128 whispers, by Cecilia Miranda, in Theory of Spontaneous Generation by students of the SOMA Educational Program.

128 whispers, by Cecilia Miranda, in Theory of Spontaneous Generation by students of the SOMA Educational Program.

02/02/2022
Work by Cecilia Miranda
By Arturo Soto

“The plan was to add color to the houses because all of them made a gray patch.”

This is part of what Dione Anguiano, head of Iztapalapa, said when an urban improvement program was launched in August 2016 to paint 2,500 houses in Cerro del Peñón, a neighboring area between the municipality and Ciudad Nezahualcóyotl, in August 2016.

These programs, which are still active in many marginalized regions of Mexico City and the metropolitan area —as well as prevalent in many Latin American cities— are intended to give color to the urban sprawl, create a sense of community, improve the landscape and the quality of life of the inhabitants and thereby —supposedly— reduce the rates of violence in the areas.

Local and state governments, in an agreement with companies such as Comex (through its civil association Corazón Urbano A.C.), give paint and tools to entire neighborhoods to paint their facades and thus make the landscape less of a gray sight.

This is part of the approach that visual artist Cecilia Miranda (Mexico City, 1993) has made around housing in peripheral areas, the way in which the government has tried to rehabilitate these territories through such programs and the way in which the inhabitants resist this subtle form of colonialism, appropriation and erasure. The process and its resulting art pieces so far are part of the group exhibition Spontaneous Generation Theory put together by the students of the SOMA Educational Program, a two-and-a-half year pedagogical journey in which 12 artists explored, both individually and collectively, the interests that underpin their own artistic practices.

“Painting a facade is to make it look like the government cares.”

The artist lived in Coacalco, a territory divided from Mexico City by the Cerro del Chiquihuite. During the 15 years she lived there, this landscape marked her childhood and adolescence “with the idea of traveling; having to work in Mexico City while living outside of it”, for it went from being an almost rural space to a totally urbanized environment in which self-building predominated as a gray stain.

Coacalco is one of the many communities that have historically resisted the territory and have had to find a place and a possibility of housing that the State does not provide.

Cecilia migrates from Coacalco and after some years, stops visiting. When she returns to what she considered a familiar space, she walks down a road where the observed landscape is no longer gray but made out of many houses painted with the same colors. “It was very strange… that many people decided to paint their houses the same color…”, she tells me as a preamble to what would trigger her research, a project that coincided with his specific interests with the spaces that are inhabited and with the idea of home.

She’s familiar with the public programs that, since 2010, give façade painting to certain settlements to improve their appearance in the eyes of those who look at them from a distance. Thus, spaces in Gustavo A. Madero, Ecatepec and other settlements visible along the Mexico Pachuca highway, appear as filled with color. “The programs ‘Ilumina México’ and ‘Pinta en Grande’, through what they define as urban improvements, are painting the territory through exchanges with companies to get and give away paint. The people [the inhabitants] do not get to decide the colors with which they are going to paint their territory, but they are the ones who paint. There were many layers that seemed strange to me, for instance, why is it that instead of improving legal, territorial and service conditions in these settlements, it appears more important to paint them? There, I began to realize that painting was appearing as a device in its etymological notion, which is precisely that of a structure that hides its functioning mechanism: in reality what happens with the façade painting in these settlements —which can be seen from a distance because they are on hills—, is that they hide the indeterminate stage in which they [the houses] are and start to become colorful hills that, in the eyes of the State, are beautiful […] landscapes for those who enter and leave Mexico City. To me, it was very impactful to see that this exercise is actually a way to distract the gaze of those who come and go”, Cecilia mentions to me during our talk.

With this panorama of participation of state and private sector actors, it would seem that the inhabitants are left out of the program’s decisions. Yet this would still be a very superficial reading. As we talk, Cecilia mentions several times that she notices “many layers” in her research; like with the painting of a façade, I imagine.

The idea of the city is a ghost and it is made up with paint.

In these programs, the inhabitants are active participants because they are the ones who execute, they are the labor force. By painting their facades, the inhabitants make a general contribution to this landscape that can be seen from afar but in which there are many spaces, visible only from their own surroundings, up close, in which they continue to have a decision: yes, it is a yellow house within the whole complex visible from the highway, but it is also a white window; half of a blue wall; a green door. Cecilia doubts whether this is an act of resistance, she feels that by naming it this way she may be romanticizing it, but there is undoubtedly another layer: the strategies that these people invent for themselves to do something that produces identity from color. The inhabitants have the last say.

To be a brush painter

Cecilia Miranda had always stayed away from painting, decision born out of a personal rejection to the practice as a means of representation. “I studied at ENAP but I don’t consider myself a ‘good draftsman’. The professors constantly told us that to know how to paint, you had to know how to draw first. So since I didn’t know how to draw very well, I didn’t even try. […] ENAP is very sectarian and disciplinary in terms of you are either an artist or you are a painter, it is a sentence of those who teach painting; there is a whole idea of what it is to be a painter, of what a painter can do because there’s also this very masculinized idea of the painter.”

“When I started working on this, I was very struck by the fact that it was the same material that had repelled me. It is acrylic vinyl paint: the base is the same (water), you can make a painting with Comex paint because it is acrylic, they just sell them in separate stores. I notice how they are used in very different ways and on totally different scales: here, they are not thinking of a frame, they are thinking of a house; not of a stylized paintbrush but of a wide brush; not of representing a house but of painting one.”

Thus, the artist realized that she could make a pictorial exercise approaching painting from another of its meanings, far from an academic practice of brush and canvas, rather understanding it as that political and economic device that is activated with a brush when applied on a wall and thus generates tangible economic and political relations.

“I felt that the artistic practice I learned was much more from theory, I learned more from theory than from art (material), so my relationship with materials has always been from language,” Cecilia explains to me.

Knowing his practice and his social and geographical context, it is not difficult to understand how the ambiguity of words and the playful possibilities in their combinations are aspects that underpin the piece he is exhibiting at SOMA: 128 whispers, which is part of Color abyss, a larger project he has been developing since 2019 as an exploration on the political implications of color in space.

“Chromatic policy”

In SOMA she presents a kind of gateway to this political relationship of color and territory, specifically in the facade painting and the names of the colors. Color abyss addresses the exercise of power, the need to dominate a territory and to disguise as a city of progress. It is also a reflection on how we name things.

 

Under normal conditions, our recognition of the world happens primarily through our eyes and we seek to categorize and define what we see and what we want others to see. The relationships between colors and words are inexhaustible, but who decides those relationships? In the classification, distribution and preference of colors there are class or gender factors that are usually dictated by power. There is no mint-colored house in Las Lomas.

When the artist searches for the colors with which the facades had been painted in the Comex catalog, she finds names that eventually gave rise to the piece she presents in SOMA. She finds colors named after exotic objects or as concepts and abstractions that border on poetic. For example, the chromatic range chosen to paint the facades in these programs bears names such as Salvavidas yellow, Tepeque green and Impulso purple. And the question arises as to who names these colors.

“The color Certainty, the color Comfort, the color Law? Because if I tell you the color Quinceañera, the color Platonic Love, there is a common cultural universe that can refer us to a certain range of colors, such as pink; if I tell you Citric, Pineapple or Vegetable, we have a relationship; but if I tell you Affection, Affection, what is that?  Through her research she has been able to learn about the process behind the selection of trend-setting colors and how they are named. Designers, architects, curators, even chefs, make a “creative enclosure” to predict the future through chromatic trends and give a name to the colors of the range.

“In my practice, language constantly appears as a medium that allows me to put in the ways in which I have related to the world in tension with each other, to objects, materials, spaces, places, houses.”

128 whispers

For the piece exhibited at SOMA, Cecilia did not want to show photographs of the facades of the area because she considered it an aestheticizing exercise. What she wanted was a dialogue with the community that lives around SOMA, those who are not integrated to the space, with whom there is normally no organic relationship of inclusion and participation. He thought of “a gesture that would turn with the wind”, especially because today the struggle for air is the territorial struggle for housing. In a gesture that would be visible to the inhabitants of the neighboring buildings of the school.

The result is a sculpture of 7 stripes that, through a structure of aeolian movement, generates an exercise of combinatory poetry. The poems will be created based on the names of the official ColorLife 2.0 Comex pantone and give the possibility of two combinatory poems, according to the face that is being shown. The colors correspond to a selection of Comex colors that have noun names with subjective qualities, or with qualifying adjectives.

“They are small pieces that go on the wall and are painted with Comex paint. I am very interested in saying that I work with Comex paint. By saying that I use this paint, I am saying that the type of material is important, that it would not be the same if it were something else.”

By scanning a QR code, the user translates the poem he is looking at into words. This activates a random poem constructed from fragments of the names of the paints, connected with prepositions. The poem is turned into a mechanism for reading the sculpture; and in SOMA’s exhibition space it invites the user to leave the room again to look up and away and read it with their cell phone in their hand. Here there is another gesture that I find valuable: it is to look at what appears far away, as when we are on the highway and we look at those colorful hills.

Around the time I came across this piece by Cecilia, I was reading, in a book edited by Alfonso Santiago, the question “What is a color you have never seen? It is a difficult question and one that triggers many thoughts in me. I don’t know how to answer it, I only know that the answer will always be in words.

The exhibition will be on display until October 23. Details on SOMA’s website. Learn more about Cecilia Miranda’s work on her website and through Instagram.

Cecilia Miranda Gómez (Ciudad de México, 1993)

Es una artista que hace casicasas. Su práctica aborda relaciones afectivas y políticas en torno a la vivienda, a través de investigaciones entre sujetos, objetos y espacios. Colabora como escritora, productora y docente con diferentes iniciativas. Fue integrante del Programa Educativo SOMA 2021. Recibió la beca Jóvenes Creadores del FONCA (2019-2020). Parte de su trabajo ha sido presentado en muestras colectivas e individuales en Alemania, Austria, Chile, México y Portugal. Formó parte del Seminario de Producción Fotográfica 2016 del Centro de la Imagen. Desde 2017, imparte cursos y talleres sobre arte contemporáneo en espacios públicos y privados. Como gestora, ha colaborado en proyectos artísticos en espacios como MUAC, MUCA Campus y el Centro de la Imagen. Sus textos forman parte de publicaciones independientes entre las que destacan En una orilla brumosa (2021, Gris Tormenta) y (^) (2019, Hysteria). Parte de sus piezas artísticas se encuentran en colecciones privadas de Austria, Alemania, Estados Unidos y México. Actualmente, cursa la Maestría en Investigación Artística en la UNAM y forma parte de la editorial independiente la casa arde. Vive y trabaja entre la Ciudad y el Estado de México.

Arturo Soto

Diseñador gráfico, fotógrafo, tuitero y fan de Shakira. Me gusta la calle, el café con pan y pensar el poder de las imágenes.

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