The spring season exhibition at PAC in Milan presents the solo show of Teresa Margolles, a Mexican artist born in Culiacán in 1963, living and working between Mexico City and Madrid. Particularly prone to crude realism, her works bear witness to the complexities of contemporary society, weakened by an alarming violence that is tearing the world into pieces, and especially Mexico. Winner of the Prince Claus Award 2012 , Teresa Margolles has represented Mexico at the 53rd Venice Biennale in 2009, and her works have been shown in several international museums, institutions and foundations. Margolles’ 14 installations on display at PAC feature a minimalistic, yet high-impact style, which is almost overbearing from a conceptual perspective.
Diego Sileo, Curatotor of PAC Milano, ph. Renato Corpaci
Teresa explores thorny issues such as death, social injustice, gender hate, marginalisation and corruption, generating a constant tension between horror and beauty. Promoted by the City of Milan and produced by PAC with Silvana Editoriale, the exhibition has become a part of the programme of the Milanese Art Week, focusing basically on contemporary art. The artist has presented a performance paying homage to Karla, a transgender prostitute murdered in Ciudad Juárez (Mexico) in 2016. The main part in the performance was connected to a strong gesture, which will leave an open wound on the inside wall of PAC and it has been played by Sonja Victoria Vera Bohórquez, a transgender woman working as a prostitute in Zurich. In a brief but intense dialogue with the curator of PAC, Diego Sileo, we want to investigate with a profound sight the work of Teresa Margolles, the relationship between her works and the public and the connection with the curator personality.
AS. How did you get familiar with the work of Teresa Margolles and, by choosing her for a solo show at PAC, what kind of response have you imagined to receive from an audience of Milan, above all after the exhibition of Regina Jose Galindo in 2014?
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, witnessing the performance dedicated to Karla, transsexual and a friend of Teresa, brutally killed in Ciudad Juarez, to whom actually an entire room within the exhibition was dedicated, I’ve seen people sitting and surrounding the artwork outside PAC Mesa y Dos Bancos with a light spirit. I guess they were unaware of the true nature behind the work, which at first sight seems to be just a table with two benches. What is your point of view on relationship between the public and this type of artwork?
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. Which work was one of the most complicated for you to expose and to 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 struck by Teresa Margolles words said during the Miart talk: If you forget about the delicacy and feelings of a person, you miss all of us, all the feelings, all the delicacy. What feelings and memories left in you taking care of 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. Knowing that you’ve curated the exhibition of Frida Kahlo, Frida Kahlo. Beyond the myth at Mudec in Milan, which parallelism have you created between the modern and the contemporary, between two female artists such as Frida and Teresa and how do they approach such 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