Saúl Hernández-Vargas

I am interested in art as a relational and collective practice—as a strategy of mutual care.

Although the concept of community as been fundamental for my work, in recent years such a concept has been tremendously transformed both theoretically and materially in my country of birth, Mexico. So many changes have taken place between June 14, 2006, the date in which state police first charged against protesters combating liberal educational reforms in Oaxaca, and our horrifying historical—one epitomized by the extreme violence associated to the so called war against drugs. If the first event forced me to understand the city as a project created, or programmed, collectively; the second one has compelled me to think deeply of the ethical, aesthetic, and political challenges that surround my artistic production. My point of departure is thus this present context surrounded by corpses, and characterized by precariousness, constant pillaging and exploitation of our common natural resources.

I am not interested in a political art dominated by representation. What concerns me, as Jean Luc Godard would argue, is a politically-generated art, that is to say, a form of art not subsumed to, but alert to the social and cultural context in which it is produced, distributed and consumed.

This vision has emerged rather clearly in several of my recent projects, such as Sur+ ediciones (2010-2013) and (in-progress). While both are editorial projects, they differ in scope, implementation, and support used. In the first one--an independent collaborative press project--we identified and published texts linked to the excess, the surplus that is no longer useful to the economic system. We especially favored non-fiction work about migration and impoverished populations in the Americas. As we published emerging authors from Central America or militant journalists who combined labor and work both in the U.S. and Mexico, we were also interested in placing value on the south (sur, in Spanish), especially in a world dominated by the geopolitics of the north. We wanted to contribute to an alternative exchange of other kind of textual, writing and literary experiences.

On the other hand, I launched keeping in mind some of the questions Cristina Rivera Garza poses in Los muertos indóciles, her most recent book of essays: “If writing is to be critical of the establishment, how is it possible for writing to disarticulate the grammar of power… of exacerbated neoliberalism and its fatal war machines?” I explore this question by inviting people to read and write on the margins of a series of texts on issues of community and art. Through these collective readings and collaborative writings, which are performed in a digital platform used also as a ludic and critical space, I engage with what media artists Ruth Catlow and Marc Garret called “do it with others,” a form of community-making device able to promote critical thinking and, ideally, critical practice.

I too worked in different community-based projects before 2010. Between 2007 and 2010, became a magazine and an on line gallery space, but it also was a zone of urgency (as in the concept by Hou Hanru), an area of self-supportive and inventive solutions as well as an artistic intervention in a context of urban precariousness. In my series of flipbooks (2006-2009), on the other hand, I explored the concept of play according to Gadamer: play as a “presentation of community itself in its most complete form.” I understand play mostly as a strategy to exchange roles: the spectator becomes creator, and vice versa. Play thus entices us into delay, resistance and a life in wonder.

My current project is about the construction of the (Mexican, national, official) history.

Sponsored by GSA and UCSD Vis Arts