In blockbuster movies over the past five or ten years, corporations have replaced foreigners as the enemy. In Jurassic World, it is the careless desire for profit that drives a bunch of winkingly stereotypical characters to create a giant hybrid dinosaur that they can’t control and that proceeds to kill and eat everybody. Vincent D’Onofrio might as well have cartoon money signs in his eyes as he stumps around, slapping people on the back and making speeches about pride and glory. This suggests that it must be widely accepted amongst worldwide moviegoers that it is just as likely that capitalism will kill all of us as it is that foreigners will kill all of us. Rather, it has produced a sort of resigned quality, the kind of thing that people are talk about when they say things like “it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism,” despite the fact that the very thing that often ends the world in such imaginings is capitalism.
Two recent shows in Mexico City, presented in very similar circumstances, share remarkably similar feelings of resignation, at once cheerful and lurid, depressed and bright. At lodos, in the working-class, hip neighborhood of San Rafael, twenty meters from arguably the best tacos in the city, a group show curated by Noah Barker, “International Currency,” with Scott Reeder, Cameron Rowland, and Liam Gillick. Six kilometers away, in upper middle-class, hip Roma Sur, Lulu presents a solo show by Ian Kiaer, “Limp Oak.” Both galleries are very small white boxes installed into non-commercial spaces, rooms that can handle four, maybe ten people at a time.
In lodos, against the wall, facing each other, two pairs of stones, rubble apparently, from Detroit even, one an electric shade of blue, one an equally electric shade of orange. I thought immediately of that line from Queer as Folk, the American version, where Justin—you know, the twinky one—says that orange is the new blue. Somebody else at the gallery, a charming and inquisitive artist from Denver, mentioned that famous Situationist poster of a woman throwing a piece of rubble picked up or culled from the street: “beauty in the street.” I kicked myself for not immediately recalling that reference, in the same way that I sometimes kick myself for not recognizing certain pop stars or famous actors. But then again, these rocks were certainly not for throwing at the gleaming storefronts of capital. They perfectly placed, beautifully painted, resting gently against the wall, framing the viewer or the viewer’s feet. I should have worn white shoes, the reflection might have been gorgeous.
Nearby, leering out of the walls, are a pair of pieces by a local electrician, directed by Cameron Rowland to disconnect an outlet, remove the faceplace, and expose the wires benath. A light in a corner remains off, incapacitated by the lack of power. Copper spills out of the wall, gross and hairy. Filling the room with a vaguely anxious murmur is a video by Liam Gillick, juxtaposing a pair of audio recordings, one of people heckling a particularly cheesy free jazz performance, one of people heckling Occupy Wall Street, with a Greek beach scene—devoid of tourists, beautiful, the site of the perhaps imminant dissolution of the neoliberal European dream, calming. The pairing of the hilariously bad, gratingly macho free jazz performance and the OWS encampment suggests the current political irrelevance of both forms, both of which at different times seemed so promising. The only thing that seems appealing is the beach.
Meanwhile, a few kilometers straight south, in a calm and breezy block of Roma Sur, in a similarly small white box installed in a residential, or partially-residential, space, a disconcertingly similar show is up at Lulu. Ian Kiaer has painted the floor a highlighter yellow, a yellow that makes almost too-perfect sense with the orange and blue rubble sitting pretty at lodos. The lurid glow the yellow floor casts up onto the Kiaer’s works on the wall and the floor: a rather unremarkable cardboard-tube piece, a painting that feels out of place, and a show-saving tarpaulin leached through with a whitish emulsion, riddled with lines and shadows brought out by the weird light. The tarpaulin is borrowed from the informal vendors that line nearby intersections, hawking tacos, tortas, cigarrettes, gum—whatever, really. At the end of the night, the vendors roll up the refuse—lettuce, cigarette butts, dirt—in the tarpaulin and dump it. The way the tarpaulin lightly sags is reminiscent of the waves lazily lapping at the shore in Liam Gillick’s video at lodos. I can imagine listening to the soundtrack to Gillick’s video and standing in Lulu, as if it’s coming from another room, and it making sense. Turn it on now, then make this color fill up your computer screen. Maybe put your computer in your bedroom if the bed is unmade. That’s kind of the vibe.
That is, it’s not just the sickly bright palette the two shows have in common. There is a distinct feeling, a kind of resigned, sagging quality, that they share. In wrecked cities and towns around the world, copper wire, like the wires that lean out of the walls in Rowland’s piece at lodos, is stripped from abandoned properties and sold for scrap. It is the classic journey of the stereotypical heroin addict, enshrined in characters like Bubbles in the Wire, pushing the shopping cart piled high with scrap to make enough money to get the day’s fix, to nod off in some other wrecked corner of the bled-out city. The chunks of pavement gleaming in lodos rest easy; the video lulls you to a troubled, but only vaguely troubled, sleep; that light won’t even turn on. In Lulu, the only piece that appears to have involve concentrated effort, an acrylic on cotton with tight geometries, beautiful lines, etc, feels excessive, out of place, completely unnecessary—a waste of effort. The yellow glow from the floor makes the pale pink in the top third feel foul.
Taken together, the two shows point to an economy of resignation, a careful balance of vitality against a near-total lack of hope. They point to the end of the of the long-dying attitude that art is or can be a tool of revolt. In Infinitely Demanding, a resolutely hopeful book written shortly before the Occupy Wall Street movement began and subsequently ended, Simon Critchley points out the outmodedness of the desire to escape the state: “we cannot hope, at this point in history,” he writes unequivocally, “to attain a complete withering away of the state.” Indeed, in states that do appear to be dissolving, such as Syria or the DRC or Mexico, this dissolution can be in no way termed a “withering away”—it is a much more violent, brutal affair. What Critchley suggests instead is to establish “an interstitial distance within the state,” the creation of a sort of gap space wherein politics, agency, etc are possible, within, but at the same time separate from, the state. While Critchley terms this in relentlessly positive, breathless, hopeful terms, I read this space as something lurid: a cyst, a gaping hole. It reminds me a bit of Lee Edelman’s conception of queerness as that which gleefully unravels the future, or the present even, from the inside. If art has lost its political relevance, which it perhaps never had, perhaps it can instead form the neon, shitty lining of the hole in the future.