Solve et Coagula is a Latin phrase identified with Alchemy. It means “to dissolve” and “coagulate” or “to separate” and “join”, processes involved in alchemical theories and experiments. This quasi-chemical, secretive practice flourished in the Middle Ages into the Renaissance and is most commonly known as the study that sought to transform base metals into gold. It was considered an art of change and transformation, concepts often articulated through cryptic visual codices using symbols of hybrid animals.
Over the past five years Marcos Castro has developed an artistic vocabulary involving animals morphing with other creatures or natural forms, an imagery that evokes the alchemical iconographies of the strange drawings that survive from these ancient studies. In these works, Castro combines a menagerie of emotive symbols; wolves become hybrids with deer or trees, skeletons with snakes or birds. These figures are often shown within dense forests or other landscape settings. Concentrated around drawing and his own distinct graphic style, the practice of the artist recalls German Expressionist and Neo-Expressionist works, as well as contemporary Punk and Goth designs.
These investigations create a dialogue with the interests of the creator of El Eco. In his youth, Mathias Goeritz was strongly influenced by German Expressionist graphics of the 1920s. Like the Alchemists, he had a particular fascination with gold as a spiritual material. He also made several important works using animal forms. These include La Serpiente de El Eco, a sculpture produced in 1953 for the courtyard of El Eco. This piece, of which the original is now lost, has had a strong impact on Marcos Castro, who recognizes in its iconography an intersection with his own. La Serpiente de El Eco was one of several spiritual forms that Goeritz produced within the emotional architecture of El Eco, structures which include the black monolith in the main gallery, the yellow tower in the courtyard, and the black cross of the main window of the building. It was a black, proto-minimalist form, depicting this reptile often associated with Pre-Columbian and European religions. Through his union of an abstract form with an animal symbol, this sculpture represented a response by Goeritz to the ambitions of Mexico in the 1950s to develop a Modernity that encompassed its ancient past.
With Solve et Coagula, Marcos Castro created a theatrical presentation that moved his graphic language into three dimensions. The title of the piece was rendered in dripping black paint on the back wall of the Sala Mont. The angular walls of the architecture dramatically framed a majestic sculpture of an Eagle-Serpent, placed at the center of the room. A snake emerged out of the body of the eagle, aggressively challenging the other half of itself. With this figure, Castro not only made reference to the symbolic use by Goeritz of the snake at El Eco, but additionally combined his own artistic imagery with the national iconography of Mexico.
The Aztec foundational myth for the creation of Mexico City, involving the Aztec sighting of the prophesized eagle eating a serpent on a cactus (the image that appears at the center of the Mexican flag) is directly addressed and transformed in this piece. As in other works by the artist, hunter and prey merge into the same creature, combining conflict and unity within a singular form. Read metaphorically, this creature can be understood as a critique of the contemporary context of the artist or its future development, in a similar manner to how Goeritz used his serpent to describe a vision of his own cultural moment. This piece can be understood as a strong comment on the internalized contradictions, the struggles and sublime beauty that currently form Mexico. The cut trees in this three-dimensional drawing created additional narratives; a violence or destruction has occurred, possibly involving the creation of a new settlement or city, out of which this strange Eagle-Serpent monument rises, as witness to a recent past or marking a potential future.
Tobias Ostrander, Curator