At the Mexican Pavilion, Artists Mine the Geopolitics of Two Fast-Sinking Cities
Walking down the street in Mexico City, it’s easy to tell if someone is a newcomer by observing how often they trip. The city, North America’s largest by population, is built on the spongy bed of a dried-up lake, and it’s sinking fast. On the whole, the DF—the city’s nickname, short for Distrito Federal—is more than 30 feet lower than it was 100 years ago; as a result, its sidewalks are uneven, with some segments elevated a foot above others within a single block. In
These days, in Xochimilco, about 15 miles south of the Mexico City center, some 187 kilometers of canals—teeming with colorful boats, mariachi bands, and floating gardens—still remain, and with them, a remnant of pre-Hispanic culture. But the ecosystem of this once-aquatic, now-overdeveloped urban landscape has changed at the most fundamental level. In their exhibition “Possessing Nature” at this year’s 56th Venice Biennale, Mexico City natives
Possessing Nature, which comprises the entire exhibition, is a monumental, site-specific, sculptural installation. Its physical shape will mirror a traced line between the different buildings that have housed the Mexican Pavilion since 2007, its inaugural year. Sofia Mariscal of MARSO, the DF-based gallery that represents Ortega, wrote in an email that “the curator focused her attention on the fact that each venue had a direct relation with a power institution,” from commerce to government to religion to the military. Two of the buildings are palaces built for noble families; one is a church; the last, a site that is set to host the Mexican Pavilion until 2034, is in the Arsenale, a former shipyard whose centrality to Venice’s maritime trading and fighting practices makes it a historical hub of wealth and power. The sculpture will contain a hydraulic system that internally circulates water from the Arsenale’s lagoon, creating a loud, waterfall-like noise that sounds from within. This water is finally pumped into a reflection pool, whose surface will display a video projection by Ortega that compares the drainage structures of Venice and Mexico City.
Ortega, who earned his degree in philosophy, has often used video to explore the visual, mechanical, and literary qualities of space. Perhaps fittingly, the evolution of his career is directly linked to the exercise of global power. In the 1990s, following Mexico’s economic decline, which led to severe budget cuts in arts education, a young wave of artists was left, as the conceptualist
Candiani, born eight years after her collaborator in 1974, also has a highly conceptual practice, but the subjects of her inquiry are different. She investigates social systems of gender, labor, and culture, and the subsystems—linguistic, phonic, technological—that comprise them. Candiani’s frequent allusions to architecture stem from an interest in domestic space and the divide between public and private. Mariscal says that Jasso, who selected the artists, “wanted to provoke a shock more than a collaboration,” believing that the most interesting piece would spring from an encounter between very different artists, which indeed they are. Nevertheless, “Possessing Nature” will serve as a kind of mutual culminating work in a pair of careers that have both been marked by questions of space and power.
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