‘Everything that is not a basket, is a bad basket’ exclaims Kasia Fudakowski in her solo show at Lodos Gallery in Mexico City. Craft, and its valuation, is at the centre of this show, as Berlin-based Fudakowski archly comments on appropriation, market value and the definition of artistic labour. Three such ‘bad baskets’ are on display here, each named after the artisan who collaborated with the artist during her stay in Oaxaca and Mexico City. Hérnandez Marcelino Fudakowski (2017) is the most striking of the three; woven out of tulle, it dominates the space as it projects out from the wall. It is also the crudest, due to the thickness of the tulle in comparison to the other pieces’ use of cotton, wool and palm. Abstracted and removed from their functionality, these bad baskets strip the object’s use-value and ask what exactly is the value added by the artist.
This question, of course, goes beyond simple statements on appropriation and who profits from whose culture. To enter the exhibition, one has to pass through Skip that amigo, come out with the salad (2017), a pair of sheet metal cantina doors painted by Martín Hernández Robles, one of the last rotulistas (sign painters) in Mexico City’s centro histórico. A red and yellow excerpt of text by B. Traven, a mysterious German-American-Mexican author from the 1920s, details a strange conversation between Mr. Winthrop, a visiting New Yorker, and a local basket-maker. As they begin discussing quotes, a strange pricing scheme emerges: the more baskets Mr. Winthrop wants, the higher the price-per-basket. It seems that, for Traven, the aura of the object is not in its singularity but in its multiplicity. This sentiment complicates Fudakowski’s own artisanship and the place in a broader economy of a singular, handmade object.
Underlying this discussion of value is the spectre of colonialism and the history of American and European artists passing through Mexico, mining its ‘exotic, expressive culture,’ to quote the exhibition text. Fudakowski understands Mexico’s role as a cultural (and political) foil to the anglophone world and plays with this reality. Across from her weavings are two ceramic sculptures, Frío Kahlo and Frida Calor (2017), which resemble radiators. With heating being unnecessary in Mexico City’s constant 20 degree weather, these two works highlight the absurdity of bringing certain foreign customs to Mexico while also referencing another German-Mexican encounter. What unites these various pieces is Fudakowski’s wry embrace of her position as a European artist in Mexico and the power of collaboration as much as her own subversive undermining of artistic labor and the limits of multiculturalism. And while Fudakowski paid each artisan triple the wage they requested, that fact remains hidden. What is visible is how and why these bad baskets are worth more than purportedly good ones.