometéotl features Ometéotl, the Aztec creator deity, a dual god that is composed of husband Ometecuhtli and wife Omecihautl, a soon to be binary as one. Again, the god Ometeotl encapsulates masculine and feminine energy and, again, like in The Castration of Cibeles, the artist has physically separated the two parts as diptych. However, what is contained within the frames is far from fixed. The two parts are as pieces of a puzzle about to be put back together again while the anti-painting is alive within the rigorous forms. Yes, the duality of  Ometeotl has been forced a part; however, Quiroz dramatizes the violence of divide and conquer and shows us how what we think always has been hasn’t. 

Despite the trajectory of revising the mythology of mankind, Quiroz’s Ometéotl is not of human form. Adding to the layers of symbolism in his work, he paints the separation of Ometecuhtli and Omecihautl as two goblets, symbolizing blossoming flowers, birth and are present in Pre-Hispanic and Catholic sacred rituals. Quiroz’s impeccable goblets offer innards made from pre-Hispanic carvings of fleshy rock that could be the body of Christ—flesh that would be eaten from the chalice that traditionally contains red wine as the symbol of his blood. The artist has inscribed circular inserts onto these fleshy offerings that could be planets, unifying the intangible universe with the tactility of flesh and filling the goblets with other (possible) worlds. We are far from stuck: we are invited to eat and drink from Haraway’s “thick, ongoing presence.” 

The Copulation of Ometéotl (diptych) Oil on Canvas 200x140cm. Photo Courtesy of the Gallery.

As another Pre-Hispanic god made of both male and female, Cintéotl is the Aztec and Toltec god of corn, agriculture, the patron of drunkenness and, in her female form, the goddess of the earth. In Quiroz’s rendition, Delights of Cintéotl, the god is all dressed up in gender with her/his coquettish sleeve and bustier vamp straight from the wardrobe of gendered-female that feminists have worked to shed since the fight to liberate ourselves from stereotypes since the 70s Second Wave. However, does she/he also reside before gender as the fleshy form flows with the earth, made of originary rock, vagina ripe for mais and hummingbird about to penetrate, copulate, feed upon, fertilize and re-unify the human with the flora and fauna from which we have been separated since Zeus and his sky-gods have held thoughts to think with in their fists? 

As plant, bird and human are about to become one again, we spy a mustache, painted in the shades of the unpolished stone, the only sign that this Cintéotl has anything at all to do with male energy. Is the painting a statement of how a man can be a woman as drag queens sport beards and transwomen hype up the feminine stereotypes? Or, are the surfaces of this painting symbols of the dual energy that resides within everyone and, in Quiroz’s words, “we would be better off if we all knew and lived as such” and the mustache, representing male energy, blends with the primal stone like a secret, something to be discovered in all of us.

Delights of Cintéotl Oil on Canvas 200x140cm. Photo Courtesy of the Gallery.

Serendipitously, because of the length of time it takes for oil paint to dry, Quiroz told me how he would have many of the paintings hanging in his studio at the same time. Throughout the drying process, there was no individuality between the work in terms of cutting one painted world off as he went to work on another. Rather, as an unwitting act of contingency, the artist would move between the paintings and, like Haraway’s “tentacular thinking,” his paintings both infected and informed one another in a symbiotic enactment of the fact that “no species, not even our own arrogant one pretending to be good individuals in so-called modern Western scripts, acts alone.”  Haraway’s inter-species muddle is akin to Quiroz’s inter-painting one. 

During his process of creating Medusa’s Retina, Quiroz didn’t know what it was about; he just started painting. Through the discovery of this new foundation for his work, he realized: “I am not so different than a rock. We are all made of the same chemical elements that are just organized in a different way. Everything is oxygen, everything is nitrogen, everything is carbon … the only thing that makes me different than a rock is that I can do stupid things.” Like the mystery of how the universe began, the artist tapped into Haraway’s theory of transformation that, for her, is initiated by relationships between animal, human, machine and the contingency of all life; for him, through the mythology that built a culture where we are “besotted by individualism” and anthropocentrism—an ideology of separation which is responsible for the fatalistic doom of an impending apocalypse. Haraway shows how, as all is a multi-species becoming with, it hasn’t; Quiroz shows that in the mythology that built the relationships between the human and all else, it hasn’t either. For both, it all began with “the mute poetics of rocks” —from in the beginning—and by looking through Medusa’s Retina who, in her beginnings, is an abused and demonized woman in patriarchy, Quiroz has given that poetry voice. The bedrock of the past is wide open for re-calling transformation. WM


Karen Moe

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 and the blog The Logical Feminist. She is the author of  Victim: A Feminist Manifesto from a Fierce Survivor  2022. Karen lives in Mexico City and British Columbia, Canada.




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