Illusion Brought Me Here & Five Feet High and Rising

    18/05  | 20:30

€ 12 / € 9

Illusion Brought Me Here is the first major solo exhibition of Mario García Torres in Belgium. On this occasion, the Mexican artist presents his own abridged version of a retrospective: a new sound piece entitled Silence’s Wearing Thin Here, composed of voices and soundtracks from his earlier works. García Torres unravels untold or ‘minor’ histories, with a predilection for avant-garde art and music from the 1960s and 70s. He recreates historical exhibitions and completes unfinished artworks, often blurring original and reenactment, past and present. He engages in dialogues with enigmatic and radical figures that were mainly active before he was born, such as the Belgian artist Marcel Broodthaers and the American-born Mexican composer Conlon Nancarrow. About four years ago, García Torres stopped dating his works, which include filmic, sculptural and painterly installations and performances. In so doing, he undermines the narrative of an oeuvre and career as a progressive evolution over time. García Torres will give a lecture, entitled Five Feet High and Rising, in les ateliers claus, showing his interest in how rivers connect people and places. His audio-visual presentation is punctuated by listening sessions, meandering between popular songs and riverscapes, correlating sound and flow as carriers of meaning and memory.

Exhibition Illusion Brought Me Here | WIELS
16.05 opening 18:30-22:00 with a conversation between the artist and Caroline Dumalin at 19:30

17.05–18.08 Exhibition
Tickets for sale at WIELS

With a ticket for Rehab Training by Geumhyung Jeongh you have access to the exhibition Illusion Brought Me Here on the same day.

A lecture by: Mario García Torres

Presentation: Kunstenfestivaldesarts, WIELS, les ateliers claus
Production: WIELS
In collaboration with: Kunstenfestivaldesarts, les ateliers claus, Walker Art Center (Minneapolis)

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Mario García Torres: Five Feet High and Rising

Music has had a recurrent presence in Mario García Torres’s practice over the past two decades. An artist from the Global South, he uses sound to transmit ideas, and also examines its circulation, exploring the social and geo-political circumstances that have influenced its particular resonance in a given time and place. The question of having access to music, even “popular” music, is integral to his complex relation to the established artistic and intel-lectual centres of the world. Often exploring alternative forms of storytelling, García Torres insists that history is, according to writer Julia Bryan-Wilson, “a flow of constant devolution and reconstruction that defies linear chronology. In his work, there is no straightforward teleo-logy; rather, memories bend or change directions when they hit the atmospheric haze that is generated by the encounter between past and present.”

This may help us to understand why Mario García Torres is attracted by the rhythmic flow of rivers, rather than the grand mysticism of the sea. Growing up near the desert, in the northern Mexican steel town of Monclova, he never lived close to a river. Building upon his tendency to draw attention to what is missing, and a longing for other realities, Five Feet High and Rising offers a meandering story of place, memory, and conjuration, starting with a reflection on how seventy rivers used to traverse Mexico City, where he resides today. A cross between audio-visual essay and monologue, his performance centres on rivers heard in music, imagined in literature, and seen in films, as carriers of meaning and context. Presenting a potted cultural history of waterways that is at once an acoustical echo of his own practice, García Torres charts an associative and subjective trajectory that weaves through images and sounds of migration and fragmentation. In his “atmospheric road trip”, García Torres freely samples nature sounds and folk, rock, and pop songs; permits detours and digressions; cares more about open-endedness than plot. Rivers and music are proposed as routes into the artist’s interests and ways of storytelling, at once connecting and separating people and places, from the here and now to the there and then.

More interested in metaphors than facts, García Torres delves into the cultural repre-sentation and subjective image production surrounding rivers, blurring factual evidence and the inventions of memory. He uses the guise of rivers to address – through the parallel realities of popular music, films and literature – the personal, social, and political issues that interpellate him. It was while walking in the neighbourhood around his studio that he began to relate the city’s liquid ghosts to its current landscape, riven by industrial modernization. The rivers in contemporary Mexico City are channelled, enclosed between highways, flowing between car lanes. It compelled him to further research hidden or vanished waterways around the world, before they dried up or were covered in concrete. Navigating rivers from the fixed point of his laptop, García Torres introduces many case studies, spanning little known and major waterways in the Americas, Europe, Africa, and Asia.

Five Feet High and Rising, commissioned for the 2017 Sharjah Biennial, was first pre-sented in the context of a port city situated along the Persian Gulf coast of the United Arab Emirates. As it travels to other places, García Torres’s lecture implicitly enters into new contexts, whether or not they form an explicit part of his dialogue. Brussels, in fact, was built around the winding trails of a river, forming its natural boundaries and irregular street patterns. The regional emblem of the yellow iris still alludes to the flowers that grew in the marshland that originally covered the city’s territory. Two centuries ago, the Senne became exceedingly polluted, and flooded every time there was heavy rain. By the end of the nineteenth century, it was canalized and vaulted upon the decision of then-mayor Jules Anspach, making room for modern boulevards. Besides the city limits, the only trace of its former urban presence lies hidden in a courtyard in the city centre, near Place Saint-Géry – formerly Île Saint-Géry – where a branch of the river has been uncovered.

Beyond cities, rivers also form part of national borders, and demarcate a divergence for those traversing them, depending on which way they are heading. A meaningful example given by García Torres is the Río Bravo (del Norte), known as the Rio Grande in the US, dividing the state of Texas from northern Mexico. Due to the city’s geographical proximity to the border, the people of Monclova are partly Tex-Mex. Up until the early 1990s, access to music in García Torres’s hometown was limited to regional productions. Driving up from Monterrey, one would hear nothing but corrido, banda or cumbia on the way, or country music maybe. The artist’s seemingly casual selection of a number of American country-and-western and folk songs, dating from right before or around when he was born, is therefore not off-hand at all. Furthermore, they evoke the river as a symbol of the ebb and flow of love (Dean Martin’s Rio Bravo, 1959); returning home (Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Green River, 1969 and Christie’s Yellow River, 1970); retreat (Bob Dylan’s Watching the River Flow, 1971); and fear (Johnny Cash’s Five Feet High and Rising, 1975).

In literature and cinema, the dark histories and violent ends that surround rivers stand out. Rivers are often cast as protagonists repre-senting or bearing witness to imperialism, war, genocide, murder, and suicide. A small sample might include: the River Thames and Congo River (Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, 1899); the Mekong river (Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, 1979); the Ucayali and Pachitea rivers in the Amazon basin (Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo, 1982); the Nile (Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile, 1937); and, especially, the Seine (Peter Greenaway’s Death in the Seine, 1989, to name but one).

Ultimately, rivers symbolize our unsteady place in time. Citing Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges via García Torres: “Time is the substance from which I am made. Time is a river which carries me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger that devours me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire that consumes me, but I am the fire.” Citing García Torres himself: “I flow and empty myself in a different place.” This phrase from Five Feet High and Rising returns in the retrospective sound piece that García Torres conceived for his exhibition at WIELS, titled Illusion Brought Me Here. The exhibition kept the title as it travelled from the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, even if the “here” changed. Titled Silence’s Wearing Thin Here, it served as a preface to a show that took a closer look at the ways García Torres has eluded the reign of the visual through a wide range of storytelling strategies. His specially composed soundtrack integrates fragments of narrations and scores from a dozen video works and slide pieces, as well as one record, in his repertoire. The spoken word excerpts are punctuated by ambient interludes that range from synth drones to classical piano and folky guitar pickings. They are performed by two detached voices that ruminate about time and place in a back-to-back session. In this sinuous sequence of self-citing, the doubled narrator echoes García Torres’s enduring interest in alternative currents; piecing together elements of stories and images that resist being pinned down by history, and imagining their breach into the present.

Caroline Dumalin

Julia Bryan-Wilson, “‘Landscape,’ or Make Texas Mexico Again”; Rulo David, “Tarzan Boy”; Caroline Dumalin, “When Is Here? or, Four Easy Pieces,” in Mario García Torres: Illusion Brought Me Here (London: Koenig Books; Minneapolis: Walker Art Center; Brussels: WIELS, 2019).

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Mario García Torres is an artist currently living in Mexico City. Over the past twenty years, his work has questioned the stability of such concepts as time, memory, image, and the very essence of the artist’s role in society. An artist deeply interested in uncertainty and counter-narratives, his work blurs the space between fact and fiction through research and a wide range of storytelling strategies. His previous solo exhibitions include Caminar Juntos (Let’s Walk Together), Museo Tamayo, Mexico City (2016); An Arrival Tale, TBA21, Vienna (2016); Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (2014); Until It Makes Sense, Project Arts Centre, Dublin (2013); and ¿Alguna vez has visto la nieve caer?, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid (2010). He has also participated in Sharjah Biennial 13 (2017); Manifesta 11, Zurich (2016); Berlin Biennale 8 (2014); Bienal do Mercosul 9 (2013); and Documenta 13 (2012).

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