Obsidiana. A project developed over the last two years. This exhibition meditates upon obsidian, first, as a beautiful material for Durham, secondly, as a stone inlayed by multiple connotations, heavy cultural preconceptions and layers of history; all of which the artist tries to make manifest by enclosing the presence of the material in three different abstract sculptures displayed in individual atmospheres.
kurimanzutto presents Obsidiana by Jimmie Durham, a project developed over the last two years. Durham’s multifarious practice spans from drawing, sculpture, installation and video to performance, literature and poetry.
Jimmie Durham lived and worked in Mexico, in the southern city of Cuernavaca from 1987 until 1994. Afterwards he started traveling back and forth throughout Eurasia, which stirred up a concern in him about the idea of Europe: “which doesn’t describe an actual continent but is only a political obfuscation”. It is fifteen years after his departure that he presents his first solo show in the country.
Durham has stated his refusal for the expectancy of purity in art. His work is always embedded and affected by the location in which it is produced. This exhibition meditates upon obsidian, first, as a beautiful material for Durham, secondly, as a stone inlayed by multiple connotations, heavy cultural preconceptions and layers of history; all of which the artist tries to make manifest by enclosing the presence of the material in three different abstract sculptures displayed in individual atmospheres. Obsidian, a black volcanic glass with an irregular molecular structure, whose tonalities vary according to the direction in which it is sectioned, was widely used by Aztec, Toltec and Huastec Mexicans.
The first work at the entrance of the exhibition, The Doorman, is one of Durham’s distinctive anthropomorphic sculptures. This character, made out of iron, Murano glass and gold, showing a red obsidian heart, personifies Tezcatlipoca. Tezcatlipoca —that means “smoking mirror”— was represented by Aztecs with a polished black obsidian on his chest. He was Quetzalcoatl’s brother and complementary deity. The Nahua legend tells that they created the world together, however for the Toltecs they were rivals and opponents. In European mythology, Vulcano, for Romans, or Hefesto, for Greeks, was a god who emerged from the profundities. He is described as a lame male, whose foot was grabbed while he was escaping from hell. Tezcatlipoca is also associated with the underground and the darkness, and depicted with one foot only too. This happenstance has unchained Durham’s investigation.
The artist has expressed his distrust in written language for it takes away memory and constricts “how and what to think and to be”,1 however this very circumstance plays a central part of his practice. Instead of establishing connections, the presence of texts (mistranslations, word-games, and words labeling objects) trigger meaningful disruptions in Durham’s work. His apparently innocent yet awry mimicry and verbalization of attitudes and rules regulating artistic creation and consumption, implicates the viewer with humor. Likewise in Bertolt Brecht’ theatre-plays, there is no attempt to divert the audience from the fact that, what they are seeing, is nothing else but a play —or a sculpture, in Durham’s case—; quite the opposite, it is crucial to acknowledge it. Nevertheless, this supposed permissiveness of fiction reveals the historical complicities of social actors. For this project Jimmie Durham has immersed in a process of knowledge of this Mexican stone, its natural state and characteristics, and the possible ways to transform it. Durham reflects on the cultural features associated to the very existence of a rock like this. For him, ideas concomitantly occur with the recognition of materials, thus any intellectual development relies upon these physical encounters.
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