Asunción Molinos Gordo, Untitled 3 WAM (World Agriculture Museum) (detail), 2010, mixed-media. Installation view.

Asunción Molinos Gordo, Untitled 3 WAM (World Agriculture Museum) (detail), 2010, mixed-media. Installation view.

Asunción Molinos Gordo

Townhouse Gallery

Asunción Molinos Gordo, Untitled 3 WAM (World Agriculture Museum) (detail), 2010, mixed-media. Installation view.

Downtown Cairo is filled with decaying century-old early modern buildings, a testament to an era when the city aspired to be the Paris of the tropics, a desire shared by other municipalities from my own hometown, Rio de Janeiro, to Panama City. Abandoned by the city’s more affluent inhabitants, Cairo’s once impressive belle epoque and Art Deco buildings are today in a state of disintegration—modern ruins in the global periphery. Here, on the third floor of a building on Abdel Khaleq Tharwat Street not far from the now world-famous Tahrir Square, right below one of the city’s most important contemporary art spaces, the Contemporary Image Collective, was what seemed to be a satellite of Cairo’s Agricultural Museum, itself an institution in shambles. On the metal plaque outside the apartment, one read what was in fact the title of the 2010 installation by Cairo-based Spanish artist Asunción Molinos Gordo: untitled 3 wam (world agriculture museum). The exhibition was the result of the artist’s residency at Townhouse, an independent contemporary arts space nearby.

Inside, in six rooms, one found a fascinating display of objects in vitrines, pictures, maps, graphs, and texts painted on boards, all addressing issues related to farming and biotechnology, the global food crisis and ecological disaster, and all in a style reminiscent of mid-century pedagogical signage—and in tune with the dilapidated official Agricultural Museum across town. Blending fact and fiction with humor and incisiveness, offering data to question, reveal, and create old and new myths, the satellite museum was meticulously constructed as a sort of cabinet of curiosities by a team of local artisans, craftspeople, calligraphers, carpenters, and electricians directed by Molinos Gordo—and everything was presented with explanatory texts in Arabic and English. Here were charts that traced the crossing of a cow with a soybean, a butterfly with an apple, a rat with lettuce. On the floor, a painted board with a map indicated the number of suicides in India due to “indebtedness through use of Genetically Modified BT Cotton.” In another room, handcrafted wooden fruit and vegetables from Haiti were on display, as were that country’s infamous mud cookies. Many different species of patented seeds deposited in a library of glass jars were on view elsewhere, along with a telephone to “report suspicious behavior of Seeds Exchange.” In the central hall, five doors had signs on them indicating some of the museum’s departments: intellectual property, trade, health, environment, legislations [sic]; on the floor, apparently without a room to house its office, was a sign for the neglected department of labour. In a room at the back of the apartment was a diorama of Norway’s Svalbard Global Seed Vault, popularly known as the Doomsday Seed Vault, housed on a remote Arctic island.

Leaving the flat, one found the very last room, tucked away behind a door just before the exit, filled with different types of plants in pots improvised out of canisters, under fluorescent lights, much like a laboratory for breeding the real things about which we were learning. In light of the revolutionary events that unexpectedly closed the exhibition for part of its run, the site-specificity of Untitled 3 (World Agriculture Museum) went beyond its location in downtown Cairo amid the ruins of a frustrated modern epoch; it also pointed to another anachronistic and decaying ancien régime. Perhaps the great changes the country is undergoing will turn out to be a harbinger for the real Agricultural Museum as well.

Adriano Pedrosa