Critics’ Picks

Julieta Gil, Justicia, 2021, paper pulp relief with natural pigments, 19 5/8 x 31 1/2''.

Julieta Gil, Justicia, 2021, paper pulp relief with natural pigments, 19 5/8 x 31 1/2''.

Mexico City

en llamas (in flames)

Dr. Erazo 172 Col. Doctores
February 6–March 13, 2021

In Spanish, llano means “plain,” and the group exhibition “en llamas (in flames)” responds to the gallery's name and the Mexican agricultural tradition of burning land to prepare and activate it for future growing seasons. Considering fire both as a natural tool for removal and renewal and as a metaphor for catalysis and catharsis, the show brings together twelve artists to offer a nuanced reflection on the overlapping crises of the pandemic and the Anthropocene. Installed in a bulkhead on the rooftop of a converted factory building in Doctores, Mexico City, the show, while geographically central, seems to transcend the confines of urban space. On a clear day, one can see the Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl volcanoes from the gallery’s entrance and is acutely reminded of the power of fire in dictating the entanglements between humans, cities, and their surrounding environments.

Some artists imagine our world in the process of destruction, most notably Felipe Luna, whose photograph Potonchán, 1519, 2020, evokes fields ablaze in the former Chontal Maya capitol, the year Hernán Cortés conquered the city. Others, such as Julieta Gil, envision a scorched earth in need of rebuilding. Her sculpture Justicia, 2021, is a paper pulp relief of a carved inscription on el Ángel de la Independencia in downtown Mexico City, the site of several recent marches against gender violence and femicide. Replacing the word “Ley” (Law) with “Justicia” (Justice) and using an organic and malleable material, Gil proposes a counter-monumental fluidity against the imperatives of traditional commemorative sculpture—often stone and metal forms that are materially and ideologically rigid. While Lorena Ancona harnesses fire’s material capabilities in Ofrenda de sangre a la tierra, 2020, manipulating a piece of tropical wood that was burned in a forest fire, Oscar Santillán taps into the element’s symbolism as a force of transformation. For Firmament (Mars), 2019, he collaborated with scientists at the Leiden Astronomical Observatory to create a ceramic work whose chemical composition replicates the soil of planet Mars. While one might imagine a future in which humans abandon the traditions of Earth and evacuate our ecologically ruined world for the sleek metallic vision of Mars promoted by companies like SpaceX, Santillán instead offers an imperfect object whose making techniques are ancient and lasting. Across these and other works by the artists in this exhibition—which also features Cristian Franco, Enrique López Llamas, Noe Martínez, Mano Penalva, Frieda Toranzo Jaeger, Bárbara Sánchez-Kane, María Sosa, and Tania Ximena—we glimpse the potential of annihilation, but also of rebirth in the flames.