Mariana Castillo Deball
Born in México City, 1975
Lives and works in Berlin
Postgraduate program Jan Van Eyck Academie, Maastricht, The Netherlands
MA Philosophy. Iberoamerican University, Mexico, DF
MA Fine art. National University of Mexico
Awards and Residencies
Premio ARCO Comunidad de Madrid para jóvenes artistas, Madrid, Spain
Preis der Nationalgalerie für junge Kunst, Berlin, Germany
Zürich Art Prize, Museum Haus Konstruktiv, Zürich, Switzerland
Cove Park, Henry Moore Foundation, Scotland, UK
DAAD, grant, Artist-in-Berlin Programme, Germany
Residency at Capacete, Sao Paolo, Brasil. July-October, 2010
Ars viva award, 2009. Exhibitions at Museum Wiesbaden, Kölnischer Kunstverein, Cologne, Germany
Migros Museum, Zürich, Switzerland
Residency at Capacete, Rio de Janeiro, Brasil. March-June, 2009
22e ateliers internationaux of Frac des Pays de la Loire, France
Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation, grant
Prix de Rome / first prize. Amsterdam, NL
Bourse for postgraduate studies CONACULTA (National Council for the Culture and Arts), México
Young artists bourse. National Council for the Culture and Arts, México
Bourse Unesco/Ashberg. Vila Nova de Cerveira, Portugal
CA2M (Centro de Arte Dos de Mayo) , Móstoles, Madrid, Spain
Guggenheim Museum, New York, USA
Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, Spain
ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen) Stuttgart, Germany
Museum of Modern Art, New York, USA
JUMEX Collection, Mexico City, Mexico
Kunsthalle St. Gallen, Schwitzerland
Castello di Rivoli, Turin, Italy
The Fundación Cisneros/colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros (FC/CPPC), Caracas/New York
Museo Amparo, Puebla, Mexico
Museum für Gegenwartskunst Siegen, Germany
Kadist Art Foundation, San Francisco
Parergon. Kat. (Dt./Engl.).Hrsg. v. Hamburger Bahnhof Berlin. Contributions by: Kirsty Bell, Dario Gamboni, Melanie Roumiguière & Mariana Castillo Deball, Köln 2014
Uncomfortable Objects, Hrsg. v. Mariana Castillo Deball, Haus Konstruktiv Zürich, Berlin 2012
Finding Oneself Outside: Unconfortable Objects, published on the occasion of dOCUMENTA (13), bom dia boa tarde boa noite, 2012
Never Odd Or Even. Vol. II, Bom Dia Boa Tarde Boa Noite, Berlin 2011
Coyote Anthropology: A Conversaton in words and drawings, dOCUMENTA (13), 2011
Philosophical Transactions, Uqbar Foundation, 2009
Kaleidoscopic Eye, Kunst halle Sankt Gallen, 2009
Fuga di un piano. Manifesta 7, Rovereto, Italy, 2008
Estas Ruinas que ves/These Ruins you see. Museo Carrillo Gil/CONACULTA, México 2008
A for Alibi, Uqbar Foundation/Sternberg press, 2007
Today: November 30, 2006. Newspaper
Today: November 20, 2005. Newspaper
Interlude: The reader’s traces. Jan van Eyck Academie / revolver, 2005
Never odd or Even. Marres, center for contemporary art/revolver, 2005
An interview with a goalkeeper about chance, intelligence and humour. Jan van Eyck Academie, 2003
Time containers. Hochschule für bildende Künste, Hamburg, 2004
Rocket scientists breakfast. Contribution for D-magazine, 2003
An interview with a goalkeeper about chance, intelligence and humour. Jan van Eyck Academie. In the context of the show To look for a needle in a haystack, 2003
No one can win against kipple. In collaboration with Hubert Czerepok. Maastricht, NL: Jan van Eyck Academie, 2003
Interlude: The reader’s traces. Poster and inserts in the context of the library project. Contributions by: Paul Elliman,Dario Gamboni, Raimundas Malasauskas, Harry Mathews, Peter Piller, Manuel Raeder, Steve Rushton, Enrique Vila-Matas, 2003
Penser/Classer. Edited by the Jan van Eyck Academie, 2002
Monuments Vilnius In Early Edition of the 24/7 newspaper (exh. cat.: 24/7 Wilno – Nueva York, Visa Para). Vilnius. LT: Contemporary Art Centre (CAC)
Monuments or souvenirs. In Proceeding #1: DAKAR 5-19/05/2002 (pp. 136-141). Maastricht, NL: Jan van Eyck Academie
Artist’s books. Edition with Martha Hellion and Issa Maria Benítez. Turner, 2003
Solo Exhibitions / Einzelausstellungen
Mariana Castillo Deball: Feathered Changes, Serpent Disappearances, Walter and McBean Galleries, San Francisco Art Institute, USA
Reliefpfeiler, Galerie Barbara Wien, Berlin, Germany
Chronotopo, Musée Régional D‘Art Contemporain Languedoc-Roussillon, Sérignan, France
¿Quién medirá el espacio, quién me dirá el momento?, Museo de arte contemporáneo de oaxaca maco, Oaxaca, Mexico
Parergon, Ausstellung zum Preis der Nationalgalerie 2013, Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin, Germany
Palavra e pedra solta não têm volta, Mendes Wood, Sala Leste, São Paulo, Brazil
TEOR/éTica, San José, Costa Rica
CCA Glasgow, Scotland, UK
Chisenhale Gallery London, UK
Zürich art prize, Haus Konstruktiv, Zürich, Switzerland
We are silently illiterate, Galerie Barbara Wien, Berlin, Germany
Este desorden construido, autoriza geológicas sorpresas a la memoria más abandonada, Museo experimental El Eco, Mexico City, Mexico
Figures don’t lie but liar can figure, Pink Summer, Genova, Italy
Between you and the image of you that reaches me, Museum of Latinoamerican Art, Long Beach, CA
Solo show, SCHAU ORT Elisabeth Kaufmann + Christiane Buentgen, Zürich, Switzerland
Kaleidoscopic Eye, Kunsthalle Sankt Gallen, Switzerland
DO UT DES. Objectif_exhibitions, Antwerp, Belgium
Nobody was tomorrow, Galerie Barbara Wien, Berlin, Germany
Estas Ruinas que ves, Museum of Contemporary Art Carrillo Gil, Mexico City, Mexico
Time takes no time in a story, Adamski gallery, Aachen, Germany
Institute of Chance, Prix de Rome, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam
Never odd or Even, Marres, Center for Contemporary Art, Maastricht, NL
Interlude: The reader’s traces. Intervention in the National library in Paris, Public library in New York and the National library in Berlin. Contributions by: Paul Elliman, Hubert Czerepok, Dario Gamboni, Raimundas Malasauskas, Harry Mathews, Peter Piller, Manuel Raeder, Steve Rushton, Enrique Vila-Matas
To look for a needle in a haystack, Stephan Adamsky Gallery, Aachen, Germany
Nine chains to the moon, Jan van Eyck Academie, Maastricht, NL
The wall and the books: 987 words stolen from a library, Library and gallery space
Jan van Eyck Academie, Maastricht, NL
Stochastic Archives, Sala de Arte Público Siqueiros, México DF
Group Exhibitions / Gruppenausstellungen
Tamawuj, Sharjah Biennial 13, Sharjah, UAE
Riddles of the Burial Grounds, Extra City, Antwerp, Belgium
Another Reality. After Lina Bo Bardi, Stroom Den Haag, The Netherlands
All Heritage is Poetry, Fundacao Eugénio de Almeida, Evora, Portugal
(upcoming)Grazer Kunstverein, Graz, Austria
(upcoming)Liverpool Biennial, UK
(upcoming)SITE, Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA
(upcoming)Aichi Triennial "Rainbow Caravan", Aichi, Japan
(upcoming)32nd Bienal de São Paulo – "Incerteza viva [Live Uncertainty]"
Storylines: Contemporary Art at the Guggenheim, Guggenheim Museum, New York, USA
Riddle of the Burial Grounds, Project Arts Center, Dublin, Ireland
The Art of Preservation, Draiflessen Collection, Mettingen, Germany
Biennial of the Americas, Denver, Colorado, USA
Beyond Borders , Beaufort Triennial of contemporary art by the sea , 5th edition, Beaufort, Belgium
Suppleness and Rigidity – The Art of the Fold, Kunstraum Alexander Bürkle, Freiburg, Germany
Panorama, High Line Art, New York, USA
Sebald Variations, CCCB centre de Cultura Contemporania de Barcelona, Spain
The Parliament of Things, Firstsite, Colchester, UK
Ce qui ne sert pas s’oublie, CAPC musée d‘art contemporain de Bordeaux, France
8th Berlin Biennale, Germany
Under the Same Sun: Art from Latin America Today, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation and UBS,New York, USA
Everything is About to Happen: An ongoing archive of artists´s books selected by Gregorio Magnani,Corvi-Mora, London, UK
The Way of the Shovel: Art as Archaeology, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, USA
how to write II, Galerie Wien Lukatsch, Berlin, Germany
Preis der Nationalgalerie für junge Kunst / 2013 Young Art Prize, Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin
Arqueológicas, Matadero, Madrid, Spain
dOCUMENTA (13), Kassel
Serpentine Gallery Memory Marathon, London, UK
Lieber Aby Warburg, Was tun mit Bildern?, Museum für Gegenwartskunst Siegen, Siegen, Germany
Olinka, or Where Movement Is Created, Museo Rufino Tamayo, Mexico City, Mexico
Life Is Elsewhere, Galerie im Körnerpark, Berlin-Neukölln, Germany
LA IDEA DE AMÉRICA LATINA, Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo, Sevilla, Spain
Nos hicimos la ilusión de avanzar directamente, Espai Cultural de Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain
Colección: el crimen fundacional, MUCA Roma, Mexico City, Mexico
Un ojo, dos ojos, tres ojos, Mariana Castillo Deball/Irene Kopelman (Uqbar), Casa Vecina, Mexico City Mexico
Never odd or Even, Museum of contemporary art, Roskilde, Denmark
Printin’, curated by Ellen Gallagher and Sarah Suzuki, Museum of Modern Art, New York
Resisting the present, Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris, France
Esquemas para una Oda Tropical, Galeria Luisa Strina, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Prims. Drawing from 1990-2012, National Museum of Norway
The Future Lasts Forever, Konstcentrum Gävle, Sweden
Never odd or Even, Grimm Museum, Berlin, Germany
Section Folklorique/ Cabinet de Curiosités, Zeeuws Museum, Zeeland, Netherlands
La Vie Mode d‘Emploi (Life A User‘s Manual), Meessen De Clercq, Brussels, Belgium
Homo Ludens, Motive Gallery, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Mexicall/ Resisting the present, Museo Amparo, Puebla, Mexico
The Eye is a Lonely Hunter – Images of Humankind, 4. Fotofestival Mannheim Heidelberg
Amikejo, 2-men-show (Mariana Castillo Deball/Irene Kopelman (uqbar)), MUSAC Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Castilla y León, León, Spain
Mexicall / Resisting the present, Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris, Paris, France
Inanimate beings, La Casa Encendida, Madrid, Spain
Magical Consciousness, Arnolfini, Bristol, UK
Incidentes De Viaje Espejo En Yucatán Y Otros Lugares, Museo Tamayo, Mexico City, Mexico
Fleeting Stories/Historias Fugaces, LABoral, Gijón, Spain
ILLUMInazioni – ILLUMInations, 54th International Art Exhibition, Venice Biennale, Venice, Italy
What about this, Galerie Andreas Huber, Vienna, Austria
Shadow Boxing, Royal College of Art: Curating Contemporary Art MA, London, UK
Æther – Une proposition de Christoph Keller, Centre Pompidou, Paris, France
Ars viva award, History, Kölnischer Kunstverein, Cologne, Germany; Migros Museum, Zurich
Panamericana Group show curated by Jens Hofman. Kurimanzutto Gallery, Mexico City
Sao Paulo Biennale, Residency, July-October, 2010, Capacete
No Soul For Sale, Festival of independents, presenting with Peep-Hole.Tate Modern, London
Ginger Goodwin Way, OR gallery, Vancouver, Canada
For the blind man in the dark room looking for the black cat that isn’t there, Touring exhibition: Museum of Contemporary Art in Detroit; ICA, London; de Appel, Amsterdam; Culturgest, Lisbon
Ars viva award, History, Museum Wiesbaden, Germany
El Patio de mi casa, Cordoba, Spain
Athens biennial, Heaven, Athens, Greece
The Happy Interval, Tulips & Roses, Vilnius, Lithuania
What are we going to do after we’ve done what we’re doing to do next? MACBA, Contemporary Art Museum,Barcelona, Spain
Paper exhibition, Artists Space, New York
The Malady of Writing, MACBA Contemporary Art Museum, Barcelona, Spain
A Fantasy for Allan Kaprow, Contemporary Image Collective, Cairo, Egypt
For the blind man in the dark room looking for the black cat that isn’t there, Contemporary Art Museum Saint Louis, USA
Performa, Lectures and exhibition at Cabinet Magazine Space, New York, USA
Sequelism: Part 3, Arnolfini, Bristol, UK
Extranjeros en la cultura y en la tecnología, Espacio Fundación Telefónica, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Chapter 2 (the repetition), Parc Culturel de Rentilly, France
22nd Ateliers Internationaux, Frac des Pays de la Loire, Carquefou, France.Galeria Sentimental, Tensta konsthall, Stockholm, Sweden
Salon of the revolution, 29th Youth Salon, Zagreb, Croatia
One of these things is not like the other things, 1/9 unosunove, Rome, Italy
Manifesta 7, Rovereto, Italy. In collaboration with Irene Kopelman, uqbar
Shanghai Biennale, China
Blackboxing at artistspace, (screening) New York, USA
Master Humphrey’s Clock, De appel, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Sensitive Timelines, 26cc, Rome, Italy
Object, The Undeniable Success Of Operations, SMBA, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Seven Times Two or Three, CUBITT, London, UK
Selective Knowledge, The National Bank of Greece Cultural Foundation / MIET, Athens, Greece
A for Alibi, De appel, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Transacciones Filosóficas, Historical Observatory, Córdoba, Argentina
The Book, Heidelberg Kunstverein, Heidelberg, Germany
Extraordinary Rendition, NoguerasBlachard, Barcelona, Spain
The last piece of John Fare, GB Agency, Paris, France
Blackboxing, Project, Dublin, Ireland
24th Memorial Nadežda Petrovic, Cacak, Serbia
Just in Time, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands
10 Defining Experiments, Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation, Miami, USA.
Concerning knowledge, BAK, Utrecht, Netherlands
Resonances, Stuk, Leuven, Belgium, and Artis, Den Bosch, Netherlands
A place in Time, Campr Street, San Antonio, TX, USA
Redo/Undo, Kunsthalle Fridericianum, Kassel, Germany
Mercury in Retrograde, De Appel, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Friends and Enemies. Gagosian Gallery , Berlin, Germany
“Today, November 20”, If I can’t dance – I don’t want to be part of your revolution, Production in sequences. Leiden, Netherlands
Tropical Abstraction, Stedelijk Bureau, Amsterdam, Netherlands
9th Baltic Triennial of Art, BMW, Contemporary art center Vilnius, Lituania
“Blackboxing”. If I can’t dance – I don’t want to be part of your revolution. Production in sequences, Utrecht, Netherlands
5ª Bienal de Artes Visuales del Mercosur, Porto Alegre, Brazil
Bucket Brigade. Burlington City Arts, Firehouse Center for Contemporary Art, Burlington, VT, USA
Black Friday. Galerie Kamm, Berlin
GPB 2004. Galeri Pastor Bonus. Exteresa Arte Actual, Mexico City, Mexico
Valenzuela y Klenner Arte Contemporaneo, Bogotá. Fotogalleriet, Oslo, Norway
Outside of a Dog: Paperbacks and Other Books by Artists.
Baltic, International center for contemporary art Gateshead, UK
“24/7”. New York - Vilnius, CAC, Vilnus, Lithuania
20 million mexicans can’t be wrong, Southampton gallery, UK
En un mar en el que no se nada. Paris Photo, Project Room
Aparentemente Sublime. Museum of Modern art, Mexico City, Mexico
every piece is the show luxe projects, New York, USA
PULPA. Arte, literatura, moda, diseño y algo más Centro de Arte Contemporáneo Wifredo Lam. La Habana, Cuba
Titel folgt. Neuer Aachener Kunstverein, Aachen, Germany
Volkskrant Regular (True Type) de Volkskrant, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Bonnefanten magazine, Maastricht
A to Z. Museum in progress.Vienna, Austria
Registro/Registre. Galeria Banyoles, Spain
Se rendre a l’evidence. Centre Culturel du Mexique. Paris, France
XI Bienal Internacional, Vila Nova de Cerveira, Portugal
Los libros de otros. Museo de la ciudad de México, Mexico City, Mexico
Gráfica actual. Instituto de artes gráficas de Oaxaca, Oaxaca, Mexico
Exposición colectiva. MUCA Roma, Rome, Italy
City editings. ZMVM: Zona Metropolitana del valle de México.Instituto Goethe. Buenos Aires, Argentina
El arte de los libros de artista: Homenaje a Ulises. Carrión. Biblioteca México
Exhibición de cortometrajes. Centro de la imagen, Mexico City, Mexico
Mariana Castillo Deball interviewed by Katie Guggenheim
Chisenhale Gallery, May 2013
Katie Guggenheim: There are several references to ‘traps’ in this exhibition: in the title – What we caught we threw away, what we didn’t catch we kept; in the paper sculptures, which you’ve called Tree Traps; and also in the replica hunting net which you’ve installed in the exhibition (Vogel’s Net, 2013). I wanted to ask you about this idea of artworks functioning as traps or traps functioning as artworks.
Mariana Castillo Deball: The reference to the trap starts from the essay by the contemporary anthropologist Alfred Gell, which is called Traps as Artworks and Artworks as Traps. It was an excuse for me to look at a lot of concerns which I’d been researching, regarding not so much archaeological material but more the techniques that have developed in order to capture these objects, capture them in different ways: to capture their meaning, to capture the place where they are, to capture their form, or to understand the inscriptions or the different connections that they have.
In that sense, the work of Alfred Gell is very interesting, because he speaks about agency, so it’s not so much how we appropriate the objects but also that the objects have an impact on us. It’s like a double relationship. When he speaks about traps, for instance animal traps, he says that the trap is already a kind of ‘cast’ of the animal it is going to trap – something that is at the same time the negative and the positive of the possible victim. In that sense this exhibition is an experiment: how can you catch an object, or how can you catch an experience, and what is the imprint of this experience?
When I was working on this show I suddenly understood that a lot of my background when I studied art – because I was trained in printmaking – a lot of the experiments were somehow related to the process of printing, where you have a negative and you make a positive. This relationship between the positive and the negative developed – in different ways – through a story or through an object, or through the distortions that an imprint makes.
KG: This exhibition was co-commissioned by Chisenhale Gallery, CCA Glasgow and Cove Park in Scotland where you had a two-part residency. While you were there you visited two archives, which were really important to your research. One was the storage facility of the British Museum in London, where you studied the casts made by the 19th Century archaeologist, Alfred Maudslay. The other was the archive of ephemera collected by the artist, Eduardo Paolozzi, at the Scottish National Galleries. What prompted you to make these visits and how did they impact on your research?
MCD: In the case of the archives at the British Museum, I have been interested in the negatives of different Mexican ancient monuments that they have in their collection for some time. When visiting other museums, like the ethnographic museum in Berlin, I discovered this technique – ‘paper squeezes’ – moulds made out of papiér maché, which was a very good technique because it was light and easy to transport. They would just transport these paper squeezes and make the positives out of plaster later on. The first time I approached the British Museum was in 2006, when I was looking for another cast that was not made by Maudslay. That’s when I discovered that Maudslay was one of the pioneers of the paper squeeze technique, and also that he made several of these experiments when he was doing expeditions in the Maya region.
From an ethical point of view, there were a lot of explorers at that time in the Maya region; many of them were just looting, taking all the objects back to museums as originals. Somehow Maudslay was not so interested in that, but was more interested in the meaning of the artefacts and keeping the objects as they were – not destroying the site and bringing the whole pyramid back to Europe. I think that’s also important to point out. All these objects that Maudslay brought back to London have been in storage for many, many years in the British Museum. They were held back because the researchers are always more interested in the originals than these copies, or casts, so the collection hasn’t been studied enough. I wanted to visit it to see the state of the objects and how they catalogued them.
When I started researching the Maudslay casts, I also discovered the exhibition that the Scottish artist Eduardo Paolozzi made in the 1980s – Lost magic kingdoms and six paper moons from Nahuatl – at the Museum of Mankind, which was the home of the Ethnographic department of the British Museum. Paolozzi showed some of Maudslay’s paper squeezes in this exhibition. I was already interested in Paolozzi’s work before, and I was pleased to find a natural link between the work of Paolozzi and the work of Maudslay. When I had the opportunity to go to Cove Park, I also visited one of the many archives that hold some of Paolozzi’s work – he was a very prolific artist, some of his work is in London, some is in Glasgow and some is in Edinburgh. The archive in Edinburgh is mainly all of his books, documents and letters; it’s what they call a personal archive, but there was also a lot of ephemeral material that they haven’t found the resources to study in depth yet.
Both these cases are interesting because of how institutions manage this kind of material – how they archive it or how they study it, or how they just leave it behind because they don’t have the resources to integrate it into the institution, or into the exhibitions. It seems very difficult to show it or to bring it back into the light; they prefer to show the actual work or the actual paintings or sculptures.
KG: And both Maudslay and Paolozzi were producing so much – these great accumulations of paper: the paper squeezes in the case of Maudslay and the personal papers and letters in Paolozzi’s case.
MCD: Exactly. And Paolozzi’s documents are not just letters; the more ephemeral material in the archive includes things like restaurant receipts, or invitations for other exhibitions he visited. There are also the books that he liked. All the stuff he accumulated.
KG: You’ve made references to these archives through individual works and images included in the exhibition, but you’ve also appropriated certain elements. I’m thinking of the metal storage racks from the British Museum stores that you’ve recreated, and the Paolozzi imagery in the plaster reliefs.
MCD: I wanted to divide the exhibition into different atmospheres. I wanted this atmosphere of the storage to be present – it was important to bring back into the exhibition space some of the elements present in the storage facilities from the British Museum. Also, it is a formal coincidence that the pyramids in the Maya region often have a triangular shape, which is very similar to the racks in the British Museum. That was a coincidence and it became one of the solutions to presenting the material. Also I wanted to stay away from the walls, to position all the material more as a sculptural work, and these racks, which are a technical device to store stuff, become a sculptural element.
In the case of Paolozzi, I think one of the key parts of his work was the idea of collage and how he used collage as a kind of machinery; he was very obsessed with machines and robots. He used all his imagination and influences and cut them up and pasted them together in different collages, which were sometimes sculptural collages or even texts or prints. I think his idea of collage relates somehow to the way I used that material. Not just the Paolozzi material, but also the material from Maudslay. In a way it’s a collage of my own influences, and the way I digest the material. There is a phrase by Paolozzi I really like. He says that a really good sculpture is one that experiences – in the material itself – many different transformations: it’s digested several times and it really becomes something else. Somehow all the objects in the exhibition have undergone this sort of transformation, they’ve been through different states.
KG: Could you talk a bit about one of the works in the exhibition, Zoomorph P (2013), which exemplifies this kind of transformation? It’s been through several different states; it’s a Mayan artefact which Maudslay cast, and which you’ve recreated and then made prints from.
MCD: It’s one of the most complicated casts Maudslay made, because it’s a very big stone monument, and he brought in an Italian master to do it. So this was not a paper squeeze, but it was actually a plaster mould. They have the cast in storage at the British Museum, and they said the original is made up of about two hundred pieces; it’s like a puzzle. I was thinking of how to somehow revert these strategies, so instead of trying to make a mould again, to make an original and then to unfold the form in a two dimensional space. The experiment was to make a miniature version of this sculpture and to carve it in wood with all the inscriptions that are contained in it. I then made a series of prints from it, but as it is a three-dimensional object, you can never really have a whole picture of the object, so the image becomes a kind of trajectory of itself.
KG: Something you’ve mentioned quite a lot in relation to this work, and which relates to Alfred Gell and his research, is the idea of ‘object biographies’. This is interesting in relation to the way you deal with these artefacts, or objects, in your own work. You allow complexities to unravel. It’s as if the object is telling its own story.
MCD: I think this started when I did the first project about archaeological objects in Mexico, and I realised that, for instance when you go to a museum, like an ethnographic museum, you see a very beautiful Asian piece displayed in a showcase, and you never know where they found this object, or where it was originally, or who owned it first. Many times the trajectory of the object and how it arrived at the specific place it is in now is really interesting, really rich, but somehow it’s never integrated into the history of the display itself. The object itself is so complex, and there are so many objects in this museum that it would take too much time and space to actually unfold all these narratives. But in contemporary anthropology or even archaeology, they’ve started to go more deeply into this subject. The idea is to take a more sociological point of view as to how the object is placed in a historical context and how it has had many different historical contexts. So you can never define an object as one single thing; the object changes depending on the place where it is and the people who are manipulating it. In the past few years I’ve taken some objects as a kind of excuse and tried to follow them and build up what I call a biography of these objects, which could be from the point of view of social sciences or the historiography of an object.
There is an historian I really like called Carlo Ginzburg, and he invented something called ‘microhistory’. He says that history has always been concentrated on the big protagonists of the stories – who were the kings, who were the people that were building progress. Instead, he concentrates on people who have no name, no voice, who have no documentation, and that’s the most difficult thing to do. History is always viewed from the point of view of power, so how can you go down into the sources and find the history of people who have no voice? In the case of archaeological objects, these are objects that were taken by the colonisers and were taken away from people who’d lost their voice. It’s very difficult to try to imagine it, to put yourself in the position of someone who lost power or lost agency.
KG: You often adopt methodologies or some of the practices of other disciplines, such as, anthropology or archaeology. In this case, with Maudslay’s casts, you’ve literally used the same technique that he used in his fieldwork, in your sculptures, but also, as you’ve just spoken about, you are also engaged with the theory that’s specific to these disciplines, which you’ve previously described as ‘other worlds’. I was wondering how you move between these different worlds, how as an artist, you negotiate these different disciplines and bring them into your work?
MCD: Sometimes I even use the term ‘possession’, which sounds esoteric, but I think the way I deal with this appropriation is to embed myself into the working methods and try to follow them. Sometimes it can be a formal experiment, like when I try to replicate the techniques that Maudslay was doing with the paper squeezes. Sometimes it’s a more intellectual or narrative approach, where I try to catch the way they describe things, or the way they study them or look at them. I try to catch the different points of view and the different ways of relating to the world. This always starts with a very specific question, let’s say in the case of the exhibition at Chisenhale, it’s a question about how an object survives beyond itself; it’s not just the thing itself, but it’s also the ghosts and the replicas that this object creates. So then I concentrate on this question and I see how different people have approached this object from their different points of view. Maybe it’s an exercise in concentration. I think it’s also about retrieving myself from what I think is right, or real, or correct. I adopt the position of the object and follow its path.
KG: You’re originally from Mexico, and although you live in Berlin you travel to Mexico and work there often. Is the way that you work – adopting techniques from other, often scientific disciplines, a way to distance yourself from the subject matter you’re dealing with and a way to avoid taking a position as a ‘Mexican’ artist?
MCD: This question makes me think again about the historian Carlo Ginzberg. One of his working methods is called estrangement – he uses estrangement as a tool. He tries to retrieve himself, to imagine he’s a horse or a rabbit, in order to understand something more clearly. If I think about that in relation to my approach to Mexico it could also apply, because when you’re dealing with your own cultural identity you can be tagged so easily; you could say ‘I’m a Mexican woman artist’, or ‘I’m a Mexican woman artist who doesn’t live in Mexico but is making work about Mexico’. There are so many things that I could be trapped by, so I always try to be careful to escape from these preconceptions. The cultural identity of Mexico is so strong and has so many layers, so I think that I’m like a chess player: I’m always trying to change my position.
Your work has often explored the museum as a problematic cultural site and validating system. Recently the narratives of Echo and Narcissus have entered this discussion about exhibition spaces. Could you describe the appeal of these figures and how they relate to the project you have developed for El Museo Experimental El Eco?
Last summer I made a visit to the Chapada Diamantina, a region in Brazil covered with mountains, caves and other mineral formations. While visiting some of the caves it happened very often that the guide would point out a particular formation and ask to the visitants, what is it? Visitors needed to stare to the abstract walls and guess. The figures ranged from a dolphin, a face, a mermaid, an electric guitar, and a piece of bacon.
I found interesting a space where figures are apparently hidden; almost blend with the environment, a space where there is no difference between figure and background. I started to think how different museums and galleries are from the cave experience, where the spaces are neat and white, where the works are immediately recognizable.
In terms of mythology, I thought of Narcissus as a white cube exhibition space, and Echo as a cave. The practice of finding images in stains on the walls and rock formations is closer to the imaginative nature of Echo, who tries to repeat what Narcissus says, but her voice gets inevitably distorted, becoming something else all the time.
On the opposite way, Narcissus is a repetition device, trying constantly to confirm his image, through his reflection on the water. The consequences of this gesture imply a complete denial of the outside world, in order to confirm the uniqueness of the self.
I am on echo’s side. This exhibition will include friends and relatives of Echo, characters who are in a constant dialogue with their surroundings, establishing conversations that transform their shape constantly.
Fables have recently been of increasing interest for you, particularly those involving non-humans: animals, plants, rocks or objects. Please articulate how you engage with these specific narratives, their various sources and how they relate to the concept of ¨uncomfortable objects¨ that you have been developing?
Lately, I have been collecting dialogues and fables among non-humans, such as Aesop‘s fables, Ovid’s metamorphoses, Lewis Carroll’s dialogues, and fables by Augusto Monterroso, Horacio Quiroga, Antonin Artaud, Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, Mario de Andrade, Franz Kafka, and Montaigne.
At the beginning I found these dialogues only in fiction literature, but afterwards I started to find experiments of that sort among historians of science, philosophers, and anthropologists. I believe that this attempt comes from a necessity to build up a genealogy of things, to observe them as entities which have been transformed, discarded, mutated, placed in diverse and contradictory contexts throughout history.
What non-humans have to say about the world we constructed around them, about our definitions, manipulations and usages? What is left of the objects after so much historical maneuvering and what would be the testimony of these objects if they could tell us their story from their perspective?
Our contemporary society is crowded with uncomfortable objects, products of desire, research or imagination; they trigger our conception of the world and compel us to take a position, to change completely our basic understanding of the universe.
Uncomfortable objects are constantly being erased, replaced, neutralized and destroyed in order to give space to new things, but this erasure is never complete, we are surrounded more and more by things, quasi-things, fragments, distortions and hybrids. At the same time there is a contrast between infinite possibilities and limited resources. The human desire and power of transformation is strong and blind, resulting in the extinction of species and the erosion of essential natural resources.
Anthropology continually plays a strong role in your research and projects. Can you describe your attraction to this field and how you see it in dialogue with your artistic practice and with contemporary art in general?
Lately I found in anthropology many resonances with contemporary art praxis.
The same as within the art world, anthropology is trapped in a system of self reflection. Probably in anthropology it is more clear, as the necessity of doing a field research an engaging with other communities is crucial for the practice. It is based on the necessity to understand the other but the final thesis are not accessible to the original source, they are just a mechanism of projection for the apparatus of anthropology.
The case of the art world is a bit more complex, as the final product has an ambigous audience projection. At the same time, as an artist you need to be self-reflexive, site specific, and critical.
The artist is in a trap from which it is difficult to escape, and this self awareness almost avoids the possibility of creating metaphors, or of actually addressing something else apart from the system.
Roy Wagner makes this point clear in a conversation with Coyote:
Roy: “Isn’t that what linguists do, in a purely hypothetical sense? And isn’t it what Heisenberg did when he called our inability to determine both the location and the velocity of a particle at the same time an uncertainty principle, as though the particle itself were uncertain as to its own motion and location?”
Coyote: “And isn’t that what you are doing to me right now by anthropomorphizing me, pretending that I am an anthropologist just like you? Heisenberg pointed out that we interfere with tiny particles in the very act of observing them, and so re-project our own intentions inadvertently upon the particle (or Coyote, as the case may be). But what he did not allow himself to concede was that the particle was doing the same thing back to him, for ‘it’ had entered his own thought process as though it were part of his own neural net.”
Roy: “Which, by that time, it was. Or, in other words, by virtue of the fundamental subject/object shift, I got coyotes on the brain.” *
*Roy Wagner, Coyote Anthropology, 2010
The cave you have made for this project is a loose structure of open and closed spaces, made from a rectilinear metal frame, over which you have placed a faux-rock covering, made of paper-maché. Within the paper-maché appear numerous images. Could you describe your use of paper-maché in this work, as well as reveal some of the sources of the images you have imbedded within this material? If you could also touch on the development of the geometric frame, its form and the relation it sets up with the faux-rock covering.
In his essay "The marble and the myrtle: on the inconstancy of the savage soul", anthropologist Eduardo Viveiros de Castro starts with a quote by the portuguese missionary Antonio Vieria:
“Those who wandered through the world can see in those gardens two kinds of very different statues, ones made out of marble, others of myrtle. The marble statues are very difficult to make, because of the hardness and resistance of matter; but once finished, it is not necessary to work on it any more: always preserves the same figure; the myrtle statue is easier to form, because of the docility of the branches and the leaves, but it is necessary to work on it constantly. If the gardener stops working, in four days there is a branch going through the eyes, another one that deforms the ears, instead of five fingers seven appear, what it was before a human shape, becomes a confusion of green and myrtles.”
Through this image, Vieira compares European and "savage" civilizations. For him, European culture is similar to marble, difficult to mold, but once the shape is done, it is a guaranty that it will last over the centuries. On the contrary, the "savage" civilizations, like the Brazilian in this case, are more malleable, at first sight it seems that they accept the doctrine, and adapt themselves to the imposed habits, nevertheless it is just necessary to be distracted for a second and they return to their old rituals.
The piece I developed for El Eco follows the behavior of a myrtle sculpture, which climbs over a geometric shape. The pattern is similar to an epiphyte plant, such as bromelias or orchids that grows upon another plant or sometimes upon some other object, without a parasite behavior. They are also called air plants.
I use papier-mâché, a technique that I have been interested for a long time, because of its flexibility and simplicity and also the link it has with Mexican crafts.
The images that cover the structure are based on my experience in Brazil during the last two years. They include people, places and travels where I followed “the inconstancy of the savage soul”, discovering its generosity, flexibility and playfulness.
The Museum of the images of the unconscious, where I discovered their amazing archive and the paintings of Artur Amora, the National Museum, where I learned about Amerindian perspectivism, the house of Lina Bo Bardi in Sao Paulo, her exhibitions of popular art, the botanical garden in Rio de Janerio, the wastelands of paper-maché sculptures after the carnival, Glauber Rocha, mathematical models of non-linear figures, and many more.
The optical play that occurs with the images included in the piece creates confusion between the figures represented in the images and the background on which they are positioned. You have mentioned elsewhere your reading on the concept of “figure-ground reversal.” Can you explain this idea, its origins and relation to your artistic project?
I have been interested since a while in potential images, images which need to be constructed by the viewer, images which are invented or build up by a collective hallucination such as miraculous images that appear by filtrations of water, strange reflections, and so on. Potential images trigger our perception priorities as the background and the figure and not perfectly defined.
I am interested on this not just as a formal puzzle, but also as a question on intentionality, and how we decide where attention is focused. I search images, texts and experiences where these boundaries blur.
Anthropologist Roy Wagner talks about figure-ground reversal in similar terms in his conversation with Coyote. According to Coyote, “perception is a very tricky thing”.
Roy: “So why is perception a fake?”
Coyote: “See, Roy, we do not see the world we see, hear the sounds we hear, touch the things we touch, or in any way perceive what we perceive, but that something else comes in-between.”
Coyote: “Sure. As they say: ‘Figures don’t lie, but liars can Figure.’”
Roy: “The sounds and shapes that you have been trained to react to and project (so that by now it has become quite unconscious)
form the pattern or content of first-attention reality. The spaces between and around those words, or between the words and the
things they stand for, which you notice only in passing, form the backdrop of second-attention reality.”
Your title for the El Eco project, “This constructed disorder, allows geological surprises for the most abandoned memory,¨ is taken from a poem by Carlos Pellicer. You have also reproduced this poem, the form of one of the posters for the public to take away with them. What is your interest in the poetry of Pellicer and this poem in particular?
The title for the show comes from Carlos Pellicer’s poem “Esquemas para una oda tropical a cuatro voces, Segunda Intención”.
I am interested in the work of Carlos Pellicer, as a poet but also as an intellectual who was engaged in music, visual arts, archaeology and anthropology. The poem is an ode to the Mexican jungle, in Tabasco. I consider the poem as a piece with multiple perspectives and voices, it is not the poet describing nature, but becoming bird, plant, sunset, serpent, guanábana, sunshine, water, tongue, green, multitude.
“Ontologies concerned with transformation (and by extension, the recycling or limited nature of life) are also marked by “perspectivism” or the idea that the world in inhabited by different kinds of persons who “apprehend reality from distinct points of view”. Non-humans see things as ‘people’ do. But the things that they see are different: what to us is blood, is maize or beer to the jaguar; what to the souls of the dead is a rotting corpse, to us is soaking mandioc; what we see as muddy waterhole, the tapirs see as a great ceremonial house. Amerindian perspectivism, the end point of an exchange process arrives when one of the two parties incorporates (devours) the other. Here, what we have are perspectives that eat each other”. **
**Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, Interview
I come from a country, Belgium, with a rich enough history (I studied in a city often referred to as the “Manhattan of the middle ages”) – but not one that travels back very far: apart from a handful of shards scattered around the former Roman military encampment of Tongeren (Atuatuca Tungrorum in 1st century parlance), there is very little in Belgium’s sandy soil that would help to lure serious archeologists to these here shores. My wife grew up in Vancouver, one of the world’s youngest cities; there, history means something altogether different still (they do have archeology, to be sure), but both of us pretty much experience the same awe when marveling at the stones of Venice, when roaming the arid expanse of Athens’ ancient agora, or when ambling around a 300-year old colonial slave cemetery in lower Manhattan – the classic response to the presumed nobility of all archeology as something that is somehow engaged in the profound business of uncovering truth (a romantic view that has also fed into the Indiana Jones myth of archeology as something that cannot possibly be very prosaic or banal). Interestingly, however, this is not an atttitude shared by every present-day inhabitant of these hallowed historical sites: for many Athenians, for example, the modest beginnings of an archeological dig, no matter how small the scale of its conception, usually usher in a long, tedious process of urban dysfunction – plainly “bad news,” for there is simply too much buried in the ground there to inspires hope that (as would be the case in either Brussels or Vancouver) nothing will come of the dig and that urban life will soon resume its normal, oblivious post-historical pace. I remember sitting in a cab in Athens once when the taxi driver suddenly erupted in a barrage of expletives – an important thoroughfare had been closed off because what had initally started off as a building site had gradually been turning into an excavation site instead, and the demands of science would doubtlessly mean that this street would remain closed for a long time to come; maybe even forever, if the archeological find would prove epic enough. I immediately tried to imagine the profound, and potetially paralyzing feelings of anxiety that undoubtedly accompany the administration of such historically rich, palimpsestic terrain: every building promoter or project developer who sticks a spade in the ground with the banal hopes of maybe opening up a parking lot probably spends a lot of time praying that his little plot of land will appear miraculously free from history’s ubiquitous traces – curses rather than the blessings we often dream about.
This is one example of the way in which the archeological record, in countries such as Mexico, Italy, Greece and much of the Middle East, insinuates itself in daily life, to paraphrase Jesse Lerner in his introduction to Mariana Castillo Deball’s ambitious project, part book, part exhibition, These Ruins You See; an example of archeology’s weighing down upon the economy of daily life first and foremost. But there is also the tremendous history of archeology’s politicization, its mobilization for political uses as well as the formative influence exerted upon the political project of, say, nation-building; and it is this “politics of archeology” that seems to constitute the core of Deball’s artistic concerns. In These Ruins You See, Deball takes a close look at her native Mexico in particular, scrutinizing (with both the patience and eye for detail more typical of archeology, exactly, than art) the implication of archeology – most of it performed by colonial ‘others’ who sold off their loot to museums in Berlin, London and New York – in the genealogy of Mexican statehood, as well as in the construction of the imagined community of Mexicanidad from a wide array of highly distinct precolumbian cultures such as the Aztec, Maya, Olmec, Toltec, Totonac and Zapotec. Part of Deball’s interest in these creation myths concern the paradigmatic character of the archeological enterprise as an episteme, i.e. as a truth procedure and site of the production of knowledge: archeology is by its very definition bound to a materialist view of culture, history and society, and it is also always a science of origins (“arche” being the ancient Greek word for “beginning” or “first principle”; on a related note, images culled from both geology and mineralogy as such exact materialist sciences of origins do appear quite regularly in Deball’s work). Dig and ye shall find – and seeing as the earth, or the many mute materials that it hesitatingly hands over to the industrious digger, cannot lie, the process of excavation functions as a promise of revelation, of the unveiling of a hidden truth. This high ideological charge – anacalypsis or the “raising of the Veil of Isis” – is what permeates much scientific thinking in general, and Deball has devoted much of her research in recent years to mapping out these intricate histories of enlightenment and illumination – often in close collaboration with her Amsterdam-based, Argentinia-born colleague Irene Kopelman, with whom she initiated the Uqbar Foundation in 2006 (named after a doubly fictional place in a Borges short story). In one collaborative project, A for Alibi (organized at De Appel in Amsterdam in 2007), both artists took the historical collection of scientific instruments from the museum in Utrecht as the point of departure for an interdisciplinary reflection upon the disconnection between the imagery produced by science on the one hand, and the ‘reality’ of the laws produced by it on the other: alibi is Latin, it is worth remembering here, for ‘elsewhere’ (like Borges’ Uqbar, in other words) – shorthand for the experience of spatial disconnect.
Sites for the production of knowledge, or laboratories where new truth procedures can be developed and tested – isn’t that also what (art) museums are, or what we want (art) museums to be? Isn’t this historical association, mediated through the museum, of truth and art the exact location of the polemic initiated by what has since become known (and, one should add, institutionalized) as “Institutional Critique” – an effort to “mine the ruins of the museum”, in the critical parlance of our times, hoping that it will yield the many unsavory truths of its corrupt political genealogy, its implication in a messy meshwork of power relations and relations of ownership? It is no coincidence that the exhibition component of Deball’s These Ruins You See – most fully articulated at Mexico City’s Museo Carrio Gil in 2006-2007– seems to lean rather heavily, tongue subtly lodged in cheek, on the formal idiom commonly associated with the canonical phase of Institutional Critique: firstly, there are audioguides (providing the actual narrative red thread that holds together the exhibition, their use inevitably reminds us of Andrea Fraser’s hilarious Museum Highlights video pieces); unopened crates, disused pedestals, office furniture and similar suggestions of knowing glances furtively cast behind the scenes of ‘the’ institution (the reference here being to Mexico City’s world-class National Museum of Anthropology), scattered around the exhibition spaces in such a way as to conjure the ghost of Hans Haacke; empty vitrines and remnants of exhibition design and display architecture of all kinds, exuding the casual candor of a making-of documentary – enter Michael Asher, Marcel Broodthaers, Louise Lawler, Fred Wilson et al. Yet Deball’s museological installation, which luckily lacks the bitter righteousness of much of the work referred to above (Broodthaers being the priceless exception), is doubly folded, just like Borges’ original Uqbar is doubly fictional: if the museum is the natural destination of all archeological artifacts, and if an art project ‘about‘ archeology ventriloquises Institutional Critique’s fetishistic problematization (through the heavy-handed foregrounding of the politics of object selection and display) of the museum as a mummifying destination of living art as well, what are we left with then? The museum as the natural destination of the museum, or the archeology of archeology? The museum of museums (the museum as the context within which reflections upon the nature of museology are staged) and the archeology of archeology: such double binds and other avatars of the mythical figure of Ourobouros, the (featherless!) snake that bites its own tail, are really only possible, of course, provided that there is an element of empathy, of enjoyment even, underlying all this relentless meta-scrutiny and constant epistemological poking and prodding. Deball’s relationship to the objects of her research, no matter how detached and clinical-looking, is ultimately animated by this exact empathic glow: the archeologist’s loving care for even the minutest shard, the museum guide’s unending devotion to the stony beings he or she guards or lends his or her ear to, listening to their every story of ruin and recovery.
Mariana Castillo Deball interviewed by Johan Deumens and Karen Cheung
Maastricht, 3 December 2004
JD: Johan Deumens
M: Mariana Castillo Deball
K: Karen Cheung
JD: I have chosen Penser/Classer as one of the books I want to look at in more detail. I want to find out what kind of book it is and how it relates to your work. To begin with, you’re here and you have brought a lot of books with you. I think it is fair to say that the book is an important medium for you. Could you tell me how you started working with artist’s books or books in general?
M: I worked a lot with scientists and I studied philosophy. So, one of my first approaches to art is the way you build sequences, discourses, or view small systems. In that sense, I really like the structure of books, that is to say, as a kind of small system you can play with. For example, you can read in a normal sequence, or you can jump from one page to the next. And I like books as examples of how you organize the world - you have dictionaries, yellow pages, classifications, compilations; in a way, all knowledge is stored in books and I am obsessed with how classifications work and how different orders are mixed together. That‘s how I began playing with the idea and I started with my own classification and my own way of ordering things. Like the first small collection of books that I did. I followed all the objects and all the rooms in my house for two years; I took photographs of the kitchen and the bedroom and the toilet and the bed, and of the fridge, every time I opened it. It‘s like a kind of examination of my own relation to the object and how much the object is a wild thing to me: suddenly you lose something and then find it again and suddenly the space becomes a mess and you cannot control it.
JD: When I first met you here, I found that you had a strong affinity with the work of Ulises Carrión and that you had been involved in making a retrospective of his work. Is this something you already did in Mexico, before you came here, or did you make it during your time at the Jan van Eyck?
M: No, I did that before I came here. In fact, that was one of the main reasons I applied to this place. I knew Felipe Ehrenburg and Martha Hellion and Jan Hendrix who were all here in the 70‘s and they all knew Ulises. I worked three years with them on the retrospective of his work. Then I realized that this place still existed, and I was curious about the fact that there were still people working the same way. It had the same atmosphere, not related to artist productions but to the obsession of working in groups and making collective projects, like this magazine. And that was what I liked.
JD: I would think that doing the retrospective on Ulises also brought you into contact with his books and his mail art. His mail art is also an important part of his archive. I actually had the pleasure of seeing it - I met Ulises Carrion in1984 and he had an archive in a flat in Amsterdam. It was all stored in boxes. He was a bit of a sad person, because archiving was not the aspiration of his life. On the other hand, it was very central to initiating the project on mail art and his book project. You get so many things coming at you, which you are not able to answer. So you have to collect them, because you do not wish to throw them away. And you start putting them in boxes. Then, of course, it turns out he is a very ordered person, making classifications of how to organize all of this and this grew into books and other stuff, all classified in the archive of "Other Books & so". So, classification is a recurring issue. You can also see it in this catalogue of an exhibition in Groningen, which was dedicated to Ulises. He made a series of books using existing landscape paintings which were damaged and – probably for that reason – thrown away. He cut them into square pieces to make them interesting again, since these paintings were quite boring. By cutting them into pages, and by going through the pages, you have to construct your own idea of the painting in your mind instead of seeing the painting before you in its entirety. And it was much more interesting to go through the pages than to have the paintings themselves. The theme of this exhibition in Groningen was archiving and creating adventures. Which is in fact one of the main rationales behind artist’s books. As you said, the book as such is very suitable to making your own classifications or to organize a collection.
Now, you just told us that you started archiving by making registrations of your daily life. How did this continue into the art world, so to speak?
M: When I did the project, it was already part of my idea.
JD: You made a project of 24 books in the Invisible Collection. How did you start working on that?
M: I started the project here. I did not have any idea beforehand that I would do it until I was here. It was part of a bigger project I was working on - the Estocastic Archive. It was a show but it was also a big project about different ways of organizing information for newspapers, dictionaries, magazines and books. It was about how you reuse design and how information is displayed and also about how, sometimes, art world becomes a parasite of all the ways of organizing information.
In the section on the books - the Invisible Collection - I started like this: I took 10 books referring to different characters of writers who were really obsessed with ordering the world. It is about the possibilities and impossibilities of doing so.
JD: And George Perec was one of the most important ones?
M: No, he was not the most important one. But I was inspired by one book George Perec did, his Penser/Classer, and I took one text called ‘How I organize the things that are on my working table’. So, this book is like a comment on that text and I displayed many photographs, taken over the years, of how I organize things on my working table. For each of the books in the Invisible Collection, I used the same format and the same number of pages and then I added my insertions. Sometimes they yield the rest of the book, like here, but other ones are almost empty. You have a couple of pages with image, or text or some information.
JD: What is this about the information being emptied? Is it quantity? What is it?
M: For me reading is very much to do with how you flip through the pages and suddenly something jumps at you, which surprises you and you read it. But if you want to find it again, it can be quite difficult.
JD: So, it represents a kind of highlighting.
M: No, it is more like a kind of playing with the idea.
JD: But you can also say that you can highlight things by leaving out the rest, some pages.
M: Yes, like in the other books, there are quite a few which are almost empty, or books which are interrupted. They start on page 147 and finish on page 162. And usually they don‘t have a cover. So, they are interrupted books and you don‘t know if they are just fall-out from other books or compilations of the other book.
JD: For a French-speaking person, it is quite clear that this may be the key to the work, because Penser/Classer is George Perec’s title. But for somebody from China, it is just your title.
M: Yes, I showed the book to a friend of mine in New York, who had not seen it before, and she said: ‘Wow, the other day I was in the book shop in the philosophy section and suddenly I saw this book. I had been looking for this book for ages, I looked in Paris and I could not get it because it was sold out. So, I thought, wow, finally! And I took it out and then I started going through it and thought ‘What‘s this? It‘s nice but who did it?‘ She could not find the author’s name. In the end she bought it because she was curious about what that was.
JD: She bought your book?
M: Yes, but just because it happened to be in the wrong place. Even the people in the book shop did not really know where to put it. They did not know what to do with it.
JD: I would just like to refer to another book, by Joseph Bartscherer. He is a New York based photographer. He collected everyone whose death had been reported on the front page of the New York Times. To appear on the front page is quite rare, even if it is on the occasion of your death. He collected front-page obituaries of the New York Times for 10 years, from 1990 to 2000, which amounted to a total number of 288 obituaries. Then he made a book called ‘Eva Gardner Dies’, showing all the photographs from obituaries on the front page. Within this collection of 288 obituaries, there are 18 without photographs, so there are blank pages in the book. In those cases, the only information you get is the absence of the portrait of the person who died. Even people in China or Europe may have heard of Eva Gardner, because she was an actress and one of the wives of Frank Sinatra, I believe. So, that may be a key. If you go through the book, you see Marlene Dietrich, you see Nixon, you see quite a lot of American based well-known people. I think the concept of the book is that these people are on the front page because they are so important; hence we don‘t need any classification of who they are. No names. That‘s the nature of the book. But if you show the book in Europe, most people probably do not know these celebrities
Going back to your book, I wonder if people also need some key to enjoy your book, to see what is in it, because there is much more in the book if you’re aware of this Penser/Classer background than if you’re not.
M: No, I think it is not the key thing. It is important that it is one of the clues. When I do my work, I never believe that there is one secret clue that will give you the answer to the rest. I never play this game of secret messages. Often I include too much information; you may even get more confused if too many things are displayed. Then, because of the small secrets, if you look under the table, you will find ... the whole meaning of the situation.
JD: I’m not suggesting that you are hiding something. It is about the information which is in the book. The question is more: ‘How will the book be experienced by people who know this and how by those who don’t?’ I thought the title already inviting before I knew about the Perec background. When I went through it for the first time, I thought ‘this is my key to the book.’ It is about a kind of activity you have to do or are doing. It could be enough.
M: Especially with this one, I didn‘t plan to do it. I am always taking pictures of everything I do. I am really obsessed with taking pictures all the time, I photograph everything. In the end, I remembered the text and then I said to myself: ‘maybe I have some pictures of my table, but I’m not sure’. I needed to go through my archive for one year. So I didn‘t plan it at the start. I did not systematically take pictures of my table. I really needed to look in my archive to try and find those pictures. What you see here is some points in between projects. In some ways, that is why I decided to print it because it‘s a name index of my work. See here, there is a photograph of a girl. You never get to know what was really happening. And looking at this you know that she was reading this book... and then there is this card game... maybe she was planning to do something, but in the end she did not do it. There are lot of things I actually finished and some other things were just experiments on the table.
JD: But you can find this line because of the relationship between the pages, between what you had been doing. So, the jigsaw is coming back again and again. In other words, there are a number of main themes in your book.
M: Yes, for example, these pencils are the first experiment in another piece I did afterwards. These are the glasses that a friend forgot in my studio. These are the photographs I never used but always have in mind. And also this was the exhibition I always wanted to do but never did.
JD: At the end of the book, there is a table of content, in which you use the Perec book. What is it? Is this also the Table of Content in the Perec book?
M: It is the real index of the Perec book. But I just erased all other texts and only left the Perec text that I was talking about.
JD: Yes, I know. But this is not the Perec text.
M: Yes, it is.
JD: It is? That‘s nice.
K: That is the chapter you got the idea for this book from.
M: Yes, that is the text that I like a lot and wanted to make some sort of comment on. He is doing more or less the same. He was talking about his table and one day he‘s sharpening the pencils.
JD: Yes, I got that. But I didn‘t know it was in the contents.
M: That is why I erased the rest of the pages.
K: When I was looking through the book, I got the idea that there must be some sort of guideline for ordering all the things you follow. You said you were inspired by George Perec‘s book. So there is a connection between his way of ordering things and your way of ordering things. I was wondering what the guideline is for the way you order your things in your book. Before, Johan told me about the name of the book, which told me a bit more about it. I was wondering how you relate your way of connecting things to your reader or audience. There is this previous way of ordering things, and you have your own way, and finally, you show it to the public. Did you have anything in mind when you made your work, in terms of how your work would inspire your audience?
M: I don‘t think I get inspired by what I read. It is more like a kind of conversation. I don‘t think I order my things in the way that Perec talks about his table. He is far more organized; for instance, he said he has a big ashtray because he smokes a lot and he was always sharpening his pencil; things I never did. However, there is one thing he is always pointing out which I really share with him: he is obsessed with all the various ways of organising the world which are constantly changing. He can never stick to one way of ordering things. He always has to change it again and to put things in new places and he makes a mess and needs to throw a party and he‘s using the same space. I‘m more obsessed with this kind of crazy narrative of changing the order of things. So, I can get inspired by newspapers, or by how people put up messages on the notice board in the supermarket, trying to find someone who would buy the chair in their house. There are many ways of displaying this information. I really like how they sometimes just self-emerge. They don‘t depend on a very conscious system of ordering things.
K: So, it is not the system that interests you, but the instances in life...
M: No, I am obsessed by systems, but I really like how they change and how you can play with them. I am not a scientist. I am not someone who makes an ethnology of ordering things. It‘s more about...
K: Exception from systems...
M: Every system has an exception. You can never find a perfect system.
JD: I’d now like to talk about some details of the production of the book. You made the book by yourself. Do you want to have a kind of independency in producing books? This one has been published here. I think the way you are working is almost like a monk, producing books without being dependent on anyone in making them, bringing them to the world by yourself. Is producing by yourself important to you? Or is it just a question of not being able to find a publisher who would do it for you?
M: Well, .. in the...
JD: It is also related to the fact that most of your books are in black and white. It refers to the world of photocopying in which they are made; it is an easy way to make books, instead of using colour photographs.
M: I don‘t consider myself a monk at all. I don‘t make books as precious objects. And I believe there are many ways....
JD: No, that‘s not what I meant. I was talking more about the solitary way of working.
M: I mean that maybe... I don‘t think so. For example, in Mexico, where I’m from, photocopy machines are like....well, everybody uses them and everybody produces whatever they want. And it is very cheap to distribute or to share what you are doing with others. So, if I use photocopying it is not because I am a lonely worker, but because it is easier to show my work to people and to make this subject visible.
JD: Yes, that‘s what I meant with the independency...you can do what you want.
M: Otherwise you have to wait to have enough money to send it to the printer’s.
JD: Yes, that‘s what I meant.
M: Many of them are books that I like but I would never make into art. It is a kind of experiment to see whether an idea works or doesn‘t work. What I like about photocopying is that you can stop the edition or you can make more, or you can throw it in the bin and you won’t feel guilty.
JD: That is also the focus I would like to give it: the independency of saying ‘I will make an edition of three, but maybe I will change it again and make a new edition out of it.’ It is related to what is happening in mail art. Somebody is sending somebody else a work and he will recycle or change it and send it to another person instead of returning it to the same person. Maybe in the end, somebody will get the work back as an assemblage or collage in a completely different context. So I can imagine the way you are interested in systems where your book may be published several times in several kinds of editions which are altered again. It may be possible too.
M: Yes, maybe... If I need them for a large audience, I will do it.
JD: Who is your audience? Do you share what you are doing? Who are the people whom you would like to share your projects with? To publish means bringing something to the public. So, what kind of public do you have in mind? If you publish something, at some point you make a decision to make copies of it, which means you want to distribute it.
M: I am not so specific about the kind of audience I would like. I just know that I wouldn‘t like to have art critics, people who are obsessed with my work. I would like to have writers or scientists as my audience, many different people being able to read my work and not just people who are related to the world of art, the context of art.
JD: Yes, you would like different kinds of disciplines. This is also an aim of this project, to have a plural discourse on your book or on the books we chose, in order to see how people from other disciplines will experience the books we chose.
Going back to the Invisible Collection. This is the only one you have singled out for an edition of 500 copies, to open it up to a larger public. Why this one?
M: Just because of what I said before: it‘s a kind of index of many things I did.
JD: So, it is important to you. When I show the Invisible Collection to people, there are some books in this collection which are very attractive and which are quite open to an idea of what is going on. And this here is a much more hermetic book; you have to work on it to get a grip on what is going on. I like that you have chosen this one. I just want to know if you had a particular reason for choosing this one.
M: Not really, but I think it‘s the only one that works on its own. With the other ones, I have the feeling that you need to see all the 25 books together to get the idea. And with this one, you can take it away and it still works on its own.
JD: Are you speaking about a kind of dependency in the books? Because I once talked to someone who had dedicated his works to kingfishers; the strongest aspect of his work is his entire body of works, as a complete set of books. Some books cannot survive, so to speak, when they are taken away from their context. This may also be what you are doing - building up a kind of interrelationship between the books, which makes it necessary to show them as a whole and not as different, single books.
M: In the case of this specific piece, I decided to do it like that - like a small collection. It is not something I will repeat in other works. I don‘t know... Some things will work on their own and others need a context of other pieces.... But I’m not already envisaging the collection I will be building in the course of my entire life. I am not that organized.
JD: Or you always want to change your way of classification.
M: It would be very boring if there was something I needed to follow all my life.
JD: I know at home they get rather confused when I say I’m going to make a kind of soup and it is always slightly different, because I do not wish to do the recipe the same way all the time. But they don‘t like it. They like to know what they get. But I could make a book on the different ways of making pumpkin soup. Maybe that‘s also my problem in classification.
MM: In a sense, is your work also a kind of comment on people who do believe in the finality of systems, like scientists or...?
M: Yes, but, I don‘t know, some of my best friends are scientists, but they do not think like that, you know. Sometimes they are more open than artists. Artists can be more dogmatic than scientists.
MM: You mentioned, for instance, the artists’ obsession of re-ordering things. Would you like the two worlds to be more connected, or to be more open to each other?
M: Yes, I would like that. One of the main obsessions in my work is how to connect different people working on different levels or in different fields. So, it‘s something I would really like to see: that you are open, or you have an object and you know to which discipline it belongs: it could be a science manual or a magazine, or ...
MM: Do you think art has the power to change that?
M: To change what, like, the order of, or what?
MM: To make people realize that they are thinking within a discipline.
M: Yes, maybe if art has some use in the world, that is one of its uses: that it can slightly change how you are used to seeing things.
JD: Going back to the history of artist’s books. You see (that) quite a lot of people have been working with the same affinity, for instance, Herman de Vries is one of them. Well, there’s also quite a few women who have been involved in artist’s books, but mostly only the men get mentioned. But, lately, I’ve been coming across various people who are in this field of interest. One of them is David Bunn. This book “Subliminal Messages” has recently been published. Bunn has been using discarded card catalogues of the Central Library in Los Angeles. Notes, stains and marks on these cards has been collected in this book. He has been scanning these “signs” and made blow-ups, revealing uncanny connections between these signs and the card texts It is not the kind of book that one might exspect from you, but it has some parallels with observations and themes in your work. Esspecially the way you are observing traces of readers, added to books after these have been read. Bunn concentrates on information which is on library cards, which is exposed here in a very obvious way.
M: They still use this kind of card in almost every library, right?
JD: Not anymore, I think. In fact, it‘s quite old-fashioned. So, he made blow-ups of all these details on discarded cards, to make them obvious. suggesting aspects of the subconscious and occult features. He also made a classification of this kind of information. Which leads me to your most recent project, which also took place in libraries, in which you were assisted by people from different disciplines, like writers, who wrote texts for you. These texts were deliberately put into books in the libraries. How did that work? You have now been to the three main libraries in New York, Berlin and Paris. How did it work to continue with this project? What have been your observations? How did you come to something which is open to the public, in this project?
M: Well, it is a project called ‘The Interlude’ - it’s about traces left by readers and it was based on the idea that when you go to a public library, many people have read the same copy before you. Sometimes you‘ll come across traces, like a train ticket someone inserted, or notes, something that can reveal small details about the person who read the book. I wanted to make a collection of fake reader traces, to make a large-scale edition of fake reader traces and to distribute them in many different copies of the same book in different libraries. So, I worked with different people like writers, philosophers, curators, artists.
JD: Did you choose the books involved?
M: No, I didn‘t choose any books. I just chose the people I wanted to work with. And I told them that they needed to make a kind of nomad text or a text, or an action, or a photograph, whatever they wanted. And they also had to plan a strategy of how they wanted me to distribute these or to perform this action in the space of the libraries. So, some of the texts are very specific, and just for one particular book; others are random; or they have to be placed on the tables where people are working. So, in a way I am performing many different actions and act