This week in Mexico City, artist Abraham Cruzvillegas’s solo show “esculturas pendientes” opens at kurimanzutto. On view February 9—March 16, 2019 is an installation of new sculptural work, including a site-specific hanging garden.
The artist is continuing his investigation of the construction of one’s identity based on community, and the resilience of marginalized communities. His use of living plants stems from local research, telling us that “history can be learnt not only from the written chronicles of humans, but also from the organic elements that survive.”
WHITEWALL: What was the starting point for this exhibition?
ABRAHAM CRUZVILLEGAS: More than a starting point it is a continuation of the creative process that has been at the center of my practice, recycling and that of collaboration with specific persons for particular reasons each time.
In this exhibition I gather many of the preoccupations that I have had along the years, like interrogations around the creation of one’s identity and the importance of the community in this modeling of the self. In this sense, I have admired the resilience of marginalized communities and their amazing capacity to reinvent themselves and to create their own spaces outside of generalized and homogenizing “urban planning”. This specific economy is translated in outcomes that have to do with a possible critical awareness of the self as part of society, nature, the world, the galaxy, cosmos, the universe.
WW: How did you incorporate your own biography and your family’s story into these new works?
AC: The search for meaning and the history of my identity has taken me to many different places, from the mountains of Michoacán and the home of gifted artisans, similar to my father; to the lava fields of the Pedregal de Coyoacán, where my house was built; to the market where my mother was an influential member of the commercial community; and the building, transformation and simultaneous destruction by use of my family home. In these works, bits a pieces of these places have been integrated into the hanging garden. But in fact there’s no literal or didactic information about my own biography in any of my sculptures or my work in general, including my writing, which is, of course, literature.
WW: How did that dictate the choice of working with botany and a hanging garden?
AC: I had worked with native plants in other occasions, it is again part of my creative process. When I work in another city, I study its history, its ecology, its economy, all this through the objects that are found in said location. There is a lot of information about a place, its customs, its activities, that can be read from the debris you find in a particular geography.
I am also interested in the history of botany and the provenance of plants, and how humans have modified the landscape of the places they inhabit and urbanize. History can be learnt not only from the written chronicles of humans, but also from the organic elements that survive (or not) urbanization. Some of the species included in this exhibition are from the volcanic rocky area where I was born, and where I grew up.
WW: What are the challenges of working with living plants?
AC: The interesting part of working with plants is that they react to the environment, they might live and like their new home, or not. This is the challenge. You have to negotiate with a living creature and this also means that the piece is always changing. It might look very different here in the spring than in the summer, or maybe if you change the location, altitude, humidity, climate, the piece will look different as well. And, more specifically, it’s always a challenge to keep a horizontal relationship with any other living being, anyways.
WW: Tell us about working with Maque craftsman for this exhibition.
AC: Maque is a handmade lacquer technique from the Purépecha people of Michoacán. History tells us that the Purépecha kings offered Maque crafts to the Spanish when they arrived and this type of offering was very highly valued. The tradition of this rare art never died out but it changed with time and many of the original pigments and the use of natural materials were lost. Newer chemical pigments and oils were introduced and the quality of the Maque was changed.
Matina Navarro, a Purépecha community activist researched the original materials, tools, and procedures of the pre-Columbian Maque, which includes mineral earths, special oils and natural pigments, and the fat from an indigenous worm. She and her children, Erandi de Saint Phalle and Irepan de Saint Phalle have established the Taller de Saint Phalle workshop which makes Maque objects with the traditional processes. They have been fundamental in keeping this tradition alive in its most ancient form.
I asked them to include some wooden elements on which they ornamented with their technique and skills, among other objects—raw, industrially made, in plastic, metals, rocks, thread and fibers—so this collaboration brings a discussion about economical, political, cultural and social diversity, and about the possibility of living together, in harmony, in a meaningful and committed way.