Mexico City

Héctor Zamora

Many artists have turned to architecture to explore new possibilities for sculpture and installation art; one can trace this line back to Gordon Matta-Clark. Some of the most interesting of these artists have been those examining informal manifestations in construction and urbanism; many works have been inspired by the aesthetics of shantytowns, favelas, or slums. Here the historical predecessor is Hélio Oiticica. The third-world city, with its manifold, ungovernable flows, offers the richest and most perverse example of this sort of uncontrolled building; so it’s hardly surprising that artists from Latin America, more than anywhere else, have taken up this theme in various ways, to the extent that some critics have detected a trend or fashion at work: the exploitation of the aesthetics of the shantytown. Indeed, this is a politically delicate path to tread. Nevertheless, artists as diverse as Gabriel Orozco, Rivane Neuenschwander, Cao Guimarães, José Davila, Damián Ortega, Jarbas Lopes, and Marepe, among others, have made valuable contributions to the realm of art dealing with informal architecture and construction in the city or at home.

It should come as no surprise, then, that the artist who has presented the most radical and accomplished work in this vein to date (in my view) comes from Mexico City. Not only does Héctor Zamora’s Paracaidista, Av. Revolución 1608 bis, 2003–2004, take the appropriation of the structure and concept of informal and precarious urban settlements typical of the third-world megalopolis to a scale that might be called life-size, but it does so by going beyond mere representation or formal investigation. For this exhibition, Zamora erected a wooden annex that clung like a tumor growing upward from the outside of the modernist edifice of the Museo de Arte Carrillo Gil and installed himself in some 700 square feet of living space. Visitors could buzz at the street-level entryway and climb up four flights of wooden stairs to inspect the artist’s temporary home: two bedrooms, kitchen, and bathroom, with electricity and running water appropriated from the museum. Even the address itself (the museum’s, followed by the word bis) is parasitical on the institution.

Zamora went to great institutional and bureaucratic pains to realize this project; even so, legal problems interrupted construction of the piece for six months. This process itself is very much part of the work, and Zamora’s intense correspondence with city officials was displayed together with a large-scale model of the structure inside the museum—Christo meets Lygia Clark, as Mexican critic Cuauhtémoc Medina put it. Nevertheless, Paracaidista seems possible only in the Southern Hemisphere (as I climbed the uneven wooden stairs, I could only imagine the insurance and security issues that would arise if Zamora attempted this at a US museum). The work drew much attention in Mexico City, with dozens of news articles in the local press. In the end, as a temporary exhibition and a temporary dwelling, it was dismantled: The tumor extracted, the parasite killed, the museum and the city could go on—business as usual.

Adriano Pedrosa