CROTALUS is part of Ramiro Chaves’ extensive project related to the phenomenology—dating back to prehispanic times and until today—surrounding the use of the X in Mexican language, architecture, and symbolism. His investigation on the subject started five years ago and has been manifested through artist books, drawing, installation, photography, video, web-based projects, and poetry. Each iteration or new phase of his involvement with the symbol accentuates its own recurrence and persistence in Mexican culture. For his show at Sala de Arte Público Siqueiros, Chaves extends his insistent inquiry now to the format of the public mural.
The title of the piece comes from the constant repetition of the word by José Díaz Bolio, a writer, poet, musician, and anthropologist from Yucatan who devoted much of his time to studying the relationships between the physical attributes of rattlesnakes—Crotalus simus—and their representations by indigenous cultures. In his publications, Díaz Bolio analyzed some characteristics of the reptiles like the repetition of the X throughout their skin and the rattles at the tip of their tails, detail that was represented by the Mayans with a T in their artistic expressions and architecture. In his book, The Geometry of the Maya and Their Rattlesnake Art published in 1965, the author put forward his thesis about the rules of Mayan proportions where he places the canamayte pattern (a geometric image found on the snake’s skin, that is composed of an X and a diamond) as the base for all Mayan design. He even draws a parallelism between the form and the canon of proportions that Leonardo da Vinci draw in the Vitruvian Man. In the introduction of his best known work, The Feathered Snake, Axis of Cultures (1955), Díaz Bolio makes a call for us to think about Mexico in relation to its founding origins more than through its junction with European culture, and to recognize pre-Hispanic cosmogony and symbology from a non-western standpoint.
Apart from Díaz Bolio’s esthetic proposals, Chaves includes in his mural contributions and ideas from other two figures that were also committed to the construction of nationalist thought: Manuel Amabilis and Adolfo Best Maugard. The first, an architect from Yucatan who developed a neo-Mayan style in his public-space works, like the Plazas and libraries he designed in Merida. The latter, an artist and filmmaker who served as chief of the Department of Artistic Education in the Secretary of Public Education between the years 1921-4, time during which he implemented his drawing method in public elementary schools throughout the country. The method was inspired by his research into pre-Columbian art, and it states that there are seven basic figures which can be found in the art of all peoples that, combined in multiple forms, can represent any shape found in nature.
Chaves’ façade combines visual elements created by these three figures that at some point in their practice ventured into public practices. In it, the artist uses materials like Venetian mosaic tiles and spray paint, both mediums that can be seen as prevailing alternatives for contemporary public expression. We see Venetian mosaic throughout the city in both public and private buildings, it was actually used by Siqueiros in his mural at the UNAM’s rectory: El pueblo a la universidad, la universidad al pueblo. Por una cultura nacional neohumanista de profundidad universal. (The people to the University, the University to the People. For a neo-humanist national culture of universal depth.) 1952-6, mosaics were also used by artists like Juan O’Gorman and Carlos Mérida. On the other hand, spray paint is seen manifested in the public space both in official and unofficial ways and represents an instant tool for expression or urban marking. Thus, in this new project Chaves generates, by the materials and the iconography he employs, a dialogue with the nationalist history of ‘the public’ throughout the times.