Mazatlantica

  • MUAC (Mexico City)
  • June 25, 2019 — January 5, 2020
  • Funding: Secretary of Culture, FONCA, CALOSA Foundation, Isabel y Agustín Coppel Collection, Cinco M Dos, ATM Advertising, CityExpress Hotels, Urban Images and Furniture
quicktime menu over installation

In one scene from the movie Baywatch, I mean the one that came out recently with Zac Efron and The Rock, Zac Efron is drinking whiskey at a bar. He and The Rock have gone to a private party at a hotel complex where Priyanka Chopra—playing a Latina drug-dealing real estate tycoon, because apparently all brown women look the same and all powerful women act the same—intending to, I don’t know, gather information on her nefarious activities as a drug dealer (obviously) and real estate tycoon (“it’s about more than drugs!” she exclaims twice in the opening scenes of the movie). On to them, Chopra hands Efron a bottle of Scotch. “Drink all of it,” she recommends as she sashays away. We see Efron blankly take a sip of the Scotch from an old fashioned glass, the kind of squatty wide glass you might drink, well, an old-fashioned out of. The focus shifts to something else, then back to Efron, who suddenly is drinking the same Scotch out of a shotglass, the kind of skinny, taller glass you might drink a shot out of. This weird continuity glitch, one of several in the movie, would be unthinkable in a movie with a $69 million budget if only it weren’t. Jamal Khashoggi was dismembered in the Saudi embassy in Istanbul, Jeffrey Epstein was murdered in his jail cell in Manhattan, Donald Trump incites racist violence while insisting that he isn’t inciting racist violence, a Saudi Arabian man is given time on a news program to tell the world that he obviously he isn’t going to kill his wife after she flees Saudi Arabia, certain that he will kill her. One of the most striking things about contemporary political developments is their carelessness, their crass obviousness. Disregard for detail is both symptom and engine of neoliberal action.

For one of the videos that constitute Fritzia Irízar’s current show, “Mazatlantica,” at MUAC, someone hadn’t bothered to put Quicktime in full screen mode. Three Japanese ama pearl divers—maybe you remember ama from Matthew Barney’s wildly ridiculous 2005 film Drawing Restraint 9, accompanied in his then-wife Björk’s soundtrack by Inuit throat singers and a sho—hold their breath for as long as they can. The oversight feels even cheaper in context of an information-rich, slow-paced solo exhibition that slowly unravels and gently teases various social practices that accompany the production of currency. A beetle sits in a terrarium covered in gems, an example of a social practice in which beetles are covered with jewels in order to indicate the social status of women, a living—maybe, the beetle didn’t move as I stood there staring at it—floating signifier. A mechanism in the back of the show portends to unravel a cap in the style worn by various Bolivarian heroes knit of golden yarn, past an extensive archive on the history of pearl hunting in Mexico, replete with the film La Perla, the famous setting of John Steinbeck’s The Pearl by Mexican director Emilio Fernández. In the center, four oysters grafted with objects chosen by Irízar, all presented below magnifying glasses within a strikingly beautiful installation of glass tables suspended from the ceiling like optical pendula, swing gently. Oddly, the wall text only mentions the oysters—four grafted oysters—omitting their giant, beautifully-designed display vessels, as if the four oysters would appear the same had they been laid out on four plinths or, I don’t know, a plastic folding table, or as if anything is independent of its support. The wall text for the slightly gruesome adjacent two-channel video installation reads “oyster pearl being inserted into a person.” What person?

After staring at each oyster for several minutes, wondering why I couldn’t see anything, I finally noticed a tiny cross floating in the nacre of one of the shells like the crucifix suspended in Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ (1987), a photo employed by power-hungry neoliberal politicians and business owners in the United States to gather support for defunding the National Endowment for the Arts. Their success in eliminating grants to individuals from the NEA’s budget and nearly eliminating the NEA in general later played a pivotal role in my life and in the lives of many artists born in the United States, to whom significant unrestricted grants to make work and be alive are largely unavailable, forcing most of us to work full time or at least part time doing something else. Luckily for us, the American dream is to die on the job—or at least cause someone else to.