Concrete Futures

Luis M. Castañeda
May 28, 2013 3:45PM

Also known as Cement Triptych 2, this photograph by Manuel Alvarez Bravo was awarded first prize at a competition staged by cement company La Tolteca, where artists were encouraged to portray the company's production process at its facility in Mixcoac, then a mostly industrial area of Mexico City. Federico Sánchez Fogarty, sales and advertising manager for the company, emerged at this time as a major advocate of concrete's possibilities for sculptural expression and unique suitability for cheap construction of various kinds of architectural and infrastructural works, including roads, hospitals and schools, in the rapidly modernizing country. Alvarez Bravo's image encapsulates the transformative process of concrete production, portraying its almost alchemical nature. It shows concrete in two manifestations -as a 'finished' product out of which the wall seen on the left is composed, and as a 'raw' material embodied by the gravel seen at lower right. The third element in the photograph, near the top right, displays the empty space between these two incarnations of concrete and the ceiling of the industrial facility. On some level, the image is highly abstract, only partially showing each of these components and presenting them as geometric volumes at play with one another. Yet the image simultaneously has a strong tactile quality, which emphasizes the distinct textures and physicality of each of these components. Also present in the picture, albeit implicitly, is the industrial and scientific process whereby concrete takes on its various incarnations. Mirroring fascinations with concrete expressed by artists around the world during the last century, Alvarez Bravo's image heralded a decades-long engagement with concrete's potential in Mexico. An image of this material's life cycle that freezes some of its stages in time, the photograph also points to a utopian future full of almost limitless possibilities for it.

Luis M. Castañeda
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