Mexico City

Miguel Calderón, Caída libre (Free Fall), 2017, falconry perches and the video Camaleón (Chameleon), 2016 (color, sound, 26 minutes 30 seconds), dimensions variable. Photo: Omar Luis Olguin.

Miguel Calderón, Caída libre (Free Fall), 2017, falconry perches and the video Camaleón (Chameleon), 2016 (color, sound, 26 minutes 30 seconds), dimensions variable. Photo: Omar Luis Olguin.

Miguel Calderón

kurimanzutto

Miguel Calderón, Caída libre (Free Fall), 2017, falconry perches and the video Camaleón (Chameleon), 2016 (color, sound, 26 minutes 30 seconds), dimensions variable. Photo: Omar Luis Olguin.

Miguel Calderón’s first solo show in Mexico in eight years was met with both rumor and expectation. Some people thought he had dropped out of the art world and was focusing on music, films, or something else. His feature film, Zeus (2016), debuted at the Morelia Film Festival last year and touches on subject matter similar to that evoked by this exhibition, “Caída libre” (Free Fall), hosted by kurimanzutto off-site at a grimy warehouse space that Calderón once used as a studio. Not only did exhibition confirm Calderón’s presence in the Mexican art scene, it revealed how his work has matured while retaining its essential rawness.

There was no whiff here of the scandal or provocation that had previously earned Calderón a reputation as an enfant terrible. Now a more meditative aspect came to the fore. The central piece was a large installation, Caída libre, 2017, which included a video, Camaleón (Chameleon), 2016, following a day in the life of Camaleón, a real-life falconer and nightclub bouncer. Nearly half an hour long, the piece powerfully juxtaposes inside and outside sequences that contrast the disjointed, violent nature of such places as a roadhouse on the periphery of Mexico City, against the beauty and openness of dawn in the countryside on the city’s outskirts and the peregrine falcon in flight. The openness of the shots following the bird, its soaring flight a perfect illustration of freedom and wildness, the claustrophobia of Camaleón’s dwelling, for instance, or the surprising cuteness of a child’s stickers on his headboard. The video also reveals Calderón’s eye for a story. Camaleón’s narration is intense and well-edited, revealing a violent background as well as his aspirations as a falconer. The light of the large-scale projection fleetingly illuminates the darkened room, revealing what seem to be sculptures but are in fact falconry perches. Each one was painstakingly designed by a falconer for his bird. After years of cultivating his relationship with falconers in the city, Calderón obtained these perches and made a collection of sorts; they reveal a multifarious beauty in their artifice, while their rough materials (iron, thick rope) remind us of their practical use, echoing the presence of sharp talons, blood, shit, danger.

The entire show—and particularly the video’s nightclub sequence—evoked a dialogue between the civilized and the wild, predator and prey. Falconry has been the subject of a long line of artistic representations, going back to sixteenth-century Mughal paintings, but if those images were about prestige and power, Calderón’s tell an entirely different story. The exhibition also deals in the relationship between the artist and his other subject, his near collaborator Camaleón: his rough lifestyle, his difficult childhood, his passion for falconry, and his epilepsy—another kind of free fall, unlike that of the falcon getting ready to knock out its prey.

A second room contained photographs and a few more perches. Stylistically, the photos echoed some of Calderón’s earlier works, but here the human presence was less overt, or rather pointed at obliquely: A bloody hand held a cigarette (Untitled, 2017); another photo showed a dusty car, door open (Imprinting, 2017). One of my favorites was Id, Ego, Superego, 2017, a shot of Camaleón’s bed, his falcon and a Chihuahua staring at the viewer, echoing John Berger’s assertion that “animals first entered the imagination as messengers and promises.” Yet a different message altogether was present in the dead snakes hanging from a wire fence (Falconer’s Code #1 and #2, 2017), signs falconers leave behind for other falconers to indicate various things at the site—from the presence of cops to that of snakes. Calderón’s show spoke to the companionship of animals and also to their distinctness, while at the same time revealing untold stories of the humans who live with them—tales both dark and hopeful.

Gabriela Jauregui