Friday, July 31, 2020

#textmex + #eyegiene Repost: The Voracious Eyes of Carmen Mondregón / Nahui Olin

Some of you know I have been writing a follow-up book to Tex[t]-Mex: Seductive Hallucinations of the "Mexican" in America--it's called Eyegiene: Permutations of Subjectivity in the Televisual Age of Sex and Race and is under contract with my friends over the University of Texas Press. Someday, I might even finish the beast.

In the interim, I have been publishing advanced snippets of the book as a regular contributor to Josh Glenn's cultural studies site. What appears below originally appeared, slightly truncated, on that site--you can see it here: Below appears the Director's cut edition, warts and all.


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The Voracious Eyes of 
Carmen Mondregón / Nahui Olin
William Nericcio

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On 8, July 1893, Nahui Olin, barrels onto the planet as María del Carmen Mondragón Valseca —eyes, in Europe and Latin America and across the planet, will never be the same again.  

An artist, artists’ model, painter, poet, and all-around Mexican bohemian, Olin is born into a Mexican industrialist family of privilege (la familia Mondrágon manufactured rifles and ammo). The money does some good, as Olin is educated in Mexico and France with an intellectual and arts regime focused on the arts. 

Soon her circle includes a Euro arts league of usual suspects including Jean Cocteau, Pablo Picasso, and Henri Matisse; the same goes down on her return to Mexico, with Olin falling in with the crème de la crème of the Mexican burgeoning arts scene. 

Soon she’s modeling for Diego Rivera and Tina Modotti, hanging with José Vasconcelos, father of “La Raza Cosmica,” and composing poetry with Gerardo Murillo, the one and only Dr. Atl, a writer and painter whose Mexican circle (he’s sort of DF-style Gertrude Stein) fired the palettes of 20th century Mexican muralists.   

Olin is Madonna, pre-Madonna, a pre-cursor herself to celebrity/artist fusions like Lady Gaga—no meat frock for Nahui Olin, but she did wear the first miniskirt in Mexico! 

Olin is yet another American original, a bon vivant artist-lover whose work, predictably, as a model, as an object of art, at times overshadows her efforts as a poet, painter, and photographer--paging Meret Oppenheim. In her wake, Mexico reacts as most of the world does to strong sexy shamanic female forces shameless in speech and actions, with the Mexican popular press scandalously framing her as a witch/madwoman—these are trite, predictable responses to an aesthetic hurricane prone to nudity and random sexual co-conspirators but they did their damage as her legacy is largely anonymous! 

Olin’s work as a poet is worth a second look, her two major works being Óptica cerebral, poemas dinámicos (Brainy OpticsDynamic Poems) and Calinement je suis dedans (Tender, I am inside). Her paintings, raw, bursting with color, are worth a second peek as well, Olin revealed as the seeming mother of Big-Eye paintings (someone tell Tim Burton or Margaret and Walter Keane).

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As your own eyes wander from her work as a painter (Autorretrato en los jardines de versalles, Self-portrait in the Versailles Gardens) to that of a model (here in a haunting capture by Edward Weston), one is struck by the dance of optics at work in Olin’s work. As if infected by retinally-conveyed viruses borne of the cameras and canvases that captured her unique power, Olin’s own aesthetic destiny moves to the rhythm of this optic beat: eyes themselves grow larger than life in her haunting, uncanny paintings.

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