Vol. 34, No. 5
Jusidman, Yishai, Artforum International
While in other Latin American countries artists toyed with Pop and Conceptualism, in Mexico they have stuck to painting. Only recently have young Mexican artists taken up “new” media: installation fever has infected even government officials, who are finally sponsoring such work. As might be expected, most of this celebrated “new” art can be seen as either a belated and unacknowledged evocation of the ’70s – call it naive conceptualism- or an updated package of the usual Sabor Latino or post-Tropicalismo tidbits. But these unusually propitious conditions do allow raw talent to develop unhindered by the constraints of “accepted” standards. A case in point is 27-year-old Eduardo Abaroa, who puts to good use the dingy tenements that house local “alternative” spaces, as well as the similarly dingy place Mexico has occupied in the history of cutting-edge art.
Transtornos evolutivos de la sensibilidad (Evolutionary pathologies of sensibility, 1995), apoor-man’s attempt at creating a meditative room of the sort we’ve come to appreciate from artists like James Turrell, was put together with four makeshift wooden boxes covered with mirrors that reflected the pale yellow room of the rundown mansion-turned-gallery. The illusion of light and space was achieved by way of a pair of lightbulbs flashing at an uneven pace. One could almost have lifted oneself from the disconsolate context and meditated on the intermittent reflections, were it not for the subversive presence of two suspended bananas covered with a tin armature, which managed to bring you down to earth and provide a sensation of utter absurdity.
Abaroa’s sculptures, assemblages, videos, and installations are intensely, peculiarly emotional. Unlike the kind of expressionism that tries to establish a direct correlation between an artwork and a particular emotion, what Abaroa expresses is an amalgam of emotions that are not easily compatible.
In Hombre que cae (Falling man, 1995), the artist invited the viewer to roam through a large, sectioned dollhouse suspended from the ceiling and leaning on a basket ball-sized globe placed on the floor. Like Alice, one could not settle on a fitting representational size in which to inhabit the work, the projection being either too big for the mapped world or too small for the dollhouse. One of the rooms within the dollhouse was filled with a number of casually placed, rolled-up pairs of socks, which further intensified a collapsing sense of scale but also allowed one to take comfort in having found something with which to identify. Of course, as one searched for loftier meanings, one could not help but feel a bit ridiculous for finding redemption in someone else’s socks.
The same sort of bittersweet enjoyment was played out by Teleteatro de sombras de perro (Dog-shadow television drama, 1995), a video in which the hands of two people, male and female, play at projecting shadows in the shape of talking dog heads. Without much attention to detail and synchronization, the unsteady-cam moves away and back to the hands, while the actors read a dialogue in which the dogs tell of their transcendental, paranoid out-of-body experiences. An X-rated spread pinned on the projecting wall both distracted the viewer and accentuated the precarious relationships among the elements of the video, from which one deduced the kind of metaphysics that Plato would have formulated had he taken a joint with him on his trip to the cave. As with the best theater of the absurd, Abaroa succeeded in collapsing deep-seated human and artistic preoccupations with cynical self-parody.
Whether taking on recent art history, the psychology of make-believe, or philosophy in the artist’s boudoir, Abaroa’s rich visual and literal narratives develop tensions that continually play against each other, leaving us unsettled and frustrated, but also wanting more.
- Yishai Jusidman