José Antonio Vega Macotela at Prospect.3

Published December 9, 2014

“My eternity has died and I am waking it.” –Violence of the Hours, Cesar Vallejo

It sounds like a riddle: No one can buy more of it, and few have enough of it; it wears on the rich and poor equally; loss of it produces deep fear. Time’s ability to be transferred and manipulated is at the heart of José Antonio Vega Macotela’s mixed-media series Time Divisa, part of which is on view at Longue View House and Gardens for Prospect.3. Throughout history, humanity has meted out punishment by taking away an individual’s time. Imprisonment is the physical demonstration of divided time. Macotela’s work provides an alternate source of time, a jailbreak of sorts.

Jose Antonio Vega Macotela. Time Exchange 331 (From Time Divisa), 2010; human hair and paper; 22 x 17 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Prospect.3

Macotela trades his time with convicts held in Mexico City’s Santa Marta Acatitla Prison. On a specific day, a task requested by a prisoner is performed by the artist concurrently with the prisoner creating a work of art. “What they usually want me to do is to literally take their place in the outside world. I’ve visited the tombs of their brothers and said a few words. I’ve asked their fathers for forgiveness. I’ve gone dancing with their mothers. I’ve met their sons and acted as their father for a day. I’ve read a letter out loud to a dying relative in the hospital. One prisoner even asked me to go to his girlfriend’s house and watch her masturbate so that I could describe the scene for him, bit by bit.”[1]

Time Exchange 331 (2010) was made in exchange for Macotela spying on a prisoner’s ex-lover in the Zona Rosa in Mexico City. Made out of short, dark hairs from both the prisoner and his now-current lover, Time Exchange 331 depicts a map of the prison, with cell blocks surrounding a circular room. The extremely personal nature of the medium emphasizes the relationships that were formed from this project. The prisoner, “Eduardo,” used one of the few free commodities present in a prison—his own body—to create a work dictated by Macotela. The map of the prison is also a Poleana board, a board game played almost exclusively in prisons. The origin of the game is not clear, but some say it was introduced by Colombian narcotraffickers at Santa Martha Acatitla; others say it was adapted from a 1950s Parker Brothers game.[2]The board resembles the architecture of a prison, with the cells surrounding a circular main room, recalling Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon. The composition of this game and of Time Exchange 331 depicts a prisoner’s conceptualization of power relations in prison and the fantasy of breaking out of that structure.

Jose Antonio Vega Macotela. Time Exchange 291 (From Time Divisa), 2009; intervened book; 8.27 x 6.3 x 4.72 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Prospect.3

One of the greatest prison-break stories is Alexander Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo. The main character, Edmond Dantès, reveals the prisoner’s mentality: “How did I escape? With difficulty. How did I plan this moment? With pleasure.” Similarly, the prisoners in Santa Marta Acatitla prison have long periods of time to contemplate the outside world. In Exchange 291 (2009), Macotela exchanged time spent searching for a prisoner’s girlfriend for a copy of The Count of Monte Cristo in which the prisoner (“El Kamala”) used his hand to scratch a hole through the center of the novel; the work recalls Dantès’ own years-long attempt to escape by slowly digging through stone. But “Eel Kamala” is no fictional character. How much time does it take to scratch through 500 pages with a finger? Exchange 291 is a literal manifestation of a span of time spent detained, one longer than anyone might hope to experience.

The concept of trading time is a very old one. In the 12th century, the old or unable could use a proxy traveler to complete a religious pilgrimage. This tradition anticipates Macotela’s work and raises the possibility that the idea of time exchange is potentially an innate spiritual response to impairment. Macotela says, “Women would usually ask for favors dealing with faith, like asking me to crawl on my knees inside the Basílica de Guadalupe (one of the most revered churches in Mexico) to do penance on their behalf… It is as if they were looking for hope beyond the human realm, because the human realm is no longer within their reach.”[3] Prison walls may bind the physicality of individuals, but Macotela creates a (limited) transcendence of the corporeal and the opportunity to realize metaphysical desire.

[1] Antonio Vega Macotela, as told to Gabriella Gómez-Mont, “Mexican Rashes,” Vice Magazine Accessed November 30, 2014.

[2] Accessed November 30, 2014.

[3] Antonio Vega Macotela, as told to Gabriella Gómez-Mont, “Mexican Rashes.” Vice Magazine Accessed November 30, 2014.

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