I’m listening to a beverage industry podcast, “I’ll Drink to That!” and the interviewee, Mimi Casteel, just said, “life moves towards complexity, because complexity is stability, it is resilience in the natural world. And what we forget, every day, is that agriculture is the natural world.” At the beginning of the broadsheet accompanying Sangre Pesada (2019), a video by Naomi Rincón Gallardo, in its current installation at the Museo Experimental el Eco, David Miranda writes: “Western thought has been impervious to its context and times….For Westerners, nature was a territory to be conquered, a commodity rather than a habitat.” This is the backdrop to Rincón Gallardo’s extraordinary video, as well as the backdrop to the extraordinary worldwide catastrophe we currently find ourselves in: the bankruptcy of Western thought, an, as Miranda continues, “imposition that ordered the destruction of anything not consistent with that way of thinking: I discover, I conquer, I distribute, I organize, I exploit, I think, therefore I am.” I do it myself. Western thought allows for environmental, agricultural, and human atrocity by focusing on the individual—be it an individual state, person, or ounce of gold—and ignoring everything that surrounds and supports that individual.
A while ago, while eating an arugula salad and trying not to scream, I listened to a pair of immigrants to Mexico describe Mexico as something other than Western. I thought, are we in Borneo? But obviously “Western” means “European,” or maybe “Euro-US,” and has more to do with a rapacious, vicious, and self-centered philosophy of life, business, nature, etc, than an actual geographical location. I thought about the West specifically while watching one of the video’s main protagonists, the Lady with the Copper Teeth, played by Barbara Lázara, as she stares at the camera, emphatically chewing gum while doing aerobics and vocal warmups. I was thinking about Richard Simmons, definitely, about how he removed his manically sweating, ebullient personality from public view in 2016 and has since lived under a cloud of suspicion and paranoia; about slums in the US, the trailer park across the street from Walmart lined with dirt streets, the nearly-unpaved avenue that rattles through West—The West—Baltimore, or about extra-large soft drinks served in styrofoam cups and sipped through plastic straws. Late in the video, the Lady with Copper Teeth lounges on the desert floor, drinking something red through an elongated straw, telling us that five hundred years of extraction in Zacatacas state has poisoned the soil, the water, the entire natural system: “they call my open veins strategic resources/in return they give me bottled water.”
I saw this video for the first time at the XIII FEMSA Biennial, for which it was commissioned. Although a lot of work at the Biennial—even outside the Biennial, like when we went to a mine tour littered with statues of exhausted, depressed indigenous people, while the tour guide cheerfully informed us that hundreds of thousands died from heavy metal poisoning, exhaustion, or both—addressed, in one way or another, what mining for copper, silver, gold, zinc, lead, and so on has done to the area since the Spanish arrived in the 16th century and/or since the Canadians arrived in the 20th century. Sangre Pesada, which alternates between queer dystopic stageplay, sax-metal music video, and Discovery-channel-style late-night special on, I don’t know, “Aliens of Central America,” addresses it more effectively than most. The video, presented in six parts, “Lungs,” “Prophecy,” “Hummingbird,” “The Lady with the Copper Teeth,” “Mineral Curse,” and “Sangre Pesada,” figures the extraction and subsequent poisoning of Zacatecas by colonizers around Lázara’s strangely sympathetic, gum-chewing protagonist. The gross charm of Lázara’s character makes what we already know—that Western civilization has destroyed the world—strange and compelling, mournful but weirdly uplifting: “I am not complaining,” the Lady says towards the end, “I am looking for people like me.”