A/D/O by MINI | Mexico City Redefined: New Idiosyncrasies



Mexico City Redefined: New Idiosyncrasies

Salón ACME, TO, Cocolab, Mario Navarro, and Tezontle

On top of a sunken lake and between ruins, among colonial structures and revolutionary boulevards, Mexico City sits vibrant and sprawling. Layered and improbable, this city is a living archeological dig, where pre-hispanic rocks lay next to shopping centers; where clear air and water are scarce. Some artists, architects and designers call this rich mix a “laboratory”. The creative draw of Mexico City is undeniable.

A palpable optimism and growing pride emanates from a group of architects, designers and artists who are redefining the art world and expressions of what it means to be Mexican. TO, Tezontle, Cocolab, and Mario Navarro along with the collaborative Salón ACME, gathered at A/D/O to discuss how their practice responds to the contemporary cultural landscape as well as to the city’s heritage.

Salón ACME

Recognizing that the main barrier to entering the art world is being seen, a group of artists from Guadalajara established Salón ACME in 2013 as a platform for emerging artists to show and sell their work (1000 USD or less per piece) at Mexico City’s Art Week. Salón ACME has been a key instigator of change in the Mexico City art scene and has provided a foundation for many young artists and designers to get their start. Now in their eighth edition, the central event is an annual open call reviewed by a team of gallerists, artists, editors and museum curators who select submissions based on intrigue rather than prestige.

Noemi Ontiveros, director of Salón ACME, describes the collaborative as a democratic and inclusive approach that promotes expansion of the art world for both young artists and new collectors while deepening the discourse on contemporary Mexico. Estado Invitado, an annual exhibit run by Salón ACME, invites a curator from one of the thirty-one Mexican States to curate a show. The content of this portion changes year to year, “based on what we are experiencing”. Ontiveros alludes to larger political and social themes that have been addressed in past shows.

At one venue of the show, pieces hang on peeling wallpaper-covered walls of a dilapidated house with no ceiling. It is a texture that rejects the white walls of a traditional gallery, welcoming a varied audience and showcasing the city’s past. “For years or for generations we were looking outside and I think we're experiencing this feeling of being very proud of what we have; of our stones, of our history and [..] combining and mixing new things with this old identity,” Ontiveros concludes.

Tezontle Studio

Tezontle Studio, a previous participant of Salón ACME, is named after the porous stone that makes up the foundation of many Mexico City residences and buildings. Carlos H. Matos describes their work as a “historicist project or constant investigation” into the architecture and built space of the city. As a studio, they are in earnest dialogue with both artists and materials of the past. “It’s like digging [up] this heritage that we have in Mexico.” Matos describes how they work like archeologists to recover the forgotten.

Tezontle’s piece Rise and Fall, for Richard Neutra’s VDL house, revives murals done by Carlos Merida for Mario Pani's “Multifamiliar Juarez” which were destroyed in the earthquake of 1985." Familiar yet revived, some of the abstract earthen forms are interpretations of remnants seen in Centro Histórico.

Matos laments how undervalued the historical sites are in Mexico city, “We're not good archivists. We are not good at preserving either,” but he continues, “It is this kind of lightness with our history that also allows us to create new things, new idiosyncrasies. We're not stopped just looking at the past.” This lack of regulation and even of sentiment for the old provides an unbridled freedom for him and other creatives working in Mexico City.


Digital media collaborative, Cocolab, is also reinvigorating the relationship citizens have to their past. “We always try to take the pieces of the elements, the ingredients, that we have in the city and use them as a resource...[in order] to attract newer generations to their own culture,” Josue Ibañez, Director of Interaction Design at Cocolab explains. In two of their projects, Cocolab beamed interactive projections directly onto the side of two archaeological sites in Mexico, Teotihuacan and Cholula. A team of storytellers, archaeologists, and digital media artists worked together to tell an immersive narrative that “leaves no trace.” The result respects the integrity of the buildings, yet fully occupies the space to connect with and immerse the audience.   

As well as resurrecting an interest in the past, Cocolab also uses art to tell and transform the stories of contemporary politics. In “Disarm”, their collaboration with artist Pedro Reyes, they deconstruct seized weapons from gangs and turn them into musical instruments. This art installation is a peaceful protest that highlights the prevalence and centrality of violence in Mexico. It is one of the unspoken yet present challenges that is alluded to throughout the conversation.

The power to influence conditions through art is what drives the practice. “The great thing about art and creative industries is that you can change [things]. It is a language [with which ] you can turn guns and violence into music and into art,” Noemi  Ontiveros of Salón ACME explains, recognizing their work as inspiring and communicating the changes that need to happen in the country at large.

TO Architecture

José Amozurrutia of TO Architecture shares Ontiveros’ philosophy and sees his practice as a middle point between service and an expression of thought and culture. “It's beautiful when you mix those problems or problematic situations [...] and turn it into an opportunity to provide spaces that help the community to get together again.” With this in mind, TO Architecture’s projects convey the “environmental and social perspective” and address the drought, earthquakes, and natural circumstances of the city.

TO recently won a competition to create El Pabellón Eco with their project “Campanario”,  a temporal installation made of steel rods and copper plates that tremble with the movement of the earth. The effect is a tectonic music, beneath which visitors can stroll. After last year’s destructive earthquake in Mexico City, this piece has deep and powerful emotional reverberations.

They are also working on a project with Isla Urbana, an organization dedicated to building democratic rain catchment systems, to create a rain harvesting system at UNAM (National Autonomous University of Mexico). Amozurrutia recognizes that looking back to traditional technologies could provide a way forward and suggests that this “mindset can actually dissolve borders because [when] you start to study the way things are in other parts of the world you start to make bridges and comparisons that allow your work to have connections elsewhere.”

Mario Navarro

For artist Mario Navarro, who lives and works from New York City, his work exists across borders and on a global scale. He is grappling with what is distinctly Mexican and what that means in a United States context. During an exhibition he curated at Paul Kasmin Gallery showing the work of Mexican artists,  including that of Tezontle, he was told repeatedly that it did not show a Mexican Identity. “Why is there a need to have an identity? Why can’t it be global but have Mexican references? Aesthetics and final results [that] can be read by someone in Japan or someone in Norway or in South Africa or in Mexico?” His work is consistent with his philosophy and the clean architectural interventions of Navarro’s work such as “Aesthetical Irregularities”, where it looks as though the floor is floating, could exist anywhere.

Each of the practitioners is making a decision about how to reference heritage and how that can further public discourse. José Amozurrutia sums up this complex relation they all  have to Mexico City: “It has become an amazing laboratory [full of] many examples […] of how you deal with a mixture of a strong past, social issues and creativity in order to transform it into something new.”

Text by Lily Saporta Tagiuri

Images provided byJosé Amozurrutia, Noemi Ontiveros, Josue Ibañez, Carlos Matos, and Mario Navarro

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