Practice of Mexican artist Teresa Margolles examines mortality

Glasgow Sculpture Studios show takes on English riots and drug crimes

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Practice of Mexican artist Teresa Margolles examines mortality

Talitha Kotzé looks at the work of Teresa Margolles, which is endlessly influenced by social and political events

Mexican artist Teresa Margolles arrived in Scotland for her three-month Glasgow Sculpture Studios residency just as the riots kicked off in England last year. She travelled down to pick up debris from the aftermath, which will be used in her exhibition for GI 2012. It is with the remnants and material fragments of social crisis that Margolles tells her stories.

She will also present a reworking of the photographic archive of Ciudad Juárez-based photographer Luis Alvarado whose 4000 images she recovered when they were thrown out on the street. The city’s drug wars mean that it is one of the most violent places in the world. The images capture the vibrant nightlife of the 70s and 80s, an unexpected vision that allowed her to draw parallels to Glasgow’s rich cultural life. She acknowledges that her residency allowed her some distance from her emotionally intense work back home.

Margolles started her career as a photographer before moving on to autopsy and taxidermy. In the 10 years she worked in the field she learnt to observe and understand a city by what is happening in its morgue. This has led her to an artistic practice that examines mortality: the way we die tells us a lot about the way we live. For one project she recovered suicide notes from dead bodies and displayed the text on disused cinema display boards in order to tell the very last story of a person. She once moved a wall perforated with bullet holes to serve as monument in a NYC park. She has made jewellery using shattered glass extracted from the anonymous victims of drug related crimes shot to death in their cars. For her presentation at the Venice Biennale 2009 she switched the Mexican flag with a blood soaked cloth in reference to the streets of Juárez. Inside the gallery workers mopped the floor daily by adding a thin layer of bloody water so that viewers become physically implicated.

In telling poignant stories of human life amidst the terror and violence, Margolles creates beauty and brings the political down to a cellular level.

Glasgow Sculpture Studios, The Whisky Bond, Fri 20 Apr–Sat 30 Jun.

Teresa Margolles

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Work drawing on an archive the artist found in Mexico, consisting of more than 4000 photographs of the street life of Ciudad Juarez, a Mexican city with the highest murder rate in the world. She also happened to visit Glasgow while the London riots were going on, and travelled to London to document the aftermath. Part of…

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