The work of Jorge Satorre is full of anecdotes. The artist uses historical myths and misremembered stories as a dynamic drive in his work. The drawings and photographs in his project National Balloon (2006), for instance, document a trip Satorre made to the factory where Chris Burden completed his famous performance Shoot (1971), and the experience of informing the current owner, a balloon manufacturer, of the violent act committed there. His 2011 series The Blacks similarly used fictionalized encounters and elaborations to reconstruct the story of a miller named Menocchio, condemned to death by the Italian Inquisition, whose story is told by historian Carlos Ginzburg in The Cheese and the Worms (1976). In that book, Ginzburg introduces the concept of ‘micro-history’ – which suggests that in order to better understand larger historical narratives, we must focus on small, personal details.
In ‘Modern Moral Subjects, Decorating the pit’ (all works 2017), Satorre's latest exhibition at Labor, the artist affirms his interest in micro-history, but rather than explicit historical and artistic references, he explores more oneiric, abstract aspects of various characters and places. Here, the artist draws from the architectural history of the gallery itself – a modernist house built in the 1940s by the functionalist architect Enrique del Moral, largely altered by a later owner in the 2000s – to reflect on memory, individual agency and the affective power of architecture. Our relationships to the vegetal and animal worlds, but also to construction and destruction processes (taken both on literal and figurative planes) are also strong conceptual drives within the show.
The main gallery space is dominated by a large manual crane that Satorre designed to lift a monumental concrete cast of an earthen excavation from the gallery’s garden. The wall separating the interior from the garden has been removed, forcibly restoring the original open design of the house, while also literally destroying part of its current structure. Satorre’s creation and displacement of the huge cast, imprinted with concave patterns of leaves and dog paws, is an enormous and impressive endeavor without any formal engineering training. Accompanying the sculptural installation is a set of drawings (some slightly older, but most produced for the exhibition) that depict formal elements of the house, installation and its inhabitants (primarily the gallery owner’s white dogs, who appear quietly urinating in several drawings). Many unidentifiable human figures also appear, engaging in mostly festive activities such as partying, drinking or having sex, adding a sensual quality to the with the otherwise austere, monumental installation. The difference in scale between both elements – the small, cartoonish drawings, and the overbearingly architectural sculptures – highlights the scale of the human body and subtly critiques the popular, fetishistic obsession with modernism, especially in contemporary Mexico. In his characteristically humorous and deconstructive style, Satorre thus continues to undermine the mythologies of our flawed earthen civilization.
Main image: Jorge Satorre, Un tema moral moderno, decorar el agujero, 2017, graphite on paper hanged with pieces of steel, LABOR. Courtesy: the artist and LABOR, Mexico City; photograph: Daniela Uribe
First published in Issue 189