“Here, in this troubled time, what concrete action would you take to reach this utopia?” The question confronts viewers at the entrance to “Below the Underground: Renegade Art and Action in 1990s Mexico.” Posed by Pinto Mi Raya in the project Justice and Democracy (1995/2016/2017), the query hovers above a golden-hued seating area on a platform. This spatial context codes the question as an incisive provocation: what physical acts are you willing to undertake in order to access possible alternative futures?
Twenty-two years after its initial iteration, the work might read as an indictment of contemporary art’s political pantomime. Pinto Mi Raya (“I paint my line”) is a collaboration between Mónica Mayer and Victor Lerma that remaps the privileged terms of artistic discourse by assembling alternative archives. Founded in Mexico City in 1989, the collaboration has generated an artist-run gallery, television and radio programs, and an archive of art criticism in Mexico that comprises roughly 300,000 documents. The duo pursues methods for the collective production of knowledge, specifically those that unsettle canonical structures to “lubricate the art system,” as they often say. In Justice and Democracy, they extend collective authorship, alongside accountability, to the viewer: how will you contribute to new forms of world-making? Viewers are invited to reply while seated at the workstation in miniature chairs that bring them low to the ground. The responses, collected in a binder, include teaching and learning; organizing a self-sufficient artists’ commune in Pasadena; punching a Nazi; and setting fire to the couple form and the detached single-family dwelling (as conveyed by an allegorical illustration).
The question of political action is taken up by three remarkable large-scale shows mounted through the Getty Foundation’s Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA. “Below the Underground,” “Talking to Action: Art, Pedagogy, and Activism in the Americas,” and “Axis Mundo: Queer Networks in Chicano L.A.” all showcase heterogeneous tactics for aesthetic and political organizing through dialogical exchange, pedagogical intervention, and embodied acts of resistance.
Image: View of Talking to Action: Art, Pedagogy, and Activism in the Americas in the Ben Maltz Gallery at Otis College of Art and Design.
Talking to Action: Art, Pedagogy, and Activism in the Americas is an exhibition and bilingual publication that investigates contemporary, community-based social art practices in the Americas. Curated by Bill Kelley Jr., the exhibition features social practice artists from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, and the US. and is on view through December 10, 2017. Learn more.