On the thirteenth day students at the Universitario had asked if Antonio and I would be willing to lead another crit of their work. I was very pleased that the students had enjoyed our previous session and we agreed to try and fit as many presentations in before I left.
In the later part of the morning Antonio and I were given a private tour of María José de Símon’s solo show at the Museum of Contemporary Art by Director Aldo Arellano Paredes. The artist uses found materials and transforms them after much evaluation, exploring their form and construction.
When we returned to the Museo Leonora Carrington de San Luis Potosí Antonio and I spent some time planning my trip to Mexico City (25/04/18-28/04/18). We arranged for me to meet Philippe Olle Laprune, the Museo Surrealist adviser and organiser of an upcoming conference in October. In addition he spoke with Paulina Cortés, in charge of Leonora Carrington’s house, who agreed to let me see the house during my visit to the city.
On the fourteenth day Emma Viggiano Director of the Museo in Xilitla came to visit me and to say goodbye. We spent the morning discussing her plans for the Museo in Xilitla. We also talked about my desire for a future visit to Xilitla and the possibility of me conducting some more research in Las Pozas. Emma also showed me a proof of the photography book she is developing about the garden and I gave her some feedback on the design.
I spent the eleventh day at the Museo preparing my talk and presentation for the following evening.
On the twelfth day I was introduced to Iván Sánchez, a Mexican guitarist and sound artist. Iván had been commissioned by the museum to make a sound installation for one of the prison cells. The work explores the literary universe of Leonora Carrington, using various instruments and a child’s voice to create a very piece.
In the evening we both presented our artistic research to the staff of the Museo and Centro de las Artes. In addition to this audience were a few members of the public.
My presentation contained a brief introduction about my professional background, Well Projects* and also my involvement in the Despacito Art School** in Cliftonville. I then expanded upon a few recent examples of artistic works followed by my research into Leonorra Carrington. My presentation was followed by a small group discussion (including Centro de las Artes Director Laura Elena González Sánchez and Museo Leonora Carrington Director Antonio Garcia Acosta) about the literary works of Leonora focusing on Down Below in particular.
* Well Projects is an artist-led organisation that operates as a flexible events space and supports a public programme. Inhabiting a small shop-front in Margate, Well projects looks to the water well for direction, as an interstice in a location, as a reservoir and as a place to gather. Well Projects works with artists and practitioners to present a varied programme of reading groups, film screenings, performances, workshops and exhibitions.
** Despacito Art School is run by art tutors Heather Tait and myself, together with OSE*** Associates Coral Brookes, Katie Fiore, Una Hamilton Helle and Sarah Karen. It is a hands-on place to learn about art, craft and functional object-making. Despacito is open to young people aged 7 to 12, who live in and around Cliftonville West.
*** Open School East is a space for artistic learning that is free, experimental, collaborative and brings together diverse voices. They provide tuition and studio space to emerging artists, run learning activities for young people and adults, commission artists to develop participatory projects, and produce and host cultural events and social activities for and with everyone.
On the morning of the tenth day we met Emma Viggiano for coffee and she showed us the photography book she was designing for Las Pozas. The is full of photographs of Las Pozas accompanied by Edward James’s poems.
On the ninth day Antonio and I drove to Xilitla, although the town is in the municipality of San Luis Potosí it was a long (5 hours) but beautiful drive to get up into the mountains.
We arrived in the late afternoon and met Emma Viggiano at Las Pozas, a surrealist landscape garden built by the British poet Edward James in the 1950s.
Las Pozas, is a truly remarkable place and has been completely embraced by local residents, for example the lagoons are used for swimming.
Edward James (1907-84), the millionaire poet, painter and patron to the Surrealists, moved to Mexico in the late 1930s to escape conservative British high society. James spent 40 years building Las Pozas (The Pools), a name that refers to the focal point of the garden – nine pools filled by a natural waterfall.
James designed and built a sprawling Surrealist-inspired garden full of large, colourful sculptures, although most of the colour has faded from them now. Las Pozas, is a beautiful ruin situated in dense, encroaching foliage.
Concrete paths wind through the forest, with roots forcing themselves up and between the structures and dangling off them. Moss and plants grow around the structures. In some ways I cannot imagine or even picture the structures as new, their decaying state seems to fit within the landscape. Nature is winning. I completely lose my way, which is enjoyable although I am slightly terrified I will come across one of James’ boa constrictors!
J. G. Ballard’s novel The Drowned World comes to mind as I clamber up onto one of the platforms. The Drowned World, is set in a post-apocalyptic future where global warming has caused the majority of the earth to become uninhabitable: tropical temperatures, flooding and accelerated evolution. There are parallels between Ballard’s landscape and Las Pozas, the concrete is being engulfed by the vegetation, worn and broken down. You end up looping round and round the garden, being very aware that you might fall down a precipice or off a structure (I did enjoy the lack of signposting and warning signs). I had imagined the experience of visiting Las Pozas to be serene and dreamlike, but it is not, you are on hyper alert at all times in the jungle – there is absolutely nothing wrong with this though as it adds to the experience of finding new modes of perception when inhabiting a landscape which is alien from anything I have ever encountered before. I can imagine Edward James transformed, like the humans who chose to stay at the lagoon in The Drowned World, he must have experienced an environmental time warp into the past of the human psyche and succumbed to the calling of our evolutionary past.
The eighth day of my residency was spent talking with Francesco Pedraglio as we walked to city centre. We spent the morning discussing his new artwork for the Museo and also my research.
I then visited the Museo Naciónal de la Máscara. The Museo has a number of impressive masks and a few lengthy texts in English which was really helpful. I spent a long time reading and looking trying to make connections between my Leonora Carrington research and the masks that had been used in various ceremonies.
Antonio, Francesco and I arrived at the Centro Universitario de las Artes Ubicación in the late afternoon where we met the BA Contemporary Art students. We went through the format of the afternoon explaining that we would look at their work first without any explanation from the student, next the student would give a short presentation about the work to be followed by comments and questions.
The first student, Manuel, presented a installation (photographs, sculptures and a video). His work was about a cycle journey he completed a week ago as a way to try and clear his mind and escape his problems. Along his journey he created temporary sculptures with found materials which he documented through photography and video. The autobiographical audio that accompanied the video had been recorded after the event and seemed to have a confessional like quality. The response to the work was positive and Manuel clearly had very strong ideas about what he wanted to convey. Francesco, Antonio and I felt that some editing was needed and perhaps he needed to have some distance from such a personal work. We were impressed by how much he had produced in such a short space of time.
The second student, Gina, presented an interactive installation of hanging fabric in which she had printed an appropriated image of Francis Bacon’s Study after Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X, whose face she had replaced with a well known Mexican priest who had been found guilty of paedophilia. In front of this imaged hung several pieces of meshed fabric which she had painted which obscured the print. Students moved in and out of fabric, exploring the layers and commenting on the movement of the piece and also the image. Gina, later explained that the piece was about the corruption within the Catholic church and covering up by the Vatican. We all agreed that the piece was successful and clearly conveyed her intention. We encouraged her to pursue this line of enquiry and to keep making work with interrogatory.
The final student, Diana, presented an interactive installation of mirrors raised off the floor. We (the females of the group) were handed lipstick and invited to write insults on the mirror. Hanging down from the ceiling were casts of arms which dangled above the mirrors. Willingly the female students approached the mirrors and began writing insults to one another. Diana explained that the work was about how in female bathrooms there are often these exchanges of insults between women wishing violence, commenting on sexual behaviour and appearance. She hoped that by recreating a situation were women have to recall the insults they might have experienced or said to another female, they might begin to question their behaviour. The students agreed with this, but Francesco and I also commented that perhaps it is wider problem that includes men – their attitudes towards women, slut-shaming, sexist behaviour. We also felt the addition of the arms was unnecessary as it did not really add anything to the work.
I thoroughly enjoyed my afternoon teaching the students. It was interesting to see what their concerns were and how they approached them. I was also surprised to hear that normally they do not present their work in front of each other but only to their tutor who provides them with written feedback. Francesco, Antonio and I agreed that we thought that it was a beneficial exercise for all the students to speak openly about their ideas and to share their work with one another as it is a more informative experience and enables them to find their critical voice. It was clear to see that all the students wanted to speak and that they were supportive of each other.