When Iñaki Bonillas was first invited to intervene on Mexico City’s Casa Luis Barragán by Hans Ulrich Obrist, as part of the Swiss curator’s acclaimed 2003 exhibition ‘The Air is Blue’, the Mexican artist was not allowed to alter the house in any way. So instead, Bonillas decided to hang a photo (on a pre-existing nail in Barragán’s famous pink foyer) of an empty blackboard that he’d happened upon in a local school with colourful walls, whose tonality and silence mimicked the vibrant solitude of the carefully curated plant selection in and around the home.
‘At that time, when I was sneaking around the house, I [was] pretty impressed to discover all the places you can find places to hide things,’ says Bonillas. ‘It was curious in this type of architecture, where everything that is visible makes a very precise sense. You need a second house where everything that doesn’t make sense goes to find its place.’
Since that time, Bonillas was thinking about how he could make an exhibition in the negative spaces of the house and studio the Mexican modernist built for himself in 1948. So when curator Eugenia Braniff offered Bonillas the second slot in a two-year installation program at the Barragán house – the first was an exhibition of works from the collection of Estancia FEMSA, which is sponsoring the program and updating the house with each project – he jumped at the chance.
After two years of intense research, Bonillas, whose work often focuses on photo archives, has emerged with ‘Secretos’, a multi-room conceptual spelunking expedition into every nook and cranny – or secrete place – of Barragán’s live-work spaces.
‘One of the things that’s curious about Barragán is that he has many reproductions of artworks, especially Josef Albers. He could have bought an original but he preferred to buy a piece of cloth from Marimekko because the scale fit more properly to his desires,’ says Bonillas, pointing to one of the few original works in the house: a gold leafed Mathias Goeritz panel. As such, Bonillas has taken it upon himself to reproduce various historical art works, repurpose objects and contemporary pieces, and make new photo abstractions and embed them into the cubbies, cabinets and curios throughout the house.
In a closet off the foyer, Bonillas installed a black box with a version of Hans Haacke’s Condensation Cube scaled to mimic the size of the Barragán-designed canvas lampshades throughout the house. Meanwhile, the neighbouring cabinet contains photographic inserts that invoke Man Ray’s The Starfish (with the lifelines of the furniture repairman’s hands painted pink) and Duchamp’s alter ego Rrose Sélavy (or in this case, Rose, to match the walls and the ‘cancelled eroticism’ that pervade the home).
‘This house is about layers and layers and layers of information; you enter one room and have no clue what the other is going to have in it,’ says Bonillas, leading us the the library where he hides a series of photograms (inside the chest of drawers, inside a closet) made from objects lying around the house. He made another series of soft-focus photos in the backyard taken through the mirrored prism of a fake John McCracken (tucked in some draws in the study) as well as granular studies of the deep Albers-esque geometric abstractions in the shag carpets that remain when the furniture is removed in the yellow-walled studio. You’ll also find a nod to Marcel Broodthaers’ mussels sculptures (complimenting the stoneware plates in the breakfast room) or David Bowie’s Lazarus video playing through a peephole in Barragán’s personal wardrobe overlooking a shrine to his wife, Iman. (She stayed at the house, against the Starman’s wishes, and was said to be one of Barragán’s muses.)
To tie everything up, Bonillas has installed Nocturnal Writing – a series of photo engravings on the wall facing the window in Barragán’s studio. Made by rubbing images from his grandfather’s photo archive (trapped inside plastic) onto the photo paper, they are also a reference to a secret silent language invented by Charles Barbier during the Napoleonic wars. Says Bonillas, ‘It’s all about two surfaces coming together.’