General León 51 Luis Palacios Kaim
“The exterior wall of the house is,
at the same time,
the interior wall of the universe.”
Luis Palacios Kaim is a visual artist who studied Philosophy and Sociology. In his own words, “the art of inaction” has always seduced him. At first, this affirmation might not be understood properly, but one only needs to know the work of Luis Palacios a little to understand the dimensions it implicates. Silence, time, property and the way we relate to space, have a special place in his reflexions, especially in one of his most recent works, “General León 51,” the acquisition of a house in the San Miguel Chapultepec neighborhood that has not been modified since it was bought. On the contrary, Luis Palacios has tried to maintain it – almost – intact:
“Every vestige, every element, every space, became essential; I slowly penetrated its silence, deciphering its echo, going through its trace. Something basic subsisted, wanting to express itself through this silence, something that the political power, economic interests and tradition decided to close down. Only mellowness was needed to get things back.”
Covered in orange, yellow and green tones (as a result of rusting, light and plants), Jazmina Barrera interviewed Luis Palacios in General León street.
Jazmina Barrera [JB]: How did you find the house?
Luis Palacios Kaim [LPK]: I took the wrong course one day and went by General León street. I saw an advertisement hanging in the front of the house that said “Plot for sale.” I went in to ask, the man told me the price, we agreed at that very moment and six months later i was buying the house. That’s how it was, by coincidence, I didn’t even know the street existed. The house and I found each other.
JB: Why did you decide to leave it intact?
LPK: Because I realized the world, life, things, human beings have a series of marks, scars, traces, fossils that time leaves behind and if I would’ve cleaned or restored it, I would’ve eliminated them. It’s like finding an interesting archeological site and deciding to make a giant parking lot on top of it or cleaning it all out and throwing away the old; you lose everything that time leaves behind.
JB: Do you consider the house to be an artwork in itself?
LPK: Yes, definitely. It is an artwork that has been built little by little. The man that built it, the first owner, was man who was in love with the house (I can tell you this because I have pictures of him). I always find it very moving because you can tell he came every day to check on the construction, he would go over all the construction details and even though I never saw him in person, I fell in love with him. He was a draftsman, a classmate of Diego Rivera, with very fine details in his design and a very good person. I know this because I met his children, a wonderful family, caring, modest, middle class, normal.
JB: Do you think there are ghosts in the house?
LPK: I think that “ghosts” is a somewhat crude way of saying that it has history, life. I am convinced there’s life in it, that it is still inhabited by the people that used to live here. The same goes for this house, the neighborhood, the city, the world; I mean, we’re surrounded by these beings that we sometimes turn into gods, other times they’re our ancestors, but i don’t understand life solely in the present. The past, which is the accumulation of all this time that has already occurred, is what’s more important. That’s what I would call ghosts; the problem is the word “ghosts” already has a derogatory connotation, like “oh, I’m scared!” It reminds me of Casper the Friendly Ghost. However, the real, absolute presence of everything that has taken place here is a fact that still remains and that’s what you feel when you’re here.
JB: What of this idea of “taking the house to China”?
LPK: Well, this is a commercial matter where I explore the economic status in which contemporary art is handled. Making a very primitive yet very real calculation: if I take this house from the real-estate market to the art market, it immediately has another value. If I take Duchamp’s urinal from a bathroom supply store to an art store, its economic and symbolic value change completely. So, what happens if I appoint this house not as a real-estate good but as an artwork? It’s like pointing out, emphasizing that this is happening and that it could happen with any other thing.
JB: What kind of projects have been carried out in this house?
LPK: Well, they’re divided in the projects that Paty [Patricia Lagarde] and I have done and that have to do directly with what you’re saying: the house as an art piece that is going to China. I’ve developed other projects on the side, called “General León, extensión norte,” where I extend my property to the entire Chapultepec forest. I considered it mine as a kid, but with time, you lose it. It is also a possibility of reflecting on what property is. What do I mean when I say “extensión norte” (northern extension), when I say “extend my house to the forest”? How are citizens really the owners of the city and its public areas? To what extent do they belong to us and how do we use them? That’s what I mean when I say my house extends to wherever I want. Because we always talk of walls, of boundaries, of cadastre, of what’s legally demarcated, but I believe that a property goes beyond all those governmental boundaries.
JB: What future plans do you have for the house?
LPK: To continue incorporating artworks that have to do with the elements we’ve talked about: with “extensión norte” and the trip to China. There’s another project we started developing in collaboration with various museums in the city. It consists of me asking them for their burnt out light bulbs, the ones that – at some point – illuminated the great artworks in Mexico City and that were the reason for people being able to see these pieces. If we take it further, to Greek theory, where light did not enter through the eyes but came out of them, then I feel that asking for those bulbs is like asking the museum for the minimum, the waste, the absurd, and for them to collaborate with me to keep that memory that the bulbs have, which during months, years, decades, illuminated the artworks.
About Chapultepec, the idea is to visit my property every day and create actions, installations, games… the things I did as a kid, but now with an artist connotation. Unfortunately I can’t go back to the innocence of playing like I used to, collecting snails, for example, but that would be the objective. There’s another project, also in the Chapultepec forest, that entails asking the director of the zoo to liberate all the animals in the forest. It doesn’t have anything to do with the proper treatment of animals, but with imagining the animals running free in the perimeter of the Chapultepec forest, and for each animal to figure out how to eat and survive, and if a school principal wants to bring his kids to see the animals, then he’d have to go in the forest with the risks that entails. It’s a way of saying: “what we see in the zoos are not animals, but animal remains. They lose their fierceness, their ingenuity, their freedom.” It has to do with a dream I had as a kid, of going into the forest, looking to the left and finding a prehistoric bear, five meters tall, that had escaped and with whom I had a friendly yet dangerous relationship. As I advanced into the forest, I realized that the animals had escaped their cages, that they were running free… so, it’s about taking this fantasy as far as I can. Of course no one is going to set these animals free, but now that this whole caring for animals is so trendy, I mean, let’s be coherent and set them free! It’s interesting, who would survive? Who would prevail here? Who would eat the rest? Maybe the squirrels end up winning since they’re becoming an enormous plague.
JB: Lastly, you say the house has a lot of trances of time. Can you show me your favorite three?
LPK: See, one of them, I don’t know if I would call it a trace of time, is the small, inverted number here, that someone scraped at some point, it says 1935. It’s the year the house was built. Another trace that I really like is this water dripping on the wall. And the third is the floor boards, how they can tell us where people, furniture, everything was: just by looking at how the floor is worn down, you know where people walked and where they didn’t. These are only three, it’s filled with these types of examples. Because, in a way, knowing that 50 or 60 years ago the owner’s wife sowed poinsettia, which is right here next to us, is also a trace. There are all sorts of vestiges and testimonies.