Héctor Jiménez: Guadalajara 666
*dumb brun(ette), Melbourne, 2017
For Marginalia #20 edited by Terremoto Magazine, Héctor Jiménez contributes a text that recounts his childhood experience in an "extreme right school”. This intimate piece is accompanied by a series of carefully selected religious photographs and performative images of the body. Terremoto is a contemporary art magazine based in Mexico City that runs a series called Marginalia: an online platform that regularly commissions artists to develop web based projects. And Héctor Jiménez is an emerging artist from Guadalajara, a city partly known for its intolerant stance to anything that might make Little Jesus cry (like, the ‘shocking’ sight of two gorgeous men holding hands). Mainstream Guadalajara can be so detestable, in fact, I often fantasize about making a pastiche of Vincent Gallo’s Buffalo 66 (1998) called Guadalajara 666 – an indulgent daydream that has served me well when trying to communicate the city’s unimpressive social atmosphere to others:
In the original Buffalo 66, Gallo plays a self-loathing character named Billy Brown who is forced to spend 5 years in prison after losing a bet on his hometown’s soccer team, the Buffalo Bills. After serving his sentence, he returns to his hometown with the intention of shooting and killing the soccer kicker that lost the game. But in the process, he kidnaps a young woman to deceive his neglectful parents into believing that he is married and living a successful life. Eventually, he falls in love with her and realizes that murdering the Buffalo Bills kicker is a mistake that would ruin his life (again).
In my remake, Guadalajara 666, Billy Brown is displaced by Guille Moreno (which is basically a Spanish translation of Gallo’s character). Instead of losing a bet on the Buffalo Bills, he loses a bet on las Chivas (Guadalajara’s idiotic soccer team) and he tries to impress his parents by pretending to be engaged, not married (because that is more celibate). The real difference, however, is that Moreno is a bisexual Satanist who doesn’t shy away from shooting the kicker in the head while singing Hail Mary in reverse. The shooting also escalates into a massacre that culminates in an ugly naked suicide, a morbid event that continues to haunt the next generation of local teenagers (the return of Moreno’s murderous specter is my slasher sequel).
Héctor Jiménez contribution to Terremoto reads like a script from a similar franchise. As it also speaks back to the regrettable neurosis that this suffocating environment of provincial repression inflicts on its citizens. However, unlike the delusional Guadalajara 666, Jiménez delivers his story with a more refined sense of pathos.
In Marginalia #20, the artist begins by redacting his time at Catholic school: when he was 11, Jiménez explains, he envied the sanctity of saints because he continually feared embodying evil. As a reader, one notes that this sense of guilt appears to originate from the imaginary rather than the real, as the artist provides no specific account that could serve as a source for mortification. The act of self-flagellation – a Catholic disciplinary ritual that consists of whipping oneself – immediately comes to mind. This is partly because Jiménez continually delivers a murky introspection tarnished by guilt, fear and desire. Indeed, the notion of Heaven and what opens (or closes) its doors seems to have been a great source of terror for the young Jiménez, because the artist represents his time at school as a tormented period.
On the positive side, it is evident that he also developed a lasting fascination with the somber hyperbole of Catholic prose, since his narration makes several references to the power of these images and even imitates their language with phrases such as “Severed and burned alive, they would smile with the greatest ecstasy because they knew their destiny: the kingdom of God”. The impact of Catholic excess on his inner life is particularly evident in a passage in which he recounts how, when praying litanies with his classmates, he experienced mental images so rich, that he kept repeating them by himself as a form of play.
The text concludes with a sad episode, as the artist confides that his classmates used to beat him along with “noisy and worn-out synonyms of the word homosexual” – an autobiographical passage that evokes overwhelming feelings of sympathy. Explaining to the reader why the artist felt evil, given that Catholicism considers homosexuality a sinful perversion of sorts.
Jiménez continues to dwell on his time at Catholic school with a series of images inspired by photographs that were handed to him during his ethics class. These evocative pictures are altered by the artist using a variety of techniques, including what appears to be the slit-scan effect (a photographic technique employing a moving slit to create a bizarre distortion of motion).
For instance, one of the first works that we find in Terremoto’s server is San Martín de Porres Velázquez O.P. o San Martín de Porras Velázquez O.P. (Lima, Virreinato del Perú, 9 de diciembre de 1579 - Ibídem, 2 de noviembre de 1639). This image presents a kitschy figure of a saint being dragged across the frame by a male hand. The small statue is repeated in multiple positions that converge in a single stream of form and movement – simulating a wave of distortion that drags the original form across the photograph. This effect seems to evoke a memory that has undergone some type of aberration or distorted vision, like a prayer that has gone astray in the morbid depths of an amoral or unethical mind. In other works, the artist uses collage and juxtaposition to obtain a similar effect, although not all the works make direct reference to religion.
Other pictures figure the bare body of the artist pressed against a sheet of glass (or possibly a scanner). For example, San Gregorio Taumaturgo shows the artist’s knees pressed against an invisible force while his hands delicately rest close to his inner thighs. In a beautiful gesture, both his knees and hands bear tattoos of roses: a loaded sign in both Catholic and gendered semiotics. This photograph is certainly reminiscent of Pipilotti Rist’s Be Nice To Me (Flatten) (2000) – a video in which the artist appears to press her face against the screen – and expresses a similar concern with the impact of gender identity on the meaning making of the body. However, Jiménez regenerates this strategy by articulating a narrative that is perhaps only known to those native to Guadalajara: expressions of homosexual desire are forbidden because they upset everyone’s Guardian Angels (who grotesquely flap their wings like germ-carrying pigeons).
Some photographs appear to be of a more personal nature, such as a photo titled Alejandra Sánchez Flores (Nogales, Veracruz, 2 de diciembre de 1996 - Nogales, Veracruz, 3 de noviembre de 2014). Which features a black and white portrait of a young woman inserted inside a plastic sleeve with silver glitter. However, the work that most resembles his autobiographical text is without a doubt San Silvestre Gozzolini, (? -1267), a photograph of a small saint bust posing next to the face of an angel that has been placed behind a plastic sleeve with pink glitter. The way the saint looks at the naive face of the angel connotes a homoerotic narrative that is exacerbated by the pink glitter – a material commonly associated with camp homosexuality.
Overall, Héctor Jiménez’s sensibilities are reminiscent of late Cuban artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres, particularly in his use of hands, monochromatic found photographs and golden materials (such as fabric and glitter) as well as narratives of desire. This is an apt reference, since Torres’s played a key role in the consolidation of identity politics from the perspective of a gay Latin-American man.
The subject of religion in contemporary art might seem like an exhausted theme today. However, Jiménez articulates a worthwhile and intimate experience of mainstream Guadalajara, a society that offers nothing but bullying, ostracism and a high-pressure water hose of guilt to those that fail to comply with its miserable, neocolonial values. In that ugly conglomerate of bad drivers, hollow soccer fans and pointless hills, everyone assumes each other to be Catholic because it has spread like a virus that poisons the water supply of its inhabitants. As for Jiménez’s bullying classmates, they are probably now an indistinguishable mass of obese accountants with the inner life of a black hole, married to wives that are repulsed by their fetid alcoholic breath and children that hate them because they instinctively know their parents are some worthless simulacra of human beings.
Or at least that is what I tell myself when I think about my primary school classmates in Guadalajara.