Cambridge, MA

Pedro Reyes

Carpenter Center, Harvard University

Some of the nearly one hundred projects represented in “ad usum: To Be Used,” a survey of six years’ worth of work by Mexico City–based artist Pedro Reyes, are models for environmentally engaged architecture. The rest are perhaps best understood as tools aimed at triggering an enhanced engagement with self and surroundings. These videos, objects, models, records of workshops, and combinations thereof draw on radical theater, psychology, parapsychology, the workings of the market, and an understanding that comedy and grace are intimately linked.

Sometimes Reyes’s tools are Platonic archetypes of pop objects or ideas. Take, for example, the selection of painted plywood forms shaped to evoke the guitars of different rock-and-roll subgenres that he brought—along with a karaoke sound system—to a Mexico City marketplace where young punks and goths gather on weekends. Teens chose “guitars” (what am I . . . space rock? Satanic? Weirdo? Death thrash?), rocked out to their favorite songs, then smashed the “instruments” to bits in front of Reyes’s video camera. New Group Therapies III (Instant Rock Star), 2004, is made up of footage of these wild performances, placed near a selection of the colorful props. In the videos Mysteries of the Organism (all 2004), in which an egg yolk is dropped through pairs of cupped hands until it breaks; Juices from the Sun, which is shot from inside a translucent red plastic bag; and Sin Titulo (Espejos) (Untitled [Mirrors]), in which a group advances toward a camera, each member holding a small mirror that at different moments fills the screen with a blinding fl ash, humble objects trigger brief, playful, collective dedications to the sun. Here the yolk, plastic sheeting, and hand mirrors are the tools in use—everyday objects détourned.

Reyes was hosted at Harvard by the Latino and Latin American Art Forum and worked with the Cultural Agents Initiative. He spent his time in Cambridge in the library, homing in on three Latin American public artists/activists who, like himself and his hosts, are dedicated to mobilizing personal agency through artistic practice: Brazilian Augusto Boal, founder of the Theatre of the Oppressed; Chilean Alejandro Jodorowsky, filmmaker and author; and Colombian Antanas Mockus, former mayor of Bogotá. These figures, among others, “became the center of his research and served as the main models from which Reyes abstracted techniques to be reproduced in other mediums and contexts,” writes curator José Falconi in the exhibition’s wall text. “In this sense, the pieces can be seen as prototypes, gathered here in the hope of being further analyzed, retested, and used.”

Linking bodies of knowledge to the physical, and the comic, has always been Reyes’s modus operandi. Included in “ad usum” was a model of Jardines Colgantes, 2000, for which he “and a group of plant specialists,” a label informs us, constructed a pulley-system of hanging plants at Torre de Los Vientos, an art space housed in an unused windmill-like structure built for the 1968 Olympics. “While taking care of the hanging gardens,” he writes, they “proposed a temporary field of research called Psycho-Horticulture,” in which, for example, they “sought analogies between cinema and photosynthesis or links between music and plant growth.” In Piñata Neurona, 2003, a piñata in the shape of a neuron was smashed under strobe lights in an attempt to create, represent, and enhance an altered mental state. Reyes wants to change the world, and leaves aside totalizing systems to mobilize art’s basic capacity to alter perception on an individual level, even if only for a moment.

Larissa Harris