Mexico | Notes on Looking

Cruzando la frontera sin cruzar: Hugo Crosthwaite, los Zapatistas y Tierra Brillante; Self Help Graphics gets a new mural; Books: Libros Schmibros y Rebekah Miles; Urban Legends; Cafe Vida

Crossing the U.S.-Mexico border is always exciting and adventurous, as I never can predict what is going to happen en el otro lado.  Luis De Jesus in Culver City just made the drive to TJ a lot shorter for us Angelinos.  Upon entering Tijuana-born artist Hugo Crosthwaite’s exhibition Tijuanerias, the viewer crosses this symbolic frontera into the border town.  His 102 small ink drawings are aligned one after another, which reflect the lives of the people that inhabit this transitional, diverse place.  Images of street dwellers, young couples, prostitutes, outcasts, children, workers, drug dealers, narcos and everyday people mingle with (and perhaps become) bizarre animals (let’s not forget those striped donkeys, otherwise known as the Tijuana Zebra or zonkey), mermaids, calacas y calaveras, spirits and angels. The images depict the grotesque, referencing Goya’s “Caprichos”. Some are waiting, some are crossing; they are all inhabiting this in-between place that looks like purgatorio for that same moment in time.  They live amongst the buildings and cables with the ubiquitous border wall as the backdrop, sometimes covered in graffiti, sometimes touched by a rotulista.  And for those of us who know (and love) this city, we recognize, romanticize and eventually grow nostalgic for it. Each drawing is a page in the lives of these characters.  Crosthwaite introduces the narrative but doesn’t finish it for us. Como en una telenovela, we must face the drama but are always left hanging. Once you’ve passed la frontera of the first gallery space, you then enter the dreamy enlarged world of these same characters.  The viewer is invited to share the space and delve deeper into...

Narcos, Feral scapes and Art on the Radio: Edgardo Aragón; “West is More”; Xavier Cázares Cortéz; Radio Break: Pedro Reyes, Brandon LaBelle, & Arnoldo Vargas

Many Mexican artists are tackling the theme of drug trafficking in their work, often by portraying the violence and aggression in ways that are sensational and direct.  One artist who is attempting work in the complete opposite way is Edgardo Aragón, whose first solo-exhibition in the US is on view at Cal State LA’s Luckman Gallery, in collaboration with LAXART. Aragón, who is from Oaxaca, Mexico, takes on the subject of narco-trafficking in a way that is subtle and simple.  The solitary landscapes, which reoccur in his vidoes, indirectly portray the cruelty of these impoverished narco-agricultural regions. The exhibition consists of a video-trilogy.  In Efectos de Familia, several screens show kids, or chiquinarcos (children recruited by the cartel) in what seem like theatrical staged maquettes.  The kids are playfully imitating what the narco does to his victims.  In one video, a little boy stands in the middle of a desolate, dusty landscape.  A truck goes around him in a circle creating a huge dirt cloud, which is meant to suffocate;  this act reveals an actual form of torture.  In a second video, two young boys imitate a violent encounter between two enemies; one boy opens the truck door and pretends to shoot a gun, the other boy pretends to get shot over and over.  There is no blood, no bullets just two kids mimicking a common spectacle.  In another video a boy’s feet are buried in the sand.  He stands in the middle of a deserted, dirt road.  A truck’s lights blind as it then races toward him, in what looks like a game of chicken.  The truck violently...

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...

Mexico D.F. Part I: LA/Mex Connection: Barry Wolfryd, Yoshua Okón, Gabriel de la Mora y Edgar Orlaineta

LA and Mexico City are like cousins, related and connected, and one really special way is through art.  Both cities are bursting with culture and both have art scenes that are dynamic and thriving.  Some (lucky) artists have a relationship to both and so while I was in DF, I decided to look for these links, como un miembro de la familia, and find the connections. One such artist came to mind: Barry Wolfryd.  Barry was born in Los Angeles but then moved to Mexico DF in 1975 and has continued to live there ever since.  Luckily I got to see his solo show Transferencias at Ethra Gallery in Colonia Juarez during its final week.  First of all, Barry is wonderful to talk to because he switches between English and Spanish like a true master of Spanglish.  And if that’s not enough, his slang in both languages is purely Angeleno and Chilango.  It’s pretty impressive guey! As you walk into Ethra, a beautiful two story gallery, 20 large black and white paintings stare you down… and I really do mean that, as the theme that runs throughout the show is dark and violent: narcos and gang culture.  However, Wolfryd cleverly and playfully takes icons from Mexican and American culture, adds the reality of violence by using its symbols (such as tattoos, graffiti and weapons) and then humorously reminds us how these exact symbols have infiltrated our everyday lives and pop culture.  The graffiti might tell you a message or what group a person belongs to, but it’s mixed with all the other gangs’ tags, merging into one big gang...