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Mario García Torres: Je ne sais si c’en est la cause, What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger, and Some Reference Materials / MATRIX 227

What Happens in Halifax Stays in Halifax

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Mario García Torres: What Happens in Halifax Stays in Halifax (In 36 Slides), 2004–2006; 35mm slide projection of 50 black-and-white photographs; dimensions variable; courtesy of the artist; Jan Mot, Brussels; and White Cube, London.

Mario García Torres’s work What Happens in Halifax Stays in Halifax (2004–2006) began with a process of historical research. García Torres became intrigued by obscure references to a “project class” that the artist Robert Barry enacted in 1969 at the invitation of David Askevold, a professor at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. For the class, Barry was asked to instruct the student artists toward the realization of a conceptual project as a group. His instructions to the students were simple—to agree on an idea that needed to remain a secret in order to remain a work of art. García Torres’s research was an attempt to discover whether the work of art still existed on its own terms. He could only inquire about the work’s existence, not its nature, so as not to kill the secret, which, in the artist’s words, “set up some sort of research limitations that only allowed me to deal with abstract thoughts, stories, and mysteries. I felt like it was a real detective task.” He eventually initiated a reunion of the former students in the location where the piece was initially enacted.

What Happens in Halifax unfolds as a slide show, using image and text to reconstruct the circumstances surrounding the original work. Unable to know the work itself, García Torres instead traces the outlines of it, relying on memories, connections, and subjectivities of the participants and documentation of locations. As he has said, “The void left by things is sometimes more interesting than the information they had.” Thus, the work attends to the function of time and distance in contextualizing indescribable and ultimately unknowable things and actions. García Torres acknowledges that his work is a picture of his research process, not a surrogate illustration of the subject of his inquiry, which must necessarily remain absent. More than the narration of an obscure footnote in the history of Conceptual art, the piece is an attempt to rethink the construction of history and of knowledge itself through the experiences of primary participants rather than through published and official accounts, which tend to concretize a single reality relative to an event experienced by many individuals.

Much of García Torres’s work evinces an interest in operational structures that inform the process and production of so-called Conceptual art practices. He researches their appearance, as in Halifax, but also reenacts borrowed structures or creates his own in an effort to look at the way art functions in the context of its making and in its historical reconstruction. In his work, repetition reinvigorates dormant ideas and alters them through present consideration; research-based investigations consider past events through the lens of memory, which colors and complicates definitions of fact and certainty. Both are attempts to conjure and reanimate an idea or act that is itself absent, either remaking it through primary action or trying to understand it through the secondary function of image and language we use to describe something that is not there.

For his MATRIX exhibition, García Torres is producing a new commission that researches another anecdote in the history of Conceptual art: a series of murals painted by Daniel Buren in a resort hotel on the U.S. Virgin Islands that now sit in a state of ruin and obscurity. Mario García Torres was born in Monclova, Mexico, in 1975, and lives and works in Los Angeles. Recent solo exhibitions include Kunsthalle Zurich; Kadist Art Foundation, Paris; and Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam. He received his M.F.A. from CalArts in Los Angeles, and was the recipient of the 2007 Cartier Prize at the Frieze Art Fair. This is his first solo exhibition in the United States.

Elizabeth Thomas
Phyllis Wattis MATRIX Curator

The MATRIX Program at the UC Berkeley Art Museum is made possible by a generous endowment gift from Phyllis C. Wattis.

Additional donors to the MATRIX Program include The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, the UAM Council MATRIX Endowment, Jane and Jeffrey Green, Maryellen and Frank Herringer, Wanda Kownacki and John Holton, Charles and Naomie Kremer, Lenore Pereira and Richard Niles, Paul L. Wattis III and Anne Wattis, and other generous supporters.