Mexico City

Diego Pérez, El sabueso del Vasco (The Hound of Vasco), 2020, carved lava stone, 26 3/4 × 21 5/8 × 22 1/2".

Diego Pérez, El sabueso del Vasco (The Hound of Vasco), 2020, carved lava stone, 26 3/4 × 21 5/8 × 22 1/2".

Diego Pérez

An unusual tension between sand and stone propelled Diego Pérez’s exhibition “Historia de arena” (History of Sand). Pérez used sand to make three maquettes (Mesa infinita [Infinite Mesa] 1, 2, and 3, 2020) that evoked archetypal edifices with staircases leading to the sky. The material also featured prominently in two photographic series—“Apuntes para la mesa infinita” (Notes for Infinite Mesa) and “Apuntes para la mesa infinita. Vista panorámica” (Notes for Infinite Mesa: Panoramic View), both 2020—that portray stepped pyramids vaguely resembling those of ancient Mesoamerica in the form of sandcastles on a beach, suggesting ephemerality and futility. These works also counterpointed the dense materiality of the exhibition’s other pieces, all of which were carved in what could loosely be designated “stone”: various kinds of volcanic rock, concrete, and construction bricks.

The objects made from hard, durable materials were comparable to the archaeological relics and the statues of (male) politicians, depicted as heroes, deployed in Mexico, as in other countries, to evoke the nation’s fictionalized bygone glories. Pérez renders the country’s Indigenous heritage using prosaic materials: In Muro sin nombre (Unnamed Wall), 2020, Aztec-style serpent heads protrude from a wall made of gray bricks with skulls carved into their surfaces, recalling the Mesoamerican tzompantli (skull rack) offered to the deities after battle. The humorous, sardonic quality of the exhibition found its apex in Prócer anónimo (Anonymous Dignitary), 2015, a maladroit attempt at a bust of Benito Juárez, the most celebrated of Mexico’s founding fathers. The featureless face, sculpted by an amateur carver from whom Pérez acquired it, stood atop a brick plinth and was balanced by a chisel-cum-doorstop.

Such recurring nationalistic tropes point to the historia de bronce or “bronze history”—invoked in the text accompanying the exhibition—which, according to historian Luis González y González, employs monumental depictions as the basis for a celebratory narrative of Mexico’s past. Therefore, a monolithic identity is sanctified in material repositories such as pre-Columbian sculptures, murals, statues, or busts. The artist further satirized this stance in other works, such as the lava rock sculpture El sabueso del Vasco (The Hound of Vasco), 2020, a tender-looking dog with a human foot in its mouth, the work a reference to the dogs that were used as lethal weapons by Spanish conquistador Vasco Núñez de Balboa, who terrorized Indigenous communities in his attempt to spread the Catholic faith.

How do sand and stone connect in all this? In his 2018 book The Order of Time, Carlo Rovelli recasts stones as events rather than objects: They are not everlasting but subject to change. Stones, Rovelli argues, have a limited duration and throughout their existence undergo transmutations provoked by processes—physical, social, and so on—that occur as time passes. If, through their many public iterations, stones have been turned into emblems of bronze history, Pérez enacts a poetic yet daring provocation: He accelerates their path back into sand and dirt. History then becomes unfixed and unstable, its shape lost. This shift into “sand history” offers the possibility of modeling new configurations and shattering previous systems while refusing all fixity––and history can then be swayed by all sorts of agencies, from wind and water to citizens’ rage.