Whitehot Magazine

Art Week Mexico: Memory, Stories, and Walls

Yoab Vera Recuerditos Cotidianos (Everyday Memories) Concrete and Oil Stick on Linen/canvas. 36 x 38 x 4cm. Installation Salón ACME, 2022. Photo: Karen Moe.


Art Week Mexico 2023

Featuring Yoab Vera, Carmen Huízar, and Franco Arocha

February 8 through 12, 2023

By KAREN MOE, February 2023 

One of the first things I fell in love with in Mexico were the walls. On the surface, this may sound a bit strange, especially if one has never experienced the walls of Mexico. The walls in Mexico City, in keeping with the rough around the edges charm of this mega-city, are particularly dynamic. With their chipped plaster, peeling paint, artful graffiti permitted the longevity of progressively erasing itself, and layers upon layers of posters, we are told a multi-layered tale of the comings and goings of cultural acts. 

In one of the main venues in Mexico City at Art Week Mexico, one can indulge in some of the most famous walls in Mexico City: the walls at Proyecto Público Prim, Colonia Juárez and the venue for Salón ACME. Indeed, these walls are artworks unto themselves and, when in combination with art work that is in conversation with the exhibition space, add yet another layer to the memories and their stories one can readily surface in Mexico.  

Installed at Salón ACME 2022, Yoab Vera did not literally reference walls, public walls, that is: he built his own. Painting with concrete, the stories this artwork told us are made of the artist’s personal memories. The precious little paintings that make up the series Recuerditos Cotidianos (Everyday Memories) are built with the ubiquitous, what we step on and live surrounded by and, if we notice it at all, it is with a glance at the quotidian, looking out for gaps so as not to trip, on guard for ice to avoid slipping. However, like everything, there is more to it than that. Vera’s concrete paintings show us how concrete, particularly concrete walls, tell a truth—and how we can find what is always there when we look beneath surfaces, especially when surrounded by the uncensored walls of Mexico.

It can be argued that the present is a surface; but then it can also be argued that the present doesn’t exist because it is always already the past; lived experiences—the narratives that make up our lives—are made with the transience of memory, ever changing depending upon the loci of remembering. Paradoxically, as one of the ultimate substances for attempting to keep things in place, Vera fixes his always compiling memories in concrete; the essence of being alive as an infinite layering of memory upon memory, of story upon story, these artworks are little plots of transience and time. Vera’s walls tell the story of this passing, and then the attempt to remember, to re-surface, and tell it again. 

The artist paints quickly. He doesn’t use brushes. He uses his hands, activating an intimacy with his concrete paint and physically connecting the energy of himself as a source of remembering into the soon-to-solidify concrete. And then, as he senses a memory rising to the surface of his praxis, he outlines what he has found with oil stick, quickly, before what he has found retreats once again. 

Yoab Vera Recuerditos Cotidianos (Everyday Memories) #121021 Installation Salón ACME. Concrete and Oil Stick on Linen/canvas, 2021. Photo: Karen Moe.

“Conceptually, I am remembering and painting, at the same time,” he told me. “As I am touching the support (linen/canvas), I am transferring/translating sentiments or effect through the touch of the place I am at through the touch of my fingertips and hands.” He calls his process ‘touch-painting’ and told me that each small painting takes thirty to sixty minutes to paint, is done in one sitting and this length of time is analogical to a meditation sit. 

“It’s like letting a memory arise while constructing this remembrance as a memory,” he said. This coaxing of a past essence to the surface is unimpeded; he will not stop until the fleeting is concretized. 

Recuerditos doesn’t only mean memory. Vera told me that, in Mexican Spanish, it also means “Souvenir.” His little memories fixed in concrete are as souvenirs from places before to the places of the always retreating now. Like when remembering—even sentimentalizing—a vacation through an object that is brought home to the everyday, a souvenir, a tangible-object-memory to be put on display, is a touch stone that activates the stories of remembering. 

“The time of the painting is also determined by the materials—the concrete in particular. It dries quickly,” Vera explained. “The concrete amalgamated with the oil-stick dries in a few minutes. The more concrete I add, the more time I have to continue painting. This contributes to the textural thickness and weight of the painting in itself, too.” The drying of the concrete imbeds the passing of time; the artist moves quickly, before the story he is surfacing is lost. In the end, these more-objects-than-paintings are acts of surfacing the stories made of memories more than the telling of any literal story in itself. 

At first, Recuerditos Cotidianos #121021 is banal. What could be going on in a painting made of hand-smeared grey concrete? Until, if we take on the necessity of acute noticing that is integral to any art practice—be it creating or witnessing—we come upon abrasion and the fact that the painting is composed as much of its leaving as of its becoming. The oil stick that has outlined something as the beginning of a narrative is a gift of yellow followed by one of green. These fragments, these remnants of what was surfaced into what is now, lead us around the corners where we encounter a playful blue that has been flirting with us all along as we have only been experiencing the artwork straight on. By looking around the corners of the painting—to the edges, the unseen, and all the narratives to be found there—is where we come upon the most colour: looking beyond the plain of the everyday into the layers of living that are always waiting to be surfaced (or almost), remembered and told. 

Carmen Huízar Installation Salón ACME, 2022 Photo: Karen Moe.

In the booth of Mexico City’s Pequod Gallery at Salón ACME 2022, Carmen Huízar’s paintings were also an installation of painted memories. However, unlike Vera, hers are taken from the public surfaces as opposed to those channeled through the artist’s physiology, emotions and psyche. From the small town of Colotlán, Jalisco, Huízar told me how the paintings in the series, Art is Viewer Specific Not Site Specific, are about accessibility to art as acts of culture depending upon where you live and, as such, the ease with which one can experience the documentation of public memory and story. Especially since the great muralists of the early twentieth century, Mexico has been a culture that celebrates its upheavals and triumphs in the epic murals in public spaces by iconic artists like David Alfaro Siqueiros and Diego Rivera; however, when growing up in her pueblo, she told me how it was impossible to access these documentations of cultural identity because there were none. The great murals that tell the public story of the Mexico are only in the cities. 

So, like all artists, she uses what is available and makes her own; however, unlike Vera, this ‘her own’ that she makes is taken from the narratives to be found in public spaces, on walls that surround her rather than those one surfaces from within. As opposed to the grand murals of the cities that are painted upon the walls, however, Huízar takes from the surfaces of her humble hometown. Where a mural by Diego Rivera pulses with the detail of humanity, in Huízar’s we are given the everyday abstracted down to a line, a squiggle and, like Vera, she reduces a wide-open world of possibilities through the choosing and mixing of colour. But where Vera coaxes his memories from the layers of his psyche, Huízar’s come from street signs, building facades and quintessential advertisements of Mexico in order to surface the psyche and story of where she is from. 

In one, (all of the paintings are Carmen Huízar Sin título/Untitled), the painter has given us an orangey-red circle painted onto a background that colour-shifts between grey-blue-purple as one is enchanted by what could be construed as nothing at all—or nothing much, anyway. The background has been painted with brush strokes as though linearity had been intended, but then decided perfection was not a priority and finished it with a flurry of everyday haste. However, what is intriguing about this circle, is that it isn’t quite one. Again, like the background, it has been done in a hurry, a good-enough and, even though we would never know it, the artist told me that it is a No Parking sign, hand-painted merely to serve that purpose, in contrast with the national epics of the great muralists. The ambiguity of hue to announce the everyday importance of don’t-park-here, reflects the it-will-do of a small town. 

Carmen Huízar Sin Titulo de la serie Espectadora Específica (Untitled from the Series Art is Viewer Specific not Site Specific), 2019-2022 Oil and spray paint on canvas 56 X 80cm.

Another, even more an act of good-enough, was once a house-for-sale sign. Using her not-quite-red and not-quite-orange once again, the brush-strokes are decisive in this one, a house was for sale after all, as opposed to a flimsy small town, not-quite-a-circle announcement of Don’t Park Here. And then there is the telltale red and white, the ubiquitous Coca-Cola sign in Mexico reduced to a rectangle. Huízar’s public memories are painted with oil and spray paint, an act of combining the most celebrated and expensive paint with that of graffiti, vandalism and haste.

And yet, we wouldn’t have any idea what the paintings represent unless the artist told us. And does it matter? Huízar told me how, like Kazimir Malevich’s abstractions that he called suprematism, she is interested in the supremacy of pure artistic feeling rather than any desire for mimesis. Like the depths emanating from Vera’s corroding little slabs, Huízar’s are the profundity that is available when the overlooked is felt and the site is irrelevant when, like the artist as viewer absorbing what is available to her, we too are only offered fragments that can bewitch us into being unable to stop looking and feeling the wide-open possibilities of something, the always shifting interpretations of the narratives that surround us. 

Franco Arocha’s work is literally made of literal walls. As a material flaneur, the artist roams Mexican towns and cities collecting strips of paint and pieces of plaster that have fallen or are about to fall from the walls. With his precious findings, he builds collages as a travel journal, compilations of Vera’s souvenirs, each artwork built with locally prioritized colours that fade and crack as the severity of sun, humidity and rain enacts the environmental essence of that place. Arocha describes the walls of towns and cities as “essential parts of urban landscapes” that go unacknowledged as the paint deteriorates, becomes trash and the undervalued history disappears. By collecting the discarded (or the just about to be), the artist re-claims and celebrates cultural memories that would be lost unless he retrieved them first.

Eye-candies all, if one has spent any time in Mexico, they will quickly apprehend the source of what the collages are made of and, if they haven’t, they may be surprised (after having read the description) by how beautiful street detritus can be. The artist replicates the haphazard beauty of peeling paint as re-creations of found art. However, as he re-composes the chips and strips of an always dilapidating present through his own emotional journeys, the artist gives us epics of the everyday where conceptual commentary becomes irrelevant and we can simply immerse ourselves in pure aesthetic pleasure. In some, he selects a quintessential colour that expresses the character of the town, city or, as in the case of Viaducto Miguel Alemán 89, a ubiquitous place within a city; however, unlike Vera and Huízar, this has not been found on the palate. Rather, this perhaps inimitable colour was already there as an absolutely authentic representation of place. All of Arocha’s collages are celebrations of what can always be found in the overlooked, appropriations of condensed noticing in the artist’s (re)collections of random happenings in urban nature. 

Franco Arocha Installation Salón ACME, 2022. Photo: Karen Moe.

In Mexico City’s Galería Enrique Guerra’s booth at Salón ACME 2022, Arocha’s wall-collages were in what could be felt as symphonic dialogue with the walls of Proyecto Público Prim. It was like the artwork should never be taken down as each piece was framed by its source; it was as though Arocha could have found some of the materials for the collages there, the progressive disappearance of the venue walls preserved in the artwork. The relationships between replica and real, appropriation and source, unacknowledged and monumentalized, moved back and forth, activating how, if we really look, there is always more to what we think we see. 

Salón ACME is considered by many to be the most vibrant of the venues to visit during Art Week Mexico and that has to do, in part, with the fact that their venue is a work of art in itself. Proyecto Público Prim, as a colonial building surrounded by the charm of graffiti and scruff, is distinctly Mexico City, and Salón ACME prioritizes Mexican artists—both established and up-and-coming—dedicating one of its rooms every year to a particular state in Mexico and its young indigenous artists. Through the art of Yoab Vera, Carmen Huízar, Franco Arocha and the serendipity of an urban structure’s unimpeded dilapidation, walls tell us how a culture can be celebrated in its passing. And how, along with public monuments and murals, there is an equally historical significance to be found in the everyday—and, because of the intimacy between the personal and the spaces we are of, perhaps even more so.

Art Week Mexico 2023 Roundup: 

- Yoab Vera at Saenger Galería in a two person exhibition with Robert Janitz and at the Material Art Fair. Vera will also be having his first solo exhibition in Los Angeles MAKE ROOM LA during Frieze LA from February 17th-April 1st.
- Carmen Huízar will be at Salón ACME and The Material Art Fair with her curatorial project https://www.nohacernada.org/
- Franco Arocha will be featured at Zona Maco with Galería Enrique Guerrero, booth B126 and AM 109. 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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