At this year’s Biennale, the most eloquent work on display is made from the blood, grime and detritus of violent crime. Kaelen Wilson-Goldie reports from Italy on the transformative work of Mexican artist Teresa Margolles, and on the dwindling usefulness of nationally-defined art.
From The National:
Once a day, a young man mops the floor of a dilapidated palazzo in Venice. With his head down and his two hands gripping a long handle, he pushes a damp lump of soiled rags from room to room. The rags have been soaked in the blood and filth of crime scenes in Mexico, dried, transported to Italy, and are then plunged into buckets of water and sloshed back and forth in half-moon patterns across the floor. Every day they leave behind a thin layer of grime and the unmistakable stench of death. This quotidian routine, which is more about accumulating residue than removing it, is part of an extended performance piece conceived by the artist Teresa Margolles, whose work comprises Mexico’s official participation in this year’s Venice Biennale.
One of the most controversial figures in the recent history of the Mexico City art scene, Margolles has been making work from the material traces of death for 20 years. In 1989, she joined a group of radical artists, musicians and performers to form SEMEFO, an acronym for Servicio Medico Forense, or Forensic Medical Service. The collective, which disbanded in 1999, used municipal morgues as studios and turned the refuse of crimes into an artistic medium. Along the way, the group created a template for artists to act as amateur detectives, picking up clues not for the purpose of solving individual crimes but rather to address the long-term damage that criminal activity does to a society when murders become commonplace.