by Eva Sangiorgi
The programme opens with La pintura contrataca: Colección Primavera / Verano 2012 by Adriana Lara, a video clip for the new ad campaign of the brand that conquered the clothes market, the new season’s catchy vintage-style foulard which set the trend for this spring. We fell for it. For Adriana Lara, the creative act is inevitably linked to subtle irony. The title that inspired this work comes from an article published in a major Mexican newspaper. It refers to the attempt by some Mexican art dealers to have painting reconquer the central place it once had as the official, institutional art; a role it lost when new forms of expression emerged, such as the art of the aforementioned artist. Self-irony. The article, however, implies another important aspect of it, translated in Adriana’s film into a shared critique: The art market imposes trends that move away from the theoretical or ideological discourse, provoking effects on a global scale. The result is an inevitable homologation and loss of local identity – in art as in the world of fashion. The film is the second part of a project begun in November 2011 with a fashion show/performance in a Mexico City gallery. On both occasions, the music was by Emilio Acevedo, who partnered Adriana Lara several years ago in an irreverent project of hers many of you will most likely remember: Lasser Moderna.
Nuevo Dragón City focuses on identity from an entirely different and surprisingly unique point of view. Who would expect to find a Chinese community in a Mexican video? However, it does refer to a local news event, in which a group of Mexican-Chinese teenagers barricaded themselves up in an abandoned building in Tijuana. It reflects a more diversified society than the folkloric, homogenous image this country has abroad. It is a hybrid world, like so many other parts of the world. The event itself, what these young people accomplished, is duplicated in the work of Sergio de la Torre. It portrays a reaction to the outside world from which they voluntarily isolate themselves because, somehow, they feel rejected. The film portrays an isolated group of people, incapable of adapting their identity to changes in social and historical circumstances. This group symbolizes border areas in general, typified by Tijuana on the US border; a place where Mexico’s relationship with its powerful northern neighbour is a constant matter of debate that simultaneously and paradoxically ignores another force already emerging within its own borders.
Fernando Palma Rodriguez comes from a Nahua community which became marginalised in the Mexican capital very early on. His work speaks of a reaction to ever-growing, homogenizing capitalism, a reaction whose goal is to encourage the original voices of native culture. In its artistic discourse, political and ideological critics use folklore to transcend localism and merge into global and technological culture (the artist studied engineering), to create a new mysticism imbued with a strong ironic charge. In Si no fuera por estos momentos, the coyote, a symbol of indigenous culture, turns into a new fetish, a symbol of this aggressive post-modern evolution and of a yet to be defined subculture. The video, filmed in 2000, has a nineties’-style aesthetics and an odd narrative structure built up of brief episodes and ritual dances. The coyote and strange robotic idols that move through the city and in sacred places of pre-Columbian culture are symbolic elements of a culture rooted in the past, in contact with people, yet willing – or forced – to wash windshields at intersections.
Therefore, the new mutant idol walks the streets of the city, the same streets we find in Sarah Minter's video, a visual symphony of Mexico City’s downtown area, from street vendors setting up shop to the interaction of the people there. The singsong voices and repetitive calling to prospective customers merge with the sound of the film to create the experience of this great city. Street Symphony emphasizes the noises and sounds that accompany daily activities, making them especially characteristic. The video, filmed a few years back, foresaw the extinction of this type of street life, already precarious. Though constantly scaled down, street vending represents the only “legal” alternative to unemployment for the lower class, and in a way, the video demands the right of the cities inhabitants to frequent their own streets. Images are repeated and fragmented in an attempt to portray the frenzy and density that characterize the megalopolis, as well as the energy and intensity of its historical downtown area.
Edgardo Aragón, who closes this part of the programme, is a young artist from Oaxaca. His film work deals with contemporary politics, the drug wars that devastate the country, and the social phenomena that affect Mexico. The gravity of the subject notwithstanding, the artist succeeds in placing distance between the events and the viewer, translating the former into theatre plays and mise-en-scène revealing the almost comical aspect of the situations depicted. Matamoros is the story of an old drug runner. The lead, Pedro Vázquez Reyes, gives a detailed account of encounters, exchanges and armed confrontations, giving each character their own voice with warmth and hilarity. Edgardo Aragón decides to re-enact on film the events as told, but the images don’t match the words exactly, creating between the story and us viewers a space capable of transposing the truculent, terrible anecdotes into a distant, absurd world. The surprise is that the story is based on an actual journey made by the artist’s father, who once carried drugs from Oaxaca to Tamaulipas by way of the US. Nonetheless, no moral judgment is made, and the images that go with the words are able to create a journey running parallel to that of the story, where the majesty of the landscape contrasts with the resignation of its inhabitants and with the commitments they are willing to take on in order to survive.
The following film, Efemérides, is also by Edgardo Aragón. The term refers to anniversary celebrations of historical events with patriotic significance. Three people read a text in front of the camera at the same time, rendering the words meaningless. The histrionics are emphasized by the frontal presentation and by the soldier who opens and closes the event by playing a trumpet. The few words we are able to grasp reveal that the text, written in an informal, vulgar language, is a public protest against the abuse of power by certain citizens. The irony is stated in the title itself: The people’s claim will not be heard by anyone and the government will do nothing in response to it. The result is rather funny and absurd.
This is merely an essay on work by contemporary artists in Mexico. The different films present a changing country and the political undertones are strong in every aspect. While aware of its limitations, this selection of works aims to represent such diversity. The claims and points the films have in common are varied, independent of the paths followed by their authors. The artists reflect upon their own country with great respect for the traditions that created it, not always hiding a sharp sense of irony.