Beginning September 15, the Modern will present México Inside Out: Themes in Art Since 1990. To prepare for the show’s opening, we’ll be posting weekly about the artists featured in the exhibition and the overarching themes that connect different works.  

This week features Melanie Smith and her video piece Aztec Stadium. Malleable Deed, 2010.


Chichen Itza                                                        

An integral part of Mexico’s artistic and cultural heritage are monuments, including ancient structures built by indigenous civilizations, such as Chichen Itza in the Yucatan Peninsula, as well as more recent monuments dedicated to Mexico’s independence from Spain and the Mexican Revolution. In her work Aztec Stadium, Smith includes various aspects of Mexican culture to create a complex monument that contemplates the country's modernity. 

Melanie Smith, Aztec Stadium. Malleable Deed, 2010. Full high-definition video. 10 minutes, 29 seconds. In collaboration with Rafael Ortega. Courtesy of the artists, Galerie Peter Kilchmann, Zurich, and Galeria Nara Roesler, Sao Paolo

To create Aztec Stadium, Smith filmed several thousand school children performing in Mexico’s largest soccer stadium. The children assemble in groups and flash placards to create monumental mosaics. The placards form iconic images from Mexican culture, as well as Red Square, Kasimir Malevich’s modern painting of 1915. Eventually, the students’ movements fall out of sync as they tire and lose focus. In an interview with Alison Hearst, the assistant curator at the Modern, Smith explains that by working with 3,000 students, she intentionally created a situation that “I knew would be a disaster . . . The entire shoot was constantly on the brink of catastrophe.” The performance’s eventual disintegration is inevitable.  

The stadium itself is significant to the performance in that it was built for the Summer Olympics of 1968. Ten days before the Olympics began, student protesters opposing Mexican president’s Gustavo Díaz Ordaz’s administration met with police brutality, resulting in the tragic Tlatelolco Massacre. “The revolution will not be televised” flashes across the stadium’s Jumbotron as the crowds of school children perform, clearly referencing the student revolution and massacre of 1968, and by extension, Mexico’s continued government corruption and ongoing social and political crisis.

Melanie Smith, Aztec Stadium. Malleable Deed, 2010. Full high-definition video. 10 minutes, 29 seconds. In collaboration with Rafael Ortega. Courtesy of the artists, Galerie Peter Kilchmann, Zurich, and Galeria Nara Roesler, Sao Paolo

 

As a monument, Smith’s work commemorates the tragedy of the protesters who were killed in the Tlatelolco Massacre, yet also celebrates Mexican history and culture by incorporating iconic images such as the famed luchador wrestler Santo. Despite its reference to the Mexican government’s failed efforts to achieve modernity, Aztec Stadium also celebrates the chaotic dissolution of the massive images and reflects Smith’s statement that “chaos and revolution are symbiotic in some sense, and in chaos, some kind of potentiality for revitalization can be created.”

 

Francis Alÿs and Melanie Smith, Mel’s Café, Plaza Santa Catarina, ca. 1991; Melanie Smith/Francis Alÿs Archive

A few more words about the artist:

Melanie Smith arrived in Mexico in 1989 after earning her BFA at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom. She quickly became part of the emerging avant-garde community of artists in Mexico City, and along with Francis Alÿs, ran a casual cantina called Mel’s Café in her studio where artists would gather for long evenings of drinking and dancing. In 2011, Smith represented Mexico at the Venice Biennale. Her works Spiral City, 2002,  and Aztec Stadium. Malleable Deed will appear in the exhibition México Inside Out: Themes in Art Since 1990 at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, opening September 15.   

Author: 
Chloe
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