A Mexican Opaque

As an artist and educator, I write from Mexico City during autumn 2015, asking myself about the current state of affairs. In past days, many urgent things seem to manifest themselves from this country’s never ending vortex of anomalies: the painful prevalence of alternative forensic research in the face of the mass disappearance of students, powerful storms washing over the capital, turning labor into chaos, and Mexican tourists now dead in the Middle East, shot by Egyptian soldiers as a proof of a possible compatibility between the Mexican desert-traveling-class and Islamic fragmentary and desert-based war machines. A complete and toxic saturation of content that would point to a country that, as former statesman José ‘Pepe’ Mujica described in a rather comical note in late 2014, sometimes resembles a failed state. Both: 'state' and 'failed' sound inaccurate to me. It seems the weirder our cultural convulsions get, the less we are willing to consider the usefulness of these questions: What is Mexico today? How can it be regarded and what does it mean, if anything, for art?

Armando Rosales: Ir en contra y no, 2015. Doors and waterproof couch. Courtesy Bikini Wax and the artist. Photography: Ramiro Chaves.  

Contemporary propositions and their future

First of all, the art world, as almost everything in Mexico, is heavily centralized. Modern Institutional and cultural life has a long history of concentration and disconnection going back to the early-to-mid 20th Century, as most cultural, governmental and educational initiatives originated in the Capital (a situation which would eventually cause mass migration and a significant population density during the second half of the 20th century).

This means of course that Mexico City does not represent Mexico culturally or demographically, but in terms of contemporary art and its broader discourse with global activity, the part is usually understood as the whole.

In this sense, I have witnessed two years of very well documented artistic seismic activity in Mexico City, an instant in time that some call revolutionary and even the road to a sort of new Berlin. And yet a certain unrest and sense of impending social implosion, reflected in most media, seem to be constant companions to cultural production and consumption. From the point of view of uncertainty, what is cultural health? I ask this because I believe writing, thinking and making work in Mexico City are increasingly necessary and unhealthy tasks that have recently spilt over everyone’s interests. Any introduction to the current artistic panorama during, or perhaps after, the “Mexican moment” (used here as a contextual tool, this idea was originally coined in international media - outside all artistic discussions - to describe Mexico’s economic and political aspirations post 2012, as seen through the body of Reforms of the recent Peña Nieto administration) should mention some, if not all of these names and places, in no particular order: Lulu, Cooperativa Cráter Invertido, Casa Maauad, Lodos, Bikini Wax, Diagrama, SOMA, Alumnos 47, Aeromoto, Obrera Centro or Breve.

Isauro Huizar: Objeto-espacio-comportamiento, 2015. Variable dimensions. Courtesy Bikini Wax and the artist. Photography: Ramiro Chaves.

From experimentation and organization (Bikini Wax, Crater Invertido) to visibility and commercial viability (Lodos, Breve): many different ambitions, purposes and interests are appropriately represented and so it would seem that an important diversity of contemporary art initiatives is now in place. As can be noted, the apparatus of communication between potential audiences, participants and producers has also been more or less successfully constructed.  But what is at stake then? What seem to be the grounds on which this apparent diversity thrives? One could say of course that it is most likely the hope, idea and indeed prognosis that a financially-based survival will eventually orient - hierarchically or not - all initiatives into the art world gene pool of the future, as many of these projects evolve into the galleries, publishing houses and foundations of tomorrow. This forecast is expected and desired.

Courtesy Crater Invertido

Courtesy Crater Invertido

But it is my belief that this lazily futuristic notion does not answer the question of context: a link that I suspect is still missing in Mexico’s cultural development and projection, and that translates as a form of insistence in which vibrant ideas still appear somehow ephemeral and disconnected from a more powerful, reverberating and necessary sense of a certain Mexican historical catastrophe or dream: permanently in-between, art in Mexico seems to be in constant tension with two mutually awkward potencies, namely the cultural possibilities of a better economic future for the region vs the utter failure to transform and integrate this same region through cultural or economical programs. Also, reducing this discussion to the optics of a single city vs a whole country and its geopolitical dilemmas is, in my opinion, very problematic. I am also not indirectly suggesting that we should summon a different kind of “political art” or in your face politicized culture that would more or less solve or exploit the matter, as many expect of artists in contexts of conflict such as Mexico; nor is this a claim about the politics of the local art world. What I am looking for is a sort of plurality that could be both by now: more connected and more tense; a new dissent that is not exactly indifference or contribution.


New New Criticism

In this light, a certain sense of criticism has returned to its readers: in online journals such as cain mx, terremoto and GasTV one can scan through a very robust variety of commentators on local and international artistic phenomena. Most of them young, the contemporary debate is certainly of interest to a very insistent group perhaps still unaware of its potential, capitalizing influence.

However, just as with the recent aforementioned governmental reforms, the lack of clear connections between cultural initiatives, artistic or not, and the contexts these are supposed to impact on leaves many questions unanswered.. How many things can there be within the idea of the new? Is transformation of the status quo really the aim of these new instances of artistic effort? Multiplication is not multiplicity: diverse thinking brings quality to thought but repetition is only affirmation, an affirmation from which inaccessible, hierarchical culture only benefits. If this drive towards the multiplication of formulas continues unchecked, then what the future holds is sheer terror of all things “peripheral”.

And it is at this stage that I finally recognize something that resembles the new: the terrorizing of cultural activity that comes not as an exclusion of the one who speaks, but as its welcoming addition to the irrelevance of noise. This is not deliberate or moral, but firmly phenomenological: one of the economic radiations of current artistic production.

This exaggerated life of discourse, this infinite echo, renders content production and analysis infertile and short-circuits it in the realm of simple opinions. Just as certain criticism can easily be read as the plain consequence of a discomfort caused by a boring art encounter.

Courtesy Obrera Centro

Courtesy Obrera Centro

Further doubts

Global/local appears now to represent a dichotomy that seems quite limited in the road to understanding the far more outreaching arguments of media and economy; although we are completely free to ignore the conventions of Mexican regionalisms, technologies and markets can most definitely make a better demand on our undivided attention. To what extent is contemporary artistic thought a form of technology and the narcostate a market? Are these attributions interchangeable? The many ‘independent’, artist-run initiatives of recent times have left us wondering about the possible evolution of concrete artistic perspectives. Successful examples such as Cráter Invertido, Lodos and Bikini Wax have proven, under very different economies, that contemporary art as ‘software’ does indeed radically impact on the way in which cultural agents can build relations to their own economic realities, be they formal, informal, conflictive, international or local. This is what drives me, just as this short text closes, to the suggestion of questions that indeed require further research.

A firmly located spot, Mexico City does not appear as a culturally corresponding entity either to its wider region, or to its status as a globalized gate to the Americas. Always partial, the element we need to understand is often absent from the Mexican discourse:  whether it is students disappearing in the night, mock pro-transparency legislation or the euphoric multiplication of content without the analysis of its media, there is always something we are missing. Whatever it is, the environment makes it very difficult to observe plainly, too polluted and opaque through the dense clouds produced by the incessant ignition of content as fuel.