6/18 Grants Bldg, 2nd Floor, Opposite Basilico Restaurant, Arthur Bunder Road, Colaba, 400005 Mumbai, India
Gallery Lakeeren is a spare, compact space. But over the years one has come to expect to spend a longer time at the gallery than the time it should take to negotiate this small space. Gallerist Arshiya Lokhandwala brings her training in art history into every show she curates, making this one of the handful of galleries where the vision and execution of ideas come cohesively from within.
In the current show, ‘Transcendental Evocations’, the first show of contemporary Mexican art in the city, six artists – Eric Meyenberg, Maximo Gonzalez, Ale de la Puenta, Roberto de la Torre, Lorena Mal and Armando Miguelez, practicing in Mexico city, showcase their work. It’s a rich experience, conceptually sound, a successful blend of the visual and political, making a vibrant connection with issues that abound in India and foregrounding the commonality in the kind of strife that faces both countries.
Transcendental Evocations, installation view, Gallery Lakeeren, Mumbai, 2013.
DS: Transcendental Evocations, the title, holds out an invite to enter this world of Mexican art with the promise of being transported, not quite geographically but metaphysically... What made you name the show thus and why does Mexico feature in your gallery?
AL: For some time now I have been observing the Mexican art scene. I find their art most compelling as it seems to nail both: the political and the aesthetic. As you know Lakeeren Gallery’s mandate is to present avant-garde art that challenges art practice that is not tied to the idea of the nation. Hence, I was not interested in representing the current contemporary scene of Mexican art, but instead to bridge a connection with India and showcase specific works that address certain issues of significance. Mexico and Mumbai are antipodes; they are on exactly the opposite sides of the globe. Also, both our cultures, Mexican and Indian, have been highly evolved in astronomy, astrology, mathematics and science. In some senses the show attempts to forge a dialogue that has not taken place, by forced engagement of the present within a transcendental [mode].
DS: There are four videos in this show – each visually engaging to a layperson on their own, yet, dig deeper, and there's social, political, geographical and historical content. There's an effective meld between the visual and the content in this show – a success curatorially. Could you tell us a bit more about the choice of artists?
AL: Thank you! For me the show really began with meeting Ale de la Puente in July, on a curatorial visit to Mexico this year. Her work set the tone for the show, as she investigates the infinite of the universe, looking to create metaphors that let us experience the presence of the invisible. I thought this, as a very exciting line of investigation which was also challenging for me as a curator not familiar with Mexican art, allowed me to move beyond representing Mexican culture into the realm of grappling with something larger and essential. The other artists’ oeuvres interestingly posed similar questions, therefore the show took place organically, as the works fitted together to forge a large connection between themselves, and also created a connection with India, which I thought was important. Prima facie, seeing the show, the works seem to be bordering on abstraction. Abstract act often is considered a-political. Therefore I really enjoyed the subversive strategy of the artists, to draw on the subliminal and speak of the deeper issues that resonate within both Mexican and Indian society.
Erick Meyenberg,Étude taxonomique-comparative entre les castes de la Nouvelle Espagne et celles du Mexique Contemporain, (Taxonomical-Comparative Study between the Castes of the Kingdom of New Spain and the those of Today's Mexico), Video, 6'57'', Colour/stereo, 2010; Courtesy of the artist and Lakeeren Art Gallery
DS: Eric Meyenberg's work speaks so much of colonial history – something that resonates with India, yet the expression in his work is not lugubrious or filled with baggage – he brings the past into present society; in this very contemporary work he makes a succinct comment on Mexico today. Tell us something about this work.
AL: I think Eric Meyenberg’svideo Taxonomical-Comparative Study is a refreshing work that powerfully addresses the issue of racism/casteism in Mexico through colors and the amalgamation of sounds that he has abstracted that resonate a certain violence. His work critiques the ethnological attempts to neatly classify “race” and “dream Mexican” as a common identity. He defiantly through this video embodies his sound and light installation, using the LED colors red, green and blue (RGB), which stand for the indigenous people, blacks, and white Europeans; illuminated at the same time and with the same intensity, they result in a mixed color – white, something which according to the artist we never move away from in Mexico. This work is metaphorical, so allows us to revisit casteism in India; similarly it is something we are aware of, but never speak about publicly.
DS: Armando Miguelez and Maximo Gonzalez are not Mexican, but have subtle comments on situations that exist in both Mexico and India for that matter...
AL: Totally! Armando is of Spanish origin, born in Arizona in what was former Mexico and also studied art in Mexico. He has also been raised in India, having lived here as a child and done several years of schooling here. Hence his work Edificabilidadclosely resonates his two connections mediated through him, Mexico City and Mumbai, through an architectural portrayal of the cities, evoking a haptic connection between the two, moving away from the materiality of the structure to transcend into an existential premise. On a comparative note, Maximo Gonzalez, born and raised in Argentina but currently living in Mexico City, exhibits a poetic but poignant piece: I’m hungry written on several rice grains on the wall. This minimal work is almost always missed in the show, which is the point of the piece really, that hunger is everywhere, but we choose not to see it.
Armando Miguélez, "Edificabilidad", Ink on aluminum, 6x8 inch each; 2013; Courtesy of the artist and Lakeeren Art Gallery
DS: As a curator, does it matter that visitors enquire into the works more? How does your role as a historian influence you as a gallerist in conceiving the show and in its execution?
AL: All the works in the show are heavily loaded with a political subtext. Wall text and explanations of the work are necessary. I think this show is conceived as a curatorial exhibition informing the viewer on a particular perspective of Mexico. No compromise has been made regarding the choice of work or installation for this endeavor. It is indeed challenging to exhibit Mexican art in a gallery, resulting from the limited possibility of sales given that Indian collectors primarily buy Indian art. However, Lakeeren firmly affirms that the work it showcases, should be, and is, collectable art. It does attempt to educate audiences and considers art and politics to be synonymous. Lakeeren’s program is challenging as it attempts to shift perceptions about art and the world and undertakes this within the challenging space of a gallery.
However, Transcendental Evocations has received a tremendous response, which is encouraging. The Mumbai viewers have been able to connect with the works and enjoyed the complexities and the visual aesthetics that the works offer.
DS: Do you consider the hang of a show important such that a viewer could make connections between works – the hang being a visual aid?
AL: Yes, hanging the show well is a very important part of a successful exhibition. For me, curatorially, a good exhibition is one that makes both conceptual and visual connections. Hanging Transcendental Evocations was challenging, as there were many kinds of media and works to accommodate in a limited space. I considered the various juxtapositions and associations before placing the work. For example Eric Meyenberg’s video and Maximo Gonzales’ rice work I’m hungry refer to what is not spoken about in both Mexican and Indian society and played off each other. As did Ale de la Puente’s and Lorena Mal’s works; I think the hang worked as the dynamic, and juxtapositions of each of the works resonated with each other. The associations contributing to the larger central thesis of the show, that which could be considered as overlooked, allow the politics to enter the work at a subliminal level, making it all the more potent and significant.
DS: There's a performance to be held in the gallery...
AL: I am happy that Mexican artist Roberto de la Torre is currently in Mumbai and is going to make several actions or reflections on the city this week. It is inspiring to have him here during the show, as his actions also make us see something, which we have overlooked in our society.
(Image: Máximo González, "Tengo Hambre" (I'm hungry), 2005-2013, grains of rice, black ink, crystal capsules, Dimensions variable; Courtesy of the artist and Lakeeren Art Gallery.)