Maria Ezcurra

Obra   Texto de artista   Links   Bio y CV     

Maria Ezcurra: Wear to Art

Vic De La Rosa

Published in FiberArts (Vol. 35, No. 4), 2009.
Jan-Feb 2009 María Ezcurra’s hands-on performance art seeks to release people from the common threads of gender, class, and culture so often defined by their clothing.

We each slip our clothes on and off daily without much thought other than to their suitability for an occasion or comfort. But to María Ezcurra, the soul of that pieced-together cloth has deep meaning that remains long after it is shed from the body.

The Argentina-born, Mexico-City-based artist developed this concept along the streets of London while there as a Fulbright student. She walked the streets, collected lost objects, and labeled them. Prevalent among these items were lost gloves, or more to the point, one glove separated from its partner and owner. Ezcurra liked the idea that she was somehow connected to the wearer through this one glove of a pair. She learned that in England it was the custom to place a lost glove over a fence post when found. So she placed all the gloves she collected, labeled with the time and place where found, along the posts of a fence outside the Tate Gallery, London.

These walks also allowed Ezcurra to see the mundane in a new way. The articles of clothing she found reinforced her belief that a garment becomes more interesting when a person stops wearing it, that a history is elicited from the clues the objects reveal about the wearer. Her drive to claim the articles of clothing she finds became a theme that echoes in other dimensions of her work. In some cases, she finds clothing and at other times she “liberates” them from the wearer.

In Tianguis (Street Market), a performance piece staged on the streets of Caracas, Venezuela, Ezcurra asked passersby to allow her to unstitch them from their garments. With the participant up against the wall, she opened each garment at the seams and then affixed it, splayed flat, to the wall. In this act, she freed the person from her social skin. She found that the unstitched pieces of feminine garments rendered a more attractive form because of texture, color, and cut, and observed, “Nowadays, clothing is made to please, more for defining us than to protect us. The social tendency is that, within this scenario, the woman does not get dressed for herself, but for the other.” Of her performance interventions, she states, “When I ‘skin’ women, I attempt to release them. Clothes can be like a trophy for some people, but for others they are the rest of a skin that was left after a change,” the evidence of a metamorphosis.

These interventions appeal to Ezcurra on many levels. Of the outside performance locations, she explains, “We get dressed for others, for going outside, for giving information about ourselves. When I show my pieces in parks, streets, and shopping centers, I re-establish a relationship between clothes and public spaces, and this becomes a way of undressing and exposing perceptions of certain social codes.”

Metamorfosis (Metamorphosis) is the title of a companion piece also performed in Caracas. But in Metamorfosis, the participant was not released immediately from her apparel skin, but held in mid-change, literally becoming a part of the work as the unstitched garment was nailed to the wall mid-molt by Ezcurra. Each piece perfectly caught that awkward transition between two phases, metaphorically illustrated as a physical manifestation that is often hidden or experienced privately. The specimen-like entrapment ended with the garments shown alone on the wall, and like most of Ezcurra’s garment pieces, splayed empty.

Ezcurra’s belief that clothing is more powerful removed from the body that once inhabited it may be why she does not care much for new clothing in stores as a material for her artwork. She prefers to let the pre-owned material she finds drive her process. This can be a challenge, and interestingly, one that reflects global differences in cultures and the value of material goods. While a visiting art school student in San Francisco, she appreciated the prevalence of second-hand clothing and thrift stores, and from these sources she was able to craft many of her ideas and projects. But stores like these are rare in Mexico, where the currency of clothing has a notably different value. Unlike London and San Francisco, Ezcurra explains, errant clothing in Mexico is immediately scooped up and put to use by family members and neighbors.

As an alternative, Ezcurra relies on weekly visits to market stalls in Mexico City, where she obtains materials of inspiration and production for her artwork. Ironically, these market stalls sell second-hand clothing imported in huge bundles from the United States. Using cast-offs from another country implies a distance and anonymity that is paramount in her process. Unless the clothing is her own, she finds it is difficult to deal with garments once worn by someone familiar. Ezcurra’s work, representative of a collective rather than individual identity, is not impersonal. On the contrary, she asserts, “The absence equals the idea of the person.”

This quality is especially true of her installation piece El Ultimo Grito (The Ultimate Scream), in which Ezcurra employed the museum architecture as an integral component of the project. The exhibition coincided with the Day of the Dead holiday, and she was invited to do an interpretation of an altar at the Centro Cultura Muros in Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico. Instead of choosing only one person to memorialize, she chose the idea of fashion and clothing itself as a manifestation of the evidence of human existence. She explained, “I am interested in the ambiguity of these morbid and seductive objects [the garments that comprise the altar] which suggest presence yet demonstrate absence.”

In this installation, she wanted to experiment with the ideas of fashion and architecture at the point where the two coincided in early man’s notion of covering himself—from the kill of the hunt, some skins became clothing and some became tents, but both were a form of protection. Using the second-hand clothing of hundreds of people, the piece symbolically and directly alluded to clothing as protection since you could walk into the piece as you would a cave or tomb. Ezcurra’s structure referenced both the physical bodies of those who once inhabited the clothing and their personal histories through the wardrobe left behind. In realizing her plans for the installation, she said she was “playing with the ideas of dying and personal history and comparing them to how trends in fashion also die.”

El Ultimo Grito is a fitting tribute to the departed because while on one level we are not what we wear, on a deeper level our sense of self is most often conveyed to the world at large by our outward appearance. This personal and collective experience of clothing in relation to the body is evoked in every piece that María Ezcurra produces, in all their various forms and permutations . . . familiar but different, just like each of us.

The artist’s website is Ezcurra’s work was included in the group exhibition Mama’s Arts (November 15–December 14, 2008) at Geborgen Kamers Gallery, The Hague, Netherlands, Her solo show, Tela de Donde Cortar (Where to Cut the Cloth), is on view through January 5, 2009 at the Metro Bellas Artes stop (in conjunction with Museo Universitario del Chopo) in Mexico City, Other pieces are included in ES2008: V Bienal Internacional de Estandartes (the 5th International Biennial of Standards), Centro Cultural Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico, through February 5, 2009;