2014 - DAI's Roaming Research Academy in Mexico City ~ Welcome to Econotopia: commons of the contemporary
Report by Sarah Jones (DAI, 2014)
Welcome to Econotopia: commons of the contemporary — curated and organized by Renée Ridgway, was the 2014 Roaming Research program for select students from the Dutch Art Institute. The program saw students travel to both Mexico City and then across the US / Mexico border to Marfa, Texas, where they took part in TAAK’s Summer School Marfa. The program addressed areas of transgression — from cultural institutions, contemporary hubs of spectacle, to the space of the Internet.
A portmanteau of ‘economy’ and ‘topia,’ the term econotopia, coined by artist Stephanie Rothenberg, draws on Foucault’s development of ‘heterotopias,’ which he employs in his analysis of non-hegemonic social and cultural spaces. The liminal spaces of econotopias, could include geo-political conflicts, border crossings, gender-bending, cultural configurations of nature and the creation of meccas of contemporary art. Within these spaces, physical forms or states of mind, can offer the transgression of borders. The exchange systems and the currencies that operate within and around these border crossings are the focus of Welcome to Econotopia: commons of the contemporary.
To cross a border, to transgress, one must first come to terms with the concept of enclosure; the delimiting of some form of spatial terrain. What does it mean to delimit in a field of wide openness? The building of fences or even walled gardens sets in motion delineation - notions of property and constructions of power based on ownership arise. In an ecology of enclosure, is transmission only possible through the cracks, through the faults in infrastructure? To what extent does the contemporary ‘technotopia’ limit the bodies of some and privilege the bodies of others? These questions were the beginning of what would prove to be four weeks of dialogue around borders and belonging, from all sides.
Our roaming began in Mexico City, the world’s largest city at 1,485 square kilometres and home to almost 9 million people. A week would barely be a beginning, but armed with enthusiasm, and the incredible Julietta Aguinaco, we crossed: through public, through private, through personal…
Eduardo Abaroa, one of the institutions founders, welcomed us at SOMA. In the shady walled courtyard of the visiting artist studios, Abaroa described an array of programs whose doors were open to everyone in Mexico City. Offering several international programs, residencies and support for a thriving local arts community, SOMA’s focus centres around a perpetually open conversation, every Wednesday night, within the walled complex in the Southwest of the city. In architectural opposition is the Tamayo Museum. We were afforded a guided tour by Amanda Echeverrí, of the internationally renowned institution that sits elegantly in the open park near the centre of the city. The exhibition, DOBLE NEGATIVO. DE LA PINTURA AL OBJETO —
featuring works from the collection of the contemporary Art Museum of San Diego — showcased artists who have come to be associated with the origins of a minimalist tradition. The exhibition, with a clear pedagogical focus, made use of a specific, linear, historical narrative imbedded within contemporary art discourse, to present this small selection from the canon. I couldn’t help wonder what Agnes Martin (link) would have thought about being in there, her painting behind thick sheet of protective glass.
Perhaps the highlight however, was our meeting with Cuauhtémoc Medina González, Researcher at the Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas at the National University of Mexico. Medina’s presence can be felt on every level of debate around contemporary Mexican art and institutional politics and reverberates far beyond the spectacular glass and steel construction of the Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo (MUAC). Our discussion centred around the real values at stake in the economics of contemporary art within a globally networked society. Medina persistently answered questions from two perspectives — concerned equally with the affects of institutional politics at the levels of curation, mediation and reception — unflinchingly and without reducing the debate to a didactic series of oppositional viewpoints. He maintains in his role as mediator to the arts a multiplicity of perspectives and voices, allowing for collision and collusion and occasional collapse in conversation.
Medina made concrete and confronting the fluidity of the spheres of public and private investment, cultural, social and financial. After the conversation we were able to view the Harun Farocki exhibition in the main gallery of the museum, titled Vision. Production. Oppression. The major solo show by the German artist examined his reflexive relationship with film and the consequences and political discourses made possible via images, in their reception and production. During the week, we also attended exhibitions at internationally renowned, commercial galleries including, Kurimanzutto, (http://www.kurimanzutto.com/) Labor (http://www.labor.org.mx/en) and the lesser known, but increasingly important Proyectos Monclova and Marso
Next, from welcome audience to active participants, we were hosted by artists Julietta Aguinaco, Oscar Berglund, and curator Xavier de la Riva, at Altiplano Galeria where we were able to attend Oscar’s most recent
exhibition. We were invited to use the gallery space to engage in a discussion around what eventuated as a rather polarising text. No Me Token; or, How to Make Sure We Never Lose the * Completely by Jose Luis Falconi, asks what is a Latin American art and what is the value of such definition? Where can one begin to define an artist, a movement, a tradition based on national borders, geographic, social, political and economic? As eleven artists, of eleven different nationalities, we came together in rethinking the ways in which we delimit our own social, psychological and personal borders. As artists, as students, as visitors to Mexico City, with visas and passports, Pesos, US dollars and Euros. How are we to understand the spaces of others as others?
Do the murals in the Belles Artes speak only to, or for, the citizens of Mexico in a certain historical period? Housed in such grandeur, could they ever have been viewed by the people who, painted with such vehement passion, they claimed to represent? (I would write here a bit about Diego Rivera, etc. and his anti-capitalist stance) The same people who perhaps might visit, or even be represented, in the Museo Nacional de Antropologia where the Piedra del Sol — discovered in Mexico City in 1790 and dated from 1250 d.C — is kept perfectly preserved in the shadow of the massive roof of the museum designed by Architect, Pedro Ramírez Vázquez's in 1964. One history covers another. And what is construction to excavation in Tlatelolco? What does it mean to stand in the Aztec archaeological site, whose destruction can be seen in the construction of the 17th century Templo de Santiago, which stands next to the monument to more than 300 students massacred in their protest against the Olympic games in 1968, next to a plaque for victims of the 1985 earthquake. A tall, white marble building, the tallest carillon tower in the world, dwarfs us as we stand amongst monument and ruin, once home to the Secretariat of Foreign affairs, it is now home to the Autonomous University of Mexico.
Everything in Mexico, as everything elsewhere, has many more than two stories. We spent a week in the midst of a constant negotiation of histories, of institutional politics, of national treasures and national disgrace; in between endless aisles of fruit in sensationally colourful markets; along the labyrinthine paths of Teotihuacan, and the winding Xochimilco canals, on and off the busiest and most crowded metro you’ve ever seen.
And then in the morning, a week after our arrival, we drove to the airport. We exited the in-between, the negotiation, the interval. Outside now, from way above, we looked down as we flew over the border. Unhindered by anything but our own unwillingness to leave such an incredible place, we moved from one side to another.