Gore abounds in Mexican popular culture. An expanded version of English artist Michael Landy’s exhibition “Saints Alive,” first presented at the National Gallery in London in 2013, thus found its ideal setting in the dungeon-like spaces of Mexico City’s Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso, the site of a former Jesuit college. The show comprised drawings, collages, and sculptures made during and after a 2010–13 residency at the National Gallery and based on images of martyred saints in that museum’s collection.
Works on paper lined an entrance corridor leading to a series of noise-filled, windowless stone rooms. Here, eight over-life-size kinetic sculptures, in some cases pedal activated, pounded and hacked at themselves. Saint Jerome beat his chest with a rock. Saint Apollonia pulled at her teeth with pliers. And Doubting Thomas, reduced here to a disembodied mechanical hand, violently prodded at a torso of Christ mounted on a giant spring.
Saint Stephen was represented by an enormous piñata-like head; with rocks provided by the artist, one could reprise the stoning to death of this first of the Christian martyrs. By such means, Landy—who once demolished all his worldly possessions (Break Down, 2001)—invited the public to reanimate these saints, enter into their agonies, and to ponder, in his words, their anarchic self-destruction.
A version of this story originally appeared in the May 2015 issue of ARTnews on page 127.