POSSESSING NATURE / Mexican Pavilion 56th Venice Biennale, 2015

Tania Candiani & Luis Felipe Ortega / Curated by Karla Jasso2015

Mexico - Biennale Arte 2015

Mexico - Biennale Arte 2015

"As there is no such thing as an innocent reading, we must say what reading we are guilty of."
Louis Althusser

Possessing Nature began from multiple points of investigation, parallelisms, intentions, urgencies and acts of reflection. Conceived as an engineering apparatus whose function is to evoke, Possessing Nature presents itself as a monumental sculpture, a hydraulic system, a resonance chamber, a mirror, and a canal. A piece of (counter)infrastructure, it emphasizes two moments of modernity: materiality and dynamism, as well as its arrogance and the limits of its dream. As monumental sculpture, it creates a tension in the space of exhibition in such a way that it comes to oppress it. As a hydraulic system, it uses the pressure of the water drawn from the lagoon to generate turbulence inside the monument, thereby calming the water at its mouth. This mirror of water then receives and refracts the images that are projected onto its surface. The 'wateriness' produced between mirror and projection in turn generates a concern in the texture of the image, which ends up violently discharging its own spectral character. There likely is no genre that would qualify this sort of 'emplacement installation.' We are glad for this, as the piece aims to be understood not in plastic terms, but rather in terms of voyage. It is evocative because it is nature that fluctuates, that flows, falls, bathes, and spills over. It is invocative because it is, in itself, a drainage system – "drainage system" as monument, ruins, and specter, but also "drainage" as a symbolic action that cyclically, timelessly drains away every natural, vital flow into a possession, that is to say, dispossessed.

Thus, Possessing Nature is a wound, a duct, a ditch: a drainage system placed in the military heart of a city prostrate in water.

This project began in the most modest way, that is, starting with a map and a line: a line that unexpectedly gathered and brought about uncertainty and crisis; a map that eventfully revealed a specific cartography, a cartography of presences and absences linked to the hydrological memory of two amphibious cities. As watery masses, Mexico City and Venice share an 'origin,' but not a 'destiny.' It is no doubt at the point where they stopped sharing their own nature that the imaginary is activated, presenting itself as two sets of records: as a city of canals on the one hand, and a city of drainages on the other. It articulates in itself a hydraulic map, a 'topo-metonymic' cartography that in turn awakens the textures of the colonial sovereignty and the naval empire.


How are we to narrate its process? In order to define the direction and meaning of the trace, we located the places, buildings, and architectures that have housed the Mexican Pavilion since 2007, starting off from intuition and the pure gesture of a cartographer's gaze. This year, Mexico's cultural institutions have decided to re-integrate themselves into a cycle of active participation in the Venice Biennale. The result of that cartographer's intention produced a strange weaving together of the relationship between power and architecture. If Mexico came back to the Venice Biennale in 2007, this 'coming back' implied, to a certain extent, coming back to 'inhabit' it, to look for a place to stay. In 2007, that place was the Palazzo Soranzo Van Axel. From there it moved to the Palazzo Rota Ivancich, where it remained until 2011. In 2013 it was held in the former Church of San Lorenzo, after which it finally acquired a 'place of its own': a 'permanent' rental in one of the Aresenale's Sale d'Armi (i.e., armories); a perilous, delirious route, to be sure. From 2007 on, Mexico's presence was accommodated and displaced at an alarming pace, as if illuminating Western architectures of power: political power (materialized in the architecture of a nobleman's residence), economic power (in the home of the figure of the merchant and his exchanges), religious power (the church with its mystical history, at the service of the mendicant orders), ultimately ending up in a military space.
It is an overwhelming coincidence that a space charged with military history ended up being rented as a 'fixed venue' for 'representing' Mexico; overwhelming because it is precisely at present that the country is living under the most violent circumstances, a clear case of state terrorism that threatens not only nature and security but life itself. It made perfect sense that this route of presence would acquire the value of a cartographic trace, precisely because by way of this action, i.e., superimposing a reversal of historical eras, illuminating a present action in the manner in which Walter Benjamin would conceive it, it "polarizes the event into fore- and after-history." Here we have two presents in a lost temporality whose governance decided to possess the Adriatic Sea, and another that decided to dry out the lakes on top of which the ancient city of Temixtitlán had been built.

It is then that Tania Candiani and Luis Felipe Ortega decided to appropriate the value of the trace in order to materialize a necessity and an urgency – the urgency to drain – and at the same time, to extract from all historical archives the function of 'drainage' in Mexican modernity, a politics of control inherited from the most violent colonial sovereignty, with its scale of possession and the arrogance to create ever bigger constructions, always with the aim of giving shape to something, anything, as long as it was "the biggest construction in the world." Such is the politics of infrastructure (emplacement of failed modernity) in our country. What better way to address "the current state of affairs" – one of the fundamental concepts of the current edition of the Venice Biennale — than to take precisely this to Venice, the monumental figure of drainage; a specific drainage, moreover, that is erected – as form – on the basis of the cartographic trace, the map of the presence of a city with an amphibious memory atop another city whose present memory continues to embrace the sea without possessing any longer.

This is how we insinuated ourselves into the conceptual 'fluid' of the Biennale, as well as into the epic temporality proposed by its curator by enunciating and evoking All the World's Futures. Ours is an epic urgency, and its face is Possessing Nature, a work signed by two people, conceptualized expressly for the Sale d'Armi: a drainage system that marks the entrance to the 'habitation' that will be Mexico's official venue at the Biennale for the next twenty years.

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  • Title: POSSESSING NATURE / Mexican Pavilion 56th Venice Biennale, 2015
  • Creator: Tania Candiani & Luis Felipe Ortega / Curated by Karla Jasso
  • Date Created: 2015