In her third solo exhibition at Galerie Barbara Wien, Mariana Castillo Deball is driven by her project Who will measure the space, who will tell me the time? (2015).
The sculptures of the project were first shown in the Museo de arte contemporáneo de Oaxaca (Mexico)(1), then in France, at Musée Régional d'Art Contemporain Languedoc-Roussillon (Sérignan).(2) The presence of the columns is developed further in the Berlin exhibition Reliefpfeiler, benefitting from the selection and composition of the other works on display. They are accompanied by a series of drawings and the fourth issue of the artist's collaborative research journal Ixiptla (here dedicated to poetry and published in November 2015 by Wiens Verlag and Bom Dia Boa Tarde Boa Noite in Berlin).
The initial question for the project was what relationship the Atzompa potters have with their archeological heritage and how it is expressed, contaminated or dissolved in the present. Far away from taking a purist stance, this work began with a series of discussions on the copies, forgeries, style changes and influences in the history of Mexican archeology. Together with Kythzia Barrera from the institution Innovando la tradición and the family Martínez Alarzón from Atzompa, Deball visited the archaeological museum Rufino Tamayo and selected their favorite pieces. To this set of pieces, they added a lot of nuts and gears found in Ramiro Alarzón's workshop, also a whipping top, a ball, and other belongings, to form a repertoire, a vocabulary to tell own stories.
The procedure was similar to the surrealist exquisite corpse, Chinese whispers or any other assembly or gossip that adds fragments gradually. The group split in two. The main exercise was to develop a story of two varieties: one that would take place over one hundred years and one that would span just one day.The collaborators ended up with two stories of the origin of the Universe in the two different timespans. Deball writes: "The two stories are almost the same, which got us thinking. Then came the story of the journey of a potter, since he wakes up at dawn to prepare the clay until he finishes the pieces, burns them, and then leaves to sell them in order to buy corn to eat. And then every character became clay, and we ordered them in columns to reach the ceiling, so visitors can surround the stories of top-down and bottom-up."
As is her habit, Deball prefers to pose questions rather than offer answers, generating a space for collaboration and discussion. Indeed, each of the columns constitutes a material response to the two questions:
– How to tell the story of the universe in a hundred years?
– How to tell the story of the universe in one day?
Thus, we are facing elevated rebuses. Several patterns can be identified among the different ceramic modules: pre-Hispanic figures (from Rufino Tamayo's museum collection in Oaxaca), screws, toys or even Brancusi's famous rhomboids from the Endless Column. Pottery is the central trade among the population of Atzompa, and the columns play with this ancient tradition to question authenticity, displacing the craft within contemporary art contexts. Somehow, archeological fantasies fix the evolution of ceramic craft. Mingling the traditional and the contemporary in a grotesque hybridization, Who will measure the space, who will tell me the time? re-appropriates and releases a repertoire of patterns. These expressions defy a simulated or merely intellectual encounter between craft and contemporary art. Here, indeed, the two realms do not collide, but are instead produced within each other.
As an alphabetic tic, we compulsively attempt to decipher meaning within the patterns, reading them as words that constitute a coherent sentence. However, the columns are not comprehensive puzzles, but instead propose an alternative system. Even as the columns embody "grand narratives" (here the "story of the universe"), subjectivity renders the answers arbitrary. Who will measure the space, who will tell me the time? could be seen as a playful re-appropriation of "universal history" through local and individual imaginaries. Thus, Deball challenges linear coherence to allow for a discontinuous narrative where ancient and contemporary, history and myth, true and false, authentic and replica meet. The trope of verticality (which appears throughout the exhibition, notably in the drawings) is significant here. It offers an interesting alternative to horizontal linearity, which is privileged in Western spheres as representative of time and history (for example, the chronological frieze to be read from left to right). Palindromic, the vertical column works both ways, defining neither beginning nor end.
In Reliefpfeiler, Castillo Deball does not comment on "grand narratives" themselves but rather reflects on the different systems that generate their representations. Thereby, she draws from several modes of language and their histories, creating a tension where images, reliefs, matter, colors, words and composition become interrelated.
(1) ''Quién me dirá el espacio, quién me dirá el momento ?'', Museo de arte contemporáneo de Oaxaca maco, Oaxaca, Mexico, 24.01. - 20.04.2015
(2) ''Cronotopo'', Musée Régional d'Art Contemporain Languedoc-Roussillon, Sérignan, France, 28.06. - 30.08.2015
(press release in collaboration with Gauthier Lesturgie)
Press release courtesy Barbara Wien.