Mexico City Part II: From Colonia Roma to Wilshire Blvd: Carlos Santos, Xavier Rodriguez, Hector de Anda y Antonio Vega Macotela
While walking around Mexico City’s Colonia Roma, I noticed that everyone was getting ready for the Corredor Cultural Roma-Condesa, a free event that showcases and brings together around 60 local art galleries, restaurants, bars, boutiques, etc. One such gallery involved is Traeger & Pinto. Luckily I arrived just in time for the final day of Carlos Santos’ solo-show Anatomías Reedificadas. I’m glad I got there when I did because one hour later the show would have been taken down and the next one ready to be installed. And best of all, Carlos Santos was there.
Upon walking into the space I was surrounded by abstract works in deep red color. The closer I got to the drawings, the more I realized that these were body parts I was looking at and the red was not ink but thread. The deeper I looked into the tissue, tendons and muscles I started to recognize what it was I was looking at: la lengua, el cerebro, los pulmones, el estómago, el ojo, el corazón. The complicated structure of the body is reconstructed and sewn from an inward perspective, a labyrinth of arteries, veins and nerves like roads and rivers flowing to an uncertain destination.
For this show Santos collaborated with his talented Guatemalan mother, who showed him all the different types of threads and stitches he could use for his drawings. Each piece is not only a work of art but also a practice of patience and perseverance; together they embroidered each one, taking up to three months per piece to complete. The mother-son relationship is apparent; complicated knots lie on subtle pencil marks. The front of each piece is just as beautiful as the backside, full of dangling pieces of string knotted, looped, bowed and tangled…a network in itself.
Santos told me that he is interested in anatomy and the study of medicine because it is a mystery to him and something he doesn’t understand. So he deals with this curiosity by drawing it, some parts more abstract than others. And through his drawings, the violence, the complexity, and the fragility he sees in the body become clean, organized and poetic.
Light boxes of translucent drawings align the walls in a separate, darkened room. They look like X-rays of bones. Whereas the first room was soft and warm, this room was more dense and cold, but ironically just as fragile, especially as you start to notice the fractures of the bones.
If you find yourself traveling to Mexico this year, make sure to visit Querétaro, where Santo’s show will travel to next.
Still in La Roma I discovered Xavier Rodriguez’s solo-show Accessor at Garash Galeria. This very conceptual show has elements that relate to many aspects of Mexican politics and culture, both comical and serious.
One of my favorite pieces in the show was from an ongoing performance piece. Placed on a white pedestal, there is a red mug with the logo of the US Embassy filled to the rim with dark, hot coffee. As the crowd moves around the room and accidentally bumps into the pedestal, the coffee slightly spills brown liquid onto the white, pristine base, creating interesting stains. The cup tries to hold and control its content, but it’s inevitable that what is being contained will eventually spill out. This ironic piece is a great statement about the current immigration situation between the US and Mexico. I was so thrilled I just wanted to pick up the mug and dump all of the coffee onto the white pedestal. It was too tempting… !Viva la raza!
Another room was full of work all commenting on narco culture. In some pieces, Rodriguez used the Ralph Lauren Polo shirt logo to play with the idea of narco moda. The artist told me that todo es un chiste. In that same room was golden cocaine and a golden joint.
In the last room were drawings of politicians with Ray-Bans, staring you down. They all look so alien-like and extremely scary. Are these people supposed to be trusted? In that room I felt like I was going to be abducted.
“Accessor” is still going on… so hurry up and visit Mexico City!
El Museo Universitario del Chopo is always a great place to check out interesting art exhibitions when in Chilangolandia. When I lived in DF years ago, it was here that I saw Guillermo Gomez Peña do a performance piece about sex. I will never forget his performance (Let’s just say a lot of the audience got undressed and involved…) or this wonderful space. Héctor de Anda’s exhibition Orígenes Paralelos had just opened here and I was excited to see his newest work.
Four large installations fill the space from top to bottom, each one communicating with the other and referencing both memory and time. My favorite is a huge installation dedicated to Federico García Lorca. 120 pieces of plastic hang from above, recreating a large black cloud of the night. De Anda refers to this piece as his “obra poética” as its illusion is a reoccurring theme in García Lorca’s poems.
In a large multi-media piece created with several screens, hundreds of eyes, blinking and staring seem to be full of memory and history… Why are they staring back at us?
Back in Los Angeles and full of nostalgia for DF, I went to the opening for Antonio Vega Macotela at Steve Turner Contemporary and discovered yet another Mexico City artist that is doing some very interesting and meaningful work. Whispering, his first solo show in the US, features three works that explore notions of exchange and almost seem as a form of activism. The more you learn about each piece, the more you realize the impact they create.
To better understand Macotela’s current show, it’s important to know about his previous work, which all started at one of Mexico City’s largest prisons. Macotela explained that he started visiting Santa Martha Acatitla jail to better understand the concept of what time meant for prisoners. He realized that he could create an exchange with them by using this notion of “time”. He would use a certain amount of his time to do things in their representation at a specific day and hour. In return the prisoners would have to do whatever he’d ask them to do as an artist. Therefore, all time was exchanged equally and never wasted. By taking their place in the world, he’d spend his day completing each request, such as visiting a tomb of a relative, dancing with a prisoner’s mother, visiting a dying friend, cooking for a family, teaching an inmate’s daughter to read, etc.
In one of those exchanges, Macotela learned a communication code from an imprisoned Mexican drug trafficker. This anamorphic writing system can only be read from specific vantage points. This new skill inspired Macotela to insert phrases in advertising spots of El Sol de México, a national Mexican newspaper. In order to discern the phrases, the viewer needs to kneel and look up at the newspaper, as if saying a prayer or getting ready to be executed. And then this is when the murmullo (whisper) begins, from the paper itself, from the viewer trying to read the message to himself, from those forgotten and unknown souls executed in the drug war, from those remaining families praying silently…
A Platoon, a video of seven Mexican soldiers telling their dreams, plays quietly in the next room. According to Macotela, these soldiers explained how when they had joined the army they began to have reoccurring dreams, but because these dreams were so intimate and personal (as well as dangerous for the soldiers to relay in public), they agreed to only tell the dream without sound. The video is of their lips, silently mouthing their reoccurring dreams. You can hear some background noises, some smacking of the lips and some whispers, but unless you know how to read lips it’s almost impossible to know the descriptions being told.
Macotela explained how Juan Rulfo’s story Pedro Páramo really inspired and influenced this body of work. In this story, the dead are forever walking around the town of Comala, and Juan, the protagonist in search of his father, tries to understand what is going on. The story is filled with whispers, echos and ghostly sounds, “Ruidos. Voces. Rumores. Canciones lejanas.” Messages and metaphors slip through cracks, only to be heard if one is really paying attention, just like in Macotela’s work.
“Sentirás que allí uno quisiera vivir para la eternidad. El amanacer; la mañana; el mediodia y la noche siempre los mismos; pero con la diferencia del aire. Allí, donde el aire cambia el color de las cosas; donde se ventila la vida como si fuera un murmullo; como si fuera un puro murmullo de la vida…” (from Juan Rulfo’s Pedro Páramo)