It was written I should be loyal to the nightmare of my choice.
― Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness
Theo Mercier’s artistic explorations emerge from a universe plagued with visual and formal elements that belong to the world of museology and modernist museographical displays that, after appropriation and reconfiguration, situate themselves again in a museum space in a logic of contemporary production. His works question, among other things, the construction and instability of historical narratives and also signal problems related to contemporary sculpture.
In his work, questions revolving around what is shown, how it’s shown and in what context are answered through the sophisticated appearance of anthropological and artistic traces from very different eras. These sometimes involve technical issues, research processes and bureaucratic management. Over the last three years, Mercier has devoted his time to visiting several trade and handicraft workshops in different states in Mexico and in Mexico City, hoping to include materials and techniques in his sculpture and stage designs.
Gold War Wall (2017) was made expressly for Museo Experimental el Eco. It consists of three hundred war masks belonging to different moments in time and space throughout the history of humanity and is displayed as a mural in the Daniel Mont space. The first sources for this work’s process were books on art history, history, and art museums. Different warrior masks or war-related masks (and probably related to rituals as well) were hand-copied from these. These drawings transformed each of the masks into schematic lines, to serve as stencils for working with brass at the Taller Corazón de Hojalata workshop in the outskirts of Oaxaca city. The workshop belongs to a family of artisans that usually produce different objects and images in tinplate. They set out to make theses masks alongside the artist’s instructions, obtaining a result he was interested in yet adapting to the workshop’s own modes of production as well. A key issue was the choice of material—brass, with its gilded tones, evokes the gold masks of Colombia, and it’s also a nod to Mathias Goeritz’s gold Messages.
Three hundred masks that covered the faces of different people escape the “museumization” of war and are reconfigured in a piece that may not seem at all heartening in its collection of dark moments of history, yet shocks us with the beauty of its appearance and the detail of each piece, allowing us to see potential in acting collectively.