- Joaquin Segura, 2013
- Joaquin Segura, 2013
Throughout his 1982 book All That is Solid Melts Into Air, Marshall Berman returns over and over to a single passage from Marxís Communist Manifesto:All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and men at last are forced to faceÖ.the real conditions of their lives and their relations with their fellow men.Published very shortly after the death of his son Marc at the age of 5, this collection of essays is ostensibly dedicated to a parsing of Marxism and its various legacies and applications. Yet in many ways Marx is an oblique figurehere, a character through whom the melancholic narrative of loss that defines the Modernist condition is performed. Bermanís accounts of Marxís theories and their operations in the world are in part autobiographical, and include indirect accounts of Bermanís own sadness, his loss, his feelings of alienation and homelessness, of being unmoored and unanchored in a melting world. Some thirty years later, we still exist in this eschatological place of desublimation. Superficially at least, everything has changed, but underneath nothing is different when it comes to a shared feeling of permanent malaise.Segura shares the dread Berman articulates in his essays, and perhaps also responds to it in an indirectly autobiographical fashion. In a recent interview with Thomas Jeppe, Segura noted, ìI always have a sense that in Mexico, in Latin America, your context is escaping through your hands, you can barely grasp at it. You should approach it in this immediate and more effective way to make it mean something somehow.îIím reminded here of a game played by children in science class in order to test their reflexes. One person holds an object a few inches above another personís closed hand. The first asks the second if they are ready. When they say ëyes,í the object is dropped. The second person almost never catches it. To grasp for oneís context, oneís placement in time and space, is to grasp at straws.A few years after Berman wrote All That is Solid, Paul Virilio and SylvËre Lotringer published Pure War(1983), an extended conversation about the invisible global conflict between technology and humanity, and the collapse of the boundary between war and peace. Almost twenty years later, they reconsidered some of these same concerns in The Accident of Art (2005) and came to this conclusion: art is the casualty of war.In our present moment, the fear and paranoia of the 1980s seems hopelessly old fashioned, even romantic. The world was altered through the failure of classical war and the disintegration of the nation-state. The concept of cold warfare through military deterrence is a laughable specter of simpler times, and all war today is transpolitical, asymmetrical and utterly terrifying.Art now, Virilio tells us, is terrorist and terrorized. Beginning with trench warfare as reflected in the horrifying images of Otto Dix, the Frankensteinís monster of Cubism created by Braque and Picasso from the fragmented corporeality of World War I, and so on and so forth, art is a distorted mirror for the causes and effects of social violence. Attempts to camouflage this reality can only occur on the surface, with the blood of these deep lacerations welling up beneath the paint. Efforts to ignore or repress these facts result only in disfigurations that draw even more attention to this brutality.In The Accident of Art, Lotringer tells an anecdote about a WWII memorial built in Vienna in the 1950s. While celebrating the military combatants involved in the conflict, the installation neglected to make any mention of the role of Jews during wartime. In the 1980s, this oversight was rectified by the addition of a bronze figure of a stooped old Jew pushing a broom. This statue was of a proportion and in a location that tourists began using it as a place to sit and rest. The Viennese, in an attempt to prevent this behavior, surrounded the Jew with barbed wire, seemingly without giving any thought to the historical or aesthetic implications of this addition. ìTo me,î Lotringer commented, ìthis desperate attempt to repair the desecration by committing a new one was the best memorial to what had been done to the Jews and they should have kept the barbed wire right there, possibly unroll it around the city of Vienna while they were at it.î I laughed when I read this passage and thought to myself, that is something Joaquin Segura would do.I first met Joaquin in Los Angeles in 2006 when he came to do an artistís residency through the organization Outpost for Contemporary Art, along with two other young artists from Mexico City. At the storefront Gallery 727, located in a framing shop in a downtown neighborhood with a large Salvadorean community. Segura showed ìethnically correctî California license plates that readbeaner, brownie, and wetback, and distributed t-shirts illustrated with instructions on how to make a suicide bomb. Later works featured images of the decapitated heads of migrant workers, and a giant anthropomorphized cockroach holding tacos and babies and backed by the Mexican flag. In 2009, Segura was famously the victim of censorship when the Guadalajara City Council refused to grant permission for the installation of a previously authorized work in the Parque Mirador Independencia. Modeled after the Welcome To Fabulous Las Vegas sign on the outskirts of that city, this sign proclaimed ìFuck off you chili-eatiní gringo loco up your ass!î To me, the real mystery is not that this sign was censored during its installation, but that it was approved in the first place.Individuals who repeatedly transgress the socially policed standards of cultural identity are inherently threatening to the authenticity and power of this entire ideological edifice. But within these transgressions, the potential for assimilation and neutralization is ever present. Possibly Seguraís work indicates a solipsistic miring in the practice of external overdetermination. The perception of Mexicanness he plays with lines up with the most racist fantasies of gringo outsiders, but a feeling of complicitness often outweighs any evidence of critique. Beyond categorical rejection, what Joaquin himself thinks of Mexico and Mexicans remains largely a secret. Certainly, it is a fraught relationship.On a recent trip to Guadalajara, Segura asked me if I could bring down some books that he wanted to buy online. When the box from Amazon.com arrived, I was embarrassed to find copies of The Unabomber Manifesto, Maoís little red book, and Hitlerís Mein Kampf.Of course, my bag was searched by customs official in the airport. I felt like a complete asshole, and it occurred to me that I might have been unwittingly drafted to participate in some kind of art performance. Joaquin assured me that was not the case, but a trace of doubt remains. When we got to the apartment, the books were put on the table in a stack and started to accumulate ashtrays, papers, other books, and sticky rings from beer cans. Next to my library books and the research materials that I had brought from my own collection, the new books started to take on a plastic hollowness, and the weight and force of their contents in regards to politics, violence, and modern history became lesser and lesser until they started to disappear. The books became homogenous sculptures, and Segura began to photograph and present them as such. Made into objects for aesthetic contemplation, the information contained on and in them was almost completely evacuated. To me, this was a melancholic loss, but one that resulted in much stronger images than those which had been intended to shock.In his most recent work mostly produced in Utrecht and Prague since early this year, Segura has cast off the mantle of the savage subject of ethnographic inquiry and donned that of the anthropological investigator. In examining the social tension and ruptures related to immigration, dissent, terrorism and the recent rise of extreme right wing politics in the region, Segura becomes fascinated by the aesthetics of insurrection and provides a fresh perspective and a practiced eye; Latin Americans have long been used to a permanent condition of crisis, the institutionalization of resistance, and a crumbling conglomeration of failed states.