Abraham Cruzvillegas
Mexico, 1968
Abraham Cruzvillegas is a self-taught conceptual artist who was born in Mexico City in 1968. His work centres on craft materials and techniques derived from traditional ways of life linked to his background. His personal experience has given rise to a work process he calls autoconstrucción (self-building). Two key life experiences shaped his practice. The first was the building of his family home in the neighbourhood of Ajusco, a district in the south of Mexico City, when he was a boy. With no knowledge of architecture, the whole family participated in the building of the house, using whatever materials they could find. The second formative experience was a period he spent travelling with his grandmother and getting to know communities in the Mexican state of Michoacán, a journey that allowed him to learn about traditional arts and crafts. The work that emerges from this background is characterised by the improvised, intuitive accumulation of diverse materials and objects, giving rise to sculptures and installations that are close in spirit to Fluxus, another of his key influences. Cruzvillegas recycles discarded objects, exploring beyond their aesthetic value to find new possibilities in his pursuit of a new functionality. The artist brings the dynamic of self-building to his practice, incorporating the precarious, enthusiastic registers of the amateur architecture he was exposed to as a child, when his family home took shape over time, according to what was possible and the specific resources at hand, in a process driven more by ingenuity than by economics, without ever achieving a closed and defined form. The circumstances that lie behind this chaotic and emotion-laden accumulation give the raw material a new, and almost symbolic, creative function. These features of the Mexican artist’s work are clearly exemplified in Empty Lot (2015), an installation he has created in the Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern in London. The huge geometric structure consists of 250 triangular spaces filled with soil—collected from different points around the city, from vacant lots to the grounds of Buckingham Palace—in which nothing is planted. From basic elements of life—the light and water in this ordered array—the possibility of something growing from ‘nothingness’ was generated. In essence, Cruzvillegas’s work is based on two key elements: the construction of identity, grounded in a place of belonging, and hope (or survival), generated through the reinvention of materials in a context dominated by capitalism and consumption. His work has been shown in museums and at art events around the world, including the Venice Biennale, the Mercosur Biennial, the Havana Biennial, El Eco (an experimental art museum in Mexico City), the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, the Art Sonje Center in Seoul, and Documenta in Kassel. Cruzvillegas continues to live and work in Mexico City.