Wednesday, 6 April 2011


Mariana Castillo Deball's dancing serpent installation at El Eco

and el Eco Pavilion 2011 by MMX (Jorge Arvizu Soto, Ignacio del Río Franks, Emmanuel Ruiz and Diego Ramirez Ricalde Recchia), the pavilion is an architectural intervention in the patio of the museum consisting of natural fiber cords that cover the site and generate various enclosures

This constructed disorder, allows geological surprises for the most abandoned memory
Mariana Castillo Deball
March 24 to May 15, 2011
Museo Experimental El Eco

Mariana Castillo Deball has produced a large installation in the main gallery, whose rectilinear metal structure unfolds through the space like a giant serpent. Supported by this frame are irregular constructions made from papier mâché. Printed on the papers from which these forms are made are hundreds of images taken from diverse contexts: ethnographic objects, tropical plants, architecture and mathematical models. A dialogue between geometric and organic elements is established within the installation, while the textured paper pieces create shapes and enclosures that recall rock configurations found in caves. Castillo Deball is interested in how figurative rock formations are often visually confused with the background of cave walls, creating a ¨figure-ground reversal¨; a perceptual experience she has referenced through her use of images imbedded within the papier mâché structures. Informed by anthropology, fables and natural science, the installation speaks to her on-going investigation of what she calls Uncomfortable objects —the things that humans make, as emotive products of desire, research and imagination— and how these objects, in turn, change us and transform our conception of the world.

Mariana Castillo Deball (1975, Mexico City) lives and works in Berlin and Amsterdam. She studied visual arts at Escuela Nacional de Artes Plásticas, UNAM and Philosophy at Universidad Iberoamericana, both in Mexico City. She completed her graduate studies in Jan Van Eyck Academie in Maastricht, The Netherlands. Her recent solo exhibitions include: Between you and the image of you that reaches me, Museum of Latin American Art, CA (2010); Kaleidoscopic Eye, Kunsthalle St. Gallen, Switzerland (2009); Nobody was tomorrow, Barbara Wein Gallery, Berlin (2008); Estas Ruinas que ves, MACG, Mexico City (2006); among others. She has obtained several awards, including: Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation Grant (2006) and the Prix de Rome, first prize, Amsterdam (2004). Along with Irene Kopelman is a founding member Uqbar Foundation.


Conversation between Mariana Castillo Deball and Tobias Ostrander

TO: Your work has often explored the museum as a problematic cultural site and validating system. Recently the narratives of Echo and Narcissus have entered this discussion about exhibition spaces. Could you describe the appeal of these figures and how they relate to the project you have developed for El Museo Experimental El Eco?

MCD: Last summer I made a visit to the Chapada Diamantina, a region in Brazil covered with mountains, caves and other mineral formations. While visiting some of the caves it happened very often that the guide would point out a particular formation and ask us, what is it? Visitors needed to stare to the abstract walls and guess. The figures ranged from a dolphin, a face, a mermaid, an electric guitar, to a piece of bacon.

I found interesting this space where figures are apparently hidden; how they almost blend with the environment, a space where there is no difference between figure and background. I started to think how different museums and galleries are from the cave experience, where the spaces are neat and white, where the works are immediately recognizable.

In terms of mythology, I thought of Narcissus as a white cube exhibition space, and Echo as a cave. The practice of finding images in stains on the walls and rock formations is closer to the imaginative nature of Echo, who tries to repeat what Narcissus says, but her voice gets inevitably distorted, becoming something else all the time. In contrast, Narcissus is a repetition device, trying constantly to confirm his image, through his reflection on the water. The consequences of this gesture imply a complete denial of the outside world, in order to confirm the uniqueness of the self. I am on Echo’s side. This exhibition includes friends and relatives of Echo, characters who are in a constant dialogue with their surroundings, establishing conversations that transform their shape constantly.

TO: The cave you have made for this project is a loose structure of open and closed spaces, made from a rectilinear metal frame, over which you have placed a faux-rock covering, made of paper-maché. Within the paper-maché appear numerous images. Could you describe your use of paper-maché in this work, as well as reveal some of the sources of the images you have imbedded within this material? If you could also touch on the development of the geometric frame, its form and the relation it sets up with the faux-rock covering.

MCD:In his essay “The marble and the myrtle: on the inconstancy of the savage soul”, anthropologist Eduardo Viveiros de Castro starts with a quote by the portuguese missionary Antonio Vieria:

“Those who wandered through the world, can see in those gardens two kinds of very different statues, one made out of marble, the other of myrtle. The marble statues are very difficult to make, because of the hardness and resistance of its material; but once finished, it is not necessary to work on it any more: it always preserves the same figure; the myrtle statue is easier to form, because of the docility of the branches and the leaves, but it is necessary to work on it constantly. If the gardener stops working, in four days there is a branch going through the eyes, another one that deforms the ears, instead of five fingers, seven appear, what was before a human shape, becomes a confusion of green and myrtles.”

Through this image, Vieira compares European and “savage” civilizations. For him, European culture is similar to marble, difficult to mold, but once the shape is done, it is guaranteed to last for centuries. On the contrary, the “savage” civilizations, like the Brazilian in this case, are more malleable, at first sight it seems that they accept the doctrine and adapt themselves to the imposed habits, nevertheless you only need to be distracted for a second and they return to their old rituals.

The piece I developed for El Eco follows the behavior of a myrtle sculpture, which climbs over a geometric shape. The pattern is similar to an epiphyte plant, such as bromelias or orchids that grows upon another plant or sometimes upon some other object, without a parasite behavior. They are also called air plants.

I use papier-mâché, a technique that I have been interested for a long time, because of its flexibility and simplicity and also the link it has with Mexican crafts.

The images that cover the structure are based on my experience in Brazil during the last two years. They include people, places and travels where I followed “the inconstancy of the savage soul”, discovering its generosity, flexibility and playfulness. Many of the images come from The Museum of the Images of the Unconscious, where I discovered their amazing archive and the paintings of Artur Amora, the National Museum, where I learned about Amerindian perspectivism, the house of Lina Bo Bardi in Sao Paulo, her exhibitions of popular art, the botanical garden in Rio de Janerio, the wastelands of paper-maché sculptures after the carnival, Glauber Rocha, mathematical models of non-linear figures, and many more.

TO: The optical play that occurs with the images included in the piece creates confusion between the figures represented in the images and the background on which they are positioned. You have mentioned elsewhere your reading on the concept of “figure-ground reversal.” Can you explain this idea, its origins and relation to your artistic project?

MCD: I have been interested since a while in potential images, images which need to be constructed by the viewer, images which are invented or build up by a collective hallucination such as miraculous images that appear by filtrations of water, strange reflections, and so on. Potential images trigger our perception priorities as the background and the figure are not perfectly defined. I am interested on this not just as a formal puzzle, but also as a question on intentionality, and how we decide where attention is focused. I search images, texts and experiences where these boundaries blur, anthropologist Roy Wagner talks about figure-ground reversal in similar terms in his conversation with Coyote. According to Coyote, “perception is a very tricky thing”.

Roy: “So why is perception a fake?”
Coyote: “See, Roy, we do not see the world we see, hear the sounds we hear, touch the things we touch, or in any way perceive what we perceive, but that something else comes in-between.”
Coyote: “Sure. As they say: ‘Figures don’t lie, but liars can Figure.’”
Roy: “The sounds and shapes that you have been trained to react to and project (so that by now it has become quite unconscious) form the pattern or content of first-attention reality. The spaces between and around those words, or between the words and the things they stand for, which you notice only in passing, form the backdrop of second-attention reality.”
(from Roy Wagner, Coyote Anthropology, 2010)

TO: Fables have recently been of increasing interest for you, particularly those involving non-humans: animals, plants, rocks or objects. Please articulate how you engage with these specific narratives, their various sources and how they relate to the concept of uncomfortable objects that you have been developing?

MCD: Lately, I have been collecting dialogues and fables among non-humans, such as Aesop’s fables, Ovid’s metamorphoses, Lewis Carroll’s dialogues, and fables by Augusto Monterroso, Horacio Quiroga, Antonin Artaud, Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, Mario de Andrade, Franz Kafka, and Montaigne.

At the beginning I found these dialogues only in fiction literature, but afterwards I started to find experiments of that sort among historians of science, philosophers, and anthropologists. I believe that this attempt comes from a necessity to build up a genealogy of things, to observe them as entities which have been transformed, discarded, mutated, placed in diverse and contradictory contexts throughout history.

What do non-humans have to say about the world we have constructed around them, about our definitions, manipulations and usages? What is left of the objects after so much historical maneuvering and what would be the testimony of these objects if they could tell us their story from their perspective?

Our contemporary society is crowded with uncomfortable objects, products of desire, research or imagination; they trigger our conception of the world and compel us to take a position, to change completely our basic understanding of the universe.

Uncomfortable objects are constantly being erased, replaced, neutralized and destroyed in order to give space to new things, but this erasure is never complete, we are surrounded more and more by things, quasi-things, fragments, distortions and hybrids. At the same time there is a contrast between infinite possibilities and limited resources. The human desire and power of transformation is strong and blind, resulting in the extinction of species and the erosion of essential natural resources.

TO: Your title for the El Eco project, “This constructed disorder, allows geological surprises for the most abandoned memory,¨ is taken from a poem by Carlos Pellicer. You have also reproduced this poem, the form of one of the posters for the public to take away with them. What is your interest in the poetry of Pellicer and this poem in particular?

MCD: The title for the show comes from Carlos Pellicer’s poem “Esquemas para una oda tropical a cuatro voces, Segunda Intención”. I am interested in the work of Carlos Pellicer, as a poet but also as an intellectual who was engaged in music, visual arts, archaeology and anthropology. The poem is an ode to the Mexican jungle, in Tabasco. I consider the poem as a piece with multiple perspectives and voices, it is not the poet describing nature, but becoming bird, plant, sunset, serpent, guanábana, sunshine, water, tongue, green, multitude.

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