Abraham Cruzvillegas’s "La Petite Ceinture" at Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris

Chris Sharp

November 3, 2010
Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris
October 23–November 20, 2010

When you consider that Devo stands for “devolution”—the band’s neologism for the dysfunctional, herd mentality of modern society—you begin to get a sense of the dialectical complexity that underpins Abraham Cruzvillegas’s exhibition. Among the handful of curios that can be found in the voluminous, photocopy publication that accompanies this exhibition are a couple of black-and-white thumbnail images of the band Devo. Now it might not be immediately apparent what an iconic new wave band has to do with a subjective investigation of the industrialized version of medieval, fortified walls, otherwise known as la petite ceinture (“the little belt way”) in Paris. (But perhaps Devo’s ground-breaking geekdom can only but inform the unstable inside-outside binary essentially at stake here.)

For the artist’s first solo exhibition at Galerie Chantal Crousel, he has filled the entire main gallery space with a circular, quasi-architectural construction, made exclusively of found materials such as scraps of wood. The open, somewhat labyrinthine, structure is at once reminiscent of a skeletal favela, a modernist stage set design or, finally, a rather vast, wonky, constructivist sculpture. Its transparent construction and seemingly ramshackle composition represent both a symbolic ideal of interior-exterior porosity and a practical reality of fabrication, indissociable from the artist’s biography. The artist grew up in Ajusco, a small, unofficial suburb of Mexico City, which, like a shanty town, was built from the ground up from found materials by its inhabitants. His method, which he calls Autoconstrucción—self-construction—is essential to his sculptural practice and on-going investigation of identity. In 2005, the artist moved to Paris for a residency, and subsequently spent three-and-a-half years in the city. While in Paris, he developed an interest in la petite ceinture—a train track which encircles Paris, and although disused, has come to represent the division between the city and its suburbs, and by extension, social, political, economic, and cultural issues of disenfranchisement—and the formation of identity vis-à-vis this urban and cultural frontier. Thus, in the months leading up to the exhibition, he conducted, with the help of a gallery assistant, a series of long interviews with local figures, ranging from knitters, community gardeners, and slam poets, among many others, who issue from a culturally and politically interstitial space, alien to clichés of Parisian identity. Along with photocopies of notes and images (Devo!), the interviews are collected and presented in the above-mentioned supplementary publication to the exhibition.

Taken together, the publication and the exhibition form a dense dialectical whole in which the two parts complement, rather than illustrating, each other. Indeed, despite the pleasantly strange presence of roots and spuds precariously lurking among the structure like so much ideological punctuation, one of the more winsome aspects of the exhibition is the abiding, non-illustrative sincerity of its investigative mode. Never did I feel led by the nose, and yet it must be admitted, while reading the mostly compelling interviews, I found myself painlessly sloughing off prejudices like old skins (e.g., having always found the hip-hopesque theatricality of slam poetry difficult, I had never, until now, been willing to consider its value in terms of counter-cultural identity formation and genuine resistance). And in the end, such felicitous subtlety says as much about the plastic beauty as it does about the political efficacy of this rich and challenging exhibition.

Architecture, Urbanism
Mexico, Community, Scarcity, Poetry

Chris Sharp is a writer and curator who lives between Mexico City and Los Angeles. He is the cofounder of Lulu, Mexico City, LA MAISON DE RENDEZ-VOUS, Brussels, and Feuilleton, Los Angeles.

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Galerie Chantal Crousel
November 3, 2010

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