Helen Escobedo: The Ephemerality of the Mind and Body
Kati Horna, Helen Escobedo, 1960; gelatin silver print, 8 x 8 in. Private collection, Mexico City.

Helen Escobedo: The Ephemerality of the Mind and Body

 

 

Noth­ing is sacred, lit­tle is safe, and the best way to pre­serve valu­able objects is to bury them under­ground, the way the pharaos did, nev­er to see the light again.

Helen Escobedo

 

Ecol­o­gy is about the rela­tion­ship between organ­isms and their envi­ron­ment and the inter­play between the organ­ic and inor­gan­ic aspects of that envi­ron­ment. In our strug­gle towards the impos­si­bil­i­ty of per­ma­nence, we come to the ques­tion of our own mor­tal­i­ty, of our own ephemer­al­i­ty. Helen Escobedo’s work and archival evi­dence of her process can help us come to terms with the ephemer­al­i­ty of bod­ies while con­tin­u­al­ly prob­lema­tiz­ing the dichoto­my between the permanence/impermanence of knowl­edge as gleaned through objects in space. As Escobedo matured her art became more ephemer­al and con­tex­tu­al­ly site-speci­fic. This would ensure that she could con­trol the instal­la­tions and their lat­er destruction/deconstruction.

 

Por las tor­tu­gas, 1992. Pho­to by, Helen Escobedo

 

Helen Escobedo was a Mex­i­can painter, sculp­tor, instal­la­tion artist, and writer born in Mex­i­co City in 1934 and passed in 2010. She worked as the direc­tor of the Museo de Arte Mod­er­no and the Depart­ment of Muse­um and the Depart­ment of Muse­ums and Gal­leries at the Uni­ver­si­dad Nacional Autono­ma de Mex­i­co. Much of her work would lat­er be a respon­se to her time as a direc­tor in the­se pres­ti­gious gal­leries. Her ear­ly major work took the form of large per­ma­nent most­ly urban struc­tures based on geo­met­ric expres­sions of space; how­ev­er, lat­er in her life, she would begin to prefer non­per­ma­nent instal­la­tions which would allow her to dis­tin­guish between the cap­i­tal­ist sense of art as a pro­duct rather than art as a process.

 

The Refugees, 1997. Pho­to by Helen Escobedo.

 

Process indi­cates the series of steps it takes to com­plete some­thing, but it can also be con­cep­tu­al­ized as a chang­ing of states. I think for Escobedo, every­thing is in-process and con­stant­ly evolv­ing. Tem­po­ral­i­ty, then, is a sub­jec­tive con­tain­er that takes the form of ide­olo­gies based on some his­toric­i­ty of both ideas and objects. Noth­ing is ephemer­al if it is remem­bered … and ideas will always out­last the objects they were once attached to. For Esco­bar, both preser­va­tion and destruc­tion intro­duce a rit­u­al­iza­tion of the art­work. Whether the artist pre­serves or main­tains a piece by request, allows it to decay, or destroys it or posthu­mous­ly has it destroyed it is a part of the process of the art. How­ev­er, mak­ing sacred objects from any piece of art risks some form of emp­ty objec­ti­fi­ca­tion in which the art los­es mean­ing shift­ing from a work-in-process to a work-as-pro­duct. We might best enjoy Escobedo’s phi­los­o­phy in her essay enti­tled Work as process or work as pro­duct: a con­cep­tu­al dilem­ma which can be found in the book Mor­tal­i­ty Immor­tal­i­ty?: The Lega­cy of 20th-cen­tu­ry Art by Miguel Angel Cor­zo, Get­ty Con­ser­va­tion Insti­tute. For Esco­bar, it is a mat­ter of a sin­gle ques­tion sur­round­ing the ephemer­al­i­ty of our bod­ies and minds, “to be or not to be?”

FOR

The more you work
The more you have
The more you have
The more you keep
The more you keep
The less you want
The less you want
The more you destroy
The more you destroy
The less you have

So why wor­ry?

Cre­ative destruc­tion any­one?

 

La cer­ca caí­da. Pho­to source unknown.