Critics’ Picks

Camel Collective, Gated Commune, 2018, video, black-and-white, 9 minutes 3 seconds.

Camel Collective, Gated Commune, 2018, video, black-and-white, 9 minutes 3 seconds.

Mexico City

Camel Collective

Museo Universitario Arte Contemporaneo (MUAC)
Insurgentes Sur 3000 Centro Cultural UniversitarioDelegación Coyoacán
Online Exhibition

This online exhibition, a nine-minute video essay titled Gated Commune, 2018, is an unsettling sendup of modernist problem-solving that befits our dystopian moment. Over grainy black-and-white footage of insects, polluted landscapes, and melting icecaps, a female voice-over flatly recounts the attempts of two camps—“the futurists” and the “neo-primitivists,” stand-ins for the avant-garde as a whole—to organize cities that seemingly invoke Situationist concepts like psychogeography and unitary urbanism, or others that could be closer to Yves Klein’s zones of immaterial pictorial sensibility. “Gated Commune” itself was inspired by the urban planning of the developing Danish city of Ørestad, “an apparently serene site haunted by social, environmental, and historical divisions,” as put by Anthony Graves, who formed Camel Collective with the late Carla Herrera-Prats in 2010.

In its satirical take on a compulsive desire to design “spaces” and “worlds,” Gated Commune reminded me of Tim Ingold’s book Lines: A Brief History (2001), which explores the lines created by most human activities––walking, gesticulating, knitting, drawing—throughout its history, up until modernity ushered in the straight variety through mechanical processes. As a result, straightness came to be epitomized as rational thought and progress. Camel Collective’s descriptions of sleek architecture, of “glass ceilings with the slimmest of trusses,” circle back to Ingold’s thinking, in which rigid patterns have become irreversibly imprinted onto visions of utopia. “Imagine it,” utters the narrator: “You will only be able to move forward through these spaces like a cat in an air duct, or a pencil drawing a line.” There’s no turning back now.