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Ways of Seeing: Yolanda Ceballos’ Transitions

Posted on 20 June, 2018

Alejandra Estrada
The collective exhibition Modos de ver ran between January 26 and April 29, 2018, at Museo de Arte Carrillo Gil, in Mexico City. It was curated by Tatiana Cuevas and presented in coordination with Programa Bancomer (fifth edition), with an aim to promote nine young artists selected by a jury and backed by renowned advisors, like Carlos Amorales, from an interdisciplinary research project centered on analizing and debating new ways of producing and seeing contemporary art in al lof its diversity. I thank the museum for the information it provided.

Modos de ver refers to John Berger’s celebrated 1972 book and TV series, where he stated that “our ways of seeing affect our ways of interpreting”. This means that this point of view regarding the interpretation of art and visual communication alters the arguments behind the proposals of these nine emerging Mexican artists.
They offered works highlighting new ways of thinking, seeing and representing the problems arising from the inefficient implementation of economic and social policies, in the wrought political context in contemporary Mexico, triggering new everyday conflicts. Therefore, these artists coincided in their themes and their approaches to the problems faced by the inhabitants of Mexico’s major cities.
They identified the determining factors behind some of the problems in the cities. They stressed the situation of traditional rural communities overwhelmed by urban development, as well as that of popular neighborhoods arising and developing under its shadow. This makes it harder to own a home, and even when they manage to get one, they are faced with the problems of reduced living space in houses provided by government agencies such as Infonavit and Fovissste.
These artists explored in their works posible solutions to some of the excruciating problems that affect whole families. Working from the arts, from contemporary culture (using media such as installation, video and sculpture), they explored suggestive alternatives, revealing the human dimension of these issues. I was particularly taken with the work of Yolanda Ceballos, an artist who lives in Monterrey, Nuevo León, since 1985. She centers her work on artisanal architectural design in order to represent her everyday surroundings, which are inevitably transformed through time and rarely benefitting those in greater need. Fort he past four years she has conducted a systematic study in Monterrey, establishing a methodical record of 120 houses, through their traumatic cycles of destruction and reconstruction, with a special concern for the testimonies of the people who have inhabited them.
Ceballos focuses on Monterrey, a city riddled for decades with serious development issues. The process of destruction and construction has been shaped and aggravated to favor crowded mini-houses, transforming the surroundings with a set of ragged ideals of progress.
Her work, La teoría de la transición, 2017, addresses the situation in a space along the Calzada Del Valle, which housed several families not so long ago. She worked on the abandoned or dilapidated spaces, the remnants of demolitions. She proposed to outline, in terms of the imagination, a new inhabitable space and a hypothetical process of reconstruction. Yolanda Ceballos produced her own theory justifying her work. From this “theory of transition”, she reformulated three concepts: destruction, habitation and reconstruction. She used this triad to posit the problema of urban and habitational transformations, represented in artistic terms through video, drawing and sculpture.
Housing, viewed as a “habitational icon”, the space that was once lived as a home, as a niche of one’s own, has been destroyed. The artista, using her craft and ingenuity, deconstructs these processes, transforming and reconstructing the memories and dreams of the displaced inhabitants.
The elements of her work on show at Carrillo Gil were determined by the themes arising out of the different stages of transition. The first piece, “Teoría de la transición: la destrucción”, an HD video lasting 4 minutes, shows an empty lot with traces of construction: an arid place, with Brown earth, trees with swaying leaves, and a melancholy atmosphere. The void, the “non-place” is made visible.
The second piece, Teoría de la transición: habitación, is a large charcoal drawing on drywall. It’s a bidimensional representation creating the optical illusion of tridimensionality. She explained that the drawing was governed by memory, evoking what used to be a house: the romos, the bathrooms, the kitchen, the yard, and other áreas. As in action-art or performance, she outlined the irregular and undulating shapes of a construction, in order to draw them afterwards, creating virtual spaces; she repeated this outline several times, superimposing lines until she produced a confusing sign, tangled and debatable, as an evocation of the formerly inhabitable space. She used her own antropometric measurements, using her own body as the measuring standard to establish the proportions of this space, symbolically linking her body to the corporeality of the destroyed and now remembered house.
The third and last piece, Teoría de la transición: reconstrucción, uses that drawing to create a tridimensional sculpture made of wire rod, wire mesh and clay. She weaved the frame using horizontal, vertical and curved lines, until she achieved a balanced structure, joining each slotted rod to create a constant rhythm to produce the desired meaning: the sketch, the synopsis, o fan inhabitable construction, a house. The represented walls were covered with clay, referencing the traditional and primitive architectural style of self-built houses in rural areas or in popular neighborhoods, with its natural materiality. These clay planes were placed vertically and horizontally, outlining the spaces within the house, thus providing a sense to the absence which it was meant to substitute.
Yolanda Ceballos showed us a work created from a forceful idea-process (the destruction/habitation/reconstruction triad), materialized through systemic approaches to different representation and transformation process of her everyday surroundings. Throughout her research, she explored the configuration of space in one of Mexico’s most urbanized cities, which, like a living but unconscious animal, devours everything in its path in order to grow.
Through different materic and visual products, such as video, drawing and sculpture, the artista managed to evoke the transformations of urban space, as it moves from the constructed towards the void, from the living to the wasteland. Ceballos worked here with new ways of producing art, using hard materials such as wire rod, alternating with natural elements such as clay, to build a sculpture akin to a shack from Mali, but representing more generally a featureless metalic structure, achieving a piece that refers to a purely primitive artisan style. In concert with this piece, the drawing on three drywall sheets and the video round up her project.
This work is a new aesthetic manifestation that demands a different way of seeing and valuing processes, as well as the results, which bring us closer to an artistic production articulated with research and conceptual language. The work of Yolanda Ceballos is relevant to contemporary art because of the symbiotic way in which she incorporates interprations relating to changes in the city and the artistic, visual and materic transformations, to construct from her emotional subjective experience and that of her interlocutors (the inhabitants she interviewed) bi- and tridimensional signs of urban design, human disasters and economic and political ideals.
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Acha, Juan, Expresión y apreciación artística. Artes plásticas, Mexico, Trillas, 1992.
Michaud, Yves, El arte en estado gaseoso. Ensayo sobre el triunfo de la estética, México, Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2007.
Alejandra Estrada ( is a researcher at Centro Nacional de Investigación, Documentación e Información de Artes Plásticas. She took part in the seminar “Discurso Visual. Estudio y Análisis de la Experiencia Visual Contemporánea y su Relación con las Prácticas Artísticas”, led by Doctor Alberto Argüello Grunstein, between March 2017 and May 2018.

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