Mexico City

“Los de arriba y los de abajo”

Sala de Arte Público Siqueiros

Los de arriba y los de abajo” (Those Above and Those Below) reopened the Sala de Arte Público Siqueiros after six months of renovations with work by thirteen artists of various ages and diverse origins. The building, once the home and studio of David Alfaro Siqueiros, one of Mexico’s most important artists, holds his murals, many of which have been temporarily removed for restoration; in this sense, the museum was in a strange, unstable state. In the absence of Siqueiros’s murals, the pieces chosen by Venezuelan artist and curator Javier Téllez entered into a different kind of dialogue with the space than those in previous exhibitions here. Indeed, the show had the structure of a mystery, offering a series of small clues about the overarching curatorial strategy as well as broader aesthetic and political implications. Whether physical or metaphoric, these pieces of evidence were scattered throughout the structure of works or through their placement within the exhibition space. The works and the museum thus came together to emphasize suspense, precariousness, open processes, and negotiations between sites and objects. The ensemble of twenty-one works created a system of thought that aimed to confront global power relations not only through the open-ended installation but through the equally migratory and contingent practice of the artists represented.

The central lower gallery was completely occupied by an unusual seesaw, Pedro Reyes’s Leverage, 2006; allowing for one person on one side and nine on the other, the piece raised the question of strength in numbers versus the strength of an individual: Given a single person’s influence on a group, given inequality, given the unpredictable interplay between individual action and collective collaboration, what is the correct equation for stability? Adrian Paci’s single-channel video Turn On, 2003, described different aspects of one scene, in which unemployed men sit in different places every day on the steps of a plaza in Shkodër, Albania, and light lamps, the beauty of the image emphasizing the despair of their situation. In the video Minaret, 2001, the artist Michael Rakowitz performs the Muslim call to prayer from various rooftops in Manhattan, like a muezzin in a minaret; it’s a sound more commonly heard in the West, if at all, in hushed tones and at ground level. A large installation by Kader Attia, Kasbah, 2009, made of wood, metal, and plastic refuse, simulated the chaotic arrangement and juxtaposition of old and new streets, houses, shops, markets, and so on within the old quarter of a North African city. The installation consisted only of the rooftops, and visitors were invited to walk over them. On the second floor, Ferran Martín had also built a roof inside the gallery, though not one to be walked on. The work was titled Manolo Martín, 162.5 cm. (Un Paquito), 2009—162.5 cm, a little under 5' 4“, being the distance from the floor to this new roof, the height of the artist’s late father, and that of Franco as well. In order to view the other works in the room—unless you are shorter than 5' 4”—you had to hunch over, an inconvenience that merely underlined the uncomfortable feelings each piece produced in the spectator. Among the other pieces were Gabriel Figueroa’s film stills for Luis Buñuel’s film El ángel exterminador (The Exterminating Angel, 1962), with its scathing view of the Mexican bourgeoisie—expanding upon the exploration of vertical relationships, binary systems, and broken narratives that unfolded throughout the show and, finally, revealed something of our bipolar social organization: those who are above and those who are below.

Jessica Berlanga Taylor