Teresa Margolles

Flag I

2009

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In Tate Modern
Artist
Teresa Margolles born 1963
Original title
Bandera I
Medium
Fabric, blood, earth and other substances
Dimensions
Object: 2980 x 1880 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Presented by the Tate Americas Foundation, courtesy of the Latin American Acquisitions Committee 2015
Reference
T14735

Summary

Flag I 2009 is comprised of a piece of fabric hanging from a flag pole. Having been used to clean the sites of violent deaths in Mexico, the fabric is soiled with blood, earth and other substances. It can be shown in the open air like an ordinary national or institutional flag. Margolles exhibited a version of the work at the Venice Biennale in 2009 as part of her exhibition in the Mexican pavilion, What Else Could We Talk About?. Flag I was included in the exhibition No Lone Zone at Tate Modern in London in 2012. Having based her early work on her experiences working in a morgue, Margolles has subsequently chosen to work directly on the streets of Mexico at scenes of recent conflict, particularly in Ciudad Juárez and other cities in northern Mexico whose proximity to the United States has made them sites for drug trafficking and the violence associated with it.

Born in Culiacán in the north-western state of Sinaloa in Mexico, Margolles studied forensic medicine, becoming familiar with working with dead bodies and becoming aware of the crime and violence directly related to the drug trade in Mexico. Margolles entered the artistic world through her involvement with SEMEFO, an underground group that appropriated their name from the acronym of the Servicio Médico Forense, a forensic institute in Mexico that also directs the morgues. SEMEFO members were part of the alternative music scene and were often invited to take part in artistic events. Margolles left SEMEFO in the late 1990s and started to work on her own as an artist. Over the years her practice has become increasingly minimalist while maintaining a focus on the subjects of death, violence and exclusion. Margolles’s work often examines the politics of the dead body, particularly the way bodies condemned to oblivion through violence caused by poverty and social exclusion can return to disrupt the political space. Although rooted in a specific context, her work speaks to other audiences through its presentation – rather than representation – of the aftermath of violence.

Margolles has worked on many occasions with bodily fluids. Vaporización 2001, for instance, consists of a series of humidifiers – of the kind used in museums or archives – which expel a delicate column of mist. The water in the humidifiers comes from the cleaning of corpses in Mexican morgues so that the viewer is confronted with a visual image of death which in turn is inscribed upon his or her body. For her participation in the Havana Biennial in 2000, Margolles smuggled human fat to Cuba and painted an outdoor wall with it. A similar strategy was used in Margolles’s What Else Could We Talk About? in Venice in 2009, where the floor of the Palazzo Rota-Ivancich was mopped continuously by paid workers with a fluid made of water and blood from murder sites in Mexico. In this work, the site of the violent act was transferred metaphorically to the exhibition site, and the viewers were obliged to walk on the remnants of the killings. Similarly, 37 Bodies 2007 (Tate L03369) memorialises Mexican murder victims with short pieces of surgical thread (used to sew up bodies after autopsy) knotted together to form a single line across the exhibition space, claiming visibility for the no longer visible.

Further reading
Taiyana Pimentel, Elmer Mendoza, Teresa Margolles and Cuauhtémoc Medina (eds.), What Else Could We Talk About?, exhibition catalogue, Mexican Pavilion, Venice Biennale, Venice 2008.
Alpha Escobedo, Leobardo Alvarado, Rein Wolfs and Letizia Ragaglia, Frontera, exhibition catalogue, Kunsthalle Friedricianum, Kassel, and Museion, Cologne 2011.

José Roca
October 2012

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Display caption

The fabric of Flag I contains traces of blood, soil and other substances from the sites of murders around the northern border of Mexico, testifying to the thousands of violent deaths associated with the powerful drug cartels that control smuggling routes to the United States. Another version of this work was shown at the Venice Biennial in 2009, where Margolles represented Mexico with an exhibition titled What Else Could We Talk About? As the government failed to intervene in the drug wars, the blood-stained cloth was hung outside the Mexican pavilion as a memorial for citizens that the nation ignored.

Gallery label, November 2015

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Features

Fabric, Blood and Honour

Zenisha from Tate Collective London shares her perspective on Teresa Margolles's work Flag I

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