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Issue 119

Diego Teo

Sala de Arte Público Siqueiros, Mexico City, Mexico

BY Jessica Berlanga Taylor in Reviews | 01 NOV 08

Diego Teo, Again I finish, again I begin, installation view, 2008

Again I finish, again I begin (2008), an installation by the Mexican-born artist Diego Teo, is composed of wooden debris found on construction sites in Mexico City. The piece addresses the points of contact between social groups, nature and cities. Located at the back of the Sala de Arte Público Siqueiros (SAPS), the work was constructed by the artist and four builders – simply referred to as Javier, José, Joaquín and Gregorio – in such a way as to make the viewer highly aware of their surroundings: an uneven door, ambiguous passageways, crooked staircases, low ceilings and enclosed chambers. These elements, including the installation’s unfinished and unpolished texture and appearance, echo the way builders put together precarious structures within building sites that permit their own very particular mobility.

Once through the door, the visitor could turn right and then left, crouching to approach a darkly lit dead end, where gifts (posters by Teo and catalogues of his work that people were invited to take home) were waiting in an atmosphere of generous dispersal á la Felix Gonzalez-Torres. Alternatively, one could also enter a wide room filled with two inches of water and choose between two possible paths: planks that led to a platform where viewers could sit and watch a video, or ramshackle and unstable boards that ended under an artificial tree. Teo’s video was made in the Lacanjá jungle in the state of Chiapas and follows a tiny canoe up and down one of the many streams carving through the mountains. A human head fashioned out of clay could be seen sitting inside the canoe, which was a miniature version of the Lacandon canoes, usually fashioned from a single tree trunk – like those of the ancient Mayas. (Both canoe and head were fabricated by a man named Kin-kin.)

This physically and visually precarious environment and assemblage of parts represents one manifestation of Teo’s search for an ever-expanding base of empirical knowledge. His ten-day sojourn among the Lacandon Indians as well as his interactions with urban builders, the long walks he takes across Mexico City and the experiences his body goes through when adapting to either jungle or city are among the variables organizing the spaces he creates in his installations. Once outside the room, visitors again turned several corners before ascending to a platform, which in turn led to the highest point of this labyrinthine work. From the high point one could descend still more steps and arrive at a corridor where a table covered with birds’ nests (collected by Teo from various spots around the streets of the city) functioned as a natural counterbalance to the very human conditions of the construction. Their repetitiveness emphasized Teo’s desire for openness – in both structures and the gathering of knowledge – as well as the way one thing is never the same as another and how, as soon as one process finishes, another begins. At the end of this corridor was a small, dark room showing a video of birds feeding their young among the trees in Mexico City against the background noise of traffic.

The work’s interactive and participatory (as well as somewhat performative) qualities enhance potent political issues regarding the fragile relationships between Indian communities and interests in search of natural resources and also between people and their cities. It expresses how we either move between or remain frozen within opposing social groups. Teo’s various travels remind us that identities are never fixed, exceptions and permutations are always present and energy is constantly exchanged.

Jessica Berlanga Taylor is a curator and art critic based in Mexico City. She is currently Chief Curator at Alumnos47 Foundation.