An Ambiguous Understanding
15 March – 7 April 2004
An Ambiguous Understanding
'…the Mexican must face reality in the same way as everyone else: alone. But in his nakedness he will discover his true universality, which previously was a mere adaptation of European thought. His philosophy will be Mexican only in its accent or emphasis or style, not in its content. Mexicanism will become a mask which, when taken off, reveals at last the genuine human being it disguised.' 1
In the work of Maria José de la Macorra and Maria Ezcurra the mask of Mexicanism has been removed to reveal a raw, vulnerable humanity. The artists' filter notions of cultural identity, popular culture, gender and the unconscious through their visual art practice to produce work rich in nuance, metaphor and poetry. There's a vulnerability and humour inherent in the work that parallels the artists' candid response to materials and the direct making processes employed. Alone in their nakedness Maria José de la Macorra and Maria Ezcurra look out at the world, at the nature of being and engage in an art practice with universal concerns.
In Maria Ezcurra's work the body's coverings are pulled off and pulled apart, skinned and spread; a hide, taut and anxious with connotations of a nervous, naked body, somewhere.The body's skeleton is comically revealed in the fabric flaying process of the work. The sense of the spectacular in everyday life, the fleeting theatre of space, image and object, surfaces in the kitsch 'tropical beach' scenes printed on the swimsuit fabric of "Old Navy" and "Ocean Pacific". Memories of failed holidays, swims in heavily chlorinated pools and tight elastic gripping the skin sit awkwardly with the, worn, image of paradise. The precarious housing of the body in a thin hide of identity is deconstructed in these cut up, remade objects loaded with all the ambiguities and doubts present in the condition of being human.
In the work of Maria José de la Macorra the body is dissected and reanimated in surreal manifestations of half remembered imaginings. These are the dreams and nightmares of darkness encrypted in ink stains that assume ambiguous shapes and, become, ominous signs. Ordinary, and perhaps not so very ordinary, objects multiply and dance, their utilitarian function reduced to the whims of the decorative and the sinister.Everyday things transform into playful, and potentially painful, fantasies where the domestic marries the dramatic to produce the fantastic props of an unseen play. Steel is sheathed and stitched slinky rubber skins, with each skeletal form progressively outgrowing itself to form a new armature like carapace. Floppy rubber bounces and bops imagined organs into tangles of beige tubes and red receptacles – it is as if a new anatomy is being created, one where unconscious yearnings materialise into esoteric matter, art.
Long traditions of 'making' in Mexico continue to construct a milieu where both functional and decorative objects are produced and are fundamental to the cultural identity of Mexico. The borders defining the work of artisan and artist are capricious and unimportant: the ephemeral and the monumental co-existing in exquisite juxtaposition. The Mexican is a maker who conjures the imagined into being, and the being into the imagined. Maria José de la Macorra and Maria Ezcurra release the 'many ferocious, tender and noble feelings that had been hidden by our fear of being… and dare to exist, to be' 2 .
Louiseann Zahra is currently undertaking a PhD in the Faculty of Art and Design, Monash University and travelled to Mexico City in 2002 assisted by a Monash Post Graduate Travel Grant, a Freedman Foundation Travelling Scholarship, an Australia Council for the Arts New Work Grant and a RMIT Staff Development Grant.
As a two and three-dimensional artist, María José de la Macorra produces her work by dabbling in diverse genres of representation and manipulating innumerable organic and inorganic materials. Her free transit in montages in which ceramics, created and recreated objects, graphics, installation, video and ambientation converge, does not resemble the consequence of a gratuitous contemporary manifestation of multimedia, but rather this wide register obeys the representative needs imposed on the artist, given the reference she has chosen for her poetic creation: the nature of the corporal; the illusory enunciation of a body.
María José’s imagery offers, in aiming at constructing subjective knowledge, the narrative of generative processing; from conception to vitality, from one fictitious corporal entity that is never completely defined, that is anthropomorphic, theoremorphic or phytomorphic. The protagonist of the work is somatic, in the sense of the essential history of the inseparable relationship that exists between the bio-matter and the invisible breath that gives it life, the secret functioning and the consciousness that constitutes the whole or the fragments of a dreamed body.
As an artist, María José invents that fictitious body – which is never false although to a certain extent referential – and can therefore reveal many things to us about our dialectic reality as living beings, in such a way that the abyss that has been opened by the mistakes of dualism by self-defining us separately as body and soul, matter and spirit, tend towards a complementary conception of the human that can only understand existence in terms of a physio-psychic overlapping: María José warps the deep map of our multiple biological geography and in doing so expresses a lucid criticism of the metaphysics of the body and, at the same time, goes beyond the simplicity characteristic of purely materialistic notions.
María José’s images construct a kind of manual for fantastical anatomy, which, beyond manifesting nostalgia for its first formation in a scientific context, expresses its bent for intuitive knowledge – and not as a result lacking rigor – in the territory of art. The result of this Gnostic choice allows the artist to propose somatic models aimed at the figuration of more and more interior landscapes. It’s as if she were asking herself what the body’s original paradise is and when will we reach our promised land.
The use of strategies of artistic representation based on models of knowledge is evident in María José de la Macorra’s creations. In this sense it is necessary to highlight her passion for Oriental calligraphy, a tradition the artist acknowledges as close to her heart due to the fact that it consists of the registry of signs highly conditioned by the mental-muscular action of he or she who writes by drawing. This is added to her taste for cartography depicting the body as drawn up religions and theorists.
When María José invents inert corporal zones from the biological structures that move in the world, she returns to the figure of metaphor when that signifies transferring the identity of an element of language to another. It would also appear that, from the point of view of the field of knowledge, the artist uses as a principle in her aesthetic concept this return to metaphor, to the extent that her work substitutes the experience of scientific vision of the real body for that of the poetic imagination of the same. Secondly, if we consider the structure of her works, it is evident that her works not only thematisize the reincarnations of the body, but that they are the representation of the corporal.
Surprisingly, in her creative experience, María José has found an even more subtle form of metaphor, one which we must consider because it signals a difficult road in the exercise of language: to suppose that there exists more than simply living by art: to create works in the concrete domain of objects; in a meta-corporal dimension, is a transitive act generated from the corporal identity of all artists. This is both inevitable and necessary. However, perhaps the creative search aimed at the foundation of beauty and knowledge to which art has guided us can de undertaken by all of us by principle and, finally, returning to a more complex and closer ambiance, the intricate self of the psycho-physical body that we are.
Erik Castillo Corona
Translated from the Spanish by Adam Critchley
Clothing n. 1. garments collectively. 2. a covering.
Skin -n. 1. the external covering of an animal body. 2. a pelt or hide. 3. An outer covering, casing, or layer, as the rind of fruit.
I have been cutting clothing (shirts, sweaters, swimming suits…) following the seams, as if they were animal skins. Once cut, I use pins for hanging the garments from the wall, and sometimes bringing them to the floor or the roof. As a result of this transformation I have made different patterns or “drawings” that are visually very seductive, without losing their strength as morbid objects. These clothes also make a strong comment on painting, in part because of the designs of the fabrics that I have chosen, and because of the transformation from a three dimensions object into a two dimensional one and its subsequent reinterpretation in a new three dimensional shape. This body of work is related to ideas of re-collecting, re-valuing and re-placing things that once belonged to someone else, transforming daily objects into “art”. I believe that objects transmit information about a culture or a person and that, once altered, they start functioning as self-awareness and self-reflection instruments, provoking people’s wonder and curiosity. I am working with clothes because there is a kind of intuitive knowledge inherent within them that we have not only as spectators, but as artists as well. We all read clothing symbolically, even if we are not aware of it, connecting individual knowledge with culturally produced ideas. Clothing functions to link the body to the social world, but it also separates it, waking up our subjectivity and an ambiguous understanding of garments.
To the Northern Interiors
This body of work started about 5 years ago as a thought I had once flying over Mexican land. I saw small rivers meandering between multicolored soil and mountains. When flying above the coast the profile of the land triggered thoughts about how our body and the geography of our lands resembled. Our anatomy has taken names from the geography: such as channels, isles, cisterns. Our anatomy, our inner organs and systems, are channels, ways of vital fluids coming and going, pouches that either transform or accumulate bodily substances.
From the Geographies to the Northern Interiors is how I first titled this project which includes a different number of pieces in which I enter diverse genres, such as sculpture, installation, object and graphic art.
My aim, here, is to propose the story in metaphorical code of the genetic and vital process that a fictitious corporal entity experiences. The use of rubber, latex and plastic refers to that first approach I had to our body as an inner landscape in which, entrances an exits happen between fluids and energy, contained in small channels or rivers that are invisible to our own eyes.
The North is a symbol of the unknown, the unreachable, the point in which one has arrived to a threshold in a personal journey. Some of the pieces here have titles that refer to either geographical places, such as Whalebone Alley, or to points or landmarks traveled by pilgrims, such as Shirakawa, an entrance to the Northern Regions in Japan, reached by Basho, a Japanese 16th century poet-monk-traveler that wrote “The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Other travel sketches” in which he attempts to reveal his striving to discover a vision of eternity in the transient world around him and in his personal evocation of the mysteries of the universe, and who inspired me deeply in my own little pilgrimage through this project in which my purpose is to talk about our own body as a metaphorical land to be traveled.
My mind is not only fascinated by the idea of travel, but also by trying to understand the vessel in which we exist and the relationship between our body and mind, or as some specialists name it: our Soma.
In this series of work, the iconic protagonist is the archetypal morphology of the somatic principle, which in other words means the essential history of the inseparable relationship between what is called biomatter and the breath that gives it life, the secret of the functioning and the consequence that is underlying and indiscernible within it.
Maria Jose de la Macorra