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Jorge Pardo’s exhibition design at LACMA

IN THE AFTERMATH of the 1521 conquest of central Mexico, a Spanish Franciscan working in New Spain asked his Aztec informants about a place they called Oztotl, which in their language translates as “cave.” The friar’s sources replied that Oztotl was a place where “our mothers, our fathers have gone; they have gone to rest in the water, in the cave, the place of no openings, the place of no smoke hole, the place of the dead.” The Aztecs believed that upon death they would be swallowed up by the earth, which was envisioned as a giant amphibian floating in an all-encompassing ocean. Through cavernous jaws the dead would descend to the innermost region of the creature’s body. On the way down the deceased would pass through eight successive stations, or “layers,” of the underworld, each presenting a unique challenge to the frightened traveler. The precarious journey did not end until the dead

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