Mexico City

View of “Gabriel Rico: I May Use an Electric Drill, but I Also Use a Hammer,” 2021. From left: Can you smell maths? (Pink Deer), 2021; Can you smell maths? (Watermelon Oryx), 2021. Photo: Fernando Marroquin.

View of “Gabriel Rico: I May Use an Electric Drill, but I Also Use a Hammer,” 2021. From left: Can you smell maths? (Pink Deer), 2021; Can you smell maths? (Watermelon Oryx), 2021. Photo: Fernando Marroquin.

Gabriel Rico

The fox is elusive. Or maybe it’s a coyote? It’s hard to tell, because the 3D modeling is less than perfect, plus I’m chasing it with an iPad using augmented-reality visualization. Its ambiguous coyoteness brings to mind The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge (1968), a work of fiction that Carlos Castaneda passed off as thrilling anthropology back in the golden era of New Age California. In the book, Castaneda hears that “there are things that appear to be coyotes, but are not.” But, instead of guiding the viewer toward the depths of the universe, the fox merely strolls around the gallery. Evenly spaced sticks cover the walls, and similarly sized rocks are scattered around the floor. In the middle of the room stand two taxidermied animals: an ordinary deer and a more exotic African oryx. Between its long, straight horns the oryx holds a couple of colorful soccer balls, a rugby ball, a baseball, and some of those colorful plastic balls children and dogs are always asking for. The deer likewise carries on his antlers a soccer ball, a basketball, and several more of those novelty balls. In the AR visualization, thought bubbles pop out of the animals’ heads—they are deep thinkers. In fact, they quote a dialogue between anthropologist Karin Knorr Cetina and science ethnographer Klaus Amann, published in the former’s influential book Epistemic Cultures: How the Sciences Make Knowledge (1999). The rocks on the floor communicate via speech bubbles, too, offering similarly complex quotations from Eugene O’Connor’s translation of Greek philosopher Epicurus: “Infinite time contains the same amount of pleasure as finite time, if one measures the limits of pleasure by reason.”

Welcome to Gabriel Rico’s exhibition “I May Use an Electric Drill, but I Also Use a Hammer.” Rico, like Castaneda, claims inspiration from the cosmovisions of the Yaqui, Huichol, Mayo, and Seri peoples, and from their material culture as well. The upstairs gallery contains three painting-like works informed by the Huichol tradition of coating boards with beeswax and then snugly embedding thread or beads within it to form intricate, brightly colorful scenes usually referencing the culture’s mythology. In his version, Rico uses shiny thread to shape flat pastel backgrounds on which versions of his pieces downstairs coexist among trees and cacti: deer with different types of balls on their antlers or with soccer balls for faces, rocks thinking of sausages and cigarettes. The exercise feels redundant, and the use of such a historied spiritual technique doesn’t quite suit the subject matter. Something similar happens with the sculptures distributed around the room, a group of five similar pieces carved from cedar and painted with oils paint. All of their bottom halves are logs functioning as pedestals for clusters of cartoonishly rendered objects—a fly, a parachute, a brain, and a microscope in one; a molecule, a steak, a Coke bottle, and a pirate’s skull in another—intersecting white geometric shapes.

The disparate and the contradictory seem to be the themes of the show, which is at the same time self-serious and aspirationally polymathic, yet visually shoddy: The AR looks very much like GeoCities-era GIF art, the taxidermied animals and the balls come off as a twice-told joke, and the wooden sculptures seem half-baked. The works appear to uphold staunch binaries—natural versus artificial, human versus animal, spiritual versus secular, the digital versus the material—and even to relish existing within them remains unclear. But whether Rico is attempting to unify those polarities or is merely exploring them. A distance grows between the objects in the gallery and the complex physics and metaphysics imposed on them, and the rocky relationship between the artist’s conceptual intentions and the material results inevitably causes any coherence to fall apart. The objects look awkward, punny, and detached. If only we could get some guidance from the wandering fox!