Looking at Teresa Margolles work as a whole, we observe that it underlies in it an inherent processual logic, which, interlinking from project to project becomes stronger, and it goes against the systemic logic of capitalism in its gore side (as the also Mexican Sayak Valencia rightly called it).
Thus, against the trivialisation of crime she claims grieving for each body, facing the anonymity and reification of the victims she opposes their individuation, in front of the taboo of the corpse she consecrated in it her artistic poetry, before social indifference she confronts the passerby with traces of tragedies too frequent to be ignored.
Margolles studied photography but also forensic techniques, and working in the morgue taught her that the corpse has a life. She learned methods to extract traces, fat and fluids from the body, which would reincorporate into the museum’s limpid halls, not as a necrophiliac or macabre eagerness, but to raise awareness of everything buried in the common grave of silent fear.
First as a co-founder and member of SEMEFO art collective (early 90’s), then alone and away from the obscene metaphysics with which this group fought against the abuse of power and violence in Mexico, Teresa found her way, less visceral but likewise revulsive, to exhume the most recent memory.
Thus, she brings the residual back to the cycle of life in beautiful and disturbing proposals, such as vaporizing the water with which the corpses are washed to impregnate the bodies visitors of the museum (2001, MOMA PS1), or transforming it throught a machine of making bubbles (“In the air”, 2003): each bubble symbolizes a body, which adheres to the viewer, moistens his clothes, and takes it home. Or “Plancha” (2010), a sound piece in which dripping evokes falling bodies, bullets, and the vapor that forms over the sheet is pain, leaving indelible marks.
This process of reintegrating the dead into the social body can be seen as a kind of eucharist or secular transubstantiation. It is a matter of communion with the body of the martyr, as the Christian communicates with the Christ body in sacrament.
To tarnish big windows with human fat (A través), to clean the soil with blood extracted from fabrics that wrap corpses (such as shrouds in which these violent deaths are captured,Venice Biennial 2009), to transform broken glass from riddled windshields in jewelry for drug lords (Ajuste de cuentas 2007), to learn the scientific methods used in autopsies has allowed her relentless symbolic transfers giving new life to the vestiges of the crime scene or what she calls the periphery of the body (from fluids to the noise produced by thoracic incisions).
Vestiges that can reach an entire city, such as Ciudad Juárez, that has been reduced to ashes after years (even decades) of feminicides; the death industry applied to young women, most of them factory workers (a gruesome serialization of crime and the profitability of its impunity, so well described by Bolaño in 2666).
Margolles has lived the transformation of this border city, from promised land to extermination camp, and from this to ghost town, since few are those whom remain there after the loss of a relative or a close friend. La promesa (2012) consisted in the demolition of an abandoned house in Ciudad Juárez and the subsequent reconstruction of the ruins in a museum (MUAC, Mexico City), giving to them the shape of a long wall to symbolize the power concentrated in the collective work. Each day, during the exhibition, volunteers scratched a little of that ephemeral monument, and in that slow erosion the poetics of memory were expressed.
Because the remains, the traces, the memory …, never disappears, they are only transformed, seems to say Margolles in the whole of her work.
The photographic series Pistas de baile (2016), which can now be seen in CentroCentro (Madrid), points out other remains of this same devastated city; on this occasion, the ruins of nightclubs where transgender sex workers earned a living. Here we see them pose with pride and challenge on the tiles of discos still visible in the ground (to take the photos has been removed the grit that already covered them), last remnants of those places where many of them met their death.
Necropower (a term coined by Achille Mbembe to refer the power to kill and to impose civil death, that has been practiced in times of African slavery and Nazism, but also now, in the current postcolonial alliances between transnational corporations and local oligarchs…), exhibits in Mexico a a sinister spectacle where the narco-trafficking, the militarization of the country, pauperization, political corruption and an outdated machismo are nourished of each other to make of the territory an exception regime and state of siege in perpetuity.
As Roger Bartra said in La jaula de la melancolía: “in Mexican mythology there is no place for a man other than a macho or a queer.”Or Carlos Monsiváis, when he talked about the national construction of the macho de la Revolución: “journalism, narrative and cinema propose the essence of the character: familiarity with death, instinct without restraint, feudal greed for women” (Misógino feminista).
A character which, by the way, imported the Spaniards, just as the Americans brought them the law of neocapitalism, and that in Mexico derived in narco-capitalism. The fetishism of the commodity reaches necrophilic heights, infinity of bodies (mainly female and from poor strata) feeding the necrocapital monster with a thousand heads.
Margolles return the legal status of those who are being denied even the funeral. There is no minor death, she tells us.
Teresa Margolles, Pistas de baile
Part of Alberto García-Alix curatorial program La exaltación del ser.
can be visited until 17th September