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December 2, 2022

Field Notes: Molly Everett on “Until the Songs Spring,” Mexican Pavilion, 59th Venice Biennale

Art & Education

Naomi Rincón Gallardo, Sonnet of Vermin, 2022. HD video, 19 minutes 2 seconds. Video still. Courtesy of the artist.

“Until the Songs Spring.” Installation view, Mexican Pavilion, 59th Venice Biennale, April 23–November 27, 2022. © Mexico Pavilion, Samuele Cherubini, and WeExhibit.

“Until the Songs Spring.” Installation view, Mexican Pavilion, 59th Venice Biennale, April 23–November 27, 2022. © Mexico Pavilion, Samuele Cherubini, and WeExhibit.

Field Notes: “Until the Songs Spring,” Mexican Pavilion, 59th Venice Biennale
by Molly Everett

The Mexican Pavilion at the 59th Venice Biennale reveals itself in intersecting layers. Extending over the walls, floor, and ceiling, installations by four artists overlap and collide throughout the pavilion in the Arsenale. Rather than produce a totalizing effect, the exhibition encourages a pluralistic or even fragmented interpretation, one that engenders multiple associations. The presentation features works by Mariana Castillo Deball, Naomi Rincón Gallardo, Fernando Palma Rodríguez, and Santiago Borja (in collaboration with weavers of El Camino de los Altos). Titled “Hasta que los cantos broten” (“Until the Songs Spring”), the show takes its name from a poem by Temilotzin, a Tlatelolca leader who fought against the Spanish conquistadors, a reference to resistance and Mexico’s pre-Hispanic history that signals the range of worldviews and temporalities engaged in the pavilion. In distinct ways, the artists’ works interweave aspects of Mesoamerican cosmologies or practices to reveal colonial partitions of territory, time, and imagination, which continue to characterize contemporary conditions of identity, labor, resources, and globalization, all while envisioning alternative futures.

Mariana Castillo Deball’s large-scale drawing installation Calendar Fall Away (2022) spreads across the floor of the exhibition space. To create the work, the artist used a CNC-engraver to carve symbols sourced from pre-Hispanic civilizations and colonial Mexico into dark wood panels that cover the ground. Temporalities commingle and clash on the work’s surface. A European representation of a Mexica calendar wheel unravels as an enormous meandering snake encircles it. Castillo Deball’s imagery in this instance is likely drawn from a late seventeenth-century rendering by the Italian traveler Giovanni Francesco Gemelli Careri. Although serpents appear at the margins of the Mexica sunstone, the one in Gemelli Careri’s seemingly derives from the Greek ouroboros, in which a snake swallows its own tail symbolizing eternity. The sinuous reptile in Castillo Deball’s engraving, however, does not complete the cannibalistic circle and instead unfurls, releasing the symbols—such as the head of a rabbit (tōchtli in Nahuatl) and house (calli)—from the circular calendar. Additionally, pieces of the mnemonic alphabet conceived by the sixteenth-century Tlaxcalan-Spanish friar Diego de Valadés are scattered over the horizontal sprawl. Melding both Roman letters and symbols from the Nahuatl, Purépecha, and Otomí lexicons, the composite logograms were used to convert and catechize natives. Among these mixed references to divergent systems of timekeeping and governing, Castillo Deball has included personal ones, such as the architectural features of her grandparents’ home. The artist’s gesture quite literally flattens hierarchies of various knowledge systems into an array that expands beneath the viewer’s feet, generating unexpected juxtapositions and fluctuating narratives that change with one’s path through the exhibition space.

Hovering above Castillo Deball’s design like specters are forty-three children’s dresses. The delicate, colorful clothes are part of the mechatronic installation Tetzahuitl (2019–22) by Fernando Palma Rodríguez. The vibrant blue and green grid from which the dresses hang evokes, on a much larger scale, the cross-brace of a marionette. Attached with cables to the structure in the ceiling and activated by motion sensors, the dresses move up and down, slowly descending, and then pulsate, only to be lifted suddenly and subsequently dropped, limp on the floor. On each of the wires above the garment are two circular metal lids—the tops of paint cans—which clamorously clank during the mechanical dance. The seemingly powerless small dresses float, gyrate, and tremble in their forced rhythm, subject to a never-ending cycle between floor and ceiling, earth and sky, evoking an inescapable albeit engineered violence. The name of the work, Tetzahuitl, comes from the Nahuatl language and references omens sent by gods of future events. In the fall of 2014, forty-three Ayotzinapa students “disappeared” in the state of Guerrero sparking demonstrations against governmental corruption and organized crime. This massacre is insinuated by Palma Rodríguez’s ghostly choreography, with its forty-three absent figures. For the artist, Tetzahuitl also forebodes against systemic brutality more broadly—from forced migration to femicide, which in turn, relate back to the historical tragedy of colonial invasion.

Read more of Molly Everett’s review on Art & Education Field Notes.

Field Notes is a series of reviews from the next generation of art writers. Featuring texts on the 59th Venice Biennale and Documenta 15 contributed by students and recent graduates, Field Notes makes original connections between the work and the world and takes a closer look at what other observers might have missed.

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