A domestic or domesticated animal, far from its natural habitat, finds itself integrated into human culture and activity. The mule, a hybrid between mare and donkey, has been domesticated as a pack animal for centuries. All male mules are sterile and most females are, yet this hybrid proliferated thanks to the actions of humans. Mules are appreciated for their “exceptional biological virtues: frugality, resistance, longevity, docility, intelligence, etc.” So says Adriana Bustos, who made Antropología de la Mula (Anthropology of the Mule), a project from 2007, where she proposed the “mule” as a “dialectic image,” as an image that changes with linear and objective time according to historical circumstances, but that persists when considering what she calls “the subjective experience of qualitative time.”
From this perspective, the ancestral mule mirrors the form of the human mule — the person who transports a considerable quantity of ilegal drugs, becoming in this way the weakest link in the drug trafficking chain. Bustos interviewed women-mules in the jails of Córdoba, where they had been sent for this kind of smuggling. Then she painted a series of backdrops based on their unfulfilled desires, on what they would have done with the money. Afterward, the artist used these paintings as settings to shoot portraits of the narcomules turning their backs to the camera. At the same time, she developed another series of portraits with the same backdrops, this one with real mules posing as subjects.
Further research led Bustos to discover that, from Córdoba, the routes of exploitation and exportation of precious metals that functioned from the 16th to the 18th centuries coincide with the routes of the human mules from the 20th and 21st centuries.
The mule represents a hybrid image located between two biological species. Geographically, it functions as a bridge, — the interlinking that transports products from different cultures and regions. In this way, it bumps up against diverse value judgments about good and evil, beneficiality and detrimentality, health and harm, etc. They are all cultural and therefore relative notions and they vary according to historical and social changes. The exhibition Recursos (Resources) at Ignacio Liprandi Arte Contemporáneotraces that history, compiled in real and virtual libraries.
Bustos finds coincidence and difference, connections that respond to a mysterious or maybe absurd logic. She then proceeds to transfer these documents to a painter’s canvas, on a dark white, creamy-colored surface, where she carefully draws and transcribes her findings with graphite. Forgotten publicity ads, photos, anecdotes, fragmentary pieces of information and clues mix with cases like Herson’s, the guy who transported drugs in his car, put there by someone else, without his knowing it. And this is how the signs of a relation, of multiple relations, begin to emerge, where human and natural resources combine and confuse.
In Paisajes del Alma (Landscapes from the Soul), the artist locates herself at a fictitious site, represented by the museum of natural science. In this four-minute video, the constructed picture of nature in the form of a diorama appears in the scene while a voice reads fragments of Sabine Küchler’s text Was ich in Wald in Argentinien sah: (Ein Album) (What I saw in the Forest in Argentina: (An Album)).
“Suddenly, a group of shy little monkeys stood still, the jaguar lifted one of its paws to attack, showing its breathtaking teeth,” she says. A moment later, Bustos herself comes into view, her image mingles with the embalmed animals and the artificial plants. Shortly afterward, a door and some movements outside of the frame point out the diorama’s protective glass. This makes the environment softly visible: the shadows of a glass and wooden door and the slow steps of a person. The passing of time briefly arises in this atmosphere of extreme stillness. It looks as if the museum wanted to show a frozen piece of jungle without realizing that, in nature, movement never comes to a halt. Not in vain Küchler mentions that it was the photographer coming with her that “considered a visit to the museum of natural science as essential.”
In the adjacent room hangs Mapa de Cultivos (Cultivation Map), lit among the walls and hidden under black fabric. A shadow covers a portion of the planisphere, but it moves and covers a different part of the map if you stay around long enough. Light and shadow, good and evil, reason and absurdity displace each other onto different continents.
To all these works and images, Bustos adds graphics, drawn in graphite on canvas, of the chemical structure of some hallucinogenic substances: mescaline, psilocybin, tetrahydrocannabinol and triptamine. In their scientific language and with their abstraction in black and white, the structures seem to speak an objective, timeless language, inaccessible for the person who ignores the codes of chemistry. Perhaps they function as maps. But beyond the reasoning of modern science and the cultural values that it can trigger, a voice arrives from the video projection and it seems to imagine diverse forms of knowledge when it remarks that “the trees knew it.”