Nothing lasts forever. Aside from the big things -- marriages, friendships, jobs -- there are all the little things. Creamer runs out. Cut flowers die. Good food goes bad. Computers fall into obsolescence. And every time it happens we are reminded, like a whisper, of our own mortality.
Gabriel Kuri, born in Mexico, educated in London and currently residing in Brussels, finds inspiration in things that expire, rot or fade. As the second speaker in the Visiting Artist Lecture series' 2003-04 season, Kuri speaks about a body of work that includes big bins of avocados emblazoned with little soccer stickers, a tree trunk covered in different colored wads of chewing gum, a humongous fried pork rind in a glass case and a tapestry inspired by a ubiquitous Mexican pharmacy print ad.
"I use sources like sales receipts, leaflets, coupons, that not only assume no aesthetic value other than a modest and immediate call to momentary attention, but are also ciphers of something renewable and forgettable, like the need to buy a light bulb or a pint of milk, or have a rather short expiry, like the fortnightly offers in the pharmacy leaflets," he explains. "In other pieces of a few years ago and the recent past, I use ephemeral elements like produce on display, or front page news, that only allow for a short period of time for meaning to be constructed. Once they have physically expired, whatever happens has more to do with record and memory than with the firsthand experience."
Kuri uses his piece Abreviation (abrev.) as an example. Huge standing wreaths, like the kind often seen in funeral arrangements, spell out the abbreviation "abrev." The work is, as he says, a "material, verbal and temporal pun," in which the medium itself -- cut flowers -- is something whose life has been cut short or abbreviated. All that's left of this, or of similar untitled pieces involving stacks of mosses or gum stuck to trees, are often photographs, reviews and conversations.
Although he is more often than not identified as a Mexican artist, he is part of a new generation of artists who are somehow "post-national," whose mobility and cross-cultural experiences give them the perspective to critique their homeland as both outsider and insider. That is not to say, however, that Kuri is beyond appreciating the spiritual overtones and respect for the miraculous inherent in Mexican Catholic culture.
He is perhaps best known for Doy Fe, a large fiberglass reproduction of a chicharron (fried pork rind, a popular Mexican snack) stamped with the words "Doy Fe," which roughly translate as "By My Will," and which are often found at the end of official documents or important ceremonies. Like Snow White, Doy Fe is protected and enshrined in a glass case as if for safekeeping for some future better time.
"I made a cast of a real chicharron with the letters stuck on top and the reproduction in fiberglass came out perfect, almost like a miracle. Fried pork rind on the one hand and fiberglass and resin on the other are somehow the same thing -- fiber and a glutinous element -- only one organic and one inorganic," Kuri says. "I like the idea of being able to cast and reproduce an exceptional moment of quality. I would have said 'miracle' again but it might start sounding like I am fanatical."
Like many artists of his generation -- Kuri is in his early thirties -- the effect of growing up surrounded by advertising and media is profoundly manifested in his work. His pharmaceutical tapestry, or gobelin, is inspired by the big print ads of his native Mexico City but is rendered not in fragile newsprint but in durable fiber.
"I am interested in advertising for many reasons. The economy of language is one. Its capacity to really go very close into people & acute;s intimate life and thoughts. Also the fact that it is a discipline based on the fulfillment of a promise -- a lot of what gives advertising its great power happens in the mind of the consumer. Most products never deliver exactly what they promise. I suppose that is similar in art: One produces an object or circumstance and has a vague idea of its consequences. The rest is up to the audience."
Publication date: 02/12/04