Two new exhibitions of work by young Mexican artists at the University Museum of Science and Art (MUCA) in the Roma neighborhood explore relationships of visibility and subjectivity in contemporary Mexican political life.
The work of Puebla-born artist Isaac Olvera creates rhizomatic hypertext structures relying on weak or absent centers. Approaching these unstable, violent centers allows his art to tell dynamic stories.
The installation “¿Vendrás cuando leas que te busco, Edgar Poeta?” (Will You Respond to my Beckoning, Poet Edgar?) centers on a void — the missing poet Edgar Poeta — around which the artist builds a lively, dynamic hypertext that offers insight into city life and otherness.
Olvera says that he met Edgar Poeta in early 2016 when the latter boarded a microbus and gave a powerful performance of a poem called “La muerte de Natasha” (The Death of Natasha), about the death of Carlos Fuentes’ daughter Natasha in Tepito.
“He recited the poem with a lot of force, and the people on the bus were kind of scared,” Olvera told The News. “There was a very strong singularity created in that moment.”
When the poem ended, Olvera followed the poet off the bus, and the two exchanged phone numbers and began to become friends. However, after a few meetings, Edgar Poeta stopped answering Olvera’s calls and disappeared. Olvera attempted to find his friend in vain by spending hours walking the streets of the Guerrero neighborhood in Mexico City — where Edgar had told Olvera that he lived — and asking strangers if they knew the poet. Frustrated, Olvera decided to use an exhibition at MUCA to find Edgar Poeta.
As part of his exhibition, Olvera will put up posters in Guerrero asking anyone who knows Edgar Poeta to contact him. The artist will also publish chronicles in Mexico City newspapers about his encounters with Edgar Poeta and perform staged readings of the chronicles at MUCA. Finally, Overa hopes that Edgar Poeta will come to MUCA and perform “La muerte de Natasha.”
“The exhibition is for him,” said Olvera. “He is at the center of the exhibit, even though he is absent.”
Although the installation’s central goal is to contact Edgar Poeta, the figure of the lost poet itself represents a primary theme of Olvera’s work — that of absent subjectivity, of a void at the center of a structure, of a center that is elsewhere. Olvera admits that if Edgar Poeta does show up, the central tension of the exhibition would be resolved in a way that might challenge its very premise.
“The installation might lose part of its argument” if the poet comes, he said. “But only the discourse would change, the actual content wouldn’t change.”
The other pieces in “Edgar Poeta” also rely on the dynamism created by absent subjectivity. “Armand sigue a la cámara, la cámara sigue a Armand” (“Armand Follows the Camera, the Camera Follows Armand”) uses images and video of a parkour club practicing in a city park, as the camera unsuccessfully searches for a protagonist to follow, while the newspaper collages in “Febrero Dos Mil Quince” (“February Two Thousand Fifteen”) guide the viewer’s eye to search for a narrative subject while precluding any sort of resolution.
Oaxaca-born artist Edgardo Aragón’s installation “La Tenebra” uses provocative juxtapositions of images, text and video to challenge the inegalitarian nature of the Mexican state’s project of modernization. Tenebra is a word coined by Mexican novelist Juan Villoro to describe the corrupt, obscure system of Mexican politics, suggesting the Latin root for “darkness.”
“‘Tenebra’ is the best way to describe Mexican politics,” Aragón told The News. “Mexican politics happens in the shadows, behind the backs of the people.”
Aragón’s videos explore the ways that different groups of people have been left behind by the liberal ideals of development and modernization. “Exterminio” features a semi-comical recreation of a death flight — a technique of forced disappearance in which victims were thrown out of planes over bodies of water that the Mexican military used during the Dirty Wars of the 1960s and 1970s. The video shows a gourd being dropped from an antique propellor plane, and a coconut washing ashore on a touristic beach. Aragón hopes that the use of dark humor will allow viewers to reflect on past atrocities and connect them to present injustices.
“Mexico really hasn’t changed much since the 1970s,” said Aragón. “There are still guerrilla groups, and there are still forced disappearances by the military.”
The titular piece of “La Tenebra” uses official portraits of four Mexican presidents who were responsible for starting wars in the country: Plutarco Elías Calles, Gustavo Díaz Ordaz, Luis Echeverría Álvarez and Felipe Calderón Hinojosa. The portraits are reproduced on pocket-sized souvenir cards that museum visitors can take home. On the back of the cards are recipes for the presidents’ favorite meals.
“I’m not trying to humanize these men,” said Aragón. “If you look at their favorite recipes, you’ll see that they all like to eat flesh. I hope that the piece will allow people to question the official narratives of history.”
MUCA Roma is located at Calle Tonalá 51 in the Roma neighborhood and is open Tuesday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
“La Tenebra” and “¿Vendrás cuando lees que te busco, Edgar Poeta?” will close on Jan. 29, 2017.
A full schedule of activities can be found on MUCA Roma’s Facebook page.