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Pablo Castañeda: Border Autofictions

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Border Autofictions includes over forty paintings, from 2006 to date, by the Mexican artist Pablo Castañeda. It will also present a new mural painting created by the artist on-site. This is Castañeda’s first solo exhibition in Europe.

Urban micronarratives, absurd and surrealist scenes, and desert landscapes figure extensively in the artist’s work. He often inserts self-portraits of himself in these scenarios, most of the time depicted as a painter at work, as well as portraits of his friends who have served at one time or other as models for his paintings. Also, pictures of well-known artists or artworks—from a portrait of Dante to one of Cindy Sherman’s Film Stills—appear as framed pieces hung on walls or as city billboards in the backdrop. At times, his paintings are composed like misè-en-scene for film noir. Other times, these are composed as miniature panoramic narratives or appear as fragments of larger frieze paintings. In this exhibition, Castañeda’s work is grouped in different types of scenarios, rather than chronologically or by the artist’s painting series. This arrangement is to emphasize the source of the painting’s imagery and what these images narratively, and even cinematically, emulate within a composition.

An artist living in Mexicali in Baja California, Mexico, Castañeda has for decades focused on picturing his immediate environment and surrounding landscape, his friends, and the local arts community. Like many artists, his knowledge and trajectory in the art field has been shaped through a combination of curiosity and discipline, and not through professional or academic degree-granting programs. Instead, kinships formed through lived experiences, self-organized art workshops, and intellectual affinities have been his primary forms of schooling. And yet, Castañeda is not a so-called outsider or self-taught artist. He is well versed in art history. He has preferences. He resists certain definitions, too. He does not champion binary framing devices like life and work, nor being inside-out, nor pictorial dualities, such as surface and depth.

Castañeda is an avid arts reader and onlooker; he silently wanders about, day and night, which enables him to focus on what has been left behind—love, emptiness, desire—and yet is instilled everywhere—stories, fantasy, imagination. Castañeda is hearing impaired; this plus his incapacity to speak in a field where orality has been championed, intensifies the value images have for him and in his work. He has been able to convey a world where souls glow at twilight and where the contrast given by claro-oscuro elucidates not just borders but their liminalities.

The exhibition title, Border Autofictions, alludes both to the artist’s context, as much as to his milieu figured in this work. The artist’s hometown, Mexicali, borders Calexico in California, USA. These so-called twin cities are part of a desert valley. South of the border, Mexicali’s century-long development has been heavily influenced by a binational water treaty, first, and, decades later, by an international trade agreement. While the former allowed agronomy and agricultural development (its sustainability, questionable), the latter embedded an international manufacturing culture, which, while creating employment, has deepened economic inequality in the region. In any case, both kinds of development have been reasons for emigrants to settle in this arid land. Another reason for settling in Mexicali has been the impossibility of crossing the border into the ‘land of opportunities’ that the US has been considered by too many and for too long.

Kunstinstituut Melly’s director, Sofía Hernández Chong Cuy, is the curator of this exhibition. Like the artist, she is also from Mexicali in Baja California, Mexico. This exhibition is inspired by her conversations with Chris Kraus, who lives in Baja California, and by her writing, which has given focus to social art practice fostered by kinship. Hernández Chong Cuy’s work at Kunstinstituut Melly has continuously explored presenting work that is locally relevant and globally meaningful.

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