Mexico City

Diego Pérez, Tlapucata I–IV, 2017, copper, brass, iron, dimensions variable.

Diego Pérez, Tlapucata I–IV, 2017, copper, brass, iron, dimensions variable.

Diego Pérez

Galeria Alterna

Diego Pérez, Tlapucata I–IV, 2017, copper, brass, iron, dimensions variable.

“Water is stronger than rock,” wrote Hermann Hesse in his 1922 novel Siddhartha. This maxim suits the art of Diego Pérez, which spans photography, sculpture, and drawing, and it’s the title of one of the works in the Mexican artist’s recent exhibition, “The future belongs to Philophotology,” curated by Octavio Avendaño. In this piece, Pérez has inscribed Hesse’s words in jauntily handwritten letters using water on a large piece of paper blackened with graphite; below this framed drawing sits a sizable volcanic rock. There is lighthearted humor in this literal illustration of Hesse’s phrase. Hovering close by were a set of metallic mobiles that might have been airplanes, birds, or dragonflies. The artist made these in collaboration with his son, who originally constructed them on his own out of toilet-paper tubes and other scraps. Elevating pre-K arts and crafts to the realm of Art in this manner would be sentimental if it weren’t so playful. Such droll moments remind us that messages of sincerity are usually most effective when conveyed with a grain of salt.

Pérez’s background in photography is revealed in his preoccupation with the way light reveals the passage of time. On display were three photographs shot in his studio that provided intimate views of his process, involving stones, bits of wire, metal scraps, and garden refuse. The objects shown in the photos may have been arranged at random, but the modesty of the accidental gives way to serendipity where the sun casts its rays. The cyanotypes that adorned the opposite wall in the show—two large-scale prints made as sunlight filtered through the upper canopies of trees, leaving their silhouettes in negative—were another offering in the language of light and chance, as was the exhibition’s sculptural centerpiece, Sin titulo (Fragmento de casa colonial) (Untitled [Fragment of a Colonial House]), 2016, hosting a selection of plant life within the tabletop miniature foundation of a house cast in concrete.

The show was at its best with these evocations of domestic life. Placed on the floor were two small sculptures in concrete and terrazzo depicting half-realized buildings. Instead of human inhabitants, volcanic rocks occupy these compact structures, evoking both the ephemeral and the essential ways in which we make spaces into homes. They sit heavily on the ground as a reminder of the active collaboration between time and nature, in which human presence becomes nearly ineffectual.

Despite various references to art of the last century, some more explicit than others—the largest work was an interpretation of Constantin Brancusi’s Endless Column, carved from wood—this was a show about the future. Of course, art always reaches both forward and backward in time. But so much of today’s artwork rushes to prophesize an always unknown time to come, relying on tropes of slick object production or digital enhancement to represent the artifice sustaining our visualizations of the day after tomorrow, or else offers prognoses of an inevitable dystopia, leaving the viewer chilled and alienated. Pérez’s recent works, by contrast, describe an untrendy optimism for a post-Anthropocene era. His art remains dynamic, vital, and open—by inviting nature and accident into the artistic process. 

Layla Fassa