Dust Flower, Controller Of The Universe, Goat Mother, Heads Of The Dark, The Wonder Of Our Faces.
First of all, this is how it begins:
The sound of clicking, a rose colored light.
Then the sound of a bell… the lights dim on and off.
The stained-glass curtain rises to the sound of a flute; there is a small black stork at centre stage.
Light cue: Blue.
This is the stork that survived the war. It slowly lifts its wing, revealing a bright fuchsia colored fabric, and then there is the distant sound of an elephant crying which is silenced by the sound of a bomb exploding. Berlin, 1941. There is a long pause of silence and then the audience is revealed: coughing, crumpling paper etc…
All forms seen on the stage are acting and sculptural—making historical and psychological references. During the performance a stagehand is slowly dismantling the set. A text appears briefly: “Architecture Being Viewed from a Sociological Point of View” or something along those lines.
The dialogue is divided into four ‘nights’ or colors. The narrator appears in black perhaps, she can’t be seen, but as the wing of the stork lowers, there is a woman somewhere played by my Japanese friend Rika, just like in my dream. She is wearing a mask, and with a strong Japanese accent states: This is how I got the name of The Vampire of Coyoacan. (there is the sound of creaking) It is the War of the Nineteen Fifties in Mexico City, the backstabbing drama, the rumors, the tensions… I had been working with several specific buildings here, intervening in them. I made holes, two of them, which then became a mask. I peered out. This taught me how to go beyond the myth of myself.
It is sometimes difficult for the audience to understand what she is saying or it is somehow veiled, this could be achieved by a deep rumbling sound. The din of a city.
In a sense I needed to become a form of architecture and in this way, I could begin the healing process, as before that time. I had no sense of my body. It was full of blood and organs but I had no access to them. I needed to enter into a building, to become a building. I wasn’t a Vampire then. I had no emotions. I could only paint the walls, I couldn’t enter into them. I created illusionary spaces this way, illusionary histories. A religion. This isn’t to say that I believe in God. I don’t. My Goat Mother killed him. This is how the Universe began. It created a fold in time, like this crease… She points to this poster. (sound of thunder)
The crease separated me from my biography, between my eyes and my mouth, my words and my thoughts, creating a distancing effect. This allowed a new form of language to erupt like music, and it swamped me over, totally. An absolute work, a total work. Tears, emotions, these holes… I can only communicate this now in a formalized sense of language.
A wooden mallet is rhythmically struck.
She pokes her fingers through the poster, creating eyeholes. They formed the lines that would become the plans for this building, just like Tlaltecuhtli’s body was torn in half to form the earth and the sky.
She gestures around, and objects are brought to the stage and set up which takes 20-30 minutes. During this time she casually interacts with the audience asking them questions about their lives.
But how can you change? Suppose you don’t like change, suppose it is very clean, and there is no change in appearance. Suppose you weren’t born from Hippie parents, from a Goat Mother, perhaps you were born in the mountains under a pile of rifles. Then it must be imagined in a play, a script/manifesto written to create doubling, good and evil, between the source, and the hard form of the material world. Between pineapples and chewing gum, masks and invites, the industrial and the organic. I understood rationally: Vampires were considered a cure for flatness. Flatness had come to define late-Modernism in Mexico. I brought homosexuality to the city: I wanted to free the servants, the slaves, and the working class. It didn’t, it only caused more war, more suffering, more religion and more superstition. Then because of this, they outlawed the Muralist, the Gourd Drums of The Goat Mother. They forbid people from returning to the mysterious and sacred sites. But hope was not lost, the black stork still survived and, at certain times of the year, drumming can be heard, nobody knows from where it comes and small children are still told the story of the elephant and how the universe emerged from its eyes the moment it died.
At this point, she walks off the stage and flips an electrical switch. The performance begins. Some see blood, some see stones, costumes, bodies dyed black, an elephant in a frying pan, food left for idols, objects from popular culture, rocks, and pots.
Geoffrey Farmer, Artist
INTERVIEW WITH GEOFFREY FARMER
BY TOBIAS OSTRANDER
Tobias Ostrander (TO):
How did you respond to the architecture and history of El Eco with your installation El vampiro de Coyoacán y sus veinte achichintles (The Vampire of Coyoacán1 and His Twenty Achichintles2)?
Geoffrey Farmer (GF):
I began with a biography of Mathias Goeritz that I had translated into English. The biography reads as if written by Goeritz, but was in fact written by the artist Pedro Friedeberg. The text is somewhat fantastic and near the end, Diego Rivera is referred to as The Vampire of Coyoacan. It stood out to me in the text because of its dramatic quality, almost campness. It is a statement that really made me think about our need to dramatize the past. I don’t believe that Goeritz used this phrase to describe Rivera, I think it comes from Friedeberg, but it is true that Goeritz and Rivera did have a long standing feud. If you scratch a little bit further it becomes apparent that their disagreements represent larger divisions between artists at that time. Goeritz believed in the metaphysics of art, and Rivera did not.
As you know in El Eco there is a black monolith as you enter into the gallery space. It’s ambiguous as to whether it is a wall or a sculpture. My work began there and extended from it. I really felt Barragán architecturally, as well the Bauhaus. In the end my piece took the form of a mechanized sculpture play relating to the Bauhaus’s ideal of an interdisciplinary mechanical theatre.
With this project you were mixing and abstracting multiple narratives, both historical and personal. Can you discuss these sources and this process? How have you used these histories and how have they influenced your choice of objects and other elements included in the final installation?
When I begin working on a piece, I go out in search of the work. This usually takes the form of research online, reading and traveling. Ultimately, I end up with a lot of notes, text and image fragments which I then begin to combine together to construct what will eventually become the physical form of the work. The process reminds me of a quote by William Burroughs, “When you cut into the present the future leaks out.” Research always feels to me like stabbing into the dark. It is a process of formation, and in the end, feels almost Cubist. In the piece I used the idea of the vampire to represent time: having to exist through centuries and reconciling that with the present. I was inte- rested as well in the multiplicity of the past and the fragmentary quality of knowledge. In the construction of the script, I mixed in different subjectivities, as I thought Friedeberg’s biography had done, with some of my own. For example I remember Allen Ginsberg mentioning Mexico City at one of his performances that I saw in 1991. I was interested in the timing of this trip and I was surprised to discover that it was only a few years after Goeritz had built El Eco and published his Manifiesto de la Arquitectura Emocional (Manifesto of Emotional Architecture). Chronologically it seemed strange to me. It is difficult to reconcile Ginsberg’s writing of Howl and Goeritz’s building of El Eco happening within a few years of each other. They seem historically far apart to me. I thought it would be interesting to include some of the poem in one of the sequences. I wanted to hear it in the space, in a sense physically coming up against its interior. I was able to find an early recording from 1956.
You have mentioned your interest, on the one hand, in Walter Benjamin and his text Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, with his discussion of montage and the significance of the photographic image; and on the other hand, Art and Objecthood, Michael Fried ́s seminal essay on Minimalism and theatricality. How would you describe your attraction to these texts and how do they drive your investigations?
They are important texts for me, and I know they are constantly referred to, almost habitually, but I feel that I needed to re-examine them in relationship to what I wanted to do at El Eco. I was especially interested in Benjamin and his questions about the original and how this might relate to making a work within an architectural work like El Eco. I felt that there is a certain blurring between architecture and art with the building. I think this relates to Fried’s concerns as well and I think they are important questions when producting a sitespecific work.
Movement and sound play an important part in El vampiro de Coyoacán y sus veinte achichintles and are relatively new in your practice. What has drawn you to this choreography, to incorporate sound and movement narratives into this piece?
A few years ago I created a sculptural sound piece and in the process began working with Brady Marks, a Vancouver artist, who helped me create the sound compositions. She introduced me to computer programming and the ability of the work to express time in a more direct way. The first works were in the form of clocks. For me, transposing these cut-up narratives into compositions and then into computer programs that play out as sounds and physical movements in the work was a natural progression. In the work for El Eco I was interested in Schlemmer’s ideas for his mechanical ballet. In my mind, it links in certain ways, to some of the concerns Benjamin and Fried were expressing about the Machine Age. I think the same could be said about Goeritz’s Arquitectura Emocional manifesto and his idea of figure and space and Rivera’s murals and his political beliefs, about the potentially harmonious relationship between the figure and industry.
Aspects of your recent projects often look aged or recall early twentieth century works; this character produces a sense of nostalgia or evokes a past avant-garde. How do you see your work in relation to early- Modernist traditions (such as Dada, Russian Constructivism, De Stijl) and to historical time in general?
I don’t really feel nostalgic for the past, I am more interested in the perception of time. I feel connected to artists and writers from the past who were grappling with questions about our place in time, and I guess it could be linked to the Modernists sense of the mythic function of art. I think when these historical movements are broken down to specific individuals, their perceived cohesiveness starts to unravel. This is the sense of history that I want to present within my work, that history is more akin to a kaleidoscope than to a monolith.
1 Coyoacan is the neighborhood where Diego Rivera lived and work. From the náhuatl coyo-hua-con that means place of the coyotes.
2 Achichintle is a derogatory noun that comes from the náhuatl that means servile assistant.