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16 JUNE – 12 JULY, 2015

A SASHIMI ENCHILADA

There is a legend that persists in Mexico about Old Man Ramirez. He was renowned as a suave figure, a drinker of prodigious abilities and Hollywood-star charisma, his visage resembling that of the brisling intensity of Martin Sheen. He was a close associate of both renowned muralist Diego Rivera and anime master Osamu Tezuka and would develop a feverishly cult-like following when he relocated for a time in Tokyo. This obsession was fuelled by his regular disappearances – few knew that while he swanned in the limelight of fame, consuming legendary quantities of Suntory Whisky, Asahi Super Dry and Cuban cigars and favouring the attentions of young women, Ramirez had a secondary, but abiding passion; that of the ancient sword fighting skill of Kenjutsu.

Thus Old Man Ramirez (he was still youthful back then) would regularly disappear into the mountain ranges in the southwest of Tokyo, climbing the 857 metre peak of Mount Jinba to train in the snow with other masters of Kenjutsu. His secrecy about this passion was partially personal and partially pragmatic. Kenjutsu, Kendo and other martial arts had been banned in Japan in 1946 by the allies to dissuade Japan’s militaristic swagger, thus Ramirez had, in effect, joined a highly secretive group. But upon his return to Tokyo he was feted by all and sundry, his swarthy features eventually sustaining a rabid following. When Suntory began distributing Herradura tequila from Amatitán in Jalisco, Mexico, they employed the giant Dentsu advertising group to market the liquor, who employed Ramirez as their poster boy. He became the subject of an anime and manga franchise, strangely featuring blonde, wavy hair. Eventually all of this attention imploded on Ramirez, culminating in a cascade of scandalous media coverage. People magazine ran a crude exposé featuring the headline Ramirez’s Tokyo Dirty Parties. Ramirez turned to the Herradura in ever increasing quantities, forcing his Kenjutsu comrades to refuse his return to Mount Jinba. Finally realizing that his position in Japan had become untenable, Ramirez packed his bags and returned to his home town of Guadalajara in Mexico.

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Although much of the above is fiction (the older Ramirez did in fact reside for a time in Tokyo), like his grandfather, Diego Ramirez is a restless and relentless figure. Obsessed with popular culture, he shares a fascination with Japanese anime and manga with certain other artists of his generation. But adding to the mix, born in Mexico, he moved to train and work in Australia. This melding of Mexican, Japanese and Australian aesthetics makes for a heady mix indeed, a sashimi enchilada with tomato sauce.?

Similarly restless with his media, the younger Ramirez glides across video, photography and montage with equal adeptness, leading him to have been curated into group shows in Taiwan, Los Angeles, Paris, Sao Paulo, Milan, Kalamata, Stuttgart, Madrid and numerous other locales around the world.

As unlikely as it may seem, the works in My Material World have a ‘real-world’ basis which Ramirez has ardently researched. In a revealing work-in-progress document titled ‘Freaks of Mexico: anime fans and the friki subculture’ Ramirez recounts a fascinating first-person experience during a family reunion in Mexico: “I shared my fondness for Japanese animation to a cousin of mine; her reply was simple yet quite telling: “así que eres un raro” (so, you’re a freak then). Although I was initially perplexed I quickly realized I should have known better, as this is a typical perception in Guadalajara, Mexico – where anime is strongly associated with social ineptitude and weirdness. This prejudice is so common and ingrained that an anime subculture has emerged in the country under the banner of friki, a term that derives from the English word ‘freak’.”

Ramirez’s works in My Material World tap into this freakiness on multitudinous levels. There is his fascination with post-colonial race relations, the strange histories that converge between cultures (in this case specifically between Mexico and Japan), notions of kitsch, of gay and straight culture, the colour saturation of mass produced entertainment and the sheer weirdness of the on-line world. A sushi taco indeed.

– Ashley Crawford, June 2015

 

My Material World recycles and fictionalises a found image of the artist’s (Mexican) grandfather holding a bottle of tequila “Herradura”. The photograph, presumably shot in Japan, is transformed and animated through the language of advertisements. Taking the form of a video, animation, prints and light boxes.

The core of this work is concerned with the cultural crossovers between Mexico and Japan. This is motivated by the artist’s upbringing in Mexico, where he was surrounded by elements of Japanese popular culture, particularly anime and the folding screen. Other concerns include mapping the sensibilities that typify kitsch (sentimentality, hyperbole, flatness and repetition) and its ability to communicate origin, class, taste, status and desire.

This project belongs to the artist’s larger interest in active readings of popular and consumer culture, where audiences and consumers appropriate the signs of dominant culture to articulate their identities. Remixing official culture with the personal or the everyday.