to­tal re­call

Mex­ico’s Mario Gar­cía Tor­res ex­plores the strange sideroads and dead­ends of art his­tory

Wallpaper - - Contents - ‘Mario Gar­cía Tor­res: Il­lu­sion Brought Me Here’ is at the Walker Art Cen­ter, Min­neapo­lis, from 25 Oc­to­ber-17 Feb­ru­ary, walk­er­art.org ; neuger­riem­schnei­der.com

Mex­i­can artist Mario Gar­cía Tor­res ex­plores the sideroads of art his­tory

In Septem­ber 1969, the Amer­i­can mag­a­zine Art­news pub­lished a cryp­tic fea­ture about a young, over­looked artist named Os­car Neuestern. It de­scribed the rare am­nesic con­di­tion he suf­fered, which pre­vented him from re­mem­ber­ing his work from any pre­vi­ous day, and so open­ing his prac­tice to per­pet­ual rein­ven­tion.

‘Why was I telling you this story?’ asks Mario Gar­cía Tor­res, frown­ing, as if his own mem­ory was sud­denly fail­ing him. The Mex­i­can artist is gear­ing up for his first US sur­vey at Min­neapo­lis’ Walker Art Cen­ter. It fea­tures some 35 works – old and new – span­ning video, pho­tog­ra­phy, in­stal­la­tion and per­for­mance. ‘I’m happy not re­mem­ber­ing things,’ he con­cludes. ‘With­out mem­ory, you can ex­pe­ri­ence things in a dif­fer­ent way,’ he says, a nod to Mar­cel Duchamp’s claim that he de­sired to live with­out mem­ory.

As it turned out, Os­car Neuestern was a prod­uct of fic­tion – a satir­i­cal swipe at early con­cep­tu­al­ism. Gar­cía Tor­res stum­bled across the ar­ti­cle by chance at Calarts’ Li­brary in Los An­ge­les, where he stud­ied in the early 2000s. And it had a pro­found ef­fect. ‘I started to re­alise what the power of fic­tion was,’ says the artist, now 43. Soon, he would turn the anec­dote into art: The Trans­paren­cies of the Non-act (2007), a silent vis­ual work made of black and white slides, ques­tion­ing the role of artists in the build­ing of his­tory.

The ap­pro­pri­a­tion of nar­ra­tives has since be­come a cen­tral strat­egy for Gar­cía Tor­res to ex­am­ine the

lim­i­ta­tions of mem­ory. Take What Hap­pens in Hal­i­fax

Stays in Hal­i­fax (2004-2006), which re­vis­its a late 1960s art school ex­per­i­ment. The Amer­i­can artist Robert Barry had been in­vited by the Nova Sco­tia Col­lege of Art and De­sign to help stu­dents re­alise a non-ma­te­rial work of art. Barry’s brief was sim­ple: the group would agree on an idea, and this idea would be the work – as long as it didn’t leave the group. Fas­ci­nated by the project, Gar­cía Tor­res went search­ing for the stu­dents in­volved in the ex­per­i­ment, deter­mined to find out whether the con­cep­tual work still ex­isted. He man­aged to gather the group – or what was left of it – back in Hal­i­fax, as part of a com­mis­sion for the Baltic Tri­en­nial of In­ter­na­tional Art. Much to the Mex­i­can artist’s de­light, the se­cret had been kept and, there­fore, the art­work was still alive. But the rea­son for its sur­vival was not what he ex­pected. ‘For them, the piece was not about ma­te­ri­al­i­sa­tion, or even about art,’ says Gar­cía Tor­res. ‘It was about friend­ship, and mem­ory.’ His long­ing to re­visit un­der-doc­u­mented artis­tic mo­ments then took him to Kabul, on what be­came one of his most am­bi­tious projects. His in­ter­est in the work of Ital­ian con­cep­tu­al­ist Alighiero Boetti – specif­i­cally the pe­riod when he ran the in­fa­mous One Ho­tel in the Afghan cap­i­tal, where he cre­ated his em­blem­atic Mappa (1971-1973), a se­ries of em­broi­dered maps of the world in the form of Afghan rugs – led to eight years of ob­ses­sive in­ves­ti­ga­tions. The re­sult­ing works in­cluded a fic­tional fax-cor­re­spon­dence with the late Boetti and pho­to­graphic slide shows of Kabul, and cul­mi­nated with the es­say film Tea, doc­u­ment­ing Gar­cía Tor­res’ 2010 visit to Boetti’s now-de­funct ho­tel. ‘You ar­rive at the place, and you’re fi­nally closer to your idea,’ he says. ‘But at the same time, ev­ery­thing’s gone.’

Gar­cía Tor­res’ take on time and mem­ory weaves the ad­vances of the past with the prom­ises of the fu­ture. The video art­work Tetela (2015) de­picts the aban­doned Cen­tro de Med­itación in Santa María Ahua­cati­tlán, a vil­lage south of Mex­ico City. De­signed in 1986 by Mex­i­can ar­chi­tect Agustín Hernán­dez, the build­ing fuses pre-colom­bian iconog­ra­phy with fu­tur­is­tic fea­tures. The video tells the story of two ru­ral boys who stum­ble across the con­crete struc­ture, and qui­etly ex­plore its ru­ins. ‘It’s a kind of fic­tional doc­u­men­ta­tion of the ex­pe­ri­ence of the work,’ ex­plains Gar­cía Tor­res of his film, which was pre­ceded by a site-spe­cific ex­hi­bi­tion of his paint­ings and bronze sculp­tures.

From artists to ar­chi­tects, Gar­cía Tor­res un­earths cul­tural fig­ures that of­fer al­ter­na­tive his­to­ries of Western thought. ‘That’s what I’ve been do­ing all my life,’ he says, ‘try­ing to build friend­ships with some­body who’s dead, or away. That’s why I do re­search, be­cause that’s the only way you can get close to them.’

‘Mario is one of the most com­pelling con­cep­tual artists of his gen­er­a­tion,’ says Vin­cenzo de Bel­lis, co-cu­ra­tor of the artist’s up­com­ing sur­vey at the Walker. ‘He is very im­por­tant to­day, when there is a ten­dency to present more tra­di­tional me­dia or to in­ves­ti­gate ex­tremely con­tem­po­rary prac­tices,’ he says, point­ing to the cur­rent frenzy around post-in­ter­net art.

And while the in­ten­tion is as so­phis­ti­cated as the ex­e­cu­tion is rig­or­ous, the seem­ing lack of di­ver­sity in the artist’s cho­sen sub­jects could raise a few eye­brows. How have fe­male fig­ures shaped his work? ‘Very lit­tle,’ ad­mits Gar­cía Tor­res, be­fore an anec­dote comes to mind. In early 1960s Venezuela, a group of ac­tivists stormed into Cara­cas’ Museo de Bel­las Artes, steal­ing five French paint­ings from a tour­ing ex­hi­bi­tion to bring at­ten­tion to po­lit­i­cal re­pres­sion in the coun­try. Nancy Zam­brano, a mem­ber of the group, had (briefly) taken a small work from Cézanne’s The Bathers se­ries. Nearly half a cen­tury later, Gar­cía Tor­res tracked down the mas­ter­piece at the Musée d’or­say and ar­ranged for it to be tem­po­rar­ily taken out of stor­age. He then met with Zam­brano in Paris and, to­gether, went to re­dis­cover the paint­ing – a shared jour­ney into their own per­sonal and po­lit­i­cal mem­o­ries. ‘A small ges­ture,’ he says.

Artist Mario Gar­cía Tor­res on the roof of his stu­dio in the Cha­pul­te­pec dis­trict of Mex­ico City

A blue paint­ing is ready to be shipped to Min­neapo­lis’ Walker Art Cen­ter for Gar­cía Tor­res’ up­com­ing ex­hi­bi­tion. Shown in a se­ries, each blue paint­ing will have a ti­tle, Vimeo link and pass­word, en­abling the viewer to watch a video work by the artist

Stills from Gar­cía Tor­res’ 2015 Tetela video art­work, shot at an aban­doned med­i­ta­tion cen­tre in a vil­lage near Mex­ico City

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