At the entrance to the Museo Experimental El Eco, Matias Goeritz’s small gem of a museum (and a prime example of what Goeritz called ‘emotional architecture’), wooden beams frame a long hallway. The start to Abraham Cruzvillegas’s exhibition, ‘Autodestrucción 2’ (Autodestruction 2, 2013), was discreet and yet compelling, present yet somehow disappearing.
The beams looked like they might hold together the structure of the building – either that or suggested that the building was falling apart, from earthquake damage or termites. The wood was raw and stained – old rafters from the artist’s current home. After walking through this archway, a path of cracked cantera limestone tiles led us into the main exhibition space where a series of old window frames formed a tower, connected to another accumulation of wooden beams like scaffolding. In the middle lay some debris: red tezontle (volcanic rock) tiles. In the corner of the space, two beams sat atop a pair of huaraches (traditional sandals) like giant stilts.
‘Autodestrucción 2’ was a sort of epilogue to the various ‘Autoconstrucción’ exhibitions and books Cruzvillegas has been working on for the past several years, most recently his large show at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. If auto-construction is the art of renewal then it also implies destruction: it’s reliant on debris from demolished buildings and leftovers from construction sites. Self-construction implies a pilfering of previous structures and materials in order to make them new. Specifically here, the artist took materials from the house he is currently remodelling and created a new home inside the museum: a rat’s nest, a sculpture, a junkyard, a construction site.
Outside the large windows of the main exhibition space, the construction site looked as if it continued. The first time I visited, the outside space, which housed the Pabellón (Pavilion, 2013) – a series of architectural interventions on the patio – was under construction. Here, just as inside, Cruzvillegas used typical Mexican building materials; terracotta tiles were placed atop a plywood structure, and the pavilion seemed to extend the piece endlessly outwards. It even included a wheelbarrow and a half-empty bottle of Coca-Cola sitting in the sun, as if belonging to the absent-minded worker who also left his huaraches behind.
There are shows you want to see and there are rare exhibitions that you want to visit again and again. This was one of the latter. The second time I visited, I went to do a poetry reading. The third time, the museum had become Cruzvillegas’s home. He had invited his closest family members for a series of talks, where they presented the work they themselves do: human rights, politics, activism. Thus the household became an agora, school, public forum.
The piece was successful in its balancing of private and public. Like other works by Cruzvillegas, often rooted in his childhood neighbourhood on the outskirts of Mexico City – a community that started more as a survival strategy and which is now well-established – this piece is no exception: the huaraches in the corner were, at the same time, a nod to the many impoverished rural migrants who built and keep building such neighborhoods. They also echoed the text that was part of the piece, La pendiente (The Slope): a short story that Cruzvillegas wrote from the perspective of a window, perhaps one of those very windows that are piled up in the museum, a window that witnesses the fall and self-destruction of a huarache repairman with a mangled leg.
In Cruzvillegas’s installation – as the accompanying curatorial text by David Miranda claims – ‘debris speaks’, letting us guess at the many stories of places and people behind them and reminding us also of how Mexico City is multilayered – one layer of buildings serving as grounding for another and yet another, from the Aztec to the Spanish to today. ‘Autodestruccíon 2’, as memorable as it is, and as solid as its thick wood beams and its metal frames appear, speaks volumes about the fragility of everyday life.