The garden as a house
Posted on 6 November, 2017
Carmen Gómez del Campo
Thank you all for being here with us in the presentation of the catalogue El jardín como casa, the ceramics creation trajectory of Mariana Velázquez. I thank INBA, Cenart and Cenidiap for providing us with this space to show you how a house surrounded by a garden becomes a warm, welcoming place, inhabited by nature, intertwined with ceramic pieces created by Mariana. Thanks to her, as well, for allowing us to enter her fantastic garden.
Years ago, as part of our work creating the Contemporary Mexican Ceramics Archive, we visited La Pitaya, in Veracruz, Mariana’s workshop, to meet her in person, to feel her surroundings, to breathe in her atmosphere.
Those who have been to this place, located in a ravine between Xalapa and Coatepec, know of the exuberant nature that surrounds it. We made our way towards her house enveloped in green leaves. She opened the door with a grave look in her face, as if annoyed at these strangers invading her private space, her paradisiac corner of the world. We entered as if into a sacred place, captivated by what could be seen between the open door and the back of the house. All the rooms had windows and were arranged around a small yard where the green vegetation coexisted with clay pieces intertwined with it. Clay baskets weaved by Mariana’s hands acted as wasps nests protecting embryos cultivated by her. Tall bamboos wriggled like serpents in the air, bowls held rain water, germinating seeds coexisted with flowering vulvae. A veritable eden before our amazed gaze. Little by little, her face turned polite and friendly amidst generous cups of coffee that she placed before us, each one unique, with handles that wedged the table. She talked to us about them, and about her recently opened shop. It was as if life sprung from that garden, envelopping the house in diverse forms and figures: the coffee, the jug, the water, the bowls, the light, the smoothness, the tenderness. Afterwards, there began to flow words, laughs, welcoming looks.
In that warm atmosphere that gradually surrunded us, we were able to discover that this house made into a garden had been turned by Mariana into a sort of lab where day after day she witnessed the emergence of thousands of forms from nature in movement, which transfigured themselves all the time before her eyes. Imperceptibe changes, cooked by time, by water, by the earth and the air, while her hands, turned into eyes, and her gaze, turned into touch, unhurriedly observed them.
Following the rythm and cadence of nature’s times, the artist has learned to emulate and recreate them in her work of earth and fire, like an alchemy through which, with wise patience, she combines her sharp perception of the motility of living forms with the “unknown halo” that precedes and supports creation, as Beatriz Sánchez Zurita justly puts it referencing Merleau-Ponty in the catalogue’s presentation. That which she intuits but doesn’t know, that invisible something that holds both movement and its form, Mariana touches with her eyes and moulds with her hands under different times, as Sánchez Zurita points out. Yes, because it is as if time’s becoming inhabits her pieces, so that we can appreciate in her work the suspension, for a subtle instant, of the rapturous and irrepressible gestures of life in movement. What an alchemy is performed by the artist, between what is invisible and matter, between the unknown and all possible figurations that can recreate it. In this invisible and unknown world that holds and precedes forms, Mariana seems to be seduced and submerged in the subtle motility of the metamorphosis of the earth: a germinating seed, a rotting trunk, a gently flowing raft, a flowering bud, a tumid phallus, a hanging nest; soft, smooth forms, weaved by the artist’s fingers with the fluidity of water, the warmth of the earth, the subtlety of the air, and then the strength of fire.
Beatriz Sánchez Zurita invites us to see in Mariana’s work the “configuration and representation” of an intimate world that takes shape and is inhabited from a femenine position. It seems this intimacy is revealed to us by the artist on a threshold, which is her garden, where the animate moves towards the inanimate, and viceversa. There, in that verge, there occurs a constant flowing between the organic and the inorganic, between motlity and force, and its subtle suspension in gestures that appear to be held by the agitation of desire, by the unfoldings and the creasings of the body, and by the cadence and the rythms of nature.
In her work one senses a potency awaiting its realization, the expression of an exuberant sensuality, both manifest and withdrawn. The sensuality of organic forms animated by breath, suspending the rapturous and irrepressible gestures of life in movement, animate her pieces as thresholds where one is about to witness the revelations of life and its cultivations: dry branches as delicate hands carried away by the wind, performing a sensuous dance; a seed on the cusp of germination; joyfully erect phalluses; or a vulva from which the pistils of a flower sprout. We attend this instant, removed from time and bursting with life, attracted and seduced by the sensuality of each piece, because each one of them hints at its intimacy without ever revealing its secrets.
Mariana’s work figurates the metamorphosis of nature, the “halos of the unknown”, or the navel of the dream, as Freud puts it, whence all the infinite figurations of matter emerge, held by an ungraspable and an undetermined. Like these rafts floating and circling the waters of a river suspended in the air, tracing subtle, elusive shadows, drawing staves on the transience of beautiful forms, such is the alchemy the ceramist performs to introduce time into her work, as a fifth element. As Beatriz Sánchez Zurita rightly puts it, the artist has managed to recognize the seasons and the rythms of nature, combining them in her work: latency and wating; presence and creation; the irruption of ephemeral, unprecedented forms; Mariana knows that without this condition, the transient and fleeting, beauty could not appear or maintain itself. Time and matter seem to be two dimensions in which her work glides and unfolds: earth, water, air, are the materiality she touches, kneads, gathers, caresses, unfolds; she knows the seams of clay, its texture, its color, its secrets, its condition as germinal matter; of water, its smoothness, its moistness, the ingredient that provides softness and life; and of the air, the breath that animates the gestures of her forms and figures. Opening up to the dimension of time is to allow it to move about her pieces, shaping them, flooding them, inhabiting them through the kneading rythms, the cadence of the lathing and of the impression of textures, of the sway of the fabric, of the pause for drying; plus the time patiently waiting before the fire, which always demands opening up to what-is-to-come and its avatars; all this disclose to her and us the ungraspable of that unknown and transient something, the substrata of all artistic creation.
El jardín como casa, published as part of the Miradas collection, is the gathering together of a work in and about metamorphosis, metamorphosis dictated by time and imposed by matter. It is a catalogue that managed to circumvent the budgetary limitations under which we suffer in the fields of culture and arts promotion and production, to carefully reproduce and vividly communicate the life in movement that inhabits and traverses the work of Mariana Velázquez. Beatriz Sánchez Zurita’s impeccable and suggestive presentation is an invitation to follow her knowing winks. For those of us who are passionate about ceramic artistic creation, this is an essential catalogue because of its simple beauty; and for those who are approaching it in order to know her work, it is a guide to the sensousness of her forms and textures.