Abraham Cruzvillegas, Study Room, 2010, mixed media. Installation view.

Abraham Cruzvillegas, Study Room, 2010, mixed media. Installation view.

Abraham Cruzvillegas

Abraham Cruzvillegas, Study Room, 2010, mixed media. Installation view.

“I’m very interested in the idea of what happens in the border, in the space in between. What happens when you cross the street? Or when you cross the périphérique?” Having lived in Paris from 2005 through 2008, Mexican artist Abraham Cruzvillegas recently returned to that city to examine its borders and his own identity in relation to them. La petite ceinture, the “little belt” made of nineteenth-century train tracks that encircled the city just inside its nineteenth-century fortifications, still marks the boundary of central Paris. The system of defensive walls, built in response to France’s defeat by Prussia in 1815, was demolished following World War I; the tracks were largely out of use by the 1930s. But the Boulevard Périphérique, a ring road that now separates Paris from its banlieues, was built along much the same route. Drawn to the physical manifestations of liminal spaces, photographs of remaining petite ceinture train tracks, and the modern freeway, Cruzvillegas also turned toward the people and local initiatives that exist in such boundary zones.

From the street, an untitled construction (all works 2010) was visible through the gallery’s glass front door: a tall half-cylinder of reconstituted wood chips blocked visitors from walking straight in, forcing them immediately left or right or even back outside. Made of salvaged materials, wooden planks, and boards, Cruzvillegas’s structure wrapped around the inside of the gallery, recalling la petite ceinture but also a skateboard ramp or a tower block. Reminiscent, too, in its rickety construction, of the unplanned developments in the area around Ajusco, in Mexico City, where Cruzvillegas grew up, the work alludes to the rough shacks erected in peripheral communities in his own country as well as their equivalents in and around Paris.

Situated in the small space at the back of the gallery was Study Room, an installation comprising twenty-eight drawings, a table and chairs, a wheelbarrow, a canvas tote bag filled with beer-bottle caps, and a bookshelf lined with photocopied guidebooks to Paris and other volumes about the city, along with a collection of bulbs and root vegetables. Tubers were also balanced at various points around the wooden construction in the main space, some slowly sprouting, others drying out as the exhibition progressed. Many of the bottle caps—including an impressive collection popped off bottles of the French beer Kronenbourg 1664—were also incorporated into the untitled construction, hammered into joints with nails.

In conjunction with the exhibition, Cruzvillegas produced a book of interviews, images, and collages. In eight lengthy interviews (in English, French, and Spanish) with people such as Maroussia Rebecq (the artist behind the fashion and nightlife brand Andrea Crews), the slam poet Pilote le Hot, and urban gardeners Cécile Bourne-Farrell, François Lemaire, and Rosanna del Prete, Cruzvillegas distilled a nuanced vision of the French capital. For example, Lemaire explained that in the public gardens at Saint-Ouen, “You can’t have potatoes . . . because between the level here and the level forty centimeters underneath, there is a plastic sheet to separate the contaminated ground and the new ground. And the potatoes have roots that could penetrate the plastic sheet.” Here, la petite ceinture becomes analogous with the plastic sheet, and Cruzvillegas’s wanderings and conversations are symbolized by the potato’s rhizome. The book is also filled with images of train tracks, root vegetables, a sculpture by Alexander Rodchenko, and one of Hélio Oiticica’s “Parangolés” from 1964—a web of historical and visual references. Formally, Rodchenko’s sculpture echoes Cruzvillegas’s untitled construction, while the Russian’s socialist agenda connects with the contemporary artist’s Parisian social portrait. Likewise, Cruzvillegas’s reference to Oiticica is not surprising. By contrast, Oiticica’s “Penetrables,” 1961–79, offered a study of Brazil brought to a European capital when the series was presented at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in London in 1969. Cruzvillegas’s project uncovered an exotic zone within the metropolis itself.

Lillian Davies