A complex negotiation of the economic value, identity, trauma and personal history, “Por qué no fui tu amigo?” (Why was I not your friend?) is the inaugural manifestation of an ambitious, complex project, rooted in Ruvalcaba’s on-going interest in issues of economy, production, utility and authorship. The primary point of departure for this project is the recent award of a Fundación BBVA-Bancomer/MACG grant, which is both a production and educational grant for emerging artists in Mexico.
Fascinated by the bank’s philanthropic mission toward culture, Ruvalcaba elected to take this philanthropic mission and stand it on its head by linking it up with a personal family trauma. While still a child, the artist’s father lost the family’s home and other family properties through a series of purportedly poor investment choices. Thus, in an attempt to reenact this familial misfortune, live out and even philanthropically exercise it, so to speak, like a trauma, Ruvalcaba decided to seek out someone else who not only bore his father’s same name, Juan Manuel Aguilar, but also possessed a debt with BBVA-Bancomer, and then pay off his symbolic father’s debt with the grant itself.
Full of unexpected obstacles and novelistic serendipity, the manifold vicissitudes that have accompanied Ruvalcaba’s quest for the homonymous debtor (whom he found) and debt emancipation have yielded the formal materialization of the exhibition and the overall project itself. The exhibition at kurimanzutto is comprised of three discrete elements related to the project, which also question and challenge their own status as art objects. The first is an edition of the newspaper a.m. in which the artist originally featured the ad for the debtor on three separate dates, December 31st, 2014, January 2nd and 3rd, 2015. The example, along with eight others preserved by the artist, are themselves transformed into an edition of nine (three from each day). Given that the original print run of the paper was 16,000 per day, the designation of those preserved as an edition of art is clearly predicated on a scarcity that is not so much artificial as it is temporal. Indeed, it is precisely this temporality that distresses the validity of the three examples of the newspapers, vis-à-vis their former, comparatively unlimited abundance, as a limited artist edition.
The second element of the exhibition consists of a circumvention of Fundación BBVA-Bancomer’s interdiction to directly pay the debtor’s debt with the grant. As the story goes, the homonymous debtor that Ruvalcaba located possessed two debts with the bank, one of which was smaller than the other, thereby becoming known as, in the artist’s assumption of the debts, “the small debt” and “the big debt,” respectively. As such, given the aforementioned status of the grant as a production grant, the artist bought equipment with which to shoot and edit a video– to be exhibited later elsewhere– all of which is presented directly on the ground, as if in the form of a garage sale. Virtually new, the objects are indeed for sale not at the gallery, but on the auction website Mercado Libre. Therefore, in a curious twist on the readymade, the status of these objects, either as aesthetic or utilitarian, will be ultimately determined by whoever acquires them (eg., collector/institution or someone merely in search of a new iMac).
The final element of the exhibition addresses “the big debt”. For this work, Ruvalcaba has a created an edition that is the literal and representative equivalent of the big debt. He has taken out on a loan from BBVA-Bancomer in 100 and 200 pesos notes, individually photographed each note, and then immediately repaid the loan. The notes themselves have been recreated as obvious counterfeits, two of which are folded and presented as “books” (due to the fact that microscopically small poems by the pre-Colombian philosopher, warrior, architect, poet and ruler Nezahualcóyotl and the 17th century Mexican baroque poet Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz are printed on the original bills, Rulvalcaba refers to them as books). The totality of the entire debt equivalent edition will be sold to one of the inheritors of Bancomer, who has already consented to buy it.
Ruvalcaba thus presents an exhibition so artfully encumbered with contradiction and paradox that it seems to be on the point of continual collapse. Needless to say, it is no mere coincidence that these contradictions and paradoxes reflect the nature of contemporary finance and debt itself.