Mexico: Swimming in the belly button moonlake – a path to creative enrichment
In Mexico’s ancient language ‘Nahuatl’ – The word ‘Mexico’ means ‘Bellybutton of the Moon lake’. Mexico City is a megalopolis crawling up the side of a prehistoric lake bed, sludging over fault lines and shimmying with it’s ominous neighbour; an active volcano called Don Popo.
There is an energy here that brings all of your guts to the surface. Eruptive, emotional explosions that place a blinding mirror into your gaze revealing all the good and bad in you, humanity and the world.
My First time through Distrito Federal was in 2012, (now commonly known as ‘CDMX’ – hashtag friendly). I could never imagine living in such a sprawling city, but I ended up dwelling there on the edge of chaos for almost 4 years ; 2015 – 2019.
I arrived first in Mexico as a fresh, fair, ‘guera’ Scottish girl enamoured by its friendly colour in 2012 for an artist residency, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. In 2015 I decided to move back and began working with a residency program called First Food Residency, an exchange between artists from Mexico and the UK particularly working around themes of native foods. I helped them design their educational outreach program, shaping playful artistic workshops exploring the ancient grain ‘Amaranth’ and ‘Cochineal’- the red colouring made from female scale insects.
Initially the obvious way to make money in CDMX was to utilise my natural tongue. The value of my English instantly gave me a direction in supporting my deliciously stimulated lifestyle in Mexico. This and hard 3 month periods of working at home in the UK, taking on various freelance projects and saving those pounds to convert into many pesos.
But as always, I was determined to put my effort into work that was also creatively inspiring. I had an idea after a mother asked if I could teach English and do art with her 2 young daughters. Art classes with English immersion! this was a perfect opportunity for creative play with a double win.
The business grew through word of mouth but this success was always weightily measured by my capacity to travel across the city during the most horrific traffic hours, wedged in flows of millions of people squeezed into metro carriages and sweating on packed buses often laden with clay, paper and pipe cleaners. During the hours I wasn’t facilitating sessions, I set about fishing through my overstimulated brain to catch all the big thoughts and visuals that had struck me hardest.
Through a series of encounters, I began to explore the art scene and find comrades wide eyed and eager to make things happen. The eclectic selection of exhibitions and cultural events expanded my web further. I homed in on the like-minded artists in whose energy I wanted to revel. CDMX hosts over 150 titillating museums and whole streets dedicated to every art material you could imagine, a consumerist’s nightmare, an artist’s paradise! We made various exhibitions in my friends’ old crumbling houses in Santa Maria La Ribera and started selling works in apartment galleries like Casa Equis. We also made surreal, immersive performances with edible food sculptures and playful props performed in an old, kitsch Quinceañera hall and hospital. My practice began to dance and sprout around these new creative spaces.
Of course, those experiences have not been without their wibbly – wobbly moments: several spouts of bad guts, 5 deaths, multiple earthquakes – the strongest being in September 2017 when the frames came off their hooks in my flat and a building collapsed into a dust cloud down the street and we worked all night wearing bike helmets to make human chains in the streets.
Death sprinkled it’s effects on my life; in 2017 my cousin Jamie died from a heart attack, in 2018 my nana Peggy died then Scott, an old friend and musical idol took his own life. In 2019 my friend Aoife died from cancer in her late 30s and one month before teaching term ended my coordinator Lena died. It is important to write their names and acknowledge the losses which shifted my perspective and continue to open me up in all sorts of painful and profound ways.
And I guess that is the point of this, acknowledging how vital and enriching these culturally immersive, difficult and euphoric experiences can be for my personal growth and creative practice.
The contrast of colour, food, grime, bleach, death, ritual, violence, kindness and rich folklore sang to me. Taking inspiration from ‘Papel Picado’; the perforated tissue paper decorations used during fiestas and celebrations like Dias De Los Muertos, I began drawing with scissors and creating a series of cut-outs and collages looking at the female body and the eroticism of nature. Furthermore, I began to explore sources of that ‘alive’ and present feeling that seems so customary in Mexico.
I believe that feeling of alertness, presence and connection was fuelled by having the bright lights of life right on the edge of the darkest darks of life, a balance encouraged by my more intimate relationship with the full connecting circle of life and death, joy and struggle, abundance and loss.
The best way to describe the transformation in my practice is as a ripe and juicy orange. The porous skin was peeled off to allow the juicy segments to breathe and be squeezed between my teeth. Releasing beads of core taste and gusto. Mucho gusto!
A spirit was awakened, a vitality and resilience which was nurtured by ecstasy and devastation simultaneously. Rich earth, worn creased hands, hot blue corn Tlacoyos swell in heat, drenched in a hard ground salsa made of plush, blushing tomatillos blackened on the comal. The beauty is all in the process.
The matriarchal femininity and energy of madre Mexico clearly leaked into the themes of my practice and of course the bright fruits of mother nature, her tropical foliage and her destruction. I felt the power of mother nature; “madre tierra” when the earth shook 4 ways, up and down, side to side. It was the completely terrifying sensation of losing control and later a deep human unity, a survival instinct, a popping of a bubble and an instinctive reassessment of the realities we live in.
Mexico for me was the fertilizer that began to cultivate my practice again. I realised art is my oldest and dearest friend, prolific and soul soothing and a great sluice-gate for releasing my experiences of the world. And during dark lonely moments faced with the contrast of my being, I was able to use it therapeutically. The pieces I made began to speak in ways they hadn’t before, vocalising the beauty and invigoration of loss but also celebrating universal pleasure.
Greer Pester is a Scottish visual and social artist who has lived between the UK and Mexico for the past 4 years. She was born in Glasgow and graduated from Edinburgh College Of Art with a degree in Painting and Sculpture subjects. Since then she has primarily worked as a community artist and facilitator and has delivered various creative education programmes on this green island and as far as Senegal and the Americas. She focuses her projects around themes of creative play, food, ritual, death, nature and eroticism. Her visual art practice explores and ties these themes with a variety of materials but more recently works made with tissue paper inspired by México’s Papel Picado – perforated paper decorations. She makes collage and cut outs but also continues to work in sculpture and painting. Her work as a social artist intrinsically informs her practice and is continually fuelled by cultural exchange and human experience. She is currently artist in residence at The Studio Pavilion at House For an Art Lover in Glasgow.