A crumbling Porfirian-era mansion in the centre of Mexico City houses NEW LIFE, An Te Liu’s first solo exhibition in the city. Shielded from the street by dark iron gates and old trees, the grandiloquent house stands as a vestige of the architectural boom and modernization project executed by infamous dictator Porfirio Díaz in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Its cool and wide stone staircases open up to terraces lined with classical colonnade railings and ornate arched doorways, leading to a series of interconnected galleries where Liu’s recent bronze sculptures stand atop plinths. In one of the rooms a series of Liu’s early photolithographs from 1999 hangs on the wall, tracing connections between the different styles of his artistic career and with the multifarious architectural style of the gallery itself.
The photolithographs show composite images of computers Liu rescued from a garbage in the late 90s. Each image is a collage of several original boxy machines like the Mac Classic, the Quadra, and the Mac II SE, their outdated shapes further obscured by their new amalgamations. Technological progress has a way of making once cutting edge objects now seem clunky and hapless; with the passage of time, it becomes difficult to even imagine what functions these devices ever had. “It’s about the cycles of progress,” Liu explains. “These objects keep arriving, and then they leave our lives, and if someone finds them later they might not know where they came from. I imagine if a young person found a VCR today they wouldn’t know what it is, and it would probably be this mysterious thing.”
The architectural style of the mansion, now MARSO Foundation, reflects dictator Porfirio’s obsession with European architecture. This obsession resulted in buildings combining several European styles from disparate epochs to create new forms. Here Neoclassical symmetry mixes with Art Nouveau ironwork and Baroque mouldings that recall the Colonial period. While such buildings served as symbols of modernism in Mexico City a century ago, today they stand partly ruined, dreamy and overgrown, their original uses forgotten after the upheavals of the Revolution. Little is known about what life the mansion has had, except that it once functioned as the temporary office for a political party and much later as an Internet café – another phenomenon, like the video rental store, that quietly slipped into obsolescence.
Liu’s sculptures have a similar quality of combining different epochs, styles, and materials to create forms that recall several things at once while remaining mysterious. The simple shapes of his Eidolons (2014) bear features of Styrofoam packaging, like its pocked surface and curved openings, while also resembling futuristic robotic creatures on tiny legs. With spike-shaped protrusions along the sides of their bodies, they wear the stamps found on Styrofoam packaging like a series of birthmarks. Rather than providing a straightforward statement, these sculptures function as a series of suggestions, inverting materials and displaying contradictions. The negative space of packaging becomes the positive space of the sculpture, the inanimate seems to be its own species of life, and the futuristic creatures wear a tarnished patina as though they have been dug out of an ancient tomb.
Especially poetic is the work’s suggestion that time is neither linear nor cyclical, but simultaneous. In the imagination, like in Liu’s sculptures, prehistory, the present, and the distant future travel along the same synaptic pathways, capable of occupying a single written line or a unified sculpted surface. Like bubbles in a pot of boiling water, styles emerge, fade, and re-appear in single volume. The specter of modernism looms in these sculptures as Liu attempts to come to terms with a technological present constantly moving towards the future. Both sculptural modernism and the Porfirian mansion that these works occupy were once potent symbols of modernity. Now they are relics slowly crumbling from the wear of rain and wind and flow of new ideas.
An Te Lui’s solo exhibition NEW LIFE is on view at MARSO Foundation in Mexico City until June 16, 2018.
By Anna Kovler
An Te Liu, installation view at Marso Foundation of Eidolon IV-I, 2017, Eidolon VI-V, 2017, and Mutation (III), 2018. Bronze.
An Te Liu, Untitled, 1999/2015. Photolithographs on Rives BFK.
An Te Liu, Eternal Return, 2017. Bronze.
View of MARSO Foundation, Mexico City. 2018.