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TorgoX (1933)


"Il est beau comme la retractilité des serres des oiseaux rapaces [...] et surtout, comme la rencontre fortuite sur une table de dissection d'une machine à coudre et d'un parapluie !" -- Lautréamont

Journal of TorgoX (1933)

Tuesday May 31, 2005
01:42 AM

Mata Ortiz

[ #24955 ]
Dear Log,

I left New Mexico just a few years ago, and I have presumed that New Mexico hasn't changed a whit in my absence.

And if I were told to guess what changes actually have taken place in New Mexico, my guesses would have been fluctuations in the price and popularity of horrible street drugs. But it turns out that I missed a significant change in the local Native arts.

The other night, I stumbled on a Frontline/World piece about the potters of the town of Mata Ortiz, which is over the border into "Old Mexico", as New Mexicans refer to what's south of them.

I had heard of Mata Ortiz pottery before, but had assumed that it was like the pottery of the Pueblos in New Mexico -- namely, the modern products of a continuous artistic tradition going back at least five or six centuries. But it turns out (the Frontline/World story goes) that pottery in Mata Ortiz basically died out some centuries ago, and was only recently resurrected by a local artist, Juan Quezada, who basically reverse-engineered the old process (amazing thing 1) from pots and tools found in local ruins. And he succeded, (amazing thing 2).

He then taught the art to other local folks, who (amazing thing 3) took to it with astonishing ability. They basically started reproducing elaborations on the designs on the ancient pottery, which looked to be like New Mexican pottery but with slightly odd forms and twists. And they started making big money. (Amazing thing 4)

But then, as I moved to Alaska, things got weird. Mata Ortiz potters took the local ancient styles as just a starting point; and then they got weird, and Escheresque, and then they started using absurdly fine detail, fine gradations in color with tiny tiny lines that just barely show up on camera, like if Keith Haring were designing microchips. And then they started making even more money. (Amazing things 5+)

And then it started influencing New Mexico pottery. Lots of the stuff here has kinds of flourishes that I never saw even three years ago.

So, in conclusion: using just local dirt and natural pigments and glazes, people in the middle of nowhere, who probably don't even have DSL!, are making space-bending ceramic hallucinations. They are elaborating a millenia-old art form, but are making it evolve faster than, say, the US pop music market, which has been crosseyed and aimless for about ten years now, in spite of having orders of magnitude greater money, brains, and talented-manhours.