Artes Mundi 10 Questionnaire: Naomi Rincón Gallardo

Naomi Rincón Gallardo. Courtesy the artist

Naomi Rincón Gallardo is nominated for Artes Mundi 10 alongside Mounira Al Solh, Rushdi Anwar, Carolina Caycedo, Alia Farid, Taloi Havini and Nguyễn Trinh Thi. This year’s 10th anniversary prize is presented with the Bagri Foundation and will be awarded to an established international artist whose practice has ‘significantly contributed to art that resonates with our times’. An exhibition of work by the nominees is now open across five venue partners in Wales, with the seven artists presenting major solo projects that ‘collectively address issues surrounding land use, territory and displacement through histories of environmental change, conflict and enforced migration, conditions that speak to us all today’. The winner will be announced in January. ArtReview is a media partner of Artes Mundi 10.

ARTREVIEW Could you tell us about your project for Artes Mundi and what form it takes?

NAOMI RINCÓN GALLARDO I’m presenting a trilogy of videos, which are accompanied by sculptural props and drawings. The trilogy imagines different iterations of tzitzimimes, who descend to earth and find themselves within a neocolonial necropolis in a moment of planetary cataclysm. The tzitzimimes are skeletal demons who appear in painted manuscripts from the sixteenth century in colonial Central Mexico. These supernatural figures have bleeding mouths, threatening, knifelike tongues and snakes between the legs. They are voracious creatures of darkness who descend to earth in moments of cosmic danger, when it is feared that an eternal night is approaching.

The trilogy – Verses of Filth (2021), Sonnet of Vermin (2022) and Eclipse (2023) – unfolds mythical-political (under)worlds born from the damaged territory that Mexico has turned into within the last two decades, since the so-called war against el narco unleashed plural forms of war involving naturalised violence, dispossession, disappearances, forced displacements and the multiplication of military and paramilitary forces. The landscapes of these worlds are populated by arms raising from the grave, as reminders that there were stories that were unjustly interrupted. The tzitzimimes, together with the undead arms and a legion of animals from the Mesoamerican underworld – vultures, bats, snakes, scorpions, frogs, obsidian butterflies – seek for relationality, return and revolt.

AR Are there other artists, groups or individuals who inspire your work?

NRG I’m indebted to collaborators, colleagues, friends, lovers, scholars, poets, activists and artists. For the trilogy of works shown at Chapter, Argentinian-Brazilian feminist anthropologist Rita Laura Segato’s notion of ‘pedagogies of cruelty’ has been especially relevant. She explains the pedagogies of cruelty as the acts and practices that teach and programme subjects to turn life, nature, territories and bodies into property through a process of extraction, control and subordination. Segato proposes the counterpedagogies of cruelty that embrace the historically female project of creating communitarian bonds, proximity, connectedness and relationality. Audre Lorde’s ideas about the power of the erotic have also influenced me. Lorde understands the erotic as a resource that can provide energy and joy to sustain relationships and to practice a politics that is accountable for forms of a liveability that take intimacy seriously. I also draw on Bolivian feminist subaltern theorist Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui’s call for a visual culture capable of sparking critical narratives that unmask contemporary forms of coloniality while unblocking obstructed and forgotten meanings. In her view, images can work as flashbacks to precolonial times, revealing ancestral, undetonated energies for political transformation. My work attempts to join Ileana Diéguez’s ethical and affective challenge to turn ‘the work of death’ into ‘a work of the gaze to tell the horror of our times’. Diéguez contributes to, accompanies and analyses the labour of the families who seek for the disappeared, of those who mourn the losses and those who attempt to face grief through symbolic work. I find the work by Teresa Margolles absolutely daring and necessary in this endeavour. Mexican philosopher Sayak Valencia’s ideas on postmortem/transmortem politics have also provided me with inspiration to craft images and narratives. Finally, Sara Ahmed’s use of the figure of the arm raising from the tomb as a threat, a ghost and a trace of a wilful subject after her death, sparked the insurrection of arms that revolt in my work.

AR As well as working with some of the leading artists of our times, Artes Mundi 10 seeks to reveal something of the most pressing issues facing society at large today. What are some of those issues in relation to your practice and how can an artwork change our perception of or our means of addressing those issues?

NRG We are immersed in a dangerous moment when many lifeworlds are becoming unbreathable. The reloaded old tenets of patriarchy, racial capitalism, militarism and neonationalism insist on making destruction profitable and the world inhospitable, while the planet is understood as a vacant corporate bioterritory for extraction and control. We are increasingly confronted with intensified exclusionary arrangements that render entire human and nonhuman populations disposable. The fabulations that I craft acknowledge that territories available for colonial appropriation often become zones of disorder, terror and necropower. My work offers entangled stories of human and nonhuman creatures who themselves become obstacles for the so-called development in a damaged territory in a moment of ecosocial collapse.

In my work, those who are rendered useless, inferior, underdeveloped, deviated, unwanted, unproductive, superstitious, unclean and killable reclaim their right to relationality and pleasure regardless. The narratives take place in regions that have become zones of sacrifice. Certain structures of liveability are conditioned by the death of others: while regions in the Global North keep the profits and create their bubbles of wellbeing, other regions in the Global South become the sites of extraction of natural ‘resources’ and underpaid labour, and are left with the corpses and the carcasses. My work aspires to offer a perspective from the cracks: one that turns the gaze to the importance of creating bonds with others, our interdependency with the land, the need to take care of the living and the dead and the queer desire to persist in the face of devastation, precariousness, toxicity and violence.

Naomi Rincón Gallardo, Verses of Filth (chamarra) (still), 2021.
Courtesy the artist and Parallel Oaxac

AR Do you think art needs to be relevant in those terms, terms that perhaps exist outside the traditional remit of art as a category in and of itself?

NRG What we call art encompasses an ecology of multiple forms of knowledge, practices, interests, mindsets and politics. I can only be accountable for the position I take within these plural possibilities. I aspire to make works where oppositional worlds come into being through embodied experiences, sensuous matter and performative relationality. In my work I attempt to interanimate a queer reasoning with a decolonial imperative, where I find a field where other bodies, other histories, other lifeforms can flourish. At the same time, my work joins conversations and accounts beyond the art field that acknowledge that intimacy with death is a constitutive condition of life in territories that have been turned into an expanding necropolis. It is a labour that insists on creating forms of afterlife through symbolic work, in a wilful refusal to look away or forget.

AR We live in a world in which there is a rise in nationalisms of various types and a global structure that separates people more than it unites. Do you see your work as furthering more general cultural exchange? As bridging some of those cultural divides?

NRG When we talk about bridging cultural divides, I think that it is important to acknowledge the complex and often contradictory histories that make an exchange or an encounter possible in the first place, what role coloniality plays in it and the material and historical conditions of subordination and geopolitical asymmetrical differences between the parts. We have been shaped by but also exceed colonised subjectivity, so we simultaneously participate in and resist it. I guess that the challenge is how we might recast forms of encounter that rearrange or dismantle symbolic orders of coloniality, while acknowledging at the same time the stories that precede us.

Having said that, I’ve experienced how my work has been read or experienced in different cultural contexts in a way that was unexpected to me. When it happens, I get a glimpse of the possibility of creating constellations of unrecognised commonalities and resonances across nonidentitarian affinities. However, I don’t lose sight of the south-to-south bridges and conversations that I want to generate with my work.

AR Artes Mundi is the largest monetary prize in the UK, offering £40,000 to the winner. Should you win, how do you plan on using the prize money? Do you have a particular project that you would like to use it to realise?

NRG I have been avoiding entertaining this expectation. I guess that first I would celebrate with those who have been part of this journey. A memorable party to celebrate our bonds. I’d also like to get some rest to recharge, reset, think and breath. Then perhaps I would try to materialise certain conditions to continue walking towards the horizon I’ve been seeking in my life and in my art practice.

AR This is the tenth edition of Artes Mundi. What role do you think such prizes play within a more general arts ecosystem?

NRG I think that prizes generate ambivalent, selectively exclusive and partial mechanisms of validation and recognition that create hierarchies within works that respond to different contrasting realities, subjectivities and material conditions. As prizes are based on competition rather than solidarity, the dynamics respond to logics that favour individuals over collectivities or ecosystems. On the other hand, events like this host resonances and dialogues between different perspectives and forces, making space for a simultaneity of plural voices attempting to give an account of the complexities of the different worlds we live in.

For Artes Mundi 10, Naomi Rincón Gallardo will be premiering a trilogy of new videoworks – Verses of Filth (2021), Sonnet of Vermin (2022) and Eclipse (2023) – at Chapter, Cardiff, through 25 February.

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