For the huichol or wixaritari people a “cosmic tree” is a ritual element integrated by one or more “god’s eyes”, as we commonly know the tsikuri. These are reduced maps of a mythical and ritual geography that synthesize the cosmogony of this ancestral culture that inhabits Mexico’s south west in the Sierra Madre Occidental. “God’s eyes” represent the five cardinal directions (east, west, north, south and center), they’re weaved as means of protection, one each year, from the day a baby is born until he turns five years old. They are also the way by which children imaginatively can reach Wirikuta, the sacred territory. Cosmic Tree (Árbol cósmico) by Claudia Fernández maintains a tight relation with this representation of cosmic equilibrium, setting a bridge between what it represents for the Huichol culture and an artistic language that dialogues with the history of modern art, particularly with geometric abstraction.
To enter this exhibition is to enter a building with several accesses. Not only in the literal sense of the architecture’s spatiality, but in relation with the various ways of interpretation of what you see, how they change, branch and mutate according to the connections that build between the multiple time and context references that converge within.
Cosmic Tree (2013) is a “god’s eye” that has been altered in its scale and color palette to be installed in Museo Experimental el Eco: a ritual object that by being repositioned to occupy the space of art acquires –among other things– a sculptural character that speaks with the museum’s architecture. In this movement another shift happens, setting the specificities of its ritual nature in the same grounds that the artistic inquiries present throughout the artist’s work. Inquiries regarding chromatic interactions and perceptions, dialogue from the present with the series Homage to the Square (Homenaje al cuadrado) by Josef Albers.
On the other hand, there is an open fascination in the work of Claudia Fernández with abstract elements that draw from everyday reality, and that she describes as an interest on talking about the idiosyncrasies behind form; the significance of something parting from social and economic issues associated to form or to aesthetic considerations.
Accompanying this “god’s eye” there is an overlapping stone structure, embedded in the museum’s courtyard. The stones from which it is made come from country fields of the state of Morelos, stones that urbanites not often see in their daily transit through the city. Tecorral (2013) –from the náhuatl, tetl, stone and corral– produces a certain degree of estrangement by demarcating part of the courtyard with a squared dry-wall fence reminiscent of those that mark territories in the country, signs of private property and physical limits. This type of vernacular architecture built with great care and requiring the manipulation and observation of each stone can also be associated with the architectural plans of Prehispanic ruins where once plazas, housing spaces and temples resided. Here this configuration limits an empty space: it occupies a space and creates a new one, inviting to contemplation.
Tree of Life (Árbol de la vida) (2013), the third piece in the exhibition, is constructed with more than a hundred objects, part of the National University’s (UNAM) arts and crafts collection. The pieces in this collection are mostly the result of the donation from various countries to the University after being presented as part of the Exposición Internacional de Artesanías Populares (Popular Crafts International Exhibition) a cultural program celebrated during Mexico’s 1968 Olympic Games. A “tree of life” is a figure present in many cultures and its branches represent an idea of life on Earth. Claudia Fernández creates with them a display that is testimony to a part of history of symbolic thought making appear before our eyes time crossroads and layers of history. Even when it is part of a whole set, each object demarcates its own space it is there by itself, without labels having to explain its origins or significance.
In his book, Mathias Goeritz and emotional architecture. A Critical Review (1952-1968, (Mathias Goeritz y la arquitectura emocional. Una revisión crítica (1952-1968)), Daniel Garza Usabiaga rightly refers to el Eco as a place where each space serves as an emotional scenario for awe. The modern character of this project stood in opposition to the International Style in modern architecture, which, according to Goeritz, by focusing only on function contributed to the impoverishment of the experience. Therefore he spoke of rehabilitating an experience in the modern world, and more than once he stated that the experience of his emotional architecture looked to “recover a lost spiritual power.” “The project of emotional architecture can be seen briefly as an attempt to reestablishing an authentic experience in the present, an ability commonly perceived as disappearing or even totally lost in the modern world.”2
Cosmic Tree transforms the museum into a ritual space that touches the abstract. In many ways the work of Claudia Fernández at el Eco and its ephemeral character are adding to this conversation, a sort of meddling from the presence of objects.
About Claudia Fernández
The work of Claudia Fernández (Mexico City, 1965) has evolved in an ample spectrum of media that range from painting, installation, video, and photography to community projects where she proposes collaboration between diverse social actors. For the former she has created strategies that relate art with social themes or problems or with nature. Her practice looks to provoke a sort of tension between the notion of the rescue of traditions and the ways in which they relate to the environment.
Her works have been presented in several individual and collective exhibitions in Mexico and abroad, here we mention a few: Youth Divine Treasure (Juventud Divino Tesoro), La Quiñonera, Mexico City, 1990; Here Outside (Aquí afuera) Museo de Monterrey, Monterrey, 1997; Hiper, Muse Carrillo Gil, Mexico City, 1998; Zebra Crossing, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, 2002; The Air is Blue (El aire es azul), Casa Barragán, Mexico City, 2004; Made in Mexico (Hecho en México), ICA Boston, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, 2004; Eco: Mexican Contemporary Art (Arte Contemporáneo Mexicano), Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, 2005; House things by people without a house (Cosas de casa por gente sin casa), Proyecto Meteoro/Escuelas de Oficios in collaboration with Francis Alÿs, Museo Tamayo, Mexico City, 2009; Abstract Possible, Museo Tamayo, Mexico City, 2011; among others. Her work has been acquired by distinguished collections such as Colección FEMSA, Colección JUMEX, Colección del Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo (MUAC UNAM) in Mexico, and DAROS Collection in Switzerland.