Mexico City

Gloria Carrasco: Prófugos del Metate at the Museo de Arte Popular

Even if viewers know a little about the cultural and culinary history of Mexico, Gloria Carrasco’s exhibition at the Museo de Arte Popular in Mexico City might appear to be a show dedicated to the phallus. The gallery is filled with dozens of variations on the same object—a long, tapered shape made in a multitude of materials from textiles to ceramics and colors from earthy browns to bright pinks. The pieces are painted, gilded, bandaged, appliquéd, tied, chained, shackled, or skewered. Some hang from the ceiling while others are propped against the wall. It’s a delightful and funny first impression.

Gloria Carrasco. Entre Fusiles y Metlapiles, 2014; ceramic; 160cm x 180cm x 40cm. Courtesy of the artist and Museo de Arte Popular, Mexico D.F. Photo: Jorge Gomez del Campo.

Gloria Carrasco. Entre Fusiles y Metlapiles, 2014; ceramic; 160 x 180 x 40 cm. Courtesy of the Artist and Museo de Arte Popular, Mexico D.F. Photo: Jorge Gomez del Campo.

These phalli are actually metlapiles, cylindrical-shaped stones used to grind maize on a metate (grindstone). Also called mano del metate (metate’s hand), the metlapil figures prominently (along with the metate) in Mexican art and culture; they are a nostalgic image of pre-conquest Mexico, as well as a symbol of women’s work and domesticity. But Carrasco’s show, Prófugos del Metate (Fugitives from the Metate), breaks this cliché open. The artist clearly enjoys exploiting the humorous contradiction of an object that simultaneously suggests the masculine and the feminine. In one work in particular, Mine Is Bigger than Yours (2014), the metlapil is explicitly presented as both an erect phallus and a symbol of feminist empowerment.

In another work, various large-scale metlapiles on a bed of stones lean against a wall. The artist clearly wants to play with what they might signify; the title, Entre Fusiles y Metlapiles (Between Rifles and Metlapiles) (2014), situates the viewer within a hermeneutic field that engages many possible meanings simultaneously; the artist, having created something that looks suspiciously like a bunch of cigars in an ashtray, seems to be winking at the viewer, saying that sometimes a cigar isn’t just a cigar.

Carrasco repeats this aesthetic and conceptual strategy throughout the show. She delights in all of this interpretive fun: There is a metlapil as a bird’s nest; there is one as a pair of butt-to-butt coke bottles; I Have Been Shopping (2014) looks like a bag of novelty dildos from a high-end department store.

Gloria Carrasco. I have been shopping, 2014; shopping bag and textile; no dimensions. Courtesy of the artist and Museo de Arte Popular, Mexico D.F. Photo: Jorge Gomez del Campo.

Gloria Carrasco. I Have Been Shopping, 2014; shopping bag and textile. Courtesy of the Artist and Museo de Arte Popular, Mexico D.F. Photo: Jorge Gomez del Campo.

Carrasco’s work plays with the fluidity of the sign. However, the jokes are part of a more serious game that slowly becomes apparent. Among all of the objects in the gallery, a few suggest that within the multiplicity of meanings there lurks a dangerous structure. One metlapil has the text “only with my consent” written on it. Another is protected by a layer of spikes that reads “tócame” (“touch me”) when seen from a distance. One is wrapped in surgical gauze. Another simply reads “violencia.”

Gloria Carrasco. Prófugos del Metate, 2014 (detail); object-art. Courtesy of the artist and Museo de Arte Popular, Mexico D.F. Photo: Jorge Gomez del Campo.

Gloria Carrasco. Prófugos del Metate, 2014 (detail). Courtesy of the Artist and Museo de Arte Popular, Mexico D.F. Photo: Jorge Gomez del Campo.

An easy-to-miss piece is Seguridad Civil (2014). It cleverly uses interpretative play and visual puns to reveal the stakes in Carrasco’s game. It looks exactly like a case for a fire ax or extinguisher. But instead of the expected text and contents, the artist places the words “en caso de violencia, romper el vidrio” (“in case of violence, break glass”) across the front, and mounts a metlapil inside. This play on expectations suggests that violence in the home constitutes a civil emergency, and that the metlapil is simultaneously a weapon, a symbol of power, and a signifier of the feminine body at risk.

Gloria Carrasco. Seguridad Civil, 2014; ceramic, wood, and glass. Courtesy of the artist and Museo de Arte Popular, Mexico D.F. Photo: Jorge Gomez del Campo.

Gloria Carrasco. Seguridad Civil, 2014; ceramic, wood, and glass. Courtesy of the Artist and Museo de Arte Popular, Mexico D.F. Photo: Jorge Gomez del Campo.

Carrasco’s phalli are indeed on the run, creating an anarchic and fluid field where totalitarian essentialism is flippantly exchanged for a multiplicity of divergent meanings. The artist is correct in emphasizing the potential violence of this situation; few things are as dangerous as a person whose power is threatened. But, more importantly, her work evokes the idea that resistance should be fun.

Gloria Carrasco: Prófugos del Metate is on view through February 7, 2015, at the Museo de Arte Popular in Mexico City.

 

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