Shotgun Reviews

Jorge Méndez Blake: Topographic transferrals from the Biblioteca Nacional at MUAC

Shotgun Reviews are an open forum where we invite the international art community to contribute timely, short-format responses to an exhibition or event. If you are interested in submitting a Shotgun Review, please click this link for more information. For the next five Sundays, our Shotgun Reviews will come from the finalists for the Daily Serving/Kadist Art Foundation Writing Fellowship in Mexico City. In today’s edition, author Tania Puente reviews the work of Jorge Méndez Blake at the Museo Universitario de Arte Contemporáneo in Mexico City.

Jorge Méndez Blake. The Topographer. (Marking a Series of Points from the National Library to the University Museum of Contemporary Art), Still, 2015. Courtesy Museo Universitario de Arte Contemporáneo (MUAC).

Jorge Méndez Blake. The Topographer (Marking a Series of Points from the National Library to the University Museum of Contemporary Art), 2015 (still). Courtesy of Museo Universitario de Arte Contemporáneo (MUAC).

In this commissioned exhibition, Mexican artist Jorge Méndez Blake explores the intrinsic relationships of space, architecture, and meaning between the Museo Universitario de Arte Contemporáneo and the Biblioteca Nacional, the biggest library in Mexico, located just a few steps away. Eight artworks—including actions, books, drawings, poems, sculptures, an imaginary library model, and a video—trace a circular path with multiple outcomes. The artist plays with permanence and absence, highlights materiality, and enables metonymic processes that help the spectator grasp the importance of a 20th-century Mexican poetry collection as space, sound, and color. Unfortunately, the exhibition falls short.

In Méndez Blake’s attempt to bring poetry into the museum, several questions appear: Are literature and visual arts really that far away? Was their split an imposed decision? Why did the artist restrict himself to using the library’s Legal Deposit?[1]

The transferal within language is at all times present during these experiments, and the artist appropriates and subverts the prototypical uses and aims of poetry books. In The Foreigner (all works 2015), a group of volunteers borrowed a book (a prohibited action in this library) and read poems out loud while walking the hallways of the museum. For The Great Inexact Poem of Twentieth-Century, other volunteers walked to the library to read and memorize a couple of lines of a poem, then came back to the museum to write them down using a typewriter, the noise of which resonated all over the gallery. In this way, the poems came back to life but were also altered by the volunteers’ memory. These actions took place before the exhibition’s opening and there is no video documentation available for visitors, and no intention to schedule them as activities for the rest of the exhibition.

In the video Topographer, Méndez Blake traverses the shortest route between the two institutions by walking through an area of thick vegetation and lava rocks. While walking, he plays the role of a topographer who draws a map by tracing a direction, as well as space and a specific time, implicit in thought, language, and poetry. The artist pretends to become a conqueror of new cultural lands, but his performance turns out stiff, as if he wasn’t comfortable with the expedition.

Topographic Transferrals from the Biblioteca Nacional is a good exercise, but it lacks continuity and engagement; if the actions were still open, with scheduled events for the spectators to get involved, the exhibition would have been richer and the reflection could have gone deeper, producing a feast of walking, thinking, reading, resignifying, and rewriting.

Jorge Méndez Blake: Topographic Transferrals from the Biblioteca Nacional is on view at the Museo Universitario de Arte Contemporáneo through September 20, 2015.

Tania Puente is an art researcher and writer living in Mexico City. She is the executive editor of Trama Magazine.

[1] The Legal Deposit is a regulation that stipulates that all publishers have to send a copy of what they print to the Biblioteca Nacional.