Verónica Gerber Bicecci
“Imagine you are lying on Freud’s couch,” historian John Forrester urges the reader in a 1997 essay on the father of psychoanalysis and his compulsion for collecting. “What can you see?” I envision figurines from ancient cultures, small busts of mythical characters, and paintings, in all of which Freud would find the inspiration for his theories of dreams and the unconscious. He meticulously crafted a complex worldview on the basis of those fragments of clay, marble, stone, and metal, as from the ancient fabrics hanging on his walls. Verónica Gerber Bicecci’s exhibition “Descalzos los pies, los campos en ellos, sentiré al acreedor de la tierra en mis plantas desnudas” (Barefoot in the Field, I Will Feel the Creditor-Earth on My Naked Soles) dealt in similarly totalizing cosmologies, only to elegantly shatter them.
While appropriation is a recurrent strategy in Gerber Bicecci’s art, she veers away from its long genealogy within the visual arts and deploys it not as a production strategy but as a weapon of ecofeminist thought. Take, for instance, Mujeres polilla (Moth Women), 2018, a set of ten linotype prints bearing a poem by Semonides of Amorgos, written in the seventh century BCE. In this early example of Western literary misogyny, the poet compares women to different mammals and pejoratively characterizes the former as beastly. Noticing the absence of insects, a class scorned by humans, Gerber Bicecci metaphorically introduced the idea that the poem had been eaten away by moths—creatures that feed on the matter they inhabit—by rendering the poem illegible through circles in the paper.
In Otro día . . . (poemas sintéticos) (Another Day . . . [Synthetic Poems]), 2017, her manipulation of existing poetry is meant neither as critique nor homage but as transformation. In this work composed of thirty-eight framed prints, the artist has re-created the haiku collection Un día . . . poemas sintéticos (One Day . . . Synthetic Poems) published in 1919 by Mexican avant-garde poet José Juan Tablada. Delving into the same nature-inspired topics—bamboo plants, vultures, toads, cicadas, bougainvillea, clouds—and employing the same short form, the artist situates these figures in the predicament of the current ecological crisis. Tablada’s poem devoted to the swan, which reads, “Al lago, al silencio, a la sombra, / Todo candor el cisne / Con el cuello interroga . . .” (Peering toward the lake / and into the shadowy, solemn void / the swan curves its neck in question) is updated to its dystopian coordinates: “Nadando en la / mancha tornasol del / derrame tóxico” (Swimming on the / dichroic stain of / toxic spills). Each of Tablada’s haiku was illustrated with a circular drawing of his own; in Otro día Gerber Bicecci has replaced them with pictures of life on earth taken from Carl Sagan’s golden records, collections of sounds and images launched into space in 1977 to encapsulate human culture. Here, the pictures lose their optimistic aura when viruslike forms or spiderwebs in the shape of atomic clouds haunt them.
In La compañía (The Company), 2018, Amparo Dávila’s horror story “El huésped” (The Houseguest, 1959) becomes a dark tale about the consequences of extractivism in north-central Mexico. The work combines text and photographs of a disused mercury mine with imagery generated by Mexican artist Manuel Felguérez as part of the project La máquina estética (The Aesthetic Machine), his 1975–77 collaboration with systems engineer Mayer Sasson. In La máquina distópica (The Dystopian Machine), 2018, Gerber Bicecci turned Felguérez and Sasson’s computer program devised for artistic creation into an online oracle whose prophecies result from an algorithm integrating ecological variables taken from La Compañia’s narration. “La resistencia” (The Resistance), 2020, casts bacteria, protozoa, and microscopic animals as subjects of opposition against capitalism, the imposition of maternity on women, and speciesism. The work is composed of ceramic figurines and ink-jet prints displaying slogans appropriated from the writings of Donna Haraway and Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing on unfurling scrolls like those in medieval illuminations. The inscriptions suggest that change is still possible: IMPORTA QUÉ MATERIAS USAMOS PARA PENSAR OTRAS MATERIAS (It matters what matters we use to think other matters with), says one (quoting Haraway). To get beyond the worldviews built by Sagan, Semonides, Tablada, or so many others, Gerber Bicecci suggests we appropriate them in order to compost them.