Caption 1: Mexico (placemark/polygon)
Mexico is located in the southern part of North America, bordered by the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico to the east, the United States to the north, the Pacific Ocean to the west, and Belize and Guatemala to the south. It is the 5th largest country in the Americas, and the 13th largest independent nation in the world, with an estimated population of 113 million. Mexico was the site of several advanced Mesoamerican civilizations, including the Olmec, Maya and Aztec. The territory was conquered and subject to widespread colonization by Spanish forces beginning in the 16th century. Gaining independence in the 19th century, but undergoing several political upheavals in the post-independent period, Mexico is now a federal constitutional republic. Mexico is considered a newly industrialized country and emerging power with one of the largest economies in the world, though contends with ongoing socio-economic issues such as low-wages, unemployment, unequal wealth distribution, and few opportunities for advancement, particularly within indigenous communities in the southern states. Since 2007 drug-trafficking organizations have engaged in ongoing violent feuding, resulting in tens-of-thousands of related homicides. Mexico’s climate varies from tropical to desert, and ranks first in the Americas for UNESCO World Heritage sites with 32.
Caption 2: Mexico Pavilion
This year marks Mexico’s 4th national participation at the Venice Biennale, and heralds a semi-permanent exhibition space at the former church of San Lorenzo. As arranged with the commune of Venice, the Mexican government has agreed to renovate this historic space for use as national pavilion at the art Biennale and other events for nine years (beginning in 2012). Due to the delicate condition of the architecture, Mexico’s curatorial board proposed a non-invasive installation based on sound, and artist Ariel Guzik was selected as 2013’s biennale representative. Guzik’s work and research has spanned three decades, and deals with his interest in sound technology – resonance and harmonics – synthesizing elements of science, ecology, music, electronics and communication. His work for the Biennale, Cordiox, is the latest in a series of resonant sculptures, and is comprised of two main components, a harp-like column of steel strings, and a central tube of cast quartz specially commissioned for the project and using the largest portion of the project’s budget. Without any electrical amplification, this instrument picks up the vibrations of the interior of the church it is housed in, from creaks and drips to the conversation and movements of visitors, reverberating with these sounds and sends them back into the environment as shifting, mysterious and harmonious tones. In this way, the environment and context are literally creating the content of the work, which is utterly temporal and in and of the present moment.
Caption 3: Mexico Pavilion
Mexico has participated in the Biennale a total of four times so far, with the 2009 Pavilion being by far the most controversial. In general, all four representatives, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer (2007), Teresa Margolles (2009), Melanie Smith (2011) and Ariel Guzik (2013) are all well established artists active in Mexico, but not as well known perhaps on the international scene prior to their respective Biennale exhibitions. Guzik’s work boils down to a pure sensory experience of the present moment and of the four selected Biennale representatives, Guzik’s work appears to be the least political; he has been immersed in his resonance projects for decades, and has effectively used this exhibition to further that research and promote his personal vision. In online sources the sponsors and curator of this exhibition discuss, even at length, the work and motivations of the artist, but comment very little if at all on the relationship of the work to Mexico’s current day politics or socio-economic concerns, concerns that were central to or at least referenced in the three previous national showings. Based on my research, I would conclude that Mexico’s offering this year was universal and transcendent, applauded as such by many Biennale visitors. However the official stance by pavilion sponsors, including their artist selection, downplayed, even evaded referring directly to, topics political and economic. Though this may indicate a publicity stratagem to neutralize or minimize political dialogue (other than nationalism) related to the pavilion, the progressive, hopeful integrity of the work and motivation behind it is undeniable.
Caption 4: Mexico City (artist’s birthplace)
Ariel Guzik (b. 1960, Mexico City) can easily be described as a modern version of the renaissance man – working within and beyond an artistic capacity, his research and works also utilize his skills as inventor, herbalist, musician and researcher. For decades Guzik’s work has revolved around a desire to give voice to nature, presenting intricate feedback instruments that echo passing cloud formations, hum to the vibration of cacti, and subtly resonate with the movements of marine life. Cordiox, his latest installation for the 2013 Venice Biennale, is an instrument that, without any added amplification, translates the noises and movements of the venue space into harmonious tonal sounds that in turn ring back into the space and form an infinite feedback loop. That the venue is the former Church of San Lorenzo, an impressive historical, if now decrepit, example of 16th century architecture, and a unique acoustical space lends significance to this installation. In an extended presentation of his work and latest project, the artist explains that Cordiox is one in a succession of works heading towards the culmination of a long-term project to develop harmonious communication channels between marine life (namely cetaceans) and humans using his sophisticated resonant instruments. Cordiox is in fact a product of over 25 years of research into resonance, electromagnetics, and mechanics, research largely carried out at Guzik’s Laboratory for Research Resonance in Mexico of which he is founder and director.