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Contemporary Artistic Intervention

Contemporary Artistic Intervention on the 18th Century

In collaboration with contemporary art space La Curtiduría, and with the financial support of the Alfredo Harp Helú Foundation, we have been fortunate enough to have grown the project beyond our initial expectations: creating jobs, reaching out to the community – with respect to its art, its heritage and its culture – continuing with the restoration of the church's altarpieces, and the production of replicas in our Community Workshops. These have been crucial contributions towards making the entire project self-sustaining as soon as possible.

Starting from an original eighteenth-century design, 25 renowned Mexican contemporary artists did "interventions" or, modern interpretations, of the original. Their work was donated and the artists authorized five reproductions of each "intervention", which were made by Community Workshop members. Achieving the Workshop's goals requires this kind of creative publicity.

First Intervention:

Demián Flores, Francisco Toledo, Francisco Castro Leñero, Gilberto Aceves Humana, Jan Hendrix, Miguel Castro Leñero, Betsabee Romero, Sergio Hernández, Boris Viskin, Raúl Herrera, Guillermo Olguín, Dr. Lakra, Gustavo Monroy, Franco Aceves Humana, Mauricio Cervantes, Oscar de las Flores, Oscar Bachtold, Francisco Verástegui, Filemón Santiago, Irma Palacios, Alejandro Santiago, Germán Venegas, Gabriel Macotela, Daniel Lezama, Mario Rangel.

Second Intervention:

Nicola López, Gitte Daehlin, Roberto Turnbull, Ismael Randall Weeks, Vicente Rojo, George Mead Moore, James Brown, Gandalf Gavan, José Villalobos, Maximino Javier, Adán Paredes, Laurie Litowitz, Perla Krauze, Helen Escobedo, Felipe Ehrenberg, Martha Palau, Javier Marin, Patricia Soriano, Luís Argudín, Nahum B. Zenil, Per Anderson, Rafael Cauduro, Javier Arevalo, Magali Lara y Jorge Yázpik

Third Intervention:

Marco Arce, Christian Thornton, Manuel Marín, Roberto Rébora, Colectivo La Piztola, Daniel Alcalá, Carlos Zerpa, Erik Pérez, María José de la Macorra, Agustín González,Omar Barquet, José Luis Sánchez Rull, Beatriz Ezbán, Víctor Guadalajara, María Sada, Yolanda Mora, Manuela Generali, Alberto Castro Leñero, Diego Teo, Nunik Sauret



Zegache en el País de los Espejos

'How would you like to live in Looking-glass House, Kitty? I wonder if they'd give you milk in there? Perhaps Looking-glass milk isn't good to drink – But oh, Kitty! now we come to the passage. You can just see a little PEEP of the passage in Looking-glass House, if you leave the door of our drawing-room wide open: and it's very like our passage as far as you can see, only you know it may be quite different on beyond. Oh, Kitty! how nice it would be if we could only get through into Looking-glass House! I'm sure it's got, oh! such beautiful things in it! Let's pretend there's a way of getting through into it, somehow, Kitty. Let's pretend the glass has got all soft like gauze, so that we can get through. Why, it's turning into a sort of mist now, I declare! It'll be easy enough to get through – ' She was up on the chimney-piece while she said this, though she hardly knew how she had got there. And certainly the glass WAS beginning to melt away, just like a bright silvery mist.

–Lewis Carroll


–"The smaller animal ought to go to bed at once," he said with an air of authority.
–"Why at once?" said the Professor.
–"Because he can't go at twice," said the Other Professor.
The Professor gently clapped his hands:
–'Isn't he wonderful!" he said to Sylvie. "Nobody else could have thought of the reason, so quick. Why, of course he can't go at twice!

–Lewis Carroll "Silvie and Bruno"


Like Alice through the Looking-Glass, so is the Zegache Community Workshop's exposition. Mirrors: An "intervention" on the 18th Century is an opposite world, where one considers the reflection as a poetic pretext to overcome the limits between the surface and the edge, between artist and artisan, between past and present, between original and copy. These mirrors are a set of paradoxes in which, as in the work of Lewis Carroll, the wondrous lies in what appears "at twice". The mirror is at once reality and unreality, it's what we see in its opposite, it's the multiplication of the seen. The reflection as a magical "multiplier" is what brings 25 artists together to play with the metaphor of reflection, to create a space, like Alice, where multiplication becomes a way to trangress boundaries. Like Alice when she goes through the looking-glass and sees behind the watch's face and sees it no longer as merely a mechanism; for the artists that participate in this "intervention", the frame is no longer the mirror's edge, but rather a wonderland of landscapes, dreams and bodies, where we find the elf from the other side of the mirror.


The specter and the frame

Parergon: Addition of something as ornament.
    –Diccionario de la Lengua Española

How should one consider the reflection when the importance of these frames lies in their frames? To frame is to define limits, circumscribe something to an empty form that can be represented, at least the place where the thing ends and is separate from the other. To frame is the act of claiming someone or something. There is inherent tension between an ever-expanding force and the resistence that seeks to limit such a force. Likewise to frame a painting or photograph creates a separation between what's inside and outside the representation. The frame both contains an impulse and, at the same time, imposes itself from outside, to make what's within presentable. Technically, the frame also can be called parergon in that it permits something to remain unified and bordered. The parergon exists as itself, and decorates the other at the same time. The frame is the accidental edge which creates unity but also exists as a separate object. To say it more succintly, we never see the frame but the frame allows us to see.

But what happens when the frame becomes both something "within" and something "without", when the act of framing defines not a limit, but an object itself? And further, how do we understand this "demarcating" when we're dealing with not just any frame, but one of these mirrors. In other words, a frame that can contain is always a reflection or, if you like, a specter. What happens to the reflection when it spills out of its frame?

What's behind the looking-glass becomes simile, an attempt to explain the artistic acts constructing an imaginary community of forms and feelings where the past, the present and the future coincide and expand the reflection 150 times, behind 25 distinct frames. Let's imagine this reflection in a multiplication of six mirrors, all with the same frame, and then multiply this by 25 different types of frame, the product of which is the intervention that each of these artists makes of the copy of the original, eighteenth-century frame, we end up with a type of production of sense by repetition and the difference where the reflection is both "at once" and "at twice". Unlike Carroll's paradox – the impossibility of "at twice" – here, above all, the serialization of a symmetrical infinity where the reflection is a physical entity in which the reflection overflows iself, no only overflows the mirror but also the imaginary variety that introduces the parergon: the decorated suddenly exists in the aesthetic place where the reflections' geometric multiplication divides itself, thanks to the overflowing, in order to allow this difference. An artistic game of multiplication/dividing which also creates the potential of both imagined and real community.

Imagined community, real community

The original uses of the Zegache mirrors were both functional and ritualistic. The metaphor for the Eucharist, the multiplying effect that allows light and reflection to construct an imaginary community. The idea of mirror as aesthetic object comes out of the Baroque period – here we need to keep in mind the transformative power such as object has, but above all to put into perspective the artists' appropriation of this object, not only as metaphor of "community" but also as an aesthetic realization of that community. Beyond the functional and theological significance that these mirrors had, there is implied Oaxaca's very own idea of community. A community of reflections, in that the frames display anachronistic styles, themes and techniques that resist a sense of imaginary community until some element brings them together. The mirror and its frame function as object and "chunk" of time. From out of this double condition, each of the "interventions" initiates a dialogue with this physical and historical microcosmos. Interventions of imaginary politicians, religious leaders, the culture of the Mass, magical animals, eventually coming back to natural elements. Together, these mirrors create a kind of dream landscape, much like fables: creating a semantic connection with the whole, an imaginary community where everything exists as "the same" and "the other".

Mirrors: An "intervention" on the 18th Century takes places in an imagined community, perhaps we can say the exposition works to make the "real" community itself more immediate. The idea of multiple originals, the copy that has been made of the frames by 25 artists, is a kind of reflection where the artistic act is also creates a "common space". It's a question of serial intertwining that results in a geometric infinity in that the reproduction implicates the actual community surrounding the work. A community where the imagination resists being viewed as sociopolitical factor, and where the bodies, the past and the present, reconfigure a vital space for Zegache's inhabitants. Therefore, the idea of "multiple originals" not only refers to the relationship between the artist's work and its reproduction in the workshops, but it also the idea of art connected to concepts of home and ownership. It means the construction of world: art as dwelling and culture. Zegache through the looking-glass, not only a metaphor to describe the artistic creation of these objects but also to describe the capacity of imagination as ethical agent, as maker of community.

Like Alice, it's well worth it to see the world through the looking-glass!

José Luis Barrios
March 2008