Profiles

‘Small Gesture, Big Impact’: At the Inaugural Lulennial in Mexico City

Installation view of the second part of 'The Lulennial: A Slight Gestuary' at Lulu.

Installation view of the second part of ‘The Lulennial: A Slight Gestuary’ at Lulu.

“Everybody touch everybody else’s ass.”

A friend, six strangers, and I begin a veritable game of Twister to follow this instruction. The robotic voice that issued it has also told us to make lusty, direct eye contact with another member of the group, do a sexy dance one at a time, and touch somebody else’s hair. As this scene played out, we giggled and made occasional small talk about how the situation we were in was actually very awkward. I was surprised that I started to feel a connection to these people. By the end of the encounter, I had the phone number of a woman who has since become a friend.

This production took place in a back room at Lulu, a two-year-old project space located in an old house in the southern part of Mexico City’s Colonia Roma. The actions were simple, but they stuck with me. This is fitting given that they constitute a performance piece by Christian Falsnaes that was being staged on the opening day of the first-ever, biannual “Lulennial,” whose overarching theme this year was “small gesture, big impact.” Since Lulu is tiny (about 100 square feet) and rooted in the idea of precision, the show happened in three installments, the third of which ran through May 17. It is also tripartite in the sense that it comprises a performance program (curated by Sophie Goltz), physical exhibitions, and a digital archive of relevant historical works.

Gabriel Orozco, Breath on Piano, , 1993.COURTESY LULU

Gabriel Orozco, Breath on Piano, , 1993.

COURTESY LULU

In an interview, Chris Sharp, an American curator who cofounded the space with the Mexican artist Martin Soto Climent and co-curated the Lulennial with Fabiola Iza, defined the subject of the exhibition—which is subtitled “A Slight Gestuary”—as “radical physical economy and radical economy of gesture.” The execution of this concept is airtight. Lulu is by appointment only, and all visitors receive a tour; the curators justify the inclusion of every piece.

The first installment of the Lulennial revolved around invisible or muted gestures. It prominently featured a well-known Gabriel Orozco photograph that displays exactly what its title, Breath on Piano (1993), describes. Sharp cites this work as a perfect instance of the phenomenon that Marcel Duchamp called “inframince,” which can only be explained through examples: the heat on a chair right after someone gets up, for one, or the energy between subway doors when a person passes through just before they close. Also included was one of Karin Sander’s Wallpieces (1986–2013), in which she removes one-tenth of the paint on the wall, creating a glossy, geometric surface that is at once subtle and stunning. A new work by Zarouhie Abdalian, Buoy (2014), more literally embodied the theme of the show: the artist took apart a whistle, placing its component parts in a glass of water. The metal shell lay still at the bottom, while the interior cork floated on top, each piece rendered unable to make sound.

This second installment of the Lulennial also opened with a performance piece involving a set of simple instructions, these ones compiled by the French curator Pierre Bal-Blanc and enacted by a designated individual. One directive, written by La Monte Young, went as follows: “Draw a straight line and follow it.” Sharp told me that this doubles as Lulu’s guiding principle. “In any art scene, with any initiative, the impact doesn’t happen overnight, but with sustained continuity and engagement,” he said. Organizing shows, Sharp goes to different cities, stays for their openings, and never sees his work again except in pictures. “I’ve always been, like many curators, airdropped in and airlifted out,” he said. Part of the motivation that he and Climent had for founding Lulu was the appeal of having a “sustained and deep” relationship with a specific place—Mexico City—to ground them as they pursued travel-heavy careers. The constancy that the space represents in Sharp’s life is reflected in its program. “We see Lulu as a linear group show,” he said. “I think you could take the whole program and put it in a museum if it was big enough, and you’d have a coherent show. I’m not saying whether it would be good or bad, but it would make sense.”

Kirsten Pieroth

A work by Kirsten Pieroth.

There was clear continuity between the first and second installments of the Lulennial, which were both, of course, about slight gestures. The latter exhibition centered on themes of perishability and connection. The opening featured a one-day-only installation by the Czech conceptualist Jiří Kovanda, which consisted of a line of green peas by the front door that visitors stepped on until they were flattened and dispersed. Indeed, much of this show highlighted what Sharp called “the very simple gesture of making art in the kitchen.” On the small ledge where Abdalin’s Buoy once was there now sat a piece by Kirsten Pieroth that also featured a water-filled vessel. This time, it was a Ready Whip jar plastered with a handwritten label reading “The Practice of Everyday Life,” (which is also the sculpture’s title). To create the work, Pieroth boiled the eponymous book by Michel de Certeau; she calls the remaining liquid the book’s essence. To be sure, boiling everyday life down to its essence is one of the principal goals of “A Slight Gestuary.”

On the floor of the gallery space, in a corner, lay Miren el tamaño de este mango (Look at the size of this mango) (2011), a sculpture by the Cuban artist Wilfredo Prieto consisting of a Blackberry phone tied to a mango with a rubber band. The piece—which merged the show’s conceptual themes of perishability and communication with its formal ones of circular and rectangular geometry—also reflects what I see as one of Lulu’s core dualities: the local and the global.

An installation view with works by Jiří Kovanda and Francis Alÿs.

An installation view with works by Jiří Kovanda and Francis Alÿs.

The space is named after a neighborhood juicer. “We’re not a community-based project,” Sharp said, “but for us it was important that Lulu be rooted in the local context and that it have a referent here in Mexico City.” At the same time, enthusiasm for the project has largely come from abroad. As I was writing this article in a Condesa café, a young American man approached me saying that he had just arrived in town and was looking for gallery recommendations. Before I could reply, he said, “I’ve heard of one place called Lulu.” The space has been featured in magazines from Artforum to National Geographic. The opening of the Lulennial’s first installment, which coincided with the Zona Maco and Material art fairs, was inundated with visitors from the foreign art world. (The show’s catalogue was published by the Milan-based Mousse magazine.) Sharp partially chalks up the hype to the fact that Mexico City is in vogue right now. “It’s bewitching the global imagination,” he told me. “The moment you do something here, it registers.”

Lulu may be hip, but Sharp is no dilettante. The program is rigorous; it’s contemporary and conceptual without being trendy (a feat probably made easier by the fact that sales are not a priority and the space is most likely on its way to becoming an official not-for-profit). The space, conceived of as a “small Kunsthalle,” has a vision: to show the kind of art, as Sharp put it, “not often seen in Mexico City.” He explained that Latin American art is often research-based and socially or politically engaged. He’s more interested in “art in which there is no gap between form and content—where the form is not secondary to the content” and “artists who think plastically, through materials.”

If you want to talk about such work, he lamented, “you go elsewhere.” Not for long, if Lulu has any say in the matter.

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