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The Precarious Pendulums of Abraham Cruzvillegas

In a solo exhibition at kurimanzutto, Mexico City, the artist’s hanging sculptures are, like human beings, contingent, needy and ever-changing

‘Wood, metal, stone, synthetic fibre, natural fibre, ceramic, oil, soil and living organism’: so reads the materials list for Abraham Cruzvillegas’s 13 hanging sculptures on display at kurimanzutto. The exhibition extends, and often repeats, his autoconstrucción works (2007–ongoing) – a practice the artist, who now lives and teaches in Paris, adopted from the architecture of his native Colonia Ajusco, a low-income Mexico City neighbourhood where homes are often constructed from whatever materials are on hand. In this way, the sculptures are built of refuse gathered from domestic and public spaces meaningful to the artist’s biography: construction sites in Ajusco; lake shores near where his father grew up in Michoacán; his own home improvement projects. Together, they articulate a vision of how the things around us lay the fragile, shifting groundwork of our identities.

The most striking formal aspect of these sculptures, each of which extends from floor to ceiling, is that they are given to change. No screws, glue or hinges bind their constituent parts. Instead, they depend (dependere, Latin: to hang) on ropes and the force of gravity to hold them together in a precarious equilibrium. At first glance, the works give an impression of stability, stillness and balance; but, on closer inspection, they reveal themselves to be slowly collapsing, growing, changing. The hanging sculptures, saturated with elements of Cruzvillegas’s own story, come to serve as figures for thinking about the nature of identity, whose patchwork is equally definitive and tentative, stable yet given to flux, largely chosen and yet ineluctably subject to forces beyond our control.

Abraham Cruzvillegas, 'Esculturas Pendientes' (Pending Sculptures), 2019, installation view, kurimanzutto, Mexico City, 2019. Courtesy: the artist and kurimanzutto, Mexico City/New York; photograph: Abigail Enzaldo

The first work in the show, Esculturas pendientes 1 (all works 2019), is also its centrepiece. Three timeworn canoes are suspended from the ceiling; each hewn from a single tree, their upper ends lean together to form a vast triangular pyramid. The boats – formerly used by the pescado blanco fishermen of Lake Pátzcuaro in Michoacán, and variously repaired with tacked-on tin lids, metal sheets and tar – have fallen into a sumptuous disrepair. At the time of my visit, the pendulum hanging in the sculpture’s open centre trailed on the ground. (The sculptures are in constant need of care by gallery staff: left unwatered, for instance, their potted plants would die of thirst.) Though quickly fixed, the pendulum’s drag reinforced the work’s precariousness.

Abraham Cruzvillegas, 'Esculturas Pendientes' (Pending Sculptures), 2019, installation view, kurimanzutto, Mexico City, 2019. Courtesy: the artist and kurimanzutto, Mexico City/New York; photograph: Abigail Enzaldo

A series of photo-engravings, ‘Autorretrato sin título’ (Untitled Self-Portrait), also runs through the show, depicting Ajusco residents on five copper plates with rudimentary ink-and-brush drawings of protected plants from that region. The plants are named parenthetically in each of the self-portrait’s titles, claiming a union between the artist and the natural and social worlds of his home. These works feel hurried and nostalgic beside the hanging sculptures, whose laboriously sourced materials and destabilizing formal play articulate a much richer argument about identity.

The show’s title, ‘Esculturas pendientes’, could be translated into English in two ways. With the first, descriptive translation, ‘Hanging Sculptures’, the show delivers just what its name promises: a collection of sculptures suspended from rafters. The artist, however, has opted for the poetic alternative, ‘Pending Sculptures’, calling into question the works’ finality. These sculptures are defined by the process of their construction as much as they are subject to further change. Assembled from the past, we too hang in a generative present, forever in a state of becoming.

Abraham Cruzvillegas, 'Esculturas Pendientes' (PPending Sculptures) was on view at kurimanzutto, Mexico City, from 6 February until 16 March 2019.

Main image: Abraham Cruzvillegas, 'Esculturas Pendientes' (Pending Sculptures), 2019, installation view, kurimanzutto, Mexico City, 2019. Courtesy: the artist and kurimanzutto, Mexico City/New York; photograph: Abigail Enzaldo

Kit Schluter is a writer and translator based in Mexico City. His collection of stories and illustrations, 5 Cartoons, was recently translated into Spanish by poet Mariana Rodriguez and published bilingually by Juan Malasuerte Editores in Mexico City, where he lives.

Issue 203

First published in Issue 203

May 2019
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