Alejandro Gómez Arias | Gina Arizpe | Patricia Carrillo Carrera | Virginia Colwell | Arcángel Constantini | Iván Edeza | Fritzia Irizar | Jason Mena | Roy Meuwissen | Yoshua Okón | Miguel Rodríguez Sepúlveda
Curator: Bárbara Perea
In the wake of the recent and tense renegotiation of this three-way treaty, the growing humanitarian immigration crisis, and draconian border policies enacted by the current US administration, this exhibition presents a critical and transhistorical analysis of economic exchange in the region through the lens of contemporary art practices. The artists included in the exhibition explore the links between Canadian mining interests and organized crime, the effects of Big Sugar on the post-NAFTA diet, the necropolitical instrumentalization of populations in service to the drug trade, and other entangled undercurrents of this pact.
Virginia Colwell’s blue-ink rendering of Arturo “El Negro” Durazo’s mansion on the coast of Guerrero, Mexico provides a point of entry to the intricate and entangled relationship between Mexico’s corrupt power structure and the illicit drug trade with the United States, which began in earnest in the late 70’s under the auspices of pioneering cartel leader Rafael Caro Quintero. During the Reagan administration, the CIA brokered several covert gun-running and drug-trafficking operations to bolster guerrillas fighting in Central America for which it relied on Caro Quintero, one of the key operatives in this scheme, who in turn was closely linked to his protector and business associate, the then chief-of-police of Mexico City, “El Negro” Durazo. Durazo amassed a fortune from his illicit dealings, most prominently exemplified by his classically-inspired ‘Parthenon’ mansion, an extravagant and eccentric tribute to his ambitions modeled on the architecture most representative of power and democracy in the US, which it both echoes and mocks. The scale of Durazo’s operation paled in comparison to the transnational incorporated interests of cartels in the post-NAFTA period, which nonetheless are rooted in Quintero’s early efforts and those of his successors. Incidentally, Colwell’s father was the FBI agent responsible for Durazo’s eventual capture in Puerto Rico.
Works such as Miguel Rodríguez Sepúlveda’s Elegy and (Re)Percussion offer a glimpse into current circumstances linking local government to criminal activity, or more pointedly, underscoring how governmental bodies are increasingly indistinguishable from criminal organizations. Using die-stamp letters, his inscription of the phrase I do deserve abundance on a series of one peso coins refers to Karime Macías, wife of the now incarcerated former governor of Veracruz Javier Duarte, who was prosecuted in 2018 on corruption, money laundering and fraud charges. This aspirational and now infamous phrase was handwritten by Macías hundreds of times in a set of notebooks found among their possessions when their properties were seized. The coins used for the work were issued between 1970-1983, a period roughly corresponding with the presidency of José López Portillo, under whose administration the peso suffered the first of many subsequent devaluations that essentially marked the end of the so-called Mexican Economic Miracle.
Currency, profit and the tracing and disappearance of money trails left by both legal and illegal trade is one of the underlying themes of the exhibition. Jason Mena’s Untitled (Moneybags), a large canvas composed of bags used by American banks to transport currency and purchased via the informal market, acquires the auratic quality of a shroud imbued with the essence of money. The indexical marks on the raw cotton, evidentiary and quasi-forensic, reconstruct the trajectories of each individual bag, establishing a narrative recounted through stains, creases and seals. The canvas, literally ‘rubbed by money’, also makes an explicit commentary on value and the art market by creating a metaphor and palimpsest of use-value versus exchange-value through the materials employed.
Closely related to this work is Fritzia Irizar’s Untitled (200 Peso Bill Dust), where all the identifying marks of green-colored 200 peso bills have been sanded off and collected as pigment, thereby initiating a commentary on not only value per se but also indirectly referencing strategies of extraction, de- and revaluation, and disappearance. Likewise, Alejandro Gómez Arias’ effective erasure of all the markings on a stack of one hundred blue-colored 20 peso bills in Money laundering / The impossibility of loss of value offers another perspective on value, inflation, and the untraceability of illicit monetary exchange.
Unlike strategies of invisibilization, flags, crests and emblems as bold symbols of national and corporate identity are also present throughout the exhibition. The newly commissioned Terra Incognita by Roy Meuwissen borrows formal cues from the European Union flag to propose a NAFTA banner emblematic of North America’s three trading partners. It further pairs each country in the block with the Freudian psychoanalytic concepts of Id, Ego, & Superego by playing up the stereotypical associations of each country’s national identity as well as their interrelation laid bare through this association.
A reproduction of a mid-19th century Pedro Gualdi canvas painted just months after the US-Mexico war depicts the National Palace in Mexico City’s main square in 1847 where, tellingly, the flag waving from the house of government bears the stars and stripes—the ultimate symbol of victory and, by extension, domination. Included as part of another work by Meuwissen, entitled Those with Loaded Guns and Those Who Dig: Geography Notes Revisited, the video component cites works by Jane Jacobs and Allan Sekula to unsettle predominantly held assumptions about the construction of Canadian cultural identity by delving into the ambiguous imagery used on Canadian currency, and exploring how the country’s economic history is inextricably tied to resource extraction, including power shifts within Canada resulting from these entanglements.
In turn, Alejandro Gómez Arias’ insignias and crests combine the logos of Canadian-owned mining companies operating in Mexico with the symbols used by the cartels with whom they closely collaborate for enforcement, protection and other security tasks. The pendant bears a logo designed using imagery from the Jalisco Nueva Generación Cartel and Amarium Minerals Inc., emulating heraldry to signal the marriage of two ‘houses’ in the lucrative resource extraction business.
Another activity explored from pre- and post-NAFTA perspectives is cotton-growing, as undertaken in works by Gina Arizpe and Patricia Carrillo Carreras, tracing intertwined histories, diasporas and displacement through untold narratives. Carrillo traces the lineage of escaped slaves as told by the last descendants of Mascogos in Coahuila in her documentary film, Gertrudis Blues and Arizpe analyzes the effects caused by the shift of cotton-growing in Chihuahua to the maquila manufacturing model and the subsequent vulnerabilization of women, particularly in Ciudad Juárez.
From a Mexican perspective, the implementation of NAFTA marked a turning point where the potential for dialing back neoliberal economic policies first implemented in the country during the 1980s became impossible. The dismantling of state-owned enterprises and national industries that began during this period had as end-goal the eventual privatization of Mexico’s entire energy sector with the formerly nationalized oil industry as its ultimate prize. The outmoded Mexican oil industry, mired in corruption, relying on decades-old technology, and unable to refine oil in scalable quantities resulted in fuel imports from the US to supply the domestic market, and rapidly became a sector primed for infiltration by organized crime. The subsequent syphoning of pipelines used to transport fuel across the country has since become an everyday occurrence, and a black market for selling gasoline has emerged as a lucrative enterprise for new criminal organizations. Nefarious aspects of this subject are underscored in Ivan Edeza’s video installation 20:44:27, depicting a confrontation of fuel-theft groups with the Mexican Army using appropriated CCTV footage which captured an extrajudicial execution that was subsequently leaked to news sources.
Finally, the juxtaposition of pre- and post-NAFTA foodstuffs is at play in Yoshua Okon’s Freedom Fries (Still Life), where a morbidly obese model lounges on a Macdonald’s table in contrast with Arcángel Constantini’s Corn/Plastic/Corn, a tautological multiple made with the plastic obtained from GMO corn.