Abandon hope all ye who enter...
YAUTEPEC is proud to announce the official opening of its new storefront location in the San Rafael neighborhood of Mexico City with its most ambitious exhibition to date: INFERNO. Organized by New York City-based curator Leslie Rosa-Stumpf, INFERNO is a group exhibition that takes the viewer on a journey through Dante Alighieri’s magnum opus — aptly timed to coincide with the Day of the Dead.
The works in the exhibition are both illustrative and critical of the spiritual and moral aspects of Dante’s poem, and offer the viewer a space to contemplate the medieval allegories in a modern light. The exhibition will feature artists — both established and emerging — from New York City, Mexico City, Berlin and Madrid, including Bijoux Altamirano, Artemio, Diann Bauer, Micah Ganske, Christopher Garrett, Evan Gruzis, Ruben Gutierrez, Selena Kimball, Robert Lazzarini, Enrique Marty, Kembra Pfahler (The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black), Fay Ray and Colette Robbins.
For those who are not scholars on the subject, a little review is probably in order: Dante’s Inferno consists of nine Circles that move down and inward until the final icy round of the 9th Circle, the epicenter of Hell where Satan dwells. Listed here from outside in, the Circles are: Limbo, Lust, Gluttony, Avarice, Wrath and Sloth, Heresy, Violence, Fraud, and Treason. Their inhabitants are each subject to a punishment fittingly assigned to their own particular form of sin. All of this, Dante of course witnesses and traverses with his guide, another poet of epic skill, Virgil.
Playing with both the physical and narrative structures revealed in the 33 cantos, Selena Kimball has created two collages for the exhibition that give an overview of Dante’s underworld using Doré’s 19th century illustrations for the poem. Rather than using Dante’s meticulous structure as a blueprint, however, Kimball reframes the Inferno, blending circles and characters and presenting her own vision. Christopher Garrett’s work for the exhibition is an intimate graphite drawing that depicts a skeletal hand grasping a chain-link face. Much like the uncommitted souls, who did nothing in their lives, chose no sides, and who are banished to an area neither inside nor outside of Hell’s gates, Garrett’s subject longingly grasps at something pure — a light in the darkness. Meanwhile, Micah Ganske’s haunting portrait, created with his distinctive stain painting technique, visually represents a different here-nor-there quality — that of the innocent souls of Limbo. His subject, like the unbaptized and virtuous antecedents of Christ in this circle, is sentenced to grieve eternally without hope of ever becoming accepted into Paradiso.
In her Skeleton Fornication series, Kembra Pfahler is shown in varying degrees of lustful intimacy with a skeleton, all the while dressed in her renowned Karen Black stage costume. Her works hint at Dante’s reckoning that lust is both a minor sin and can survive beyond the boundaries of death. Fay Ray, whose artistic practice generally uses luxury and power as a reference point, has created several works that explore the nature of the capitalistic spirit as well as the struggle against it. Her alluring collages, which utilize fashion magazine clippings, crystals and the like, tempt as much as they warn of the path to avarice. Colette Robbins’ graphite drawings are reminiscent of the slothful residents of the Fifth Circle, whose punishment it is to lie screaming under the river Styx. Depicting the humid marshes home to the Floridian everglades, Robbins’ captures sluggish landscapes that require the viewer to complete their uncanny story. Bijoux Altamirano, on the other hand, portrays the wrathful inhabitants of this circle. Her installation is an altar, which includes a film, featuring a young actress ripping off the heads of dolls and drinking their ruby blood, the dolls themselves and a hundred stylized pill bottles.
Monterrey artist Ruben Gutierrez’s colorful pencil drawings express several heretical musings that refer to Hell and even death as something that we ourselves create and experience while alive rather than after death. Both Diann Bauer’s and Enrique Marty’s works pertain to the Seventh Circle of Hell: The Violent. Bauer has created a large pencil and ink drawing on drafting film that depicts a chaotic battle of epic proportions, where elegantly rendered mythological creatures clash with humans, blood and guts pour from every direction, and lances pierce the sky and seemingly the work itself. Bauer’s piece is much like a storybook coming alive—her battlefield is not contained by the work and is much too seamless with real life for comfort. Enrique Marty’s sculptural installation shares a similar uneasiness. For the show, one of his notorious life-like sculptures — this time of a child — is situated in front of a wall, caught in the process of spelling out “Hell Here” in small bloody handprints. In this way, Marty is able to play with the viewer’s feelings of fear and empathy, horrifying them all the while.
Evan Gruzis’ ink paintings, often considered “pop-noir”, are much like the fraudulent inhabitants of the 8th Circle of Hell. His piece, Cool Jerk, is a flashy facade, seductively built up with layers of ink, leaving the viewer with only an illusion — a vapid and vaguely familiar piece of 80s pop culture. Robert Lazzarini’s new print series of blood splatter on ornate wallpaper designs, distorted in true Lazzarini fashion, is an exciting new endeavor for the artist. The result of this combination is an unsettling conflation of domestic refuge and the horrendous act of murder, blurring the boundary of security and peril, and evoking the traitors of the Ninth Circle of Hell. Mexico City-based artist Artemio’s work also responds to this circle, though he concentrates more on the punishment for treason. His installation is the ice lake known as Cocytus, contained in a children’s inflatable swimming pool. As the exhibition continues, the ice in the pool melts, leaving Dante’s punishment for Satan welcoming rather than abysmal to the viewer.
Why is that we are still enticed by this underworld, created by Dante in the fourteenth century? Is it because his narrative still offers us a way in which we can attempt to contend with death, with the unknown, with the undesirable fact that life is short and that no one is beyond its cold grasp? Like la danse macabre, Dante’s Inferno allows the thinker to gain a sense of control over the subject matter through its interaction between life and death and through the understanding and interpretation of its pages. Likewise, this exhibition, attempts to provide a space where the viewer can ponder these questions—albeit in a sometimes comical light—and perhaps through these contemplations, realize that both death and life are not as hopeless as they can appear.
Leslie Rosa-Stumpf received her MA in Curatorial Studies from Goldsmiths College, University of London in 2006. She has worked in various capacities for Deitch Projects, Tate Britain, The Museum of Modern Art and P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center. She is now an independent curator. Leslie has curated solo and group exhibitions in London and the United States. In 2008, she co-founded Parlour, a nomadic exhibition space that presents weekend-long exhibitions in private homes throughout New York City (www.parlourdoor.com).