Sarah Lucas: DAME ZERO
March 17 - May 5, 2018
Review by Elliott Burns
Caught between Spanish and English readings, Sarah Lucas’s second exhibition in Mexico, following the 2012 NUDS at Museo Diego Rivera Anahuacalli, evokes a Hispanic nihilism (‘Dame’ translates to ‘give me’) and in British societal hierarchy, the title of Dame is the female equivalent of a knighthood. Fitting in both senses, it announces Lucas’s significant cultural impact – evidenced by her being chosen as the artist for the British pavilion at 2015 Venice Biennale - and her morbid attitude more attuned to Mexico’s acceptance and celebration of death than that of her nationality.
DAME ZERO pulls together a broad selection of works made during a previous visit to Mexico, as well as some brought in from overseas. At the centre of the frenetic mess is ‘EPITAPH BLAH BLAH’ (2018), a work which Lucas has for some time dreamed of realising, but, only here in the less restrictive (or more corrupt) attitudes of Mexico has she been able to realise. Decorated with cigarettes, like a piece of Huichol craftsmanship, is the carcass of a car crash, the crumbled remains of a collision which has wrought incredible force into the bonnet and engine, collapsing a ripple effect through and out the boot. An uncomfortable proposition, most probably the vestige of one or more fatalities, Lucas’s act of adornment turns the now inert object into a hearse, suitable to carry its passengers into the afterlife.
Adjacent are ‘ALL MAYA’ (2018) and ‘EXACTO’ (2018), two chair based works extrapolating from’ EPITAPH BLAH BLAH’. On the one hand, ‘ALL MAYA’ suggests a slow movement towards death, its cigarette stained colour and limp phallic beer can speak of a gradual movement towards impotence, followed thereafter by death. One the other hand, ‘EXACTO’ seems to more violently trace the immediate impact of shrapnel through a hypothetical seated figure; lines of neon puncturing the body as if forensic specialists were retracing a path of destruction.
An artificial wall has become the scene of performative egg throwing. Initially painted white, it is now stained with cartons of sickly yellowing goop, a lifetime of unfertilised eggs (the female reading) or a fraction of a lifetime’s wasted semen (the male reading). In front of the composition, stand two erect papier-mâché penises, pink and peach, immobile and a bit pathetic. Comic and yet utterly disgusting, the show is spared the scent of rotting yolks by some chemical ingenuity.
Channeling pre-hispanic influences, ‘CO-YO-TE-COJO’ (2018) and ‘HIJOS DE LA CHINGADA’ (2018), utilise the tradition of carving cantera, or volcanic stone, to make idols and effigies. Drawing a direct line back to her previous show at Anahuacalli, which featured an exquisite collection of these artefacts, the two coyote figurines have been coated in cigarette patterns and medieval feathering.
‘EXQUISITE CORPSE’ (2018), a diptych of cigarettes on brown paper, showing an Africanised figure with wide hips and tribal markings defecating into a small bowl, personally, crosses a line. The diptych, I later learnt, is in reference to two exquisite corpse drawings produced by Frida Kahlo, Lucienne Bloch and Diego Rivera in 1932, one representing Rivera and the other Frida. As a counter, Lucas’ offers an image of herself in six pieces in ‘RED SKY’ (2018), a self-portrait smoking series that easily scoffs off any criticism and more importantly seems to laugh in the face of death.
Whilst firmly rooted in the irreverent humour of Britain, DAME ZERO is able to securely locate itself within (as if emerging from) the context of Mexico. Embracing the hedonistic and self-destructive impulses that can be found in both BritIsh and the Mexican society, it teases a bridge between the two cultures, made by our shared experiences of sex, illness, violence and death.