As a sort of modern counter-narrative, Estados nativos [Native States] describes the return of industrialized copper to its raw state. Ximena Garrido-Lecca placed a large spool of electric cable in the exhibition space, and extracted the copper threads it contained. These threads were in turn melted down, yielding copper in a liquid state. Using the ‘lost wax’ or ‘investment’ process, the metal was poured into moulds and cast as pieces of native copper. These artificial copper fragments can be seen in the vitrines of the third exhibition room. The installation constitutes the record of a process, providing the elements that allow us to reconstruct it. It is not the first time the artist has conceived of an exhibition as the working production line. In 2015, Arquitectura del humo [Smoke Architecture] presented an operating oven, producing bricks inside 80m2 Livia Benavides gallery in Lima. As the bricks were produced, they were laid down over the tiled gallery floors, gradually creating barriers, walls or bulwarks; an architecture of blockage and control of the sort encountered in airports, marches or recitals (wherever a lot of people gather whose movements must be supervised). The production of construction materials that are both identical and geometric evoked the poetics of North American minimalism; whereas the material and the production processes referred to native artisanal processes.
Estados nativos maintains the simplicity of a linear narrative and concrete references to preindustrial processes through its transformation of minerals. It also makes reference to traditional methods of goldsmithing, displaying the tools used in the process of metal casting, such as blowtorches and melting pots, as well as refractory bricks that Garrido-Lecca observed in the workshops of artisanal jewelers in Lima. Furthermore, this project broadens the artist’s employment of copper, a material she has been using since 2013 in which the metal is used as weaving material to create sculptures and installations. Through such gestures as these, she makes visible the strong relation between mining, industry, the rationalization processes of nature and the progressive disappearance of the artisanal traditions they imply.
Called “the true veins of progress” in the pamphlets promoting mining, copper has enabled the growth of the auto and electric industries since the start of the 20th century. Today, Chile and Peru are major exporters of this metal, which is generally extracted through huge open-pit mines. The social conflicts mining brings with it are well-known. There is no mining venture that doesn’t unleash claims and clashes concerning the environmental impact extraction and purification of metals produce, or the effects it has on local economies and populations.
It is also well-known that, since the ’90s, a mining boom has taken place in Latin America. For the last two decades, large-scale mining enterprises, beyond carrying out overwhelming processes of concentration, have persisted in transnationalizing or exporting environmental risks. That is to say international (ie Western) companies have moved their extracting centres to Latin American and African countries. Thus, under the guise of development and economic growth in the countries in which they operate, they have essentially updated the networks of the former viceroyalty and reactivated the colonial imaginary through mining – reviving images such as that of the Cerro Rico in Potosí, to name only the best-known and most symbolic. They have also shed light on the nearly synonymous relation between neocolonialism and liberal economics.
Mining as a topic of concern–and, it can be said, as the economic activity that best epitomizes the ideology of developmentalism–appears in various works by Garrido-Lecca. In 2013, for instance, in Los suelos [The grounds], her first solo exhibition in Lima, she presented Yacimientos [Deposits], a video showing the changes in architecture and lifestyle of people living on the outskirts of Cerro de Pasco, since the tunneling out of the deposits. As the mining proceeds, it forces the local population either to mobilize or to relocate.
Jean Genet wrote that one of Giacometti’s dreams was to make one of his sculptures in order to bury it later. Giacometti wanted it to be found after his death, long after his name would have been forgotten. This might also be considered the evolution of Estados nativos: the final manifesto of the work in progress would seem to be that once the artist has finished the copper spool and filled the showcases with stones, she–or any observant viewer–can take one of those stones and bury it again, returning it, as they say when speaking of mining, “to the bowels of the earth.”
Thus, it can be claimed that this project echoes with the original relation that sculpture maintains with the funereal monument. We mustn’t forget that sculpture, after all, is the basis for Garrido-Lecca’s work taken together with a sense of human tragedy. A work of Garrido-Lecca’s from 2010 consists, in fact, of the reconstruction of a large wall of funeral niches. This gesture of returning the copper to the earth, like that of interring a human body, would complete the cycle of re-naturalization, which over centuries, may disintegrate into dust, perhaps once again forming into rock.
Be that as it may, Estados nativos preserves in museum showcases re-covered copper, and in this way it leaves in suspense–and in a delicate balance–what we can construe as a metaphor running through in each of the rooms. Culture and nature? Industry and Art? Progress and history? Internationalization and localisms? It is on these tensions that Garrido-Lecca’s work is focused.
Although Estados nativos conveys the artist’s concern in the face of the destructiveness of the ideology of developmentalism, in reversing the industrialize extraction of copper, the exhibition seems to question the possibilities for thinking anew about our cultural relationships with nature and, ultimately, the possibility of ceasing to take the history of modernity as inevitable. It leaves us to ask how might we take apart a narrative that postulates the manifest destiny of nature as merely a resource and better define the geopolitical division of nations through their resources.
Without being a regressive utopia–the exhibition contains neither a proposal for “overcoming” anything nor an elegy for what Hobbes calls the “state of nature”. Estados nativos is an invitation to ask oneself what is lost in the passage from natural copper to industrialized copper –the same material that lies embedded in a stone that gleams like a jewel or that is hidden behind the prophylactic sheath of a cable. What other possible forms and values (social, cultural, economic) might the unexploited mineral contain? Like other works by Ximena Garrido-Lecca, Estados nativos can be taken as a sample collection of artisanal traditions which are destined to come to an end but which are still, somehow, preserved.
Lucrecia Palacios, June 2017, Buenos Aires.