On Andy Medina
Andy Medina’s work revolves around questions of language, though not precisely around the rigid linguistic structures that limit our ability to categorize and make sense of the world but the ones that focus on its critical and experimental possibilities. In his practice, he quickly runs into pictograms, into the history of oppression for which languages have become a pawn, into the graphics and logos that manage to rule our relationship to value into genealogies of symbols and how they work to remain relevant, and alive through ages of human transformation.
Medina is from Oaxaca City, the capital of the state of Oaxaca, a much beloved and much exploited —culturally and economically— area in Southern Mexico. Although of indigenous descent, Medina does not readily identify with any of the thirteen-plus indigenous groups living in Oaxaca. It is clear, however, that his relationship to language has been marked by his coexistence with this linguistic diversity. As Yásnaya Elena Aguilar Gil —the linguist, writer, translator, and activist from the Ayutla Mixe region in Oaxaca— explains it, whereas in Canada indigeneity is accredited by one’s percentage of indigenous blood, and in Chile, adhesion to Mapuche culture is proved with one’s last name; in Mexico, the receipt for a person’s belonging to an indigenous group is their ability to speak an indigenous language. Thus the fact that mandatory primary education in Mexico, from first to twelfth grade, is provided only in Spanish is no coincidence. The Mexican state has long held a schizophrenic relationship with its hugely diverse indigenous populations: on the one hand, their material cultures are readily commodified for an urban and foreign audience; while on the other, their lands are constantly threatened by pharaonic mega projects, their water spoiled when not plundered with the rest of their valuable resources. Cultural heritage is seen as worthwhile only if it is fit for commercialization; Mexico’s 68 languages are not, and their preservation is a means of resistance.
This relationship is at the center of Medina’s Lii Qui Gannalu’
(2016), an installation in which the artist painted the title phrase boldly on the wall with a school chair facing it directly, one of its legs sawed off and supported by a stack of books: the Mexican Constitution, a Spanish dictionary, a Spanish–English one, and a book on Mexico’s role in globalization. Lii qui gannalu’ means “you don’t know'' in Zapoteco, a translation of the Spanish word ignorant, an accusation commonly thrown at indigenous language speakers, who, ironically, are more likely to be bilingual or trilingual than monolingual Spanish speakers.
Although an early piece of Medina, Lii Quii Gannalu
already reveals his interest in graphic-heavy, language-based work and the recurrent cycle of a phrase becoming a slogan becoming a logo. Another one of his early works, the sanctuary A Space for Nostalgia
(2017), offered a dark, cavernous space illuminated by the back-lit presence of old, obsolete logos: Telmex, the Mexican telecommunications giant owned by our richest man Carlos Slim; PEMEX, oil ex-monopoly of the state; Corona, a signifier of Mexican-ness for beach-minded foreigners; and BITAL, one of the first Mexican banks to bite the dust after NAFTA. Medina explored the parasocial relationships we build around these symbols and how they come to signify much more than a shitty company and become stand-ins for adherence to a corporate-state-sanctioned identity.
In this vein, Medina developed Superarme
(2021), a hybrid between a clothing brand and an ongoing critique on the power of logo-mania. Superarme’s logo barely intervenes the extremely recognizable Supreme label by switching its red for a stately blue and swapping supremacy for ‘superación,’ a term widely used to encourage —usually working-class citizens— to self-improve, a softer boots and bootstraps refrain. For Medina, the meaning is twofold, as there’s nothing wrong with espousing a little faith in self-improvement and achievement, yet Superame
is also a cheeky observation on how anything in the world can increase its value simply by being slapped with a logo —or a label such as ‘art.’
Medina’s research on the power of visual codes also involves semiological elements. In his shows Manual Códice Visual
(Visual Codex Manual, 2018) and Índex
(2018), Medina combined pre-linguistic, pre-Columbian elements with car culture. For Manual
, he remixed glyphs found in Mixteco and Mexica visual languages by combining them, almost seamlessly, with the simplified articulations of road signage. Then in Index
, he recreated the iconic cave-dwelling pictorial gesture of spray-painting the negative contour of one’s hand, but instead of doing it atop a rock, he sprayed it on a car wheel. Medina’s dislocation of these elements onto objects of our everyday urban landscape alludes to his pop sensibility and his conviction of the power that recognizable visual cues have on our understanding of objects. These shows evince an interest in anachronism and lost futures rooted in the visual juxtaposition of pre-Columbian symbols and contemporary culture.
, Medina’s first solo show in New York, two important elements make a comeback. First is la greca, a sort of meander or molding design usually identified with Greek and Roman architecture that was also present in Pre-Hispanic architecture. Medina is especially attached to the classic spiral design that could also be described as the pixel-art, mosaic-abstraction of a wave. A widely recognizable motif, appearing across a number of ruins in the Southern part of Mexico. Medina focuses on the heavily ornate, fractal-like usage of it that the Mixteco and Zapoteco peoples made in the ruins of Mitla, the most important religious compound in the Oaxaca region.
The second comeback is painting, a practice that Medina had almost abandoned since his art-school years. This doesn’t mean, however, that Medina is in any way returning to academicism. His paintings are daring and, as his previous works did, they juxtapose references from distinguishable yet clashing visual universes: la greca is translated out of rock and appears surrounded by the bright, fluffy, bubbly backgrounds typical of graffiti art. They appear serialized and heavily contrasted, recalling a design choice that people in Southern Mexico are wont to paint on cars, hotels, and homes; they become squiggly and repetitive, like the s-shaped doodles we all did while bored in class.