The imagery inscribed in the exhibition The State of Things, featuring Mexican artist Marcos Castro, is reminiscent of the work of landscape painters like Dr. Atl, who recorded the birth and activity of the Paricutín volcano. In addition to reasserting Castro’s interest in volcanology and more specifically, the historic implications resulting from the activity of these geological structures, the erupting volcano of The State of Things offers myriad readings that include the symbolic rupture or fracture of ideological constructions rooted in the artifice of history.
Modern Mexican painting also had a significant impact on the artist’s work. At an early age, Castro was familiar with Jorge González Camarena and his The Eruption of the Xitle (1947), thus establishing bonds of reflection with the pictorial narrative of that period. He is particularly interested in the invention of identity through Mexican muralism, and its contribution toward illustrating a project of nationhood.
The State of Things is a sound example of Marcos Castro’s capacity to transit with ease between drawing, painting, sculpture, video and animation, on this occasion incorporating augmented reality through an application that will allow visitors to experience the work in motion and in 3-D.
In Castro’s art, references to national history abound, as well as to cultures that predated the Spaniards’ arrival. Indeed, his approach questions the strategic homogenization of pre-Colombian cultures through nationalist discourse. He also identifies fiction and drama as two effective components in the assimilation of official history.
This exhibit explores the sublime nature of an apocalyptic event, an overflow of nature similar to the eruption of the Xitle as portrayed by Camarena. It is, however, impossible to trace linear time in his story. For Marcos Castro, time passes in a different order: past, present, and future take on the form of a gigantic robot hand or bone fragments, the notion of progress or of science fiction. In a scene sown with cactus, the eagle’s absence
can be felt and hence, the foundational myth of Tenochtitlan disappears in a desolated landscape in flames, consumed by catastrophe. The volatile present, filled with uncertainty, overflows into space.
We are volcanic. We belong to a city that shares its birthplace with the Xitle volcano, which in Náhuatl means navel —the only scar that remains from our connection to our mothers. A city sprinkled with volcanic rocks in a valley dotted with volcanoes, in a country where the Paricutín, the world’s youngest and most broadly registered volcano, was born. In Jorge González Camarena’s painting The Eruption of Xitle (1948), we see an indigenous community leaving our foundational volcano behind as it erupts, exiting the frame. As a rule, destruction is followed by creation. The creation of a new space. This space.
Rocks are time in material form. The volcanic rocks of Xitle are the most ancient witnesses of the emergence and growth of what is now Mexico City. These volcanic, rocky, ancient landscapes, now blended with streets, cars, buildings, and the many sounds that comprise our day-to-day, sometimes form images that seem anchored in another reality or another time, or in several times at once. Like Jorge González Camarena imagined the 3rd-century eruption of Xitle in the 1940s, Marcos Castro imagines the eruption of a volcano at the center of everything, not in some remote time, but rather in several times at once: these hybrid times we live in and their speculations.
With enormous talent and imagination, Marcos Castro seeks to narrate these speculations, these hybrid times: the ghost of muralist imagery haunts this exhibition, as does the spirit of urban folksongs by Rockdrigo, the language of emojis, memes, and cornfields. Nopal cactus plants coexist with heavy metal, Aztec figures, Coatlicue, and the punks by nature that are volcanoes in and of themselves. Volcanoes, so far removed from pastoral, docile Nature; each with its own rebellious character. Like that of this particular volcano. In this exhibition, which goes against the grain of The Eruption of Xitle, the indigenous people do not exit the frame. They are not hiding or concealed behind hegemonic discourse as in the past, but emerging from the explosion. Here, they are all named.
The State of Things was completed during the pandemic, amid its uncertainty, keeping the beat of its tempo and rests. Volcanoes destroy, as does the pandemic. This may also be a reminder of the hope that destruction will always be followed by creation. This volcano is a mother, like a navel reminding us that we are volcanic as well. That Nature can also be punk. Leaving docile still life behind, Marcos Castro’s artwork cranks up the volume of punk Nature.