Text by Matt Swain
Abraham Cruzvillegas (b.1968, Mexico City) is an artist and writer who works predominantly in sculpture, using found materials to explore specific local areas in a social and economic context. He studied under Gabriel Orozco from 1987 to 1991 and was a central participant in a new wave of conceptual art in Mexico City during the late 1980s and 90s.
The exhibition here seeks to generate and unify collaboration, dialogue and celebration as a source in which conflicting economic systems clash, questioning the failure of consumption as a buoyant environment in which creation and joy can flourish. It is the latest in Cruzvillegas’ project Autoconstruccion which derives inspiration from his family home in the area of Pedregals de Coyoacan in Mexico City.
In the Upper Gallery, The Optimistic Failure (2011) dominates the central space and immediately demands your attention. This is a large-scale hanging “mobile” made of reclaimed metal and timber poles, the trajectories of which represent journeys that Cruzvillegas took around Oxford during his research visits. It is, effectively, an abstract, three dimensional map of his movements through the city. Suspended from the poles are shrunken Amazonian heads made from animal dung, soil and grass that was collected from a local area of farmland close to the River Thames. It feels stark and humble whilst at the same time slightly unsettling.
Blind Self Portrait as a Post-Thatcherite Deaf Lemon Head. For ‘K.M.’ (2011), is the latest in a series of Blind Self Portrait works produced by the artist in recent years. Essentially, it a mass of flyers, newspaper cuttings, postcards and travel tickets collected from around the world which are covered up with layers of paint, in this case white. Each is pinned to the wall by two thin pins. The intention is to obscure their true identity, giving the piece a sense of nothingness and joyless exclusion facing as they are, the white brick gallery wall. There is a reference here to Russian Suprematist painting in the use of white-on-white, although the hidden narrative, albeit obscured under layers of paint, ensures sufficient deviation for the work not to be derivative in any way.
Untitled Scratching Relief with Builders Groove 3 (From the Oxford Suites) (2011), is a wall-cut drawing of a map based on the various routes taken by Cruzvillegas around Oxford. This large-scale line-drawing is actually cut into the brickwork, revealing the brick beneath, thereby cutting into the very fabric of the architecture of the gallery. It represents a cutting back into the past and in doing so reveals the interaction between now and then, a manufactured manipulation of existing form.
Perhaps most engaging of all is the sculpture located in The Yard exhibition space. The Simultaneous Promise (2011), is a tricycle with portable PA, horn speakers, amplifier, car battery, metal tubing and numerous mirrors. The tricycle plays a continuous looped recording of Cruzvillegas whistling an array of tunes, from Latin American protest songs, punk, ska, salsa, country, funk and hip-hop to songs by current Oxford bands who form part of the vibrant Blessing Force collective.
The bike has been taken out onto the Oxford streets by the artist during the first week of the exhibition and can be ridden by visitors in The Yard. There is more than a playful sense of humour about the piece, not least an overwhelming feeling of happiness, or as Cruzvillegas put it, “the joy of energy”. His interest in bringing together music, performance and collaboration is represented most successfully in this work which is inspired by Mexican street vendors, Caribbean sound-system culture, Indian sound carts and ‘speakers-bikes’ made by kids in New York neighbourhoods. It is a deceptively simple piece – there is a depth and breadth here that belies initial impressions. In that sense it is equal parts quirky, unique, real and ever so slightly surreal.
Across the whole exhibition, Cruzvillegas successfully takes his origins into a foreign place by immersing himself in the culture and history of his surrounding environment. His work here represents his response to the diverse contexts of the city of Oxford and his own personal background in Mexico, blending personal identity and the identity of a place. Truly interactive, truly innovative, thoroughly absorbing.
Abraham Cruzvillegas: Autoconstruccion: The Optimistic Failure of A Simultaneous Promise continues at Modern Art Oxford until 20 November 2011.
The Optimistic Failure (2011) and Blind Self Portrait as a Post-Thatcherite Deaf Lemon Head. For ‘K.M.’ (2011)
Commissioned by Modern Art Oxford
Installation view. Photography by Stuart Whipps
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