In Mexico's second city, the third edition of PreMaco arts festival shows it at the forefront of the country's ever-changing art scene
I first wanted to know the names of the flowers. In Guadalajara, tufts of pink, white and red desert flora sprout intermittently – never too little, never too often – between the squat colonial-era buildings and the later architectural confections of this ever-changing city, along bumpy thoroughfares, and across the hundreds of parks and plazas built by church and state in commemoration of their alternating triumphs over one another. Low, white cactus flowers cling to road-side yards. The bright red sprigs of a desert wildflower peer out from behind cafés. Someone did recall the name for a plant with knotted limbs that break out in a burst of pink tendrils, like fireworks – the clavellina, in Spanish; known in English as the 'shaving bush'. Purplish discs extend from jointed branches lingering between apartments, naked of any leaves. These, which no one seemed to remember the name of, reminded me of small space ships – an appropriate, if curious image for a city well-known for its alien visitations. Near here, at Lake Chapala, unidentified craft often descend from the night sky to skim the water before speeding upward in a flash of light, to local awe. They come so often that there is even a monument to them by the Jalisco-native Alejandro Colunga, La Sala de los Magos (1993) outside the Hospicio Cabañas, a former children's orphanage that now serves as a museum. His long-limbed extraterrestrials, or magi, sit in the sun as if in preparation for some convention between worlds. But Guadalajara is well-known for its hospitality; the city reclines upon its arid scrublands – golden and welcoming.
Flowers, galleries, tourists in white carriages driven by blind horses, modernist hotels and homes, churches jammed between apartments, black plastic thimbles of tequila, gay cowboy bars, private dinners and community lunches, dances: this past weekend, Guadalajara – a new capital of the Latin American art world and the second largest city in Mexico – hosted its third PreMaco, a weekend of 60-odd events hosted in advance of this week's fairs and festivities in Mexico City. The events showcased Guadalajara's vital art scene, which has steadily grown in size since the 1990s, when the city was dominated by a small group of artists that included Gonzalo Lebrija, Fernando Palomar and Jose Dávila. Now, a set of emerging performers, painters and sculptors, many of them born in the '90s, has appeared in recent years, mostly centered around the galleries Gamma and guadalajara90210, and other performance or underground venues across the city.
One young collective, Arrogante Albino, debuted a new work on Friday, at the opening of the third edition of the roving exhibition, art and design fair, Indocumentados, housed in an old Morelos Factory. (It began in Miami in 2016 before founder Alejandro Serratos relocated the project to his hometown.) On the top floor, Albino staged De cómo alejar la culpa de tu casa (How to take the blame away from your home) – an hour-long ceremonial dance that showcased the queer sensibilities of some of the younger artists driving the city's new scene. Eight or so performers decorated themselves in moist lavender (the room smelled strongly of the flower – a name I knew) and cavorted, in a 'ritual neopagano-pop' influenced by Heinrich Kramer's Hammer of Witches (1487), around melting blocks of ice before a mostly quiet audience. One man vaped, blowing the sweet-smelling smoke in the faces of his fellow performers; others cuddled with balloons that gradually deflated under their weight. They laid down in cold pools of meltwater. They stripped off their wet clothes and whipped the walls with their t-shirts. 'We do not forgive, we do not forget', the press release assured us.
On Friday, Páramo opened an exhibition of painting and sculpture, all from the 1950s to '90s, by Zacatecas-native Manuel Felguérez, a leading member of the Generación de la Ruptura. Felguérez's paintings – mostly abstractions – darkly suggest mechanized violence, in brown and blood-red colourful geometric shapes evocative of collapsing or disorganized systems, with squares, rectangles and circles bending and bleeding into one another. Upstairs, the gallery recreated the artist's curious The Desire Machine (1973) from Chilean-French filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky's 1973 masterpiece, The Holy Mountain. The original work was used in the film to illustrate, with the aid of puppeteers, the impregnation of a machine using a long, blue-green cylindrical object (operated by a naked woman in black high heels) and its subsequent birth of a smaller, cube-shaped object. Páramo have recreated the work – now titled The Aesthetic Machine (2018) – for Felguérez's upcoming exhibition, with the difference that it will now work on its own. How? I have no idea.
Travesía Cuatro – founded in 2003 and housed in a home built by Luis Barragán – opened Mateo López's 'XYZ' the following afternoon. It is the artist's first solo exhibition with the gallery and includes several works that continues the artist's interest in design and architecture. In works consisting mostly of the play of geometric forms, the exhibition engaged many of the 'domestic qualities' of Barragán's design, one of the architect's first residential projects. Thin, wiry sculpture intersected with a doorway; metal rectangles hung on the wall, suggesting windows and empty picture frames; a paper clock told not time, but ideas, ideologies, realities: 'politics', one hour read, another 'fantasy'.
At the end of the weekend Páramo chartered a trip to the small, arid island of Mezcala on Lake Chapala, where D.H. Lawrence wrote his late, troubling novel The Plumed Serpent in 1923. There, Emanuel Tovar presented a new performance, Ritos Estructurales (Structural Rites). I could only imagine what it was like, since I missed the bus. Instead, I wandered the city before my evening flight to New York. Transport frustrations can sometimes turn serendipitous. I sat in parks. I passed through narrow backstreets, where bars blasted upbeat music I had never heard before. I stood beneath José Clemente Orozco's murals at the Hospicio Cabañas. In the central dome of that museum, a man on fire – fire is a central theme of the muralist's work – stands between the stumbling personifications of the other elements, Earth, Water and Wind. I went to an open-air market that someone told me was the largest in Latin America. I had no idea if this was true. Stands offered cheap roses amid cages of hundreds of squeaking parakeets. I wanted to hold them close, their fluttering, yellow and white and blue and green forms. Butchers cut up huge pigs, their eyes blank with death, near stalls offering witchcraft. I considered a spell that would bring me wealth. I considered another that would strike down my enemies but decided to spare them. Very tall palms swayed. I wanted to pluck a nameless flower but thought better of it.
Main image: Alejandro Colunga, La Sala de los Magos, 1993, installation view, Hospicio Cabañas, Guadalajara. Photograph: Ivan Hernandez