BY Gabriela Jauregui in Reviews | 28 JAN 16
Featured in
Issue 178

Como fantasmas que vienen de las sombras, y en las sombras, se van …

Espacio de Arte Contemporáneo, Mexico City, Mexico

BY Gabriela Jauregui in Reviews | 28 JAN 16

‘Como fantasmas quevienen de las sombras, y en lassombras, se van …’, 2016, installation view

Hanging from the steel and glass facade ofa mixed-use building in one of the wealthiest neighbourhoods of Mexico City is a seriesof digitally printed banners that seems outof place. Part of Daniel Aguilar Ruvalcaba’s Tutorialess, How to Save Mexico Using Photoshop CS5 (2015), they invite visitors into a spacious entrance hall mostly occupied bya giant cardboard structure. The lobby belongs to the Espacio de Arte Contemporáneo (ESPAC) Foundation, and the structure is a ‘cave’ that holds the exhibition ‘Como fantasmas que vienen de las sombras, y en las sombras, se van …’ (Like Ghosts that Come and Go in the Shadows …).

Artists Juan Caloca and Andrés Villalobos built a cave from cheap, readily available construction materials and invited 17 other artists to exhibit their works within it. By transforming ESPAC’s lobby into a cardboard grotto, the show challenges preconceived notions about how artworks should be displayed. The cave has many points of entry and exit, so visitors can approach the showin any order they like. Several constricted points in the cave force visitors to crouchand twist in order to see the works, whichare installed on the ceiling, on the floor and inside small wall niches. This explorative journey is set to Esteban Aldrete’s Nicolas, prófugo en el inframundo (Nicolas, Fugitivein the Underworld, 2014) – an atmospheric sound piece with haunting male vocals and flat yet catchy electronic beats.

Like gems embedded within the cave,the artworks beckon you forward through the darkness. They refer to their underground context in various ways. Daniel Steegmann Mangrané’s ˆ (2012), a foamcore triangle coated in gold leaf illuminated by the beam of a slide-projector, transmits the feeling of mining for gold. Its shape echoes the central form in Rita Ponce de León’s drawing Sin título (Untitled, 2015), which could be read as an erupting volcano, perhaps one that towers above the cave where the drawing hangs. The colour and texture of Steegmann Mangrané’s work also creates a dialogue with the silver ceramic vase by Rodrigo Hernández (Was ist der mond, What is the Moon? 2012). Displayed behind glass in a cardboard niche, the vase refers to more traditional didactic displays, like those in anthropological and natural history museums. Some works, like Mauricio Marcín’s charcoal drawing with a tress of human hair affixed to its surface (As Above, So Below, 2014), recall ancient sacrificial offerings, the traces of which can be found beneath Mexico City in the ruins of the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan. An enormous drawing across the cave walls and floor by Jazael Olguín Zapata (Molar Landscape, 2015) reproduces drawn fragments of some of the works in the show alongside crosses and ghosts, which nod to Mexico’s high mortality rate as a consequence of state violenceand drug wars. The mural offers a readingof the exhibition’s titular ‘ghosts’ as the spirits of the nation’s dead – perhaps the 43 Ayotzinapa students who went missing in 2014 – while also recalling the ghostly menagerie of prehistoric cave paintings.

‘Como fantasmas quevienen de las sombras, y en lassombras, se van …’, 2016, installation view

The cave also recalls the famous allegory in Plato’s Republic (c. 380 BCE), in which cave-dwelling prisoners perceive the shadows cast by fire not as representations, but as reality. The works on display appear, inthe dark, as literal and figurative reflections.Like the shadows in Plato’s story, subjectsof artistic representation can be understoodas simulacra; the play of light on the cave walls, projected by both Andrés García Riley’s fragile sculpture Ghost Syndicate (2015)and Emiliano Rocha’s kinetic installation Juventud en Rebeldía (Rebelling Youth, 2014), further echo this Platonic allegory. In Maj Britt Jensen’s introspective video installation, Close-up (Under the Skin) (2009), the body and its crevasses, filmed in close-up, recall the primal association of cave and womb.

Organized by, and including some of, Mexico’s most politically engaged young artists, this exhibition provides – both literally and figuratively – an ‘underground’ space to showcase a particular segment of Mexico City’s art scene. Complaints left by neighbours on ESPAC’s Facebook page demand that the show move back to the ’hoods where the artists come from’, and the police have been called to the gallery, all of which would seem to attest to the persistence of theold prejudices that the exhibition seeks to confront.