Review: Paulina Sierra at the Consulate of Mexico

November 27, 2013. Pelican

Baked, fried, rolled, diced, grilled, or eaten plain; the works in Paulina Sierra’s exhibition all examine the quintessential Mexican staple—tortillas. As a symbol, the tortilla might be an obvious choice, yet Sierra executes her work with a keen sense of appropriation. In her silkscreen Pila de Tortillas/Tortilla Piles, blue, yellow, and red corn tortillas slump over each other. The colors languidly lie atop one another, recalling Lynda Benglis’ latex paintings. Creating an interrelated network of shapes, the tortillas have become a formal object.

Sierra and a team of tortilla makers in Mexico made thousands of multicolored tortillas out of corn and clay. Her Video-documentación Máquina de Tortillas/Tortilla Machine Video Documentation excerpts the mesmerizing process of mixing the clay and corn, which is placed in the tortilla machine to pop out beautiful and delicate round shapes. The mixture makes these tortillas more durable, part of Sierra’s stated desire “to create a more resilient version of the tortilla, one that lost its vulnerable and edible quality, and to transform it into a structural element.”

In the titular installation Asentamiento Multicultural Latino/Settling Latin Multiculturalism, Sierra has built a freestanding wall in the gallery in which thousands of tortillas have been stacked into columns. Some tortillas have crashed to the ground, while other stacks stand taller than a person. The wall itself appears flimsy, but the round objects stuffed inside its exposed frame like insulation seem to weigh it down while offering intricate flashes of color.

Tortillas are the mechanism by which Sierra discusses her experiences as a Mexican in America, citing the tortilla as a symbol of cultural resistance. Wherever tortillas are made, people gather to share food and other mementos of home, creating a moveable border via shared culture. And while the tortilla is a warm symbol of home for some immigrants, it has historically functioned as a marker of economic inequality for the same populations. In 2007, for example, 75,000 people marched in protest of rising tortillas prices, which had doubled that year. The slogan for this protest: “Sin maíz, no hay país” or “Without corn, there is no country.”

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