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Marcela Armas: Looking at the City to Understand Ourselves

Friday, 16 May 2014 13:52 Written by Angélica Abelleyra
 
She provides more questions than answers. As Marcela Armas (Durango, 1976) creates universes in which sound, movement and electronics coexist and confront each other, she studies her everyday urban surroundings to ask herself and others what kind of human beings we wish to be. She is certain that only the cities, spaces and objects around us, the projections of ourselves, will help us understand each other in the face of elusive individuality and complex collectivity.
 
The only link to mechanical, luminous and electrical phenomena in Armas’s family is her father’s job managing radio stations, and her passion only emerged  several years later. She was originally interested in the architecture of her native Durango, then art at the University of Guanajuato, where she evolved from conventional sculpture and painting to experimenting with projects involving electronic media.
 
During her time in Guanajuato she was part of the group Los Ejecutistas, and together with the artists Gilberto Esparza and Iván Puig she explored the application of electronics to artistic creation. In individual and joint projects, she organized workshops in which architects, designers, set designers and other producers developed prototypes and experiments using electronics. She and Gilberto Esparza (her partner) have set up workshops in Buenos Aires (Argentina), Lima (Peru), Santiago (Chile) and Mexico City, as part of a project financed by the Spanish Telephone Foundation since last year.
 
After five years living in Mexico City, Armas accepted that the place had had a significant impact on her from the outset. Her experience living in Durango, Guanajuato and Valencia (in Spain, where she studied for a year) was very different to that in the neighborhood of Santa María la Ribera. Her artistic practice has evolved in terms of language and materials. Installations, sound art, urban interventions and actions have since been her methods of issuing “warnings” about issues linked to energy use, using the noise that floods streets and the insatiable use of fuels, among other forms of energy in this urban space reduced to unawareness, confusion and chance.
 
One of Armas’s aims is to allow poetic discourses and aesthetic impacts to emerge, and the materials themselves to speak about a specific circumstance or issue. One example is the work I Machinarius, which uses 31 industrial cranes to move a chain in the shape of Mexico (from above), with a petrol-based lubrication system. It is a warning about the policy for extracting resources and represents Mexico as heavy machinery, overflowing and wounded. It is seen from above because this energy resource is flowing towards the North. In this action, the body itself carried and emits the sound. Occupation is a performance in which Marcela carried a set of car horns and speakers with a remote control, to occupy the road as she wove between cars. This took place in Mexico City several years ago, and will be reproduced next October during the Mercosur Biennial in Porto Alegre, Brazil.
 
Beyond highlighting the auditory pollution overwhelming commuters, this action aims to rupture this daily reality, creating a small crack in the hostile space of roads and traffic in Mexico City. Ringing horns from her restless torso, she reconfigures the sound landscape in these avenues. Armas likes to define this as an “event”, the transformation of a moment, and believes firmly that these instants can change everyday existence.
 
As occurred to her personally, she has observed a growth in artists’ interest and experimentations with sound experiences. Colleagues such as Gilberto Esparza, Arcangel Constantini, Iván Abreu and Mario de Vega have reinforced her commitment to experimentation and the search for new forms of discourse. These ideas are shared by professionals in other spheres, such as academia, engineering and physics, who maintain a dialogue on the use of new technology, the current situation of the world and policies for natural resource use in Mexico and the rest of the world.
 
Thus, petrol, noise and electricity constitute the center of Armas’s creative activity but also her reflection on the urban environment. She is aware of the statement by David Harvey, who considered that as we build a city we have to build ourselves. Consequently, she is certain that every day we should ask ourselves what kind of persons we are becoming, and what our objectives are. This may be why Armas, in the midst of the sound and vehicle chaos of Santa María la Ribera, built a small nursery that provides light, shadows and life on the roof - her little island in the city.
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