BUNK BEDS AND DUCT TAPE
BUNK BEDS AND DUCT TAPE was a pop-up exhibition held in an abandoned Mexico City apartment building during the recent ZONA MACO art fair. Inspired by, and an homage to, the Soviet “Nonconformist” art movement, the show paid tribute to those brave underground artists in the city where Soviet thought-leaders once sought refuge. Cell Vision correspondent Megan Garwood caught up with some of the curators and artists behind this ambitious, vivacious art show.
It’s easy, in this modern world, to take up a cause from the comfort of my desk chair or, more likely, bed—retweet an activist, repost a political meme, call my mom and feel like my workday is done. Horrors are happening all around me, but from where I sit, they seem abstract—even as I self-quarantine during a pandemic (#StayTheFuckHome). It isn’t really my fault. It’s the postmodern capitalist condition. My world is both crafted and curated by the media outlets I subscribe to; my family, friends and professors; and the privileged suburb environs I came from and tried so hard to fit into while my high-school-educated mom worked tirelessly to keep me there.
And so, my Instagram spoon-feeds me art that an algorithm believes I’ll like—and it isn’t wrong. It knows most of my connections to art were made during years working in a gallery and youthful gallivants through NYC’s underbelly. The Kenmare was open to a few of us 24/7, and those mornings were full of coked-out manifestos to end world hunger through painting, and drunken afterhours where taking K was a religious experience. People from all over the globe, too fucked up to be insincere. I was a believer. Now, most of the time, I no longer think that a canvas will solve the world’s problems. But every once in a while, something shakes me out of my cynicism, and I’m reminded that artistic passions can change the world.
The pop-up group exhibition Bunk Beds & Duct Tape, shook me. I learned a lot by researching the basis of the show, looking at the art, and speaking to the people who created it. It inspired me to finish my application to be a child care advocate, which I’ve been procrastinating doing for a while. So maybe it will make you do something too.
Here’s the historical context for the exhibition: The true Communist idealism of the Russian revolution was quickly usurped by the brutal dictatorship of Stalin in the 1920s. During that time, a deep bond between Mexican and Russian artists developed when several exiled Soviet thought leaders found refuge in the burgeoning intellectual community of Mexico City. There, they could continue to further true Marxist and socialist philosophies. This Russian diaspora would go on to inspire generations of Soviet artists, including the Nonconformists, a movement born in the Xрущёвская Оттепель, or the “Khrushchev Thaw.” The Thaw refers to a relaxation of Soviet foreign policy from the mid-’50s to the early ‘60s, when borders were a bit more open and censorship policies superficially lessened. Despite what some called liberalization, art, music, and literature at this time were still controlled by the government, who demanded Social Realism. Artists who fell outside the bounds of acceptability sometimes exhibited their works in illegal apartment exhibitions or spread their work in Samizdat, or “underground,” publications. If they were caught, the punishments were harsh: persecution, imprisonment, exile or execution.
Set in an abandoned squat in the heart of Mexico City, Bunk Beds And Duct Tape, on view during the ZONA MACO 2020, honored the Nonconformists in the city that furthered the ideals they lived and died for. Today, as the whole world is on edge, quarantined in tiny apartments, balancing on the edge of a political chasm so wide it may swallow us whole, we artists must continue to fight for social equity, autonomy, and progress, together. Because occasionally, we succeed.
While the rest of the art world packaged their exhibitions into little white booths at ZONA MACO, Mint&Serf, the art publication house PAPER WORK, and ZYANYA, a local residency program founded by Isaac “Yurek” Cielak Grynberg and Roberto Yuichi Shimizu Kinoshita, staged their exhibition in a partially renovated building at the heart of Mexico City. Together, curators, artists, and art advocates illuminated the beauty, depth and history of this dilapidated Art Deco architectural piece, previously an apartment turned squat.
I had the opportunity to speak with two of the artists from Bunk Beds And Duct Tape, Osvaldo “OJ” Chance Jimenez and Sara Apple Maliki, about what it might mean to be a nonconformist today, how the political fits into contemporary art, and all about the unexpected star of the show, the building’s superintendent, Vampiro. Then I spoke with ZYANYA’s Yurek and Robert to discuss how community-based art organizations perform an important social function as a vehicle for global exchange.
OSVALDO CHANCE JIMENEZ AND SARA APPLE MALIKI
CELL VISION: After doing some research, I’ve become very interested in how the ethos of Nonconformist art can inform artists today. Looking at the relationship of these Mexican and Russian artists you can see real and radical structural, community-based, and ideologic change inspired by art and literature during political unrest. I’m wondering if you see this as well, and if you see this happening in today’s culture?
OSVALDO CHANCE JIMENEZ: Graffiti has always been confrontational while being community-based. The street art movement of the 90s and 2000s took the frustrations of the people and put it, at first, within the confines of whatever abandoned public space was within their grasp, as a loud commentary on the health of a city. Then it was packaged and made it pretty for the galleries and social media. Now everyone's a smartphone politician. Still, graffiti is the only medium unpredictable in its practice but universally understood. The vandal was and will always be the front page of street news. Especially now, when our current administration has made it virtually impossible to trust any form of media. Some people in my hood will read a wall before they read The Daily News. Those walls are on our streets, and we all know that a street forms a block, and that block becomes a neighborhood, so on and so forth until the initial idea becomes part of our cultural dogma as a whole.
So, to answer your question, during the 2016 elections, a mural of Donald Trump as a huge piece of shit (by artist Adam Lucas) went up. It was the most photographed mural during that time, copied and duplicated a million times and held up in protests all over the world. When Trump won the election, the owner of the building took it down the day after. Why? Because he was an immigrant and didn't want to attract any negative attention from a new and highly xenophobic administration. Undocumented? Overstayed VISA? Who knows, but the feeling that art inspired. It's dark.
So there's that. The pendulum swings both ways, but as long as it cuts the flesh and we bleed, we truly know that we, as a society, are alive.
CELL VISION: Is your work connected to something other (maybe larger) than formal properties, for example, color and form?
SARA APPLE MALIKI: Sunsets, schizophrenia, and other mental illnesses, God, fear, the subconscious. Humanity gritting its teeth at itself.
OSVALDO CHANCE JIMENEZ: Life is my work. I know that's some typical artist bullshit to say and a very low hanging fruit at that, but I'm completely sincere in that aspect. I just walk around with a banged-up 35mm camera, doesn't matter the make or model, archive the random shenanigans around me, and brutally romanticize them in my writings. I had a period where I would take photos of my travels then wheat-paste them in large-scale environments that would pose a contrast to the subject matter (for example, photos of Morocco off Marcy Avenue in Brooklyn, as an ode to the Middle Eastern deli workers that keep Brooklyn running 24 hours a day), but I try to keep the body of my work two dimensional now, as the writing is the third dimension.
CELL VISION: What’s an average day for you like?
SARA APPLE MALIKI: I pop out of bed, take off my slip and admire myself naked in front of the mirror. I take a couple pills, so the chemistry of my brain stays balanced and won’t tell me to drive off Mulholland. I drink orange juice. I brush my teeth. I walk my dog. I go to a meeting or Pilates or the dry cleaner or an audition or someone’s studio to work. I talk quite a bit on the phone. Sometimes therapy. There are a lot of lunches and overpriced coffees and lying and reapplying sunscreen involved.
OSVALDO CHANCE JIMENEZ: Wake up, pretend I know what I'm doing at the gym for an hour, after that, if I'm not stoned into a coma, getting subliminal writing tips from the millions of sitcoms I watch (a very underrated and overlooked medium), I'm at Ivy House Studio pretending to be an intern, and teaching myself all the photography basics I refused to learn. After that, if I'm not consciously coupling with the wife then I'm outside, living a life I want to photograph and write about.
CELL VISION: Where do you go for inspiration?
SARA APPLE MALIKI: Sensation. The light, the smells of outside, the farmer’s market, often I will leave LA to reset my mentality. The works of brilliant authors, any of the thousands of art books in my home. Shopping for furniture, music, browsing eBay, looking through photos in my phone, dying flowers, recorded conversations, past loves.
CELL VISION: When did you fall in love with art?
OSVALDO CHANCE JIMENEZ: I was always in love with art. When you're a first-generation Dominican born into poverty in New York City, even the little flecks of dust that float in the sunbeams sneaking through your window is art. When I couldn't afford comic books, I drew my own, and when I couldn't afford flowers, I wrote poems. They say that art is something you share with the world, but I didn't have anything, so art is something I took, like air or the government-issued food stamps I needed to survive. Ever since I stole my first breath, I've been in love with art.
CELL VISION: What are your favorite materials to use, or your favorite techniques to employ?
SARA APPLE MALIKI: My body is my instrument, unfortunately, which can be exceptionally limiting and complicated. I never get to put it down or step away from it. I must risk it and live with being misunderstood.
OSVALDO CHANCE JIMENEZ: Me, I'm the best medium I have! LMAOOOO, but no really, the camera, my laptop or phone, those are all extensions of me. I love film specifically because, like life, there are no do-overs. What happens, happened. Can't really edit out what's captured in film, and you can't delete it immediately like on a digital. You have to wait until you develop it before you can cast any judgment on it. You know that time in between taking the shot and seeing it for the first time? That's my favorite thing. That time.
CELL VISION: What did you think of the Bunk Beds And Duct Tape show?
SARA APPLE MALIKI: I think for a bunch of degenerates, they put together an incredible show. You roll up to the spot, and it’s a fucking taco stand that you’ve got to walk through. Everyone is slightly frowning as you shuffle in and this guy [the building’s superintendent] called Vampiro (we all got a tattoo of his name after the fact) greets you and ushers you into this former squat. The energy of all the people who’ve dwelled in this Deco skeleton are omnipresent, and then after schlepping up four floors, you’re at apartment 13, which was ours, and all the artists so flawlessly blended their work with these gorgeous dilapidated rooms. I felt eyes on me the entire two hours I performed, and it was popping off on the roof when I took a cigarette break. I would say that’s all one can hope for.
CELL VISION: Do you have anything else you’d like to add?
SARA APPLE MALIKI: I’m grateful I was given freedom and trusted to do what I wanted. That is an incredible privilege for an artist.
OSVALDO CHANCE JIMENEZ: Muchas gracias y que viva México!
ROBERTO YUICHI SHIMIZU KINOSHITA AND ISAAC “YUREK” CIELAK GRYNBERG
CELL VISION: First, why and how did you get involved in art?
ROBERTO SHIMIZU: I started to really get involved in art and architecture in 2007 when I rescued an abandoned warehouse, tucked away in a discarded district of Mexico City, and within 10 years of work, I created one of the most important independent art spaces and hubs in the city. It provided thousands of artists with a space to work, interact, and produce artwork, and now many are in their own shows and exhibitions. I’ve always collaborated with artists of many disciplines, such as performance, contemporary dance, installation, intervention, and experimental music. I’m of Japanese descent but born in Mexico—in love with my roots but in a constant affair with my Mexican culture. Mexico has a greatness that is inspiring to artists who live and work here.
ISAAC YUREK: For me, it is difficult to say. I think my interest in art was transmitted to me by different factors that have always been around this concept of “me,” even before I was physically born. I come from a lineage of psychoanalysts, architects, storytellers, theater actors, directors, and art promoters. My name “Yurek” is my grandfather’s name. He was a child in the Holocaust, who even when oppressed never lost his playful soul. He was brave enough to dream, and when he survived, he could finally nourish the child in him by bringing traditional Yiddish theater to Mexico, directing and playing until he passed. I grew up understanding life and communication through art and emotions.
CELL VISION: What do you think of the Bunk Beds And Duct Tape show?
ROBERTO SHIMIZU: I have curated many exhibitions in museums and galleries. Bunk Beds & Duct Tape was improvised and inspired by the spontaneity of Mexican life. There were great artworks inspired by our culture and others were works that had been cataloged and gathered over years. The show shared a global vision of international artists mounting something abruptly in Mexico.
ISAAC YUREK: Yes, it was a complete experiment, an exercise that had to be mounted in just a few days in a makeshift site. We were all new to the space; the artist new to each other. We met a few days before installation, but we collaborated and found collective solutions together. It was enriching to watch the artists dive into the building, with its own story and energy, both rich and peculiar. We needed each other to fulfill our individual goals. It exemplified the principles of ZYANYA.
CELL VISION: Tell us about the building where Bunk Beds And Duct Tape was exhibited.
ROBERTO SHIMIZU: This building is an amazing hub in the center of the city. The neighborhood is historic, and it is considered the heart of the city and the country.
ISAAC YUREK: It was an Art Deco building from 1936, one of the first reinforced concrete buildings of the city, located a few blocks from the Zócalo. Once an apartment building, after that a squat, it is now evolving into a sensitive exchange center. It holds art residences, exhibition galleries, and space for organic creation. The building’s essence deeply connects to ZYANYA’s mission; it’s an underutilized urban space with the potential to be re-understood in an essential way and regenerate new opportunities for itself.
CELL VISION: Speaking of ZYANYA, how did the residency come about?
ROBERTO SHIMIZU: The program has been running for a year. It’s unique because we collaborate with the city council; also, we always work with national embassies. It is open to anyone who applies, and we give them a really cozy and nice place to stay, work, play, and live in exchange for their artwork.
CELL VISION: What does ZYANYA mean for artists in Mexico City?
ROBERTO SHIMIZU: It is a connection between Mexico and the world. A space created to support collaboration among native artists, artists based in Mexico, and international artists visiting Mexico.
ISAAC YUREK: Through their projects, artists will be able to share how they perceive life, understand their essence, and exchange or share knowledge and feelings with cultures around the globe.
CELL VISION: What kind of artists do you hope apply?
ISAAC YUREK: Any artists who seek to add strength or purpose to their practice through a community-based exchange.
Curated by Mint&Serf and PAPER WORK, Bunk Beds And Duct Tape was a pop up apartment exhibition that echoed the Soviet-era Nonconformist art movement at ZYANYA / Museo del Juguete during ZONA MACO 2020 in Mexico City.
Participating Artists: Alessandro Barthlow | Iran Doniz | Andrea DoSouto | Osvaldo Chance Jimenez | Lee Taylor Jones | Michael Krim | Natalie Krim | Sara Apple Maliki | Anthony Plasencia |Mikhail Sokovikov and Jason Aaron Wall |