For Abraham Cruzvillegas’s (b. 1968) first solo exhibition at kurimanzutto’s new location in New York, he presented Little Song. Hanging from the ceiling and walls, laid across the gallery floor, or joining in space were geometric shapes cast in plaster and covered in beeswax with objects from the artist’s life and past projects embedded in and emerging from within them. Butterfly cocoons used for ritualistic dances, fishing nets from Michoacán, half-smoked Cuban cigars, a champagne cork from a dinner party, and drumsticks exhibited an archive of fragments from Cruzvillegas’s life.
On the occasion of Little Song, the gallery took the opportunity to share a selection of formative projects from the artist’s career for the fourth iteration of From the Archive. We encourage audiences to approach Cruzvillegas’s work as an invitation for participatory and collective learning through the exchange of experiences that are both foreign to and derived from the place in which the work is presented.
The sculptural pieces in Little Song were all made over the past year in Cruzvillegas’s new studio in Mexico City, his first permanent studio in almost two decades. Remnants of his archive are complemented by new experiments with his signature pink and green palette. Within the plaster and wax, viewers can locate pinks made from the crushing and smashing of fresh blackberries and greens from the oxidation of copper from scavenged street cables, pennies, and plumbing pipes. The pink and green reference the Mangueira favela flag from the Samba school in Rio de Janeiro, where Cruzvillegas visited in 2003 on a pilgrimage to the place where the Brazilian artist Helio Oiticica learned to dance.
His first large-scale installation that incorporated the pink and green colors of the Mangueira Samba school was Horizontes (Horizons, 2005). Prior to leaving Mexico City for an artist residency at Atelier Calder in Saché, France, the artist painted everything in his studio (including his clothes, but not his books) half matte green and half glossy pink. For its first presentation at Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Oaxaca MACO in 2005, and its second at the the 2006 Turin Triennial in Italy, all 266 objects, whether a knife, boot, or dish rack—were sprawled across the floors of the galleries forming a spiral. When the contrasting yet complementary hues met in one object or across them, a line, or rather a horizon, formed. Cruzvillegas left behind his belongings for others to experience and to make room for the meeting of future horizons across the Atlantic.
Autoconstrucción: London Suite, 2007
The visit to Mangueira marked a shift in Cruzvillegas’s artistic practice. The favela reminded him of the neighborhood where he grew up in Colonia Ajusco on the lava fields of Coyoacán in the south of Mexico City. “I traveled so far to arrive to myself,” the artist recalls. His admiration for autoconstrucción, or the self-construction of one’s own home from materials at hand, in Mangueira and Ajusco, led to an ongoing project that remains at the core of his practice. Cruzvillegas adapts the concept of autoconstrucción in the production of his work through a process of improvisation with found and local materials.
One of the earliest manifestations of autoconstrucción in Cruzvillegas’s work can be found in Autoconstrucción: London Suite (2007), which was made in collaboration with students from Edmund Waller Primary School at South London Gallery in 2007. The structure of the sculpture recalls Cruzvillegas’s childhood home, forming a “T” shape from found pieces of wood nailed together. The wooden beams are suspended horizontally from the ceiling and adorned with glass from broken bottles often found atop walls in Ajusco and other parts of Mexico to ward off potential intruders.
Cruzvillegas asked the twenty students to select an object based on his principles of autoconstrucción:
USEFUL (DOES NOT MATTER WHAT FOR)
FREE OF EMOTIONS
THE SIZE OF YOUR HAND
NOT UGLY, NOT NICE, JUST AN OBJECT TO:
LET IT SUSPEND INDEFINITELY
Twenty objects, including a pinecone, a dog leash, and a used packaging envelope, were hung from the structure with string. In this early work, Cruzvillegas places his local history in an international context while inviting others to connect with their own history through the people and objects that surround them.
Autoconstrucción: The Soundtrack, 2008
In addition to material appropriation, Cruzvillegas presents collaboration as one of the main tenets of autoconstrucción and his practice as a whole. As part of his residency at Cove Park, Scotland, he created AC Mobile (2008), which was later exhibited at the Centre for Contemporary Arts (CCA) in Glasgow. A makeshift construction from the resourceful use of found materials comprise the five-wheeled bicycle built by the artist at a bicycle shop in Glasgow that ran a social program for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. With a sound system and camera attached to the bicycle, Cruzvillegas rode around the city playing songs that he wrote about his understanding of autoconstrucción in Ajusco. An avid listener of music, he was inspired to learn how to write his own lyrics once absorbed in the omnipresent music scene of Glasgow. Each song on the Autoconstrucción album was recorded by local bands, such as Yoko, Oh No! who performed “Concrete Mix (For an Acid House).”
The camera documented Cruzvillegas’s rides throughout Glasgow, which were eventually projected from the bicycle onto the walls in the exhibition. Visitors were allowed to ride the bicycle inside the gallery and witness a collective portrait of Glasgow through the lens of autoconstrucción. Just as Cruzvillegas continued to use pink and green after visiting Mangueira, writing lyrics continued to permeate his work after his residency in Glasgow.
AC Mobile has been included in numerous exhibitions, such as Cruzvillegas’s survey The Autoconstrucción Suites organized by Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (2013), which traveled to Haus der Kunst, Munich (2014); Museo Jumex, Mexico City (2014–15); and Museo Amparo, Puebla, Mexico (2014–15).
In 2010, Cruzvillegas brought autoconstrucción back home in his first solo exhibition at kurimanzutto, Mexico City, in the current gallery space in the neighborhood of San Miguel Chapultepec. The theatrical and collaborative performance created a dialogue between visual art, music, and theater to tell the story of Ajusco.
For Autoconstrucción, Cruzvillegas constructed the set design and props, the Mexican playwright and theater director Antonio Castro directed the four actors, and Mexican composer Antonio Fernández Ros wrote the musical score for five musicians. Audiences witnessed the actors, a homemaker, student, blue-collar worker, and politician, continue to transform as their actions parallel the improvisation and instability of the buildings and city they occupy. The theatrical iteration of autoconstrucción maintains an emphasis on collaboration and community that is central to Cruzvillegas’s practice, where individual and collective identity is intertwined with the identity of place. “The real meaning of autoconstrucción is the construction of the self,” the artist explains, “which is an unfinished process.”
The set design for Autoconstrucción was exhibited in Cruzvillegas’s traveling survey The Autoconstrucción Suites (2013–2015) as well as in the group show HOME—So Different, So Appealing, as part of Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, at Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
Empty Lot, 2015–2016
Cruzvillegas again incorporated his signature principles of autoconstrucción for his installation Empty Lot at Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall in 2015. The base of the geometric structure held a platform where a grid of 240 triangular planters lit by lampposts and watered daily contained 23 tons of soil collected from parks across London. While nothing was planted in the soil, the ideal conditions were arranged to facilitate growth depending on the preexisting composition of the soil.
From the suspended bridge in Turbine Hall, visitors could experience the work at various stages throughout the six-month installation. Each planter's soil possessed a unique texture and origin, resulting in a verdant composition that symbolized the varied voices and narratives from London’s diverse cultural landscape. The evolving and unpredictable nature of Empty Lot sparked broader conversations about the ever-present potential for collective growth and transformation.
Autorreconstrucción: insistir, insistir, insistir, 2017–2019
Apart from the various manifestations of autoconstrucción, Cruzvillegas has also explored related concepts, including autorreconstrucción, or self-reconstruction. Between 2017 and 2019, Cruzvillegas collaborated with the Argentinian artist and choreographer Bárbara Foulkes on Autorreconstrucción: insistir, insistir, insistir, which was presented at La Pista, Mexico City; The Kitchen, New York (2018); Art Basel, Miami (2018); and La Tallera, Cuernavaca, Mexico (2019). For the performance, Cruzvillegas made a large-scale sculptural assemblage out of everyday objects that hung from the ceiling. The body, that of Foulkes as well as other performers, also hung adjacent to the sculpture from a harness.
The sculpture and body perform a dance through a series of choreographic actions that unfold while improvisational music plays by Mexican musicians such as the traditional dancer and Huasteca jarana musician Andrés García Nestitla and percussionist and composer Diego Espinosa. At the end of the performance, the sculpture collapses on the floor, the ladder, chairs, and tarps resuming their distinct identities. The performance communicates the instability between the hanging sculptural structure and the body, both of which are controlled by the limitations of gravity and suspension. Yet with subsequent performances and iterations, Autorreconstrucción insists that destruction merely leads to the reconstruction of something new.
Autorreconstrucción: Social Tissue, 2018
Pedagogy, which he received a degree in from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) in Mexico City, is fundamental to Cruzvillegas’s work. For example, in Autorreconstrucción: Social Tissue at the Kunsthaus Zürich, the exhibition space became the site for learned experiences. The space was turned into a studio where a series of social interactions through workshops and performances with local communities and invited guests.
Over the course of five weeks, knowledge was shared during events such as film screenings, art workshops, skateboarding afternoons, and concerts. For each event, the sculptures made by Cruzvillegas from found materials, many of which he painted pink and green, were used and reused throughout the duration of the show to accommodate the needs of each event. Autorreconstrucción demonstrates the artist’s persistent interest in using space in diverse ways, but perhaps more so how these new ways are conceived collectively, rather than individually.
Writing, particularly the writing of lyrics, has become an important element of Cruzvillegas’s work since the making of Autoconstrucción: The Soundtrack in Glasgow. He associates writing with autodestrucción, a counterpart and complement to autoconstrucción that uses various media to critically examine the improvisatory resourcefulness embedded in his own work.
For the performance Song at La Maison de Rendez-Vous in Brussels, Belgium, Cruzvillegas focused on the deconstructive aspect of his work through song. He invited the galleries that represent him to send a short description about his work that he would then compose lyrics from. Song was performed in collaboration with close friends: the designer and musician Alberto Cabrera and artist Gabriel Kuri, who both improvised music on the drums. The performers were surrounded by an audience and collages Cruzvillegas made from the song lyrics.
In Rastrojo, as part of the group project Siembra, at kurimanzutto, Mexico City, Cruzvillegas exhibited three similar yet distinct sculptures that hung like mobiles in the gallery. The sculptures were made from materials reconfigured from past projects, such as the marine sponges painted pink for his exhibition at The Breeder in Athens—which appear again in Little Song.
The objects become liaisons for encounters that trigger new meanings. Cruzvillegas invited guests to activate the sculptures. In a similar way to Autoconstrucción: The Soundtrack, some musicians performed songs written by Cruzvillegas based on traditional Huasteca music. The band La Grandiosa, a group of street musicians who serenade the streets of San Miguel Chapultepec weekly, were also invited inside the gallery to play their trombones and trumpets. Cruzvillegas conceives Rastrojo and all of his works as ever-evolving, inherently subject to modifications and transformations due to the nature of their materiality and existence within a dynamic world.
Three times three triangles together, 2022
Last year, Cruzvillegas participated in the Okayama Art Summit 2022 in Japan, Do We Dream Under the Same Sky, curated by artist Rirkrit Tiravanija. Hanging from tree branches at the Okayama Shrine were plastic water bottles painted half pink and half green and filled with plaster as well as pink and green ribbons that looped around the shrine’s structure. He also performed Three times three triangles together at three locations along the Asahi River in Okayama City. In the performance, he sang original lyrics that tell the story of Momotaro, the popular hero of Japanese folklore. The lyrics were written from the perspective of Momotaro’s animal friends who share fictive stories about his adventures along the river.
In keeping with his collaborative spirit and cross-cultural exchanges, Cruzvillegas and local young calligraphy artists created Untitled calligraphy contest (2022) at the Tenjinyama Cultural Plaza, where they interpreted lyrics from Three times three triangles together.
Little Song, 2023
On May 16th, Cruzvillegas invited the public inside his exhibition Little Song at kurimanzutto, New York. Viewers were encouraged to stand, sit on the floor, or lean against a wall, as they experienced the artist activating the installation through the reading of his song lyrics. Cruzvillegas, standing inside the beaded fishing net of the sculpture behind him, recited poetry while sometimes dancing, clapping, and making noises into the microphone: “Do not throw away the bottles or the caps because we will use them only God knows what for, perhaps to staple, perhaps to nail, perhaps to just put them on top of a wall.”
Cruzvillegas’s work is about the art of everyday transformations, whether that be a copper coin that turns green when left in a jacket pocket for too long, or a blackberry that becomes mold. Each object has its own narrative: they witness events, gain experiences, retain memories, and again form a new identity as part of Little Song. In this work, we see Cruzvillegas’s own attempt at synthesizing, learning from, as well as letting go of these narratives he once kept hidden in boxes left untouched.
As viewers we witness the transformation in the recycled objects and in the artist: an artist who now stands alone singing his own lyrics within his own artwork built with his own hands. Yet Little Song is a gathering amongst friends. All the projects and collaborations that led to this moment are built within and emanate from the work and the artist.
Cruzvillegas’s practice is an ongoing celebration with an open invitation.