There’s nothing like the outbreak of swine flu and a scale 6 earthquake to heighten the senses, and there is something equally inspiring watching a city of over 20 million people shut down. Fortunately none of this interfered with Zona Maco Mexico Arte Contemporaneo, the large international contemporary art festival in Mexico City, which this year ran from April 22-26.
Under the direction of founder Zelika Garcia, it currently has around 90 galleries from 19 different countries and is something of an immersion into an amazingly fertile burst of creative energy. Works seemed to be equally divided between two-dimensional and multidimensional creations with conceptualism clearly in the forefront. I am thinking maybe we should ditch the word artist, which has so much baggage and expectation brought to it, and instead use the word "creativo." What else would you call someone like Cuban born Ariel Orozco at the Myto Gallery space?
In one part of the booth, Orozco had a number of perpetually spinning secretarial chairs, and in the other a bicycle with a functioning candelabra attached, the candles dripping wax. Orozco used to be more political, but has since turned his energy to more apolitical high concepts. In a book there is a series of drawings he documented in which he drew an eraser, then used the eraser to erase the drawing. He drew the now slightly deformed eraser, and erased that drawing continuing the process until there was no eraser and no drawing.
Houston’s own Sicardi Gallery was showing a sinuous sculpture by Laredo born, Mexico City living, Thomas Glassford, and a wonderful huge vinyl art installation by Regina Silveira called Encuentro showing black outlined figures on a radiating expanding black sun ray form.
Mexico City gallery EDS had a darkened room which you entered and which turned out to be a bar. Danish gallery Nicolai Wallner showed Danish/ Norwegian duo Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset who here constructed a full scale metal bunk bed with the top bed facing downwards, a piece called Boy Scout. Over at fellow Danish gallery Nils Staerk, Superflex, a trio known for having recreated a MacDonalds, and then flooding it with water, here was concerned with fire. They had a DVD of a burning car on sale but the more interesting work in that booth came from former skateboarder Ed Templeton who created little heads with words coming out of their mouths. Mexico City gallery Galeria Enrique Guerrero was showing Colombian artist Miler Lagos’ piece from the series Serie Semillas Magicas called El Soporte del Universo. It looked like an enormous tree trunk made of thousands of dyed sheets torn from Mexico City newspapers.
I often get bored with a lot of conceptual pieces but generally these seemed more dynamic and interesting than many of the two-dimensional pieces. Although I was particularly struck by a series of photographs, laserchrome prints by Luisa Lambri at Brazilian gallery Luisa Strina. They were grey and white photographs of the windows of architect Louis Barragan's house, the white light delicately shining through the shutters.
In conjunction with the festival, Chilango magazine hooked up with artist Ruben Gutierrez to take over the Habita hotel, a designer’s dream on sleek, chic President Maseryk street. They put a neon sign on top of the hotel to transform it into Hotel Paraiso. Hotels here named Paraiso are places that rent rooms by the hour, so part of the idea was to play with the idea of how people would change their perception of the hotel, once it had a new name. Along with the neon sign they showed Gutierrez's video pieces called Banality by Repetition, which recreated various domestic scenes.
All of this seems extremely freeing, and for the slow among us and I am including myself here, you come to realize all of the barriers have been eliminated. All of the old tired questions about is it art or what is art are just so much yesterday's war or at least it seems that way here in a capital city which encourages the experimental and whose galleries and artists help promote each other and create an environment to help make all of this flourish. The only question seems to be what is it you want to create? This is why I am pushing for the term Creativo.
The week before I came here I listened to a talk by two so-called artists in El Paso who were basically calling for safe innocent commercially viable piffle as art. Zona Maco brought me quickly and swiftly into full international 21st century art and it was a bracing and extraordinary experience. Obviously not everything was successful, but it is the attempt and the willingness to experiment that is important. Although this is mainly a Latin American festival, you realize fairly quickly that terms like that mean nothing and contemporary art neither recognizes boundaries nor is it identified by regional concerns. It is another face of globalization if you will and it is very heady stuff indeed.
David Sokolec writes the Border Art Dialogue blog.