ZEA MAYS - blog
From 2011 until 2013 Various Artists explored the theme Agriculture, and more specific the cultivation of corn in the past, present, and future. This project is called Zea Mays is part of his G-ke series of installations about Geopolitics.
The production of maize for non-traditional uses, not related to human consumption is a threat for it's future diversity. Bio-plastics, biofuel, forage, and high fructose corn syrup are all examples of applications that opens the doors for GMO corn.
Recently Mexico, a region at the origin of a huge diversity of maize, accepted the introduction of genetic manipulated corn into their food system. This decision risks to be followed by other countries, including Europe where GMO hasn't wide spread yet. Longterm research about GMO is insufficient but already proved to be unhealthy for human consumption.
Zea Mays reflects upon this possible future of corn in a visual, abstract way. Data, and research of the past, present, and future of maize, and its relation with feeding of an ever growing global population is being translated in various ways (human mathematics, drawings, carpets).
Arrival day in Mexico City. Our plane lands at 5:30 in one of the world's biggest cities. First challenge is to get through immigration. With only one employee available to funnel all 'extranjeros' into the country, a line of two hundred people is waiting in front of us. After almost 2 hours we manage to get in and head for 'la aduana'.
Our suitcases have been marked so dogs and further inspection are unescapable. Luckily the lady of the douane is very friendly, but amazed with our luggage stuffed with chocolates, biscuits, and beer from Belgium. We have breakfast at the airport (a bit funny because it's a French place with croissants and all), and are happy to get some real food after a dull flight.
Once outside we take a cab to Coyoacan, a friendly, and colourful neighbourhood that used to be a small town. Apparently this part of town is favoured by many artists, and poets. In Casa Tamayo we meet Patricia Tovar, our local coordinator of the project. For more than a year she has been in contact with the weavers and served as a bridge between Mexico and Europe.
The work on the carpets is completed!
According to Pastora, the president of the weavers association 'La Vida Nueva' is Zea Mays a jealous carpet. While weaving the carpet didn't allow them to think of anything else, but to stay focused on the blue, grey, and red lines. No time or headspace for other things. They are happy the carpet is finally finished!
Today is the first time we assemble the carpet. After working almost a full year on this project, remote, and fragmented, it feels very rewarding to bring it all together.
A driver of UNAM, picks us (and the carpet) up and brings us to the site of UNAM. The space is great, a lot of students pass by, and we get the time to experiment with the composition of the carpets. The boxes are opened and for the first time we arrange the 107 carpets by year.
First we position them with some space in between (like the 3D-drawing of diederick Dewaere). VA always thought that this would be the best way to present Zea Mays, but now we realise that by leaving space in between them, the focus lies too much on the differences of each carpet (size, material, quality..) and become individual works. The carpet is made by 6 weavers, many of the parts are very divers in look, and feel. Once combined in one piece, this becomes a precious aspect of the work. Patricia, and Yessica who works for UNAM explain with the help of our flyer to passing students this multi-layered project that lies in front of us. Zea Mays becomes an important part in the narrative of G.ke, and builds further on this particular road taken by Various Artists.
At MUAC, the contemporary arts museum of the university UNAM, eighteen students are subscribed to follow the workshop Human Mathematics by Various Artists. It's a mixture of visual arts, industrial design, visual communication, architecture, audio engineering and philosophy students.
an introduction of Various Artists: Paulo Sudo, currently representing VA, starts with the origin of VA and period before the Late Trudo Engels. VA is an autonomous work. Rather then becoming 'a great artist', VA decided to become various half great artists together forming an ultimate assembly.
Being Various Artists from 2010 until now: physical artists are invited to do a workshop and for a short period of time become one of the Various. Next to the Beings there are the Gesamtkunstwerke like Lettres d'Ixelles, Le Château, Faux Berger and Zea Mays.
Human Mathematics: VA explains the differences between arts based on mathematics, and statistics, and how human mathematics combines the best of both - abstract, unpredictable, poetic, and data driven. The students get a notion of what human maths stands for after getting a few examples of martaque's work like "Fingerprints of God", "Math pig", "Endless Drawings", and "Tour de France". It is now up to the students to make their own human math piece.
At the end of the workshop, all participants share their work and used methods. The results are quite impressive for such a short amount of time. And the final comments of some students are very moving. They are very thankful that VA wanted to share this part of their work with them and will implement this technique, that is very liberating for them, in their future work.
Since it's the first time we actually have time to visit the city, we decide to take a little stroll in the centre. We walk from Palacio de Bellas Artes to the Zocalo where we encounter a public event called 'El maiz es tu raiz'. A federal court in Mexico City ordered the Mexican government “to suspend the issue of permits for experimental, pilot, or commercial cultivation of genetically modified corn” in October this year. This is the first victory in a class-action suit filed against the invasion of Monsanto corn in Mexico. The cultural department of Mexico City organises many educative events to raise more awareness on the importance of the diversity of corn. What a coincidence we stumble upon this event!
Lunch: Cafe de Tacuba, Tacuba 28, Centro, Cuauhtémoc, Mexico City.
Dinner: Los Danzantes, Plaza Jardin Centenario 12, Villa Coyoacán, Coyoacán, Ciudad de Mexico.
At 11:00 we arrive at MUAC for the first presentation of today. Our audience are about 25 young people that work in the museum and want to learn more about Various Artists. (Some also followed the workshop Human Mathematics two days ago.) The translator Maria (who also works at MUAC) does a very good job and the Gesamtkunstwerk VA is, is quite well comprehended.
We also have Markku Nousiainen amongst the visitors of the presentation. He's a Finnish artist living and working in Mexico City that came to visit us in November 2012 for the Fiesta del Maiz y Maguey. We lunch with him in the restaurant of MUAC and then VA takes us to see the Espacio Escultorico. We walk through the sculpture park of MUAC towards a beautiful round circle with a diameter of 100m that is surrounded with big cement pillar-like forms. The circle is actually a crater in volcanic stone in which wild plants are growing. It seems like a small eco-system. VA explains that he was here four years ago for an exhibition of Cildo Meireles and then the crater didn't have anything green in it…
After this nice walk and saying goodbye to Markku, we take a taxi to ENAP, an arts academy in Mexico City for the second presentation of the day. This time we welcome arts students. We hope we were able to explain how to be creative with your artistic authorship and not get stuck in one classic artistic language.
The last night in Mexico City we have a small mezcal to say goodbye to Coyoacan.
We travel to Oaxaca with a Ado Platinum bus in a six hours drive through the landscape of the southern states of Mexico. Daniela Porras, and Luis Canseco are awaiting us at the bus station to push their car out of battery trouble. Friendly Soup, and other delicious Mexican food is served at their family-home, where we are invited to stay for the rest of our Mexican trip. At last we can walk the streets of Oaxaca again to see what subtle (or not) changes the city went through in the last 7 months.
Dinner: Tlayudas San Jacinto Amilpas, Oaxaca.
After breakfast at la casa Porras, Dani and Luis take us to see their home in San Felipe where they organise classes of painting, drawing, photography, etc. Their residency in Brussels made them reflect on how to proceed with these. They are mulling on setting up an organisation where artists can teach and connect with each other.
At MUPO (Museo de los Pintores de Oaxaca) we install the carpet, and the original endless drawing that Martaque made last November and of which copies were shown in the Jardin Ethnobotanico.
Lunch: Los Quiles, calle Labastida 115, Oaxaca.
Dinner: Los Danzantes, Calle Macedonio Alcala 403-4, Oaxaca.
Early in the morning we start taping the carpet to the floor because we're afraid that people would slide walking over it. We need more than two hours to fix the carpet. Later we meet with Patricia to check the agenda for the coming days. The intervention on Sunday in Santo Domingo is confirmed, although it looked like it was not going to happen. This means we have to take out the (taped) carpet for one day and then lay it back. It's a bit of work, but it's great that the carpet is shown in many different places.
The opening: People very much like the 'installation' and almost everyone takes their shoes off to be on the carpet. It looks like they are hoovering over an indoor aerial picture.
We end up at bar Lokal for mescal, but are above all impressed by the trunk sculpture at the entrance, this would be a great, and honouring idea for Brussels dying chestnut trees.
Bar: Lokal - Constitución 207, Centro. Entre Av. Juárez y Reforma.
Dani and Luis take us to a barrio called Jalatlaco. A very nice area not far from the city centre with a beautiful central church and cobblestone alleys all around. For dinner they introduce us to a small place very known by the locals where we have tacos with piglet, pork skin and salsa...
Dinner: Tacos De Lechon, Del Refugio S/N (at Eduardo Vasconcelos), Oaxaca.
At 10 in the morning we take the carpet to the museum of Santo Domingo which is an extraordinary location situated in one of the courtyards of this ancient Dominican convent. It provides the perfect opportunity to make photographs from above through the different windows on the second floor that look out on the courtyard. So the association with aerial pictures becomes more apparent.
Many passers-by act curious, but no one is getting their shoes off to walk on the carpet, a good excuse for VA to undertake some time-lapse actions. These performances don't get unnoticed. A carpet is becoming a performance scene.
The group of weavers La Vida Nueva are coming to see the carpet today. We're very curious if they will like the carpet. And if they will like that all the 'fragments' they worked on separately are connected. It's also the fist they see the endless drawing of Martaque that served as the basis for the design of the carpet.
Around 5 pm four weavers enter at MUPO. They also look nervous to see the final result. As soon as they see it, they are stunned, happy, emotional, all at the same time. The Vida Nueva version of Zea Mays is approved. And we can say the carpet is no longer jealous, but confident and open to all visitors. They are very content with this private visit (since the museum is closed today) and thank us many times.
We take them out for dinner at the Zocalo and raise our glasses to Zea Mays. Everyone is looking forward to the intervention at the milpa (the cornfield of the family Gutierrez) next week where all the families of the weavers will get the chance to see their work.
We get up at 7 in the morning to go to Hierva El Agua. After two hours in the car (of which half an hour we serpentine through the mountains) we arrive in a little town famous for its petrified waterfalls. Dani and Luis suggested to come early so there are not too many people. But now there is no soul in sight.. It seems abandoned and we are treated with an unpolluted view. The deposit of minerals in the spring-water bear resemblance to a waterfall in the mountains. The site where we stand has two artificially made swimming areas and some smaller natural ones. Everything is white because of the calcium bicarbonate, and other minerals in the water, that is said to be healing. Dani, Loes and Dante try it out and take a dip in the coldest water at the edge of the cliff. When slowly other visitors start to appear, we decide to go back, for some hot chocolate, and Piña Loca (pineapple, and mescal).
Back home we gather our stuff for tomorrow's wedding in Teotitlan. We arrive by bus at the house of the family Gutierrez where the sister of Pastora, Violetta, is getting married tomorrow. In this early evening we are welcomed with chocolate y pan and caldo (hot soup with vegetables) con mescalitos.
For the coming two nights we're staying at Las Granadas, a family house with several rooms for visitors a few blocks away.
Early in the morning we are expected for coffee at the Gutierrez house. The first Mezcals (it's not even 8am!) are poured, and the pots filled with meat, and soup are cooking on the open fire in anticipation of a post-service breakfast. It's a traditional service that doesn't take too long, although the photo moments at the end, where everyone can pose with the newly weds, seem endless. We try to keep up with a bunch of rituals not knowing what the course of the day will be, so we just go along with the flow.
First there is breakfast at the bride's residency, only for her family (and vice versa for the groom at his house). In the afternoon a massif heap of presents, brought by the invitees on previous days, is being blessed by all, then lifted into three trucks, and taken to the house of the groom in a procession through a smokey town caused by fireworks launched in plain daylight. Over there we find the other family waiting, and the entire ritual has to be repeated. Finally after all that admiring, and blessing gifts, and foods, it's time for lunch. Two mezcalitos, two cervecitos, and traditional mole with chicken, and tortillas. The food is way too much so everyone gets a bucket, and a plastic bag to take the leftovers home. When the more than 300 people invited are done eating they can go home only to come back around 8 for the final stage of the wedding.
Cake and dancing.
As 'Padrino del Pastel' (godfather of the cake, meaning he payed for it), Paulo Sudo has to dance a walse with the bride. And since the groom can not be left behind, Loes, who is two heads taller than her dancepartner, is summoned to dance in front of 300 people. After we survive all these ceremonies, and just before we have to dance a traditional 'campesino' dance, deep in the night, we escape this perpetual feast with silent drums. While walking home we can hear in the distance the DJ calling out for the Padrino del Pastel.
And the festivities go on for another day. At ten in the morning, twenty women are preparing the pan y chocolate, and the chicken for the lunch, etc. We offer to help, but Paulo is kindly, but firmly guided to the men's table, where they 'have to' eat, and drink, while the woman are tirelessly working on countless chickens. They giggle, and whoop while cutting up the birds, sorting out guts, legs, and combs.
The band is coming at noon, and we are supposed to dance the traditional 'campesino' dance, we tried to evade last night. This time there is no escape.. It's a variation of the dance we saw yesterday, wilder, more fun, and mezcal is being served while stepping around. The gringo's are invited to take the floor. None of us (we are about eight foreigners) master this dance of the farmer, so we improvise, and bring a much livelier version then we're supposed to, what delivers us cheers, and applause at the end.
In the evening we are off to another party at Casa Viviana, where we celebrate the 67th birthday of Viviana. Where we get more food, drinks, and birthday cake.
In the afternoon we meet some people we met at the wedding to have a last look at the carpet at MUPO. The paintings for the next show are already in the space awaiting to be hung. Stephen, who runs a non-profit organisation helping Mexican craftspeople get stands on American folk markets, is happy to see the work of La Vida Nueva.
He has never seen this kind of weaving by them and is interested in the correlation between the drawing and the carpet.
Don Jose awaits us at Casa Viviana for a meeting about a new carpet VA wants to produce. The carpet is a degrade of four shades of natural red (dyed with the cochinilla bug). The Carpet will be used as a gift for a Brazilian artist, or for an extended remake of a piece 'red' by Martaque, and Martn Coppens from 2008. Today we check with Don Jose, the son of the famous candle maker Viviana, if he is up for the job and will find the time to do it by next November. He is very keen on collaborating with VA, and hopes to be able to co-create more in the future.
When we are about to leave we see a decorated plastic Christmas tree next to a cactus outside in the sun. A funny sight for us. Don Jose explains that his daughter's homework involves researching different Christmas traditions from all over the world, and asks us if we can share a bit of our Christmas traditions. The invasion of Western commercial 'traditions' is probably unstoppable, but non the less is quiet saddening.
Next stop is the house of Petrona, member of the weavers association La Vida Nueva. She wants to give Paulo a goodbye present, a jarra de chocolate and a wooden stick to stir the hot chocolate. The family clearly lives most of the time in their garden. There is one room with the family altar and some beds, but all the rest happens outside. There are many bricks piled up in the garden, and Petrona is proud to say that a new kitchen will be build next January. No more wind, and rain inside the 'cocina' during wet season. The house is very much alive with numerous dogs, and chickens running in, and out the kitchen, and the sheep letting us know there are here as well. We certainly must visit her again next time we are here she tells us. After a delicious meal of eggs, beans, and vegetables we head back to town.
We meet at Pastora's place to take a bus for a 90 minutes drive to the milpa. 40 people, all family of the weavers are joining us for a showing of the carpet, and lunch. For many people, especially the children, it's there first visit to the sierra. On the way up (2200m) to Benito Juarez the bus breaks down at 'El Horno' (the Oven), and hot it is there.. The driver thought he'd fixed the problem yesterday, but apparently it didn't last. All the drinking-water on the bus is poured in the cooling reservoir, but it all just drips out again. So we are out of 'juice' and the bus is stuck halfway the route. Some giggling girls volunteer to go, and find water from the nearby Rio Verde. Pastora shares a ride with the first passerby that takes her to the rancho where she can get help. Half an hour later the girls return with multiple recipients filled with water, and the trouble seems over. When we are five minutes on the road, 'Super' Mario (the newly wed) arrives with his jeep loaded with water. We definitely can move on now. After all it takes us two, and a half hours to get to the milpa, where some of the women are already preparing the food. Don Enrique, the local farmer helps us to find a good spot in the fields to spread out the carpet. We came at the right time, he says since they 'll start harvesting tomorrow. Once set up all come and have a look at the carpet. The families are very enthusiastic about the work of the weavers. Patricia gives them an introduction to the project to have an idea of the overall project.
Then it's time for lunch. Cornsoup, rice, beans, meat, and 'postre' made by Zenaida. With full bellies we try a last photo-shoot surrounding the carpet, and after the group shot, it's time to pack up again, and return to Teotitlan.
That night we're invited by Patricia to a concert of Steven Brown, and Blaine L Raininger. Paulo, and Steve know each other from quiet some time ago. After the concert they have a brief chat across the orchestra pit, and agree to meet each other next fall in Oaxaca.
To be Continued...