Mexico City

Fritzia Irízar, Untitled (Golden Green), 2016, gold-plated sprinkler, water, tezontle, pyrite, 16' 6“ × 13' × 6”.

Fritzia Irízar, Untitled (Golden Green), 2016, gold-plated sprinkler, water, tezontle, pyrite, 16' 6“ × 13' × 6”.

Fritzia Irízar

Arredondo \ Arozarena

Fritzia Irízar, Untitled (Golden Green), 2016, gold-plated sprinkler, water, tezontle, pyrite, 16' 6“ × 13' × 6”.

Given that Fritzia Irízar’s recent exhibition “Golden Green - Greening Gold” focused on the mining of that most useless yet perennially attractive and signifying metal, its other principal element was something of a surprise: water. In Mexico, mining has been the source of tremendous ecological devastation, and the depletion of this substance is one of many recurring problems. In addition, nearly a third of the nation’s territory has been consigned to foreign companies for extraction, leading to the dismemberment of communities, the appropriation of territory without local consent, and the killing of civilians by paramilitary security hired by mining companies.

Untitled (Golden Green) (all works 2016) introduced us to a recurring character, almost like a little cartoon guy: a sprinkler, aptly gilded, standing in the middle of a field of black tezontle volcanic rock mixed with some pyrite (better known as fool’s gold), showering it all with water. Pyrite was used in ancient times for its chemical properties that enable the smelting of other minerals, and later for igniting firearms. Yet its most pervasive symbolic connotation is that of a hoax: All that glitters isn’t gold. The sprinkler signifies a different type of illusion: the great American aspiration to the perfect green lawn.This fixation also brings up questions of nature and artifice, which together form an ambiguous dichotomy that cropped up throughout the show.

In Untitled (Banda de Guerra), 2016, a deafening noise emanated from dry water sprinklers attached to empty snaking hoses arranged to form a kind of road map on the floor. To the rhythm of a military step, controlled by a small device in the corner, the sprinklers let out air instead of water. In the background, a looping video of polluted ocean water contrasted with the lack of water in the hoses and sprinklers and yet again warned us of the devastation at hand. The piece loudly proclaimed absence. Mining uses 2,600 gallons of water per second, and what is left over is toxic. Due to the video’s circular format and a play in perspective (although it was shot from about 125 feet in the air, its subject looks as much like a close-up as a view from a great distance), the contaminated foam it shows ends up looking like continents of pure pollution. Irízar’s video managed to aestheticize a very real drama while at the same time; the deafening yet rhythmic sound effectively conveyed a feeling of discomfort.

The other pieces in the exhibition were more performative, to be activated by spectators, sometimes in collaboration with performers, as in the case of Untitled (Greening Gold), 2016, in which an actor in a lab coat archives the weight and historical data (symbolic and real) of gallerygoers’ gold jewelry. The creation of this archive represents a mnemonic device of sheer power, for the pretense at “greening gold” is a mere formality by which we rid ourselves of our environmental guilt. While corporations may make superficial efforts to “go green,” the impossibility of finding an environmentally responsible way of mining, is evident, as is the greater preciousness of “green” in comparison to “gold.” That the work’s title is in English is no coincidence, as this has become the language of transnational corporate affairs.

If all this sounds didactic, it was—willfully so. The point was underscored again and again by the lab-coated “scientists” performing throughout the show, for instance by those engaged in the useless yet painstaking task of gilding not a lily, but rather a small bird, all the while taking measurements of its skeleton for some obscure scientific classification. The institutional and hoaxy feeling of this piece, Untitled, (Extraction), 2016, created an environment of estrangement that ironically recalled the Stanford Prison Experiment, while at the same opening up a mystery that invited us to question not only mining and its dire consequences, but also the symbolic mechanisms at work in our everyday lives.

Gabriela Jauregui