At first glance, God For Bid, Ximena Labra's first individual exhibition at YAUTEPEC, is a show about mourning in both private and public life. By presenting two independent projects -- Ophelia and Tlatelolco Public Space Odyssey -- together, Labra articulates encounters with death that manage to encompass the totality of our personal and collective responses to it.
However, a closer analysis reveals a crucial dialectical argument to the works. In both projects, encounters with death become mirrors to our own lives and how we choose to live them. Without attempting to be prescriptive, Labra's works propose death and life as an endless present that can become mutable by our own thoughts and actions.
In Ophelia, Labra confronts the loss of her own father by transforming herself into the tragic female figure of Shakespeare's "Hamlet," re-imagining Ophelia's fate as one in which she finds herself absolutely alive in an exquisite underwater landscape beyond death, where sorrow is all that can be drowned. Shot entirely in the cenotes of the Yucatán at difficult diving depths in order to achieve ideal natural light, Ophelia is easily Labra's most personal series of works to date.
Hauntingly beautiful and charged with a range of emotions, Labra's poetic catharsis interestingly functioned on a literal level as well, helping her to finally come to terms with her father's death.
In Tlatelolco Public Space Odyssey, on the other hand, we see a distinct failure in a society's attempt to arrive at such closure within the context of a public symbol of mourning: the monument to the victims of the 1968 Tlatelolco plaza massacre. For this project, Labra constructed three identical replicas of the monument and had them "appear" at six chosen sites throughout Mexico City over a period of two months. By bestowing an almost supernatural character upon this well-known monument, Labra reactivated the inherent mystery that still surrounds the notorious incident that the monument references.
Through her exhaustive video documentation of public response to the uncanny works and a subsequent splicing of symbolically loaded scenes from Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" for the project's video presentation, Labra tells a story of a monument's inherent impotence to reconcile a horrific (and still unresolved) episode in Mexico's history, while at the same time she confronts the notion of contemporary public art itself in a way that is undeniably critical and brutally comical at the same time.
By way of the two projects' stark contrasts, Ophelia and Tlatelolco Public Space Odyssey combine to reveal a complex notion of life and death that treats its subject matter with the utmost sincerity but casts a critical eye upon the efficacy of our various responses to existential crisis. The choice of title for the exhibition, God For Bid, in this way becomes an apt play on words to represent our personal and collective dealings with existence and death while we face the bewildering experience of being alive, if just for a while.
Artist website: http://ximenalabra.com
Tlatelolco Public Space Odyssey: http://webcronic.com/ximenalabra/tlatelolco/