Mexican-born, Berlin-based multimedia artist Mariana Castillo Deball’s practice interrogates the junctures between fields of knowledge as disparate as archaeology, anthropology, material culture, art and history. More specifically, Castillo Deball’s works probe into the hows and whys of objects transformed – (re-)activated, granted agency, even fetishized – into art objects, with all due implications. For Castillo Deball’s first museum exhibition in New York City at the New Museum, titled ‘Finding Oneself Outside,’ Associate Curator Natalie Bell explores the other connotations of her practice that concern the art object in the age of mass media and reproduction, and the context of codification, perspective and cognition.
Castillo Deball’s forays into examining, even toying with, the disorientation of the art object as a result of mass media reproduction, and everything that means for a work’s aura and interaction with viewers, are made manifest in the series ‘Do ut des’ (2014-19), reportedly taken from the Latin “I give so that you will give.” Consisting of magazines opened and splayed out for visitors to see on thin wood-frame pedestals, this series presents a sort of catalogue of artworks. Castillo Deball has bored various cavities into the magazines so that their surfaces resemble three-dimensional topographic maps on one side and on the other, scarred holes that allow glimpses of their pages and contents.
The artworks that compose ‘Finding Oneself Outside’ are roughly arranged into groups or series that complement each other thematically. Among the most odd are Castillo Deball’s ‘Mathematical Distortions,’ which are, in turn, part of a larger series titled ‘Uncomfortable Objects’ (2012). Inspired by late 19th and early 20th century German mathematician Felix Klein’s topological models, Castillo Deball’s ‘Uncomfortable Objects’ are ‘scagliola’, made from plaster and rabbit glue, blended with natural pigments. These concoctions defy an object’s core characteristics and relationship to other things, and challenge the limitations of materials.
Castillo Deball’s fascination with the disorientation of the art object resonates with her ‘Distortions’ and ‘Do ut des’ series as well as the works ‘Teozacoalco Map’ (2019) and ‘No solid form can contain you’ (2010). The former is an inlaid floor installation, which the viewer walks on as they cross the gallery and can also act as an adhesive, tying the artworks together thematically. It is created from composite images of European maps and indigenous Mesoamerican codices, both dating from the colonial era. The latter is a large sculpture formed by the unorthodox process of casting a statue of the Mesoamerican goddess ‘Coatlicue’, whose pieces are inverted and then put back together to leave a hollow copy of the original behind.
Together, Castillo Deball’s ‘Distortions’ - her punctured art catalogues, experimentally cast sculptures and composite maps inspired by original and diverse sources - all serve to interrogate the transformation of the object to art object as well as the process’ relationship to the viewer, a concern that will always be vital to art discourses.