If death is central to Mexico’s national identity, never has this country chosen a more appropriate representative for its pavilion at the Venice Biennale than Teresa Margolles (Culiacan, born 1963). Since the beginning of her artistic career in the early 1990’s with the collective SEMEFO (Servicio Medico Forense – Forensic Medical Services), Margolles has gained international recognition for using human body parts, fluids and residues collected in the morgue as well objects trouvés at crime scenes in her sculptures, murals, installations and urban interventions. Interested in the “political life” of dead bodies, Margolles strives to dignify the indigents — in many cases, exploited alive, immediately forgotten as they die — found in the morgue and nameless victims of Mexico’s disturbingly quotidian violence while questioning the social and economic conditions that render them invisible (and their deaths, tolerable).
Moving away from the corporal nature of her earlier works, which included violent performances with dead animals and photographs and videos shot inside the morgue, Margolles’ recent oeuvre rarely depicts dead bodies. With the exception of the Mexican pavilion’s invitation, a plastic card with a forensic picture of a brutally murdered man (the image credit on the reverse side read “card to cut cocaine.”), her show in Venice contains no macabre images. Concealing something is often a more effective attention grabbing strategy than openly revealing it. The sepulchral silence in the Mexican pavilion and visitors’ increasingly somber mood as they walked the rooms of the Palazzo Rota-Ivancich prove this, and leaves no doubt of what her exhibition in Venice speaks about: the over 5,000 murders linked to the drug trade that occurred in Mexico in 2008. A flag dyed with blood collected at execution sites that hangs on the building’s façade (Bandera), jewellery made with glass fragments from shattered window shields (Ajuste de Cuentas) and Narcomensajes, the messages left by drug lords after their score settlings in the North of Mexico, only bring in traces of the brutal executions we are increasingly used to hearing about in the media. The viewers’ imagination does the rest.
[Image: Bandera (Flag) (2009), Fabric dyed with blood collected from executions on the north border of Mexico. Courtesy of the artist.]