Note: I shared some of this in class on Friday. I think it's a great example of an artist lexicon.
Abraham Cruzvillegas / Autoconstrucción
Origin of the concept
The autoconstrucción concept comes from a house building dynamic that is led by specific needs from a family and by the lack of economic funds for constructing a house at once. People build their own homes slowly, as they can, with limited money, with the collaboration of the all the members of the family, and with the solidarity of neighbors, relatives and friends, sporadically. Houses evidence the process in layers, through which is possible to watch the experience strata and the transformations, modifications, cancellations and destruction of the structures, according to family changes and new needs. Aesthetic decisions are intertwined in a piling that shows also the ability of the constructors to use any material available or at hand, depending of the place, situation and circumstance. Hybrid combinations of materials and constructive strategies are very rich and diverse. Autoconstrucción is not a weekend hobbie as bricollage or DIY culture, it's a consequence of unfair wealth distribution. Oppossed to the massive projects buildings, autoconstrucción points to an autonomous and independent architecture that is far from any planning or draft: it's improvised. Even when autoconstrucción happens all around the world (like in Brasilian favelas or shanty towns abroad), in my personal experience I lived the entire process of autoconstrucción in my parent's house in the South of México City, which is a land of volcanic rock, that was invaded in the early 1960's and on by immigrants from the country side, looking for a better life in the big city. Slowly that people started building their houses with lava stones and recycled materials gathered in other neighborhoods. For many years, there was no water and no services in general at all. Fighting for the property of their lands became an everyday activity, as well for the access to electricity, pavement, etc. Women became leaders in those movements, along with young guys and children, while men were working, many of them as construction workers in the so called modern Mexico.
When I started to use it
I appropriated the term to name all my work since 2007, when I improvised a whole exhibition in New York, working only with materials found around a gallery, and attempting to reproduce the dynamics of autoconstrucción (not representing it, but activating it). Anyway I started working with the idea as a personal fact (and not as a chosen subject matter) that was underlaying my work since the year 1999, when I took many pictures of houses of my neighborhood, of the volcanic rock there, of some details of my parent's house. Then I wrote a text telling that story through my own experience, what I witnessed during all those years without a nostalgic approach: just facts. This text was just finished last year, and became a book accompanied by many images, including some lent by neighbors, shot in the early years of the autoconstrucción. It was published in Glasgow, when I was invited to do a project at the Centre for Contemporary Art by Francis McKee. I've made sculptures, drawings, paintings, videos, a theater play and a film, under this name. Maybe it's time to move to 'autodestrucción'.
What it means
Autoconstrucción means a structure in which everything is possible, as it has infinite and diverse ways to take a shape. It is a way of thinking more than a method or a technique, it's a way of life. Improvising, testing all kind of combinations, according to specific needs (like expressing one self) is a rule, that provides absolute freedom. Autoconstrucción is for me the most authentic way of creativity, as it blooms in the most adverse circumstances, it's pure ingenuity and will. Whatever the shape, language or format of autoconstrucción may adopt, it never can be mistaken or misunderstood, hermeneutics, use, function and/or contradiction are its fuel.
I use to work in a very intuitive way, even when some of the production stages could be called 'conceptual', so I start with impulses or ideas, and there is a need that appeals to the possibility of transforming them into shapes. I work with materials that could be used and normally I never question which could be its use, but I choose them from surrounding reality, from anywhere I could find myself, with indifference, which means that I don't choose materials because they are nice or ugly, they just must have the potential to be used. Materials by themselves are not important, their quality or status of fragments is very important as parts of a whole. Wholeness is unstable, conceptually, physically. Meaning is meaningful only in terms of the whole, including the use of the whole, which means interpretation. Simple or elaborate constructions are analogous and absolutely different at the same time, depending on the level of complexity of the inherent processes to make them, their final status should be simple and accessible to inhabit, watch, read, touch, listen, re-build or deconstruct them. Geometry and chaos are depicted according to the diverse needs that demand their construction, and stages of construction can be frozen as well, to show specific transparent moments of the process as definitely unfinished. They can be rearranged in different ways depending on the context, situation, circumstance, including displacement, replacement or shift as part of their permanent change. So, autoconstrucción is freedom, contradiction, transparency, simplicity and change. HANDMADE
Ideological framework/Economic platform/system of production
It's very easy to perceive the origin of the materials composing an autoconstrucción; fragments evidence themselves their economic/cultural sources. The clash of the diverse economic systems and production contexts produce complex reading/living systems according to the viewer/inhabitant. The will to construct with any material -any or all of of them- or even without materials, is more important than the aesthetic or economic value of them. The platform on which autoconstrucción operates is very often a collaborative one, exchange value then is a fluctuation between monetary capital, work capital, speculative capital and waste. When an object is discarded by a person it's valueless, for autoconstrucción it could be seen as prime matter. Autoconstrucción does not deal with garbage, but with prime matter. Recycling is a common practice now, but for centuries in so-called under developed countries, scavenging and harvesting used materials and objects has been a normal activity. Pepenadores in México pick cardboard, metals, and discarded furniture, cans, bottles, paper, etc, in order to give them a new life. They collect, classify, accumulate and resell to transform. Then a new cycle starts. When I make an artwork with found objects or materials (i.e.: aluminum, wood, a forgotten bicycle, my own hair, shark jaws, a cowbell, teeth, a chair, wax, coins, plastic or sheep shit) they remain and keep their original qualities and defects. At the end, if the piece is dismantled, the fragments, remain the same: there is no alchemical transformation, there is no trick or magic. Transformation occurs only in the viewers mind. And in my hands, of course. So, a stone is a stone before, during and after the art/architecture approach, it does not represent anything else but a stone being a stone as a stone. When the same stone is taken from the paving to thrown over a police barricade, or to the window of a government office, it will be a stone anyway. But a happy one. Autoconstrucción meant for me, for many years, before making art, a constant struggle with authority, not only because of the situation of growing in a challenging context, learning to deal with scarcity, solidarity, roughness and resistance to the environment, to the local governors, and to self indulgence. Now it's more an ideological consequence in which all my acts involve my own genealogy and my future as trying to arrive to acertain degree of consciousness based in all the mentioned above. Autoconstrucción is not biographic or anecdotic, is not narrative, it's not thematic or comunicative. It is the very expression of survival and work. It's also humorous, ironic, paradoxical and delirious.
Roof out of line up with sides
the yards cluttered
with old chickenwire, ashes,
furniture gone wrong.
The fences and houses
built of barrel-staves
and parts of boxes
William Carlos Williams
There is one main path of will in my work, based on the attempt of making consciousness about the self-construction of identity. One of the main metaphors is the process of construction of my parents' house in Mexico City.
During the first half of my life I witnessed the slow construction of the house in which my family lived. All of us participated in this process. The construction started in the mid-sixties, as part of a massive invasion of immigrants from the countryside, in a rough volcanic rock area in the south of Mexico City, not included in the original urban plans.
The materials and techniques used have been almost completely improvised and dependent on the surrounding circumstances of that unstable economic and social moment, as it happened in diverse places, not only there, but -perhaps- around the world. Then solutions were based on specific needs and situations, such as a new room, the modification of a ceiling, or the improvement or cancellation of some spaces.
Being conceived and built without budget or architectural intervention, as it appears now, the house seems to be chaotic and almost useless, but every detail and every corner has a reason to exist, to be there. My parent's home is an authentic labyrinth polished by the patina of simultaneous use, construction and destruction.
That autoconstrucción, (self construction) as this kind of edification is called, should be seen as a warm process in which solidarity between neighbors and family members is very important. Not only in terms of collaboration itself, as a shared economic capital, but as an educative and enriching environment for any individual, as someone in the community, with the others.
The different series of work called 'autoconstrucción' regard that house as a whole, looking at some details and techniques improvised by or according to specific urgencies of family members. Instability: "roughness, volts, jerks, sulks, balks, outblurts and jump-overs" in each piece are transformations of the house's references in terms of a certain locality, as shifts of somatic awareness, as physiological presence in time and space: multiplied, simultaneous.
Many of my works are evidence of my will to confront at once two or more radically different economic systems through bricollage or assemblage, making hybrid marriages and bizarre mixtures of materials and techniques.
There is no representation of the technical details of the construction, but a reproduction of the diverse dynamics involved, regarding at the economic and social environment as a sort of scaffolding through which I do my moves.
Even when sometimes isolated pieces remind -in a figurative way- the basic structure of a "house", more than just proposing models of poor architecture, my main goal is to produce knowledge on how activity becomes form, as trying to renew for myself a meaningful vehicle for intuition and invention.
On the other hand, and as a silent soundtrack in time and context, alongside the sculptures I make, there is an equally contradictory accumulation of information translated into drawings, pictures or moving images and sounds, appropriated from music, books, other images and experiences in my lifetime.
Collections of film posters, cancelled images from news papers and postcards, video bits, music tracks or kidnapped text fragments, compose some of the groupings I seek to share as the witnessing of my own cosmos. They are the carved pebbles forming the walls, floors and ceilings of my house.
It is in the manner of the Mnemosyne Atlas composed by Aby Warburg, as an accumulative and affective search of the expressive sign in everything, that I harvest to build up the whole image of my integrity.
It was also said by Buckminster Fuller, that matter is organized in nature by sympathy. This applies for my collections of objects and images and sounds, and for my three dimensional work.
Through subtle or minimal transformation, without anecdotes, without narratives or even without skills, my work is just a proof that I'm alive. The transformed information, materials and objects in my work composes as well, the definitely unfinished construction of my self, through an approach to reality. Through bare facts.