Mariana Castillo Deball – In a Convex Mirror




Opening: December 2nd, 2022, h 6 – 9 pm


The words “object” and “thing” have different etymological origins, which, as philosopher Remo Bodei stated, time has confused by muddying the sense and meanings: “object” is a term introduced by medieval scholasticism that derives from the Latin “ob-jectum”, literally “thrown in front of”; the object opposes the subject, it is a kind of obstacle, an impediment, and the struggle ends with the assimilation and subjugation of the object to the subject.  “Cosa” – “thing” in Italian – derives from the Latin causa, to discuss, to reason, to deliberate, the “thing” is what we care about, we have somehow an affective relationship with the thing. Mariana Castillo Deball acts out the transubstantiation of the objects she calls “Uncomfortable Objects” into things, disassembling them, duplicating them, to assimilate them into her metabolism with the practice of making beyond all theoretical infatuation, a making that is an act of releasing the intangible essence of objects to transform them into things with patience and dedication. Uncomfortable objects are those of which it is difficult to trace a biography because they are decontextualized and classified chronologically and morphologically without any doubt in the Eurocentric way. One might venture that Mariana Castillo Deball, retracing the techniques that gave rise to those objects, creates an anti-materialist physical theory of material culture. The objects in fact are crystallized labor, representing man’s coming to terms with the matter and consequently with nature. Sometimes we have the doubt that Mariana Castillo Deball’s interest in material culture refers to the technical deculturation of contemporary society, no longer able to work with its hands and served by mechanisms that are beyond the ability of citizens, the community to control and that implies the alienation of the producing subject. The current regime of hyper-capitalism, constituted by the proliferation of objects, leads to a kind of commodity fetishism. Commodities no longer incorporate the culture of workers, but the instance of profit that produces them. Mariana Castillo Deball with her research and her making, opposes colonialism in general, and more specifically the colonization of the citizen-consumer thought regarding a fake welfare, built on the asymmetrical waste of one part of the world’s human inhabitants on the backs of all others from every species and latitude. The material culture of the past with its technologies of collective feeling and cooperation is a way to rethink spaces and History, because the object is less static than we think both conceptually and physically: things have taken various paths, incorporated multiple layers of meaning, and sometimes we are dealing, as in the case of ceramics, with anthropological universals that draw unexpected geographies beyond any Eurocentric pretensions.
Mariana Castillo Deball’s anthropological gaze is focused on work, on matter, on nature, the places of choice for her research are anthropology, archaeology, paleontology, museums and collections of applied arts and those of science, wherever objects can be found, tools that are the result of craft and traditional production processes that incorporate technical knowledge of collective cooperation, objects with which the artist interacts, adopting, adapting, translating and appropriating them to tell a relativized story while reforming the Eurocentrism of History. Mariana Castillo Deball liberates the intangible essence of objects by freeing them both from their use and exchange value for which they were made in their communities of origin, and from the positivist classification of museums or collections in general, redesigning spaces. Castillo Deball well knows that putting or putting things back to their place confirms the social and cultural order established; so, she moves things as far away from their agreed places as possible. Liberating objects by turning them into things is a ritual practice of Castillo Deball’s art to free the thought, to make it breathe and have a more natural relationship with the surrounding world. Mariana Castillo Deball’s work by reasoning and deliberating about things, represents a curious or rather surreal study of material culture, since objects inform our lives, our politics and indications of gender. Castillo Deball’s work with practical reasoning also focuses on waste. Someone said that man is a ravenous being even of future hungers, which have put and continue to seriously endanger the ecological life of our planet Earth. What the past and the present have in common regarding material culture is the disposal of objects once they are no longer used, but unlike the present, in the past there was a scarcity of objects that moreover were organic, and the death of an object coincided with its inability to be repaired once broken: the value was saving not consumption. Today the death of an object often occurs long before its irreparability, and our civilization is based on the consumption of not only having but also being.
Material culture, objects, even those that are chronologically closer to us, have always been saved fortuitously, are then never presented in their context of origin, and therefore it is always difficult to reconstruct the circulation of an object, not to mention that regarding collections, even those with scientific pretensions and an analytical perspective always end up representing an autobiography of the collector in action, and the same applies to museums. The relativized history presented by Mariana Castillo Deball has somehow a special authenticity.
Perhaps because we have an affective relationship with that work, we believe that Distanza e Menzogna, a 2011 work by Mariana Castillo Deball, is emblematic speaking of the artist’s relationship with History and historiography, in which material culture has assumed a very important role. The work presents a series of circular mirrors of different diameters, on top there is the cast of the artist’s hand in the form of a clapper, which refers to the objective impossibility of interpreting the past: slamming the clapper would shatter the mirror and the intact mirror can only reflect contemporaneity. In fact, objects over time change meaning and also value.
Speaking of mirrors, Mariana Castillo Deball’s new solo exhibition at Pinksummer is titled In a Convex Mirror.
“The title of the exhibition” explains Castillo Deball “comes from the poem by John Ashbery: Self-portrait in a convex Mirror from 1974, in which he takes as a starting point the homogonous painting by the Italian late Renaissance artist Parmigianino from c. 1524. The painting is a Self-portrait of his image in a convex mirror.
Parmigianino used a half spherical wooden surface for the painting, replicating the distortion of the convex mirror on the painted shape.
I read this poem for the first time when I was in art school, more or less at the same time when I started to develop the three-dimensional distorted prints.
I like it because he adds an existential aspect to the formal idea of painting on a curved surface, by making an accent on the role of the surface.

The whole is instable within

Instability, a globe like ours, resting

On a pedestal of vaccum, a ping-pong ball

Secure on its jet of water.

And just as there are no words for the surface, that is

No words to say what it really is, that it is not

Superficial but a visible core, then there is

No way out of the problem of pathos vs. experience.”

At the gallery will be present a series of engobed decorated distorted ceramics connected to each other in an aerial installation with a black cotton rope as to create a force field. The ceramics perhaps of Zuni ethnographic memory, are presented perforated, deprived of the receptive function of container and therefore of any use or exchange value. The perforated “kill hole” ceramics were used in burial rituals in the American Southwest, but they also hark back to a mathematical object, the Klein bottle, which Mariana Castillo Deball has worked on in the past, bringing it closer to the classic Mexican piñata. The “pentolaccia” in the catholic culture ends Carnival and precedes Lent and it has been used by conquering monks to evangelize Native Americans through the small gifts that the piñata poured on the ground. In fact, Klein’s bottle is a non-orientable surface in which the inside spills outward, projecting beyond the three Euclidean dimensions, into a fourth dimension that reality does not let us experience, but to which with reasoning, objectivity and imagination informed by a different narrative it is possible to aspire.
Inside the convex mirror of the exhibition, one will also be able to see roundels of three different diameters in the form of waxed scriptural tablets, referencing the large wall installation of waxed boards colored with black pigment in Mariana Castillo Deball’s exhibition titled Roman Rubbish currently running at the Bloomberg Space in London. In central London, or rather in the heart of the financial district, excavations a few years ago unearthed 400 Roman writing tablets, the wood of which did not decay because they were preserved by the mud of the Walbrook underground river that ran through the center of Londinium, founded by the Romans in 43 A.D. Mariana Castillo Deball says that from the debris, from the leftovers of a civilization, one can understand much more than from valuable objects. The Mithradeum tablets were not buried for any holy celebration but were simply discarded and now constitute the oldest written documents of ancient Britain. In fact, the Romans used the waxed wooden tablets inscribed with stilus, in a manner similar to our text messages: the moment they were delivered and read, the waxed tablets were thrown away.
“The series of black wax circular pieces” says Castillo Deball “are engraved with distorted images as if seen in a convex mirror.
The surface is black, and the engraving takes material out of the surface, making the image visible just from certain angles, depending on how the light reflects on the surface.
The images I engraved come from a series of XVI century etchings by Diego Valadés, a Franciscan friar whose work I discovered while working on the piece for the Mexican Pavillion at the Venice Biennale this year. The images depict characters speaking to each other, listening and writing, but what comes out of their mouth, ears and eyes are strange creatures such as serpents, scorpions and other insects.
These images depicted indigenous people spreading the word of forbidden religious practices by the catholic church. Diego Valadés illustrated his rethorica christiana with etching, thinking that the indigenous people were illiterate, and that the only way to communicate with them was through images.”