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The Kingdom Called Tijuana – Art from the Mexican Borderland

in Ark Review/Review by

In her writings, Chris Kraus strokes art history, in the sense that Benjamin uses the term, against its hair. She disrupts the continuum of established art history and rescues dead and forgotten artists from oblivion and writes about small art collectives on the outskirts of the institutionalized art scene. Without psychologizing, she insists on the importance of the life experience of the artist, looking at art for the “messy leaks of subjectivity.” Art, she says, is an “exhibit” of something else: “a person’s whole experience and life.” Therefore, she criticizes what she calls “neocorporate neoconceptualism”—the way both art and the artist’s own biography are institutionalized. At the same time, she cites Deleuze’s notion that “Life isn’t personal”: the biographies of the artists she rescues from the oblivion of art history are of a social and political character.

Besides writing about artists in the outskirts of the established art scene, she has curated an exhibition, Radical Localism, with artists from the borderland between Mexico and USA at Artist Space in New York City, 2012. Her essay from the exhibition catalog will be published in a new collection of her essays, Social Practices, in October 2018.

This weekend the artist Thomas Vann Altheimer curated a small exhibition at Forfatterskolen (The Author’s School) in Copenhagen with art from that same borderland. And this border is meant in many senses: the border between Mexico and the USA, the border between the West and Latin America, art on the border between different genres. Thirteen artists contributed with works from a wide selection of genres and practices: paintings, sketches, videos, drawings, readymades, textiles, etc. Here in Denmark, it was the first exhibition focused on Mexican art from the borderland. And before its short runtime in Copenhagen (31st of August – September 2nd, 2018) it was previously shown in Aarhus for three days.

Small in size, the exhibition was an intense glimpse into a different world and art as a means of dealing with immediate and actual problems.

 

The bookcases at Forfatterskolen were covered with artworks from the thirteen artists: Marisa Raygoza, Julio Orozco, Ingrid Hernández, Julio Ruiz, Luis G. Hernandez, Arnoldo Fajardo, Enrique Ciapara, Julio M. Romero, Abraham Avila, Jaime Ruiz, Otis Pablo Castañeda, Luis Montijo, and Charles Glaubitz. According to Vann Altheimer, “they represent a generation that stayed, that didn’t leave for California or Mexico City, but instead has tried to make a cultural impact through art, in a city without infrastructure or an institutionalized art scene.”

Many of the pieces tell a story of, often violent, personal and political experiences determined by the time and space they have been created within. One example is Marisa Raygoza’s textile collages that thematize the 2014 Iguala kidnapping, in which 43 Mexican students were forcibly disappeared from a college. In her piece called ‘Amonos!’ (2014) (Sonoma spelled backwards or a fast pronunciation of ‘vámonos’ – ‘let’s go’) two children ride a gigantic fish, their eyes are fixated on something in the distance, perhaps the big rose coming out of the water. They look blissful. As you come closer, you see that the older boy’s eyes are blood red and his mouth makes him look a little like Nolan’s Joker from Batman. The girl sitting behind him seems to be having a nosebleed. They have been sewn into the fabric with large zigzag threads from a sewing machine, giving an impression like that of a corpse stitched back together after a fatal accident. But, in actuality,  there never was a body, let alone 43, whereas the bodies from the unauthorized attempts to cross the border into the United States do exist. It’s a 3–5 day-march through the desert to cross the border. And it’s a march that often ends in death. The great fish, the water, the plants, they all bear references to the book of Jonah, symbolizing both death and resurrection, but the children give a jarring impression of this new life. They clearly aren’t well.

The impact of the piece occurs in the confrontation between the violent event(s) and the naive, childish look of the soft textiles with their fairytale-like dreaminess and beautiful colors.

“Fierro Pariente!” (2014), above “Amonos!” (2014) both by Marisa Raygoza

In another of her pieces, Fierro Pariente! (2014) Marisa Raygoza has worked with textiles in the same format. This time the same two children are lying dead in the ground, with their eyes stitched into x’es. The image is almost a mirror image of itself with slight differences. In the upper one, turned upside down, the little girl’s decapitated head lies by the feet of the dead older boy, while in the lower picture her body is intact, but lies on top of another girl we can’t see. She still has the same smile on her face. On top of the invisible grave a young vaquero, or cowboy, is standing, smiling and waving a gun, unaware of what lies beneath his feet. The embroidered text next to him says ‘fierro pariente!’, ‘friendly fire!’ or ‘let’s do it!’ – the same plead or request from ‘Amonos.’ But, let’s do what? Was he complicit in her death? Did he cause it? Cactuses and flowers are descending from the earth on top of her and a little dog is playing around the cowboy’s legs. The chronology of the two images isn’t certain. Are they riding the fish through water before or after the image of their grave?

Small in size, the exhibition was an intense glimpse into a different world and art as a means of dealing with immediate and actual problems.

Seen and written by Jan Masorsky and Giovanna Alesandro.

The Kingdom Called Tijuana – Art from the Mexican Borderland was shown at Forfatterskolen from August 31st – September 2nd 2018. Curated by Thomas Vann Altheimer.

Giovanna, wildly gifted pedestrian, yet is able to remain humble. Would love to engineer a lovechild/super-breed author between Ben Lerner and Chris Kraus, but will also settle for a coffee table book with pictures of them and/or a documentary where they walk the Camino together.

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