Milan PAC’s spring season exhibition presents the solo show of Teresa Margolles, Mexican artist born in Culiacán in 1963, who lives and works between Mexico City and Madrid. Particularly prone to stark realism, her works evidence the complexity of contemporary society, weakened by an alarming violence that is tearing apart the world and especially Mexico. Winner of the 2012 Prince Claus Award, Teresa Margolles represented Mexico at the 53rd Venice Biennale in 2009 and her works have been exhibited in several international museums, institutions and foundations. The 14 installations by Teresa Margolles exhibited at PAC are defined by a minimalist but impressive style that is almost conceptually overbearing.
Diego Sileo, Curatotor of PAC Milano, ph. Renato Corpaci
Teresa explores thorny themes such as death, social injustice, gender hatred, marginalization and corruption, generating a constant tension between horror and beauty. Promoted by the City of Milan and produced by the PAC with Silvana Editoriale, the exhibition became part of the program of Milan Art Week, which focuses essentially on contemporary art. The artist presented a performance paying tribute to Karla, a transgender prostitute killed in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, in 2016. The main part of the performance was related to a strong gesture that will leave an open wound on the inside wall of the PAC and was interpreted by Sonja Victoria Vera Bohórquez, a transgender woman working as a prostitute in Zurich. In a very brief but powerful dialogue with PAC curator Diego Sileo, we wish to explore Teresa Margolles’ work, the relationship between her works and the public, and the link with the curator’s personality with a closer view.
Ya Basta Hijos de Puta, exhibition of Teresa Margolles
AS. As you became familiar with Teresa Margolles’ work and, in choosing her for a solo exhibition at PAC, what kind of feedback did you expect to receive from the Milanese audience, in particular after Regina Jose Galindo’s 2014 exhibition?
DS. Like many in Italy, I’ve seen the work of Teresa Margolles for the first time at the Biennale of Venice in 2009, the year when she has represented her country in the Mexican pavilion. I immediately saw in her art and her ‘poetry’ the veracity and strength that I strive for constantly in contemporary artists, that urgency to tell the story of our everyday life without myths and frills, but with a courage and a talent of those working far from the patterns and trends of contemporary art. Direct expression but not naive, explicit but not gratuitous, brutal but not voyeuristic. The same moment I’ve decided I want to work with her, know her better and be able to observe and study closely her approach and style, so unique and distinguishable among many.
The exhibition of Teresa arrives at PAC in Milan after a journey that began four years ago with the solo show of Regina José Galindo, and subsequently with the one of Santiago Sierra: a sort of trilogy proposing to present to our audience a different way of making art, a way to which, today, in Italy we are not used to, to face the reality, even the most harsh and complicated one. The three artists are having a similar attitude but very different ways of expression. I am happy the response of our audience is unanimous in its praising and appreciating of non-common and not easy creative proposal from such artists as Teresa. Of course, at the beginning – in its reference to the Galindo show – there was a kind of resistance and distrust from many people, they didn’t want to have a closer look at violence and death, but thanks to our constant attention to not hitting the sensitivity of the public and our constant work of awareness and dissemination of the historical contexts of certain reality, we have accompanied the public along the path of deep understanding and interest, and it is the thing a public museum should always do.
Diego Sileo, Ya Basta Hijos de Puta, exhibition of Teresa Margolles
AS. Last Friday while attending the performance dedicated to Karla, the transgender and friend of Teresa’s who was brutally murdered in Ciudad Juarez, and to whom an entire room was dedicated within the exhibition, I saw people sitting around the artwork Mesa y Dos Bancos outside the PAC dedicated to her in a light-hearted spirit. It happens that we are often unaware of the real stories the works tell. What is your perspective on the relationship between the public and these kinds of artworks?
DS. The focus of the public artwork by Teresa Margolles is: to present art pieces loaded with meaning (and often made with elements – organic and non – of dead human beings) under an appearance of normality, as many other objects decorating our city. The action then focuses on the changes of public’s reaction, especially when it comes to the knowledge of artworks’ construction and its components; how their perception and experience change after facing such a topic as death being transformed into everyday life objects. Her works are a form of public art with a strong sociological value, which relies on our fears and our own limits.
AS. Was there any work of them all that you personally found most complicated to expose and understand?
DS. Almost all of Teresa’s works are complicated to submit, considering the level of anxiety that can be easily misunderstood or poorly perceived. The hardest work to do in preparing an exhibition is to calculate and evaluate the perfection in every single aspect – even the tiniest – as an example, how her exhibitions are set up. Nothing can be instinctive or entrusted to a simple aesthetic taste. Every installation is a kind of commitment of the artist also towards people, often victims, it represents. Definitely, staging the opera Vaporización in Milan, became a challenge that I never thought I would succeed to complete: too many logical impediments (such as retrieving sheets used in the morgues of Milan) and too many fears ingrained in all of us, living so organic and sensory experience of death, that sincerely made me doubt several times my choice to submit it to all the costs in the exhibition, but I’m glad I persevered, because, in my opinion, it is one of the most important works of Teresa’s production and also the most complex and sophisticated one. Actually, it is a true masterpiece of contemporary world.
Ya Basta Hijos de Puta, exhibition of Teresa Margolles at PAC
AS. I was particularly touched by Teresa Margolles’ words spoken during the Miart talk: If you forget about the delicacy and feelings of a person, you miss out on all of them, all the feelings, all the delicacy. What feelings and memories remained in you by curating this exhibition?
DS. This show overwhelmed me completely, not only professionally speaking. It was one of the most intense and devastating experiences I have ever faced. Knowing so close the reality the works of Teresa Margolles are living and animating makes you reconsider your own life under different aspects. Curating one of her shows means to live and relive with her specific experiences, without any break and discounts. Her art, as minimal and conceptual it may be, is not a fiction, and it inevitably effects us on a psychic level, beyond the sensitive.
Teresa Margolles and Diego Sileo, Miart Talks 2018
AS. As you curated the Frida Kahlo exhibition, Frida Kahlo. Beyond Myth at Mudec in Milan, what parallels did you create between the modern and the contemporary, between two artists like Frida and Teresa, and how do you think they approach a feeling like pain?
DS. Two different Mexican artists belonging to two different generations and distant eras, but with a common denominator, which then I believe is the true legacy of an artist such as Frida (certainly not her fashion), her extraordinary ability to tell the pain with awareness and cognition of cause without falling into diverse pathetic clichés. Pain is part of our lives, it is a constant, and art can teach us how to manage it and also to live with it, no matter how terrible it may be.
Teresa Margolles, Karla, Hilario Reyes Gallegos, 2016. Courtesy of Galerie Peter Kilchmann, Ya Basta Hijos de Puta, PAC