Abraham Cruzvillegas at the Walker Art Center

The Simultaneous Promise, by Abraham Cruzvillegas
The Simultaneous Promise, by Abraham Cruzvillegas

Abraham Cruzvillegas, a conceptual artist who hails from Mexico City, opened a major exhibition last weekend at the Walker Art Center. The show is being displayed in the Target and Friedman galleries, which have been cleared of all non load bearing walls, with the work sprawling throughout the cavernous space.

"Autoconstrucción Suites" contains small and expansive sculptural pieces, as well as video, film, and artifacts from his performance work. This includes a stage he used for a theater piece he collaborated on (and video of that production), and mobile sculptures such as a tricycle that amplifies recorded whistling through various megaphones. 

Detail: Autoconstrucción, by Abraham Cruzvillegas 
Detail: Autoconstrucción, by Abraham Cruzvillegas 

The large space works well with a major theme in the body of work: the idea of autoconstrucción (self-construction), based on the way people make houses over time in Ajusco, the town south of Mexico City where Cruzvillegas grew up, as well as other parts of the world. (There was a similar kind of improvised housing right here in Minneapolis in the late 19th and early 20th century, along Mississippi River near the University of Minnesota, called the Bohemian Flats, now the subject of a play at Nimbus Theatre).

Ajusco, a land of volcanic rock, has been settled since the 1960s using lava stones and recycled materials, Cruzvillegas explains in this essay. The architectural style evolved not in a planned way, but rather as a response to the needs of the people that live there. 

AC Mobile by Abraham Cruzvillegas 
AC Mobile by Abraham Cruzvillegas 

Using found materials, Cruzvillegas doesn't recreate this improvised building style, but rather uses the idea of autoconstrucción to explore themes that are political and historical, as well as personal. The technique speaks to the organic resourcefulness of peasants trying to survive, as well as a realization of the creative process and of an ever-transforming identity. 

"I'm not an anthropologist," Cruzvillegas said at a media tour last week. "Everything is based on my own subjectivity." While the artist draws from his own experience, viewers interact with the work in the same way that he creates it, putting bits and pieces together in order to find a personal meaning for themselves. "You don't have to know my story," he said.

Cruzvillegas's father was a commercial painter, and his parents were very politically active, taking him to demonstrations growing up. As a child who wanted to be an artist, some of his first works were political cartoons. His background can be seen in almost all of the work, but especially in a filmed interview with the artist's parents, which you can watch from the comfort of a wheelbarrow that has been repurposed as a chair. In the tour, Crusvillegas noted the difference of not only language but the way that each of his parents talk. His father, who was confined to a wheelchair for 20 years, uses gestures in a much different way than his mother, though they are describing the same thing.

Abraham Cruzvillegas and Aeropuerto Alterno
Abraham Cruzvillegas and Aeropuerto Alterno

In The Simulteneous Promise, Cruzvillegas has created a mobile sculpture made of a tricycle and a sound system that amplifies recordings of the artist whistling songs from his childhood as well as new ones he picked up while doing a residency in Oxford. Cruzvillegas says he likes to whistle while he works, "so I don't feel alone." He discovered when the piece premiered, however, that people find it very annoying. While delightful at first, the whistling does get a bit irritating after a while. 

Another mobile work incorporates music from various genres -- pop, folk rock, and choral. In a residency in Glasgow, Cruzvillegas collaborated with bands writing songs about his childhood, using the sounds of different genres, and then road it through the streets. 

When taken as a whole, the work can be overwhelming -- a large assemblage of what looks like random materials. However, Cruzvillegas draws you in, and allows for an interaction between you and the clever collection of not only objects and images, but also narrative. 


"Abraham Cruzvillegas: The Autoconstrucción Suites"
Walker Art Center
Through September 22

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1750 Hennepin Ave.
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