Mariana Castillo Deball “Cronotopo” and Francisco Tropa “TSAE (Submerged Treasures of Ancient Egypt)” at MRAC Languedoc-Roussillon, Sérignan
Mariana Castillo Deball “Cronotopo”
In her practice, Castillo Deball links conceptual traditions in art with archeology, history and ethnography to create installation, sculpture, photography, video and drawing that analyze the production of formal and linguistic vocabularies involved in object making, and how they have the ability to expose larger historical and social narratives. Her investigations seek to question and formulate the power struggles and negotiations inherent to all production processes, notably paying attention to specific post-colonial contexts where different cultures confront for access to representation and therefore, agency.
Engaging in prolonged periods of research and field-work, she references both modern and contemporary archaeological and ethnographic methods in a playful way, narrating and deciphering the approximations, mistakes and contradictions that the idea of studying material cultures as fixed entities entails. Interested in the temporality of knowledge, Castillo Deball combines the exploration of archives and other information systems with the aesthetic vibrancy of cultural bricolage, appropriation and forgeries within encoded histories as well as the performative aspect of identity. Her research involves open collaboration with different cultural producers, whether they be writers, crafts specialists, artists or institutional representatives through a voluntarily versatile network, aiming to expose the fluctuating political implications of their activities and visions. Challenging our assumptions of concepts such as authenticity and origin, she affirms the human capacity to crossbreed and cannibalize cleverly other cultures in order to survive as a universal and liberating characteristic of mankind.
For “Cronotopo”, the artist presents a combination of recent and newly commissioned artworks that reveal her working process as an evolving one. At the Mrac will be presented two majors works specifically produced for and adapted to the temporary exhibition spaces located on the first floor of the Museum. Nuremberg Map of Tenochtitlan (2013) is a monumental work covering the entire floor of one of the rooms. Made of simple wooden planks engraved and assembled so as to form a gigantic drawing, it reproduces a map, the first and the most widespread image that Europeans had of Tenochtitlán, and remains one of the few maps we have of the pre-colonial Aztec empire. In 1521, a letter and a map arrived in Spain for the Spanish king. This was the second of five letters that the conquistador Hernán Cortés sent describing the Aztec capital Tenochtitlán, which he and his crew had discovered and were near to conquering. The map, drawn by an Indigenous tlacuilo, was a detailed illustration of the city, reflecting the conquistador’s view of Tenochtitlán as an enchanted metropolis: a jewel rising up from the center of an azure lake, housing an ordered, wealthy civilization, who were nevertheless misled in their predilection for heathen ritual sacrifice instead of enlightened Christianity. This depiction of Tenochtitlán served to justify the expensive Spanish colonial efforts, but not only to Charles V, the king of Spain. The publication in Nuremberg of the map in 1524, along with the letter’s translation into Latin, also sparked the imagination and support of a large European audience.
The wooden surface is also used as a matrix from which a one-to-one print of the engraved surface is made onto paper. The work Atlas (2014) is then a bound compilation of these prints, giving to see the map and its various narratives from a fragmentary perspective.
The two photographs from the series Umriss (2014), show two colorful, uncanny large scale blow-ups of mexican masks seen from behind. These photos were inspired to Castillo Deball by a Mexican commercial for antidepressant from the 80s, that she restaged using masks from the ethnographic museum in Berlin: the artist thus underlines humorously, although quite dramatically, the sadness inherent to our post-colonial times.
Who will measure the space, who will tell me the time? (2015) is the second occurrence of a new body of work whose production started last January for a monographic show at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Oaxaca, Mexico. The artist worked in collaboration, with local traditional ceramics workshop Taller Coatlicue (Familia Martinez Alarzón, Atzompa) and Innovando la tradición A.C, a series of ceramic elements drawing from existing archeological figures from the Prehispanic Art Museum Rufino Tamayo in Oaxaca, mixed with more contemporary patterns like gears, nuts or toys. These elements are superposed in order to build columns, each functioning as a distinct sculptural narrative that attempts to develop two questions: “How do you tell the story of the universe in hundred years? How do you tell the story of the universe in one day?” The results, typical of Castillo Deball’s work, play off of the anachronistic confusion created by the forms that compose it, wherein the language of visual art updates and challenges the idea of tradition and identity that still presides over most craft productions, giving the possibility of expansion and mobility.
Castillo Deball sees contemporary art as an effective means of generating inclusive discussions about broader issues of representation and the actualization of the project of modernity, at a time when globalization seems almost fully achieved, and when local, tribal identities seem to fade ineluctably in front of the omnipresent figure of the Westernized global consumer. One of the main point of Castillo Deball’s work, is then to fight against the essentialization of identities, whether they be indigenous or anything else.
Curated by Dorothée Dupuis and Oliver Martínez-Kandt.
until 30 August 2015
Who will measure the space, who will tell me the time?, 2015
Nuremberg Map of Tenochtitlan, 2013
Mariana Castillo Deball, “Cronotopo” installation views at MRAC Languedoc-Roussillon, Sérignan
Photos: Jean-Christophe Lett.
Francisco Tropa “TSAE (Submerged Treasures of Ancient Egypt)”
Archaic instruments for measuring time, medieval representations of the cosmos, bronze giants and trompe-l’œil compositions: there is a distinct feeling looking at Francisco Tropa’s work of witnessing the creation of an autonomous world, the development of an original and personal mythology, where numerous representations of the world are vaguely recognised, from ancient Greece to modernist ideals. Tropa’s interest in these conventional models is philosophical as well as aesthetical. Philosophical because these systems question the overlapping of truth and fiction in our representations, and the way in which, since the dawn of time, man has distorted scientific truths for the benefit of a collective, whether political or religious, narrative. Aesthetical, because these frequently abstract representations of the world are an inexhaustible source for the artist, enabling formal whims of every kind, in an exhilarating relationship with matter and the different ways in which it can be transformed.
“TSAE (Submerged Treasures of Ancient Egypt)” reflect all of these concerns. Unveiled during an exhibition at the La Verrière in Brussels and expanded upon for the Mrac with a mysterious Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “TSAE” is a fictional archaeological expedition whose title spontaneously conjures up an exhibition drawing crowds in search of sarcophagi and other mummies. The title is key to propelling the spectator’s imagination towards an exoticism, to then be taken aback encountering productions with undeniable formal beauty and magic but that defy understanding, leaving it open to interpretation. At the exhibition at La Verrière in Brussels, many enigmatic “chambers” (Partie Submergée, Chambre violée, Terra Platònica) presented the vestiges of findings by the team of scientists, a collection of objects the use of which was not apparent. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is exhibited at the Mrac. This subsection draws the “TSAE” cycle to a close. This secret part mysteriously surfaces causing us to reconsider the overall project as a mechanism built to eliminate the confines of time and space, the exposure of which would disclose the function.
Like the first version in Brussels, the exhibition is compartmentalised into several chapters. At the centre, a cube and two spheres are presented floating in space and gravitating to one another in Le songe de Scipion (Scipion’s Dream). The title refers explicitly to an allegory in De Republica by Cicero in which the cosmic organisation of the world is revealed by the dream.
A landscape unfolds on a play mat on the ground, formed of natural elements and an accurate bronze replica. Like all the pieces by the artist linked with still life, this landscape is called Scripta, that etymologically means a task without depth or relief and is at the origin of the word write, but also at the origin of dice and therefore games of luck. Although there are strong links uniting Francisco Tropa’s practice with work by Marcel Duchamp, this reoccurring game enables the artist to pursue his reflection about sculpture. This is considered an unlimited range of possibilities, equally regarding matter and its various alterations but also how it engages with performance, as suggested by the piece Quad at the entrance to the exhibition.
On either side of these central components, a series of sculptures forms Les Antipodes (The Antipodes) identifying the artist’s fascination for elements that are a priori diametrically opposed, but united by some hidden relationship. This opposition operates by a change of material or more metaphorically by a change of state or viewpoint. This logic is thwarted by the presence of L’influence américaine [The American Influence], a minimalist cube with a TV inside that is showing an ethnographic film from the 1960s where we discover an Indian chief who is building a box with remarkable ingenuity. The minimalist act, evidence of a powerfully confident West, is threatened with irony here by the artist, the figures from the ancient world surviving those of the new world reversing its chronological order.
Lastly, two glass drops appear to have come straight out of a cave. The image of this grotto is obtained by the light that travels through strips of agate arranged in the projector. These two “wells,” one negative, the other positive, one like a hole that perforates the ground, the other like a montage being built, evoke the hell and the purgatory described by Dante in The Divine Comedy but are not dissimilar to a more modern psychoanalytical conception about the functioning of the psyche, from the conscious to the unconscious.
Through these multiple references that range from Plato’s cave to American minimalism, Francisco Tropa well and truly invites us to the construction of an autonomous and fascinating world, a world of rugged beauty that unfolds like an ever-expanding architecture. Moreover it is more than likely that these various representations reflect Francisco Tropa’s perception of art in many ways: the question of truth partially suspended to the benefit of a multiplying and digressive narrative, enabling a world to emerge that is simultaneously unique, fanciful and nonetheless credible.
Curated by Sandra Patron.
until 30 August 2015
Francisco Tropa, “TSAE (Submerged Treasures of Ancient Egypt)” installation views at MRAC Languedoc-Roussillon, Sérignan, 2015