¿Por qué no fui tu amigo? (Why was I not your friend)
By DOROTHY HOWARD, NOV. 2015
Daniel Aguilar Ruvalcaba’s (Mexico, 1988) recent show at Kurimanzutto Art Gallery in Mexico City, curated by Chris Sharp, is a tightly knit conceptual and documentary project of the artist’s attempt to understand the semiotics of debt through a deeply personal, improvised encounter with the managing institutions that have allowed the show to occur, including the bank, BBVA-Bancomer.
As a boy, Aguilar Ruvalcaba witnessed the family home and the house of his grandmother confiscated by debt collectors. The elaborate project showcased at Kurimanzutto, was to pay off a BBVA-Bancomer bank debt of someone with his dad’s name, Juan Manuel Aguilar Rivera. The work is an abstract homage to his family’s upsetting experience with the bank. In the impossibility of relieving his father’s real debt, he seeks a surrogate. For the installation, the artist posted an advertisement in the newspaper Periódico AM, and eventually found a man with two BBVA-Bancomer debts named Juan Manuel Aguilar Freeman through a friend. He then visited Juan Manuel Aguilar Freeman in Tijuana to make a video that will be showing at Museo de Arte Carrillo Gil, February, 2016, and to relieve one of Aguilar Freeman’s two debts with a production and educational grant received from Fundación BBVA-Bancomer.
The installation brings to mind the way we try to connect the dots of memories in our lives in order to weave a ‘perfect story.’ While the choreographed conceptual performance could be linked to the scores and instructions of Fluxus artists in the 1960s and 1970s; George Maciunas, Jackson Mac Low, Alison Knowles, Yoko Ono and Nam June Paik for example, Aguilar Ruvalcaba wasn’t working from a script exactly. The show works more like an improvisation of the theme of debt through an abstract re-enactment of his personal experience.
In conceptual art, there is the challenge of the objects being secondary to the idea. The artist handled this problem by realizing two works that document the transactions in which the artist participated to relieve the debt using his gallery-granted funds; the Periódico AM advertisements; and the equipment Aguilar Ruvalcaba to film a the video with Juan Manuel Aguilar Rivera in Tijuana. There are also two ‘obvious counterfeit’ banknotes, Nueva Poesía Precolombina y Nueva Poesía Novohispana which the artist calls ‘books,’ that will be sold to one of the inheritors of Bancomer. The banknotes feel somehow foregrounded because they were handmade by the artist, unlike the two more process-based, documentary pieces that represent ‘behind the scenes.’
Rising college tuition and other compromising economic conditions make debt an especially hot topic. At the show, Aguilar Ruvalcaba mentioned the activist group Strike Debt's Rolling Jubilee project, which seeks to buy and abolish private student debt. ¿Por qué no fui tu amigo? visits the question not through a distant institutional stare but by enacting a homage to his own memory and experience of living under debt.
Still, it would be wrong to consider this work without talking about humor. There’s clearly something tongue-in-cheek about the detail of choreography that makes you feel like you’ve just been given a puzzle and the game is to unpack its overlapping layers of symbolism, irony, and serendipity. WM
Dorothy Howard is a critic and archivist based in Mexico City and New York. Her work has appeared in the New Inquiry, DIS magazine, the Daily Beast, and the Hypocrite Reader.view all articles from this author