In a dislocated nation, symbols are splinters and certainties are compromised. The present rubricates a tale of irreparable fissures, markers of a state of dejection. Right angles derive in mirages and points of equilibrium seem convex, deserters of stability. In Paráfrasis del estrago (Damage Paraphrase), Cynthia Gutiérrez uses elements from sculptural language and incidental components for exhibition installation, to deliver notes that claim the political and social misfortunes of recent history.
A hole contaminates violently the pale walls of the museum, with an impetus that seeks to redeem the imposed schemes of the white cube. Through a small perforation, the eye is directed to the highest part of the Monumento a los Niños Héroes, which is a figure that represents Mother Nation, a commemorative object located in the public space that asserts ideas of nation, identity, history and memory. This new view decontextualizes the monument, breaks the sacredness of the exhibition space and detonates a dialogue between what happens inside and outside the premises.
More than a hundred fragments of bronze compromise the elegance and decorum of the flight of an eagle, the emblem of a victorious nation that has succumbed to the misfortune of the state it announces. In Aliento suspendido (Suspended Breath), the broken composition discards its note of unity, while its only possibility of integration is to be transformed into a nebula of stacked fractions.
A group of paintings embalmed with framing paper tape that deprives the viewer from their content, stand as cocoons of despair; the shape generates suspicion and anticipation about what lies within. On the other hand, Columnas vacías (Empty Columns) is a testimony of vacuity: the absence of documents and records of archaic monuments is manifested through the vestiges of the components that guarded their presence.
Soportando el abismo (Supporting the Abyss), the central ensemble of the show, is composed of a group of unstable pedestals of various dimensions that appear to take a bow while awaiting for the objects they will support. Despite faking a rhythmic cadence, their inclination and imbalance augur the collapse of any body that should pose on their surfaces. Their defects emancipate them from their function, and their destiny, then, is to be vacant and abandoned.
Finally, impossible to elude, a pile of heads without body prevents the habitual circulation through the exhibition hall, complicating the exit of visitors. Melodía de sombras (Melody of Shadows) is a heap of testa non pertinente that invokes classical sculpture and, at the same time, commemorates the fallen in the conflicts that permeate our national reality.
An unexpected find or the skill to identify a discovery is commonly known as serendipity, casualty or coincidence. This is how Cynthia Gutiérrez has discovered the coming and going history of a funerary stele, which –in the 30s- served as a war souvenir when Italy invaded Ethiopia.
Oblivion affected the international agreement that stipulated the return of the obelisk to Aksum, its original site, holding it in Rome for sixty-eight years. Moreover, oblivion did the same with the fortuitous meeting of Gutiérrez and Tadele Bitul Kibret, an engineer from Ethiopia’s culture ministry, who was responsible for returning the first part of the obelisk in 2005.
The memory of this encounter came up when the artist found several traces, from which she involved herself without any hesitations, underpinning an essay about memory –or oblivion- evoking this historic event through a piezography print.
This exhibit is a part of the project El fracaso de la memoria (The failiure of Memory), which reflects upon the past operating in the present, with the implications that the erosion of time could have when reconstructing yesterday. Meaning is unambiguous when questioning the “uniqueness” of History.
In El fracaso de la memoria, the funerary stele works as an emblem of object deterritorialization, like the photograph of the obelisk that is torn in order to declare its own absence. According to Jean Baudrillard1, under what he understands as cultural neoimperialism, a culture is submitted through the domestication of antique objects; essentially sacred, but desacralized, which are required to suggest their sacredness (or historiality) in the present, within a domesticity without history.
Thus, the antique object is purely mythological when referring the past, and exists just to signify. However, it is not functionless neither transformed into plain ornamentation; it plays now a specific role under other nation’s eyes: to signify time, not real time but its cultural sign of its passing through. That is why Gutiérrez comes up with keen replicas of the obelisk as key chains: the traveler’s portable History.
In that order, it is decisive to reflect upon the sculptures of Mussolini and Selassie, whose depiction does not tell the common place of winners and losers, but, as Gutiérrez sees them, they reveal a silenced self under a blurring veil. The dialogue between nations is not now something other than oblivion that falls as a curtain above personal identity.
With no desire to document, Cynthia Gutiérrez records to save us (save herself?) from horror vacui, which leads her to inquire into archives and the Internet, recovering the remains of her meeting with the engineer and to baste through postcards, flags, maps, coins, photographs and videos, a work that forces the past to become present.
1. Baudrillard, Jean (2004) El sistema de los objetos. Siglo XXI Editores. Mexico City.
They say suicide is contagious. In some countries, newspapers would rather not publish the news when someone famous commits suicide, fearing to provoke the Werther effect, which was named after the large amount of young people in the 17th Century who emulated the suicidal protagonist of Goethe’s famous novel. From the beginning, this magnificent writer displayed a distant irony regarding his character’s destructive sentimentalism. Nevertheless, Werther became an emblem of romantic genre for the upcoming centuries, an anti-hero who is always on the brink of the abyss, capable of moving refined sensibilities with his own fatal melancholy. In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare also deals with irony the passionate exaltation that leads both lovers to their own destruction. Certainly, these authors are subtle enough to avoid caricaturing their characters, achieving, through their pens, a reflection on human psyche that reaches the highest peaks. Though, we cannot but admit that there is a dose of black humor in these masterpieces. In both works, death seems to appear in series that follow a perverse logic. The path of self-destruction, no matter how sacred and noble the motive may seem in a superficial reading, lacks redemption. The motivations of the unfortunate youth are tied to a chain of errors and aberrations, which are the true axis (certainly pessimistic) of the stories.
One of the favorite acts of a magician is to pull out a white rabbit from an apparently empty top hat. To successfully perform a magic trick it is essential to practice it a hundred, maybe a thousand times. Perhaps, these repetitions became unbearable to the rabbit so, one day, he decided to commit suicide in the middle of a show. Dangling from the black top hat, a noose and the hanged rodent. The corpse is a testimony of the failed trick, but the magician disappeared. The hat floats in the air. Without a doubt, the small animal took control of the situation, although he had to pay an extremely high price.
To begin with a brief introduction to the work of Cynthia Gutiérrez, it is important to strongly emphasize this act of repetition. In her most effective sculpture pieces it is possible to clearly discern a pulsation on everything recurrent, which sometimes risks going unnoticed due to the elegant simplicity of her montages. How can this rabbit’s mini-tragedy in El gran truco (The Great Trick) be seen as anything but as a thousand-times repeated ritual failing for the first time? In a related piece, we are witnesses of another failed spectacle when the hat is trapped in the wall in The Show Must Go On (2010). The show has stopped, but that is why it is interesting. However, we know it must go on over and over again. Repetition sometimes reaches a delirious tone, like in “Sweet Chaos” (2010), a weathercock that clearly points out four cardinal points: south, south, south, and finally south.
Several years ago, the World Health Organization’s coordinator for mental illness revealed the fact that in total more people die each day from suicide than from wars and homicides. It is of little consolation that human beings are, at least from a statistical point of view, crueler to themselves than to others. But, in a violent atmosphere such as the one Mexico is currently in, victim proliferation is vertiginous as well as the constant ringing of violent-related messages: fear expressions, impotence, rage, scandal and resignation. I cannot help but thinking there is something dark recurring here, that message redundancy can trigger a mortal pulsation itself, a desire to die and kill.
This is how we get to the piece that concerns us. Notas de carnaval (Carnival Notes) is clearly a watershed event for the artist’s work, which, in spite of her fruitful technical research, it had not been executed in these dimensions. It is an interactive piece, which also contrasts her other work. Within a simple mechanism consisting of a wooden container, a rope and a pulley, the spectator participates by rolling a coconut on a tilted platform. The platform ends abruptly at the top of a wall, and the coconut falls, bursting when hitting the ground of the museum entrance. The piece seems more like a part of an assembly line or an agricultural packing machine than like a carnival. A simple review of Gutierrez’s recent work would give us a clue to understand the story behind this piece. Clásico accidente cerebrovascular (Classic Cerebrovascular Accident) (2011), is a severed, white, classic-style head which seems to be falling to the floor, as if it were a still frame from a movie. A plastic plant sprouts from the neck. A decapitation that seems to announce some sort of reassuring and artificial hope. In Decapitados: una decoración para nuestro tiempo (Decapitated: a decoration for our times) (2011) the reference to the abominable practices of Mexican criminals, who, to terrify their enemies and society as a whole, seem to be looking for increasingly obscene ways of mutilation, including decapitation, is much clearer. In this work we can see how decorative silk scarves seem to be sprouting from a sculpture’s cut off head. As in other of her pieces, we are in front of minimal narratives overflowing with irony. Gutierrez’s talent is to achieve these visual fables, which, in spite of their brevity, manage to open unusual interpretations in spaces of confusion and imbalance.
Notas de carnaval is a machine that brings to mind Raymond Roussel’s great and macabre mechanisms in Locus solus. The coconuts falling from the top are metaphors of the infamous severed heads that have kidnapped the imagination of a whole country. The piece has little to do with a carnival, although the title alludes to the series of “heads” rolling, one behind the other, as marching through the main avenue. Criminal cynicism becomes increasingly sinister while our communities and mass media are getting used to the situation. We ourselves risk to one day become indifferent; we could even get to see these dead bodies as goods in their way to be happily consumed, in the spectacular cult of mass media. But in the artistic space, the darkest could be productive, and perhaps black humor is the last bastion of compassion left before falling in total indifference; the banality towards violence and the pain of others observed by Hannah Arendt. Gutierrez’s decapitation pieces used to have a melancholic tone, but they are now shoddy terror machines, the symptoms of a suicidal collectivity. Perhaps this carnival is the viable alternative. Perhaps, the repetition of the coconuts, one, two, three, four, as notes on a beat; shall be the rhythm of our delirium from now on.
The question was whether life existed on another planet, and they found out it did. Then the question became in which planet and they signaled towards those that are lit by the sun without burning, like ours. The question now posed by multidisciplinary teams of scientists all over the world is if life could have only arisen under the same conditions as it was formed on Earth. With other elements, other types of energy. If that life would not be completely different from how we have imagined it, with no heartbeats, wings or photosynthesis, a life that does different things than those we do. Beyond the possibility that we will one day discover if there is life and we are not able to recognize it because it resembles, say, a pipe (who says that some stains in books are not wheat fields in which tiny aliens leave us messages?), the question forces us to rethink the mechanisms of the world we do know and to marvel in front of other certainties we travel through every day.
The creation of new objects that exceed reality in order to bring us closer to the Real is one of the constants in the work of Cynthia Gutiérrez. In her microcosm, things seem to be made by materials we are familiar with but operate in another manner so as to misplace those who relate to them. That which has no precedents forces the spectator to stop being exclusively a spectator when he questions not only the purpose of the pieces, but the qualities he counts with in order to make sense of them.
In Bing-bang a lamp that has a roll of foam instead of a light bulb alludes to the origin, but to a different origin than the one we imagined: if there is an original light, it is not made up by the light we know. The names that we have invented are, irremediably, an eternal-work in-progress, an approximation. Regardless, this does not mean that human creations lack gravity. Culture is artifice, but it can be, as in Night Blooming, an artifice that gives fruits, spheres that sprout from a metallic branch.
These pieces name something on their own deliberately ambiguous terms: they do not wager on immediate transparency, but rather on allowing the tension between their elements to enable those who approach them to take another glance. They signal a limit: the point up until concepts and categories we feel comfortable with function, after which one must recur to a creative amazement. El fantasma de la libertad (The Phantom of Liberty) is a stove, an object made to foster fire and guarantee survival; but this is a wooden stove, which in spite of simulating a particular quality, will be unavoidably consumed before fulfilling its promise. This can be the real effect of the "flame of liberty" that migrants seek carrying their culture, or any fire with which we delude ourselves will take us out of the darkness. The latent provocation in these pieces is made literal in Line out, a blanket that the spectator can alter since one of its threads goes through the glass onto the street; as such, any passerby can touch the work and pull it towards themselves, destroying that which made it desirable. It is a blanket made for leaving those who covet it without shelter.
Cynthia Gutiérrez' alienated objects combine a cosmic approximation with a political posture. She conceives art as a violent regeneration of the world: art provides alternative beings with a body that might have arisen during the various ages of time. The forms, the dramas that art proposes are there (like the ring-shaped knot in the bark of a tree in which she inserts a pencil with precision), but the human trace adds something additional. Her imprint also expresses the anguish of its fugacity, giving off an unavoidable tenderness, even in the most terrible scenes.
Yet human presence does not only indicate our ephemeral condition, but also, our moral condition, and with that the responsibility we have for our acts, no matter how fleeting. In an epoch in which cynicism normalizes genocides, environmental devastation, impunity, and indolence, art can reveal the fiction that sustains the state of things. Decapitados: una decoración para nuestro tiempo (Decapitated: a decoration for our times) takes to an extreme the attitudes of those who govern as well as citizens when facing barbarity; if we do not stop our daily life in front of such disgrace, if we only see it as a nuance we can ignore, this piece is here, let's decorate our apathy with it. Additionally, Notas de carnaval (Carnival Notes) judges our self-satisfied nature by criticizing the uses of reason, by constructing a machine that showcases ingenuity only to facilitate anyone's repetition - impersonally, efficiently - the spectacle of cut off heads that has settled among us.
Looking at these pieces, grasping these pieces, is a sort of exile, an expulsion from the comfortable place from which we let days go by in order to see what is normal to us with the wonder, fear and fascination which someone from another planet might see it with.
In the year 2002 Cynthia Gutierrez showed, as part of a collective exhibition of young artists, the piece Home, that consists of a children’s cotton pillowcase filled with rocks with the image of the classic North American Raggedy Ann Doll, in which concepts like “hardness”, “comfort”, “heaviness” and “levity” are contrasted referring to home in a strange way. Something happens there that seems clarifying when confronting the work of the artist: enclosed in itself is the formal structure, the transgressor tone of contradictory rhetoric, and the effective highway on which Cynthia has been advancing, breaking into less predictable terrains every time.
Home, 2002, could now be interpreted as a piece dedicated to the realization of itself. It is not only an act of rebelliousness and defiance against sculpture or the sculptural formation of the author, but a precocious manifest about what her work would be as soon as it reached bottom: an extenuating search of scheme rupture, of free and pure association, of irreverence against the “academic”, the precept, and above all, a naturally infantile1 struggle against the ordinary. The “Jack in the box” effect emerges overwhelmingly persisting in her pieces; forms and contents that jump and surprise with a puckish cleverness to disturb. Nevertheless, the important issue, what results infallibly attractive, is to see herself trapped and seduced by the effect: to fall in the trap shaped for herself. The case of Cynthia Gutierrez is the case of any seducer: the more she, ludically, intertwines and builds her strategies, the more she turns into a victim seduced by herself, extra limiting and therefore increasing the risks for everyone else. It is a mirror game, that although may be immerse in the creative process of any artist as a motive, in the work of Cynthia it is even more conclusive according to her thematic and the inherent candor with which her work is realized, candidness that ends up turning into a strength of power while hiding a critical assault.
In this sense, the recurrence to images of literature and children’s toys, particularly feminine, is not aleatory, elements which Cynthia Gutierrez utilizes according to her referential capacity of what is naively truculent while maintaining a high visual attractive; the occultation. She has a detractive interest in drawing the world through primary perceptions: the way in which shaped minds introduce certain issues to the initiating minds, that in the end will establish predetermined attitudes evoking more her own conception of a fertile panorama for new resolutions. Once reaching the adolescent discernment, some of these sketches should, naturally, break: Cynthia reunites the fragments arranging them again in a way that will never be the same, to the contrary, the result of recomposing the fairy tale is a perversely fascinating story while eluding the pre-established.
This exhibition alludes precisely to the almost theatrical, environmental reconstruction, of a bizarre world created by an ascetic, feminine and naughty god. The pieces contained in Milking a Dead Cow are deconstructions upon statements that statically flow, which do not “end” at one point, but are irreverently “finalized” to continue as something else, opening an intensified parenthesis about the illusory enchantment: the falsifying magic, the fixed conceptions about and within the art world. The confined image of the phrase “Milking a Dead Cow” points to it directly, only in this case, it is not a hare2 representing painting, but a cow indicating art itself, existing, in the consideration of the fructiferous death of an animal, an insolent, advantageous sentiment. The work realized to conform this exhibition more than being an independent corpus, it escorts a spontaneous, teasing, and defying tone before the established definitions of sculpture, painting and art; subverting, corrupting, dismantling and annulling them to create a posterior and much more surprising place: the expressway extends and this time without a fee.
In general, the work of Cynthia Gutierrez encloses a tiny drop of disenchantment, which she takes advantage of, to desacralize notions and boldly detonate the exploration inside the production course: to place things from a conceptual space to another, change destinies, ask questions which we know have no answers, abuse the end of things to take advantage of their own enchantment and the dimension found just in the middle of a mirror game, where the opposite side opens the field of vision.