Bosco Sodi’s minimalist, highly textured paintings are intensely place-based. For the 2022 Venice Biennale, the Mexican artist spent spent about a month at the Palazzo Vendramin Grimani, a grand 12th century building on Venice’s Grand Canal, producing a small series of paintings made in his particular process: by layering wood dust, cellulose pulp, glue and pigment on canvas and then letting it rest, semi-exposed to the elements.
The Palazzo, having served as Sodi’s temporary studio, now plays the role of exhibition space for Sodi’s show What Goes Around Comes Around, curated by Daniela Ferretti and Dakin Hart.
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“I don’t know how to explain it, maybe only I can see it, but when you see these paintings hanging here, they look like the belong,” Sodi told ARTnews. This is in contrast to works flown in from Barcelona, New York, and Oaxaca, which bear the mark of their foreignness, according to Sodi.
The works in What Goes Around Comes Around are inspired by Venice’s role as a major trading hub and the history of cochineal pigment. Cochineal are insects that infect cacti and are commonly found in Mexico. When the Spanish colonized Mexico, they found that Indigenous people harvested cochineal to make a pure red pigment which we call carmine. There was no equivalent pigment to be found in Europe; the closest color they were able to produce was crimson, a slightly rose-colored hue that also came from processed insects. The pigment, alongside plants such as tomatoes, would come to be closely associated with Italy. The color was dyed into the robes of the clergy and made into paint for the likes of Titian.
“Cochineal was Mexico’s second largest colonial export behind silver,” Sodi said. “And it changed classical painting.”
Two of Sodi’s new paintings heavily incorporate cochineal as a kind of art-historical intervention, bringing to Venice’s shores not just the Mexican pigment but the Mexican artist. The paintings were then allowed to rest on the floor, absorbing the humidity of the murky Venice waters. The other two paintings are layered with a plush, black pigment.
“The dance of cultures is complicated, everything influences everything,” Sodi said.
He referenced a request Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador made in 2019, asking the Spanish government to make a formal apology for the colonization of Mexico. Spain denied the request. In speaking with a Spanish friend about the issue, Sodi said the friend told him, “The Spanish who went to Mexico, the conquistadores, they’re living there still … The one’s who never left, we’re still in Spain.” The point? Mexico itself has yet to fully reckon with its own history of colorism, racism, and colonialism.
The interconnectedness of the world made its own intervention in Sodi’s exhibition. Alongside his new paintings, Sodi also brought in a series of ceramic spheres, each of which represented a different nation. Audiences were to be encouraged to move the spheres where they wanted and the movements would be documented. When Russia invaded Ukraine in February, the installation had to be re-worked.
“And a lot of people began asking me, ‘Well, are you going to take out a sphere because of Russia or are you going to put one sphere in the corner?’” Sodi said. Instead of detracting anything, he added one large sphere to the center of the installation to represent humanity, signaling his hope for global peace.
However, there’s an aspect to the installation that hasn’t changed at all.
“The people of Venice will be able to take the spheres home,” said Sodi. “Since my first Biennale, I saw all the pollution and tourism, we stay here for a couple of months and then leave nothing.” In giving his artworks away, Sodi hopes to pay back a little of this debt. The plan is that one day, maybe in ten or fifteen years, the spheres could come together again, reactivated in some way.