Creating on the artistic fringe.

Time drifts casually when spending time with Mexican artist David Muoz. Sitting with him one afternoon on a downtown Helsinki terrace, the sun shines gently over our conversation as he methodically peels a mandarin, chewing on his thoughts, which occupy often-significant pauses in the conversation.

Recently graduating from the Masters of Aalto programme, Muoz’s graduate piece Every cloud has a silver lining shaped as a bullet, is a striking example of the artist’s own philosophies. Reflecting on the commodification of the dystopian imaginary, a candelabra has replaced its light bulbs with submachine guns. Under this sits a table set for 12 persons where the elements involved in the routines of nourishment are intervened using the tableware as a canvas. Undoubtedly, this provocative work is from a man who continually questions his surroundings.

And so, having finally removing the peel from his mandarin, he turns and offers me a piece.

What was it like growing up in Mexico? What memories do you have?

A lot of noisy memories; happy memories. I feel really energetic when I start to think about my roots and my brothers, my parents. The common ground is a people that react a lot. They say that Mexico is colourful and cheerful and people don’t leave you the space to not react. If you don’t react, the whole wave of society will blur you. It is necessary to react in Mexico.

Why then leave this symphony of confrontational noise and move to the passive silence of Finland?

I was looking for some kind of knowledge, connected to craft and industrial techniques, forms or design and art. I wanted to experience a place that is quite distant in terms of geography and society understanding from Mexico. I have been living most of my life in a busy city, I wanted to experience what is like to live in a capital city that is not as massive as big cosmopolitan cities.

I found that there was an interesting happening in the university here, the merging together of Aalto University. I sent my application, got accepted and everything snowballed from there. I landed in 2009 basically knowing only a few people and tried to find my way.

So it was quite recently...

Yes. I still have a lot of questions.

David Muoz, “Happy Hunting Ground” 2012. C-print, dimensions variable. Courtesy of the artist.

What are you trying to say with your graduation piece, Every cloud has a silver lining shaped as a bullet?

What I tried to address was that we are facing the transparency of the media and ourselves. Like in Facebook people can see what you really are. On the other hand you cannot see what the governments really are, how the economies really work. There is a problem with drugs, how is it moving, who is moving it, how this affects the locals, how it is connected to locals. How can we learn from the tragedy of these dystopian scenarios?

We live a really pleasant life, but this life is also an illusion. It is an illusion in the sense that the resources are limited. Three generations ago we couldn’t have chicken or meat everyday. Now we can go to the corner and get anything we want, any time of the day. That is an illusion of what is real. Until what point can we sustain this thing of who has open access and for how long, in terms of equality? What if we let the economy collapse? What can we imagine after that? Can we just accelerate it and make it happen, or construct something from that. Or learn something from that. What are things that you would like to preserve from that? Try to hold ourselves to something, hold these memories to things. That was the questions behind the title.

There may be stability now, but it has meant a lot of struggles. And these struggles have not ended. They are somehow hiding behind a nice cloud. Sooner or later they will arise. You are seeing it in many countries, if you criticise a government, or a candidate for an election, then you are like a target; you are judged as a criminal. It is just raising a question, a thought. Something that you see is not a way it should be; something not responding directly to how it should be solved. How it works. Then I try to bring this to the table, to this place of no way back. You have to actually try and make a change or try to cope with the consequences.

What would those consequences be? We live in a pretty apathetic time in Western society. How do you seek to activate people in a time when there are so many distractions keeping people neutered?

That’s the really tricky and basic question of everyday actions. You cannot work alone. To activate people you also need an agent. It’s more of an open call to get response from people. If there is a response, then I will continue the dialogue. These days it’s really easy to be called a dissident, but it’s really difficult to make a positive change in society being a dissident. I guess the activation will come in terms of dialogue, implementing solutions. Not permanent, temporary.

Is it difficult to be a foreign artist in Finland? Or the fact that you are a Mexican artist in Finland, does that create opportunities?

I guess it is difficult to be a foreigner in Finland, especially because there haven’t been many movements, or migratory exchanges. In Mexico we have been having an international merging of cultures since the 1500s. So maybe we are more used to that than in Finland. In that sense it is difficult. Yes, it generates an opportunity. But, it’s difficult to break these three questions: Where are you from? How long have you been living here? And how long are you staying? I see these as an opportunity to make questions, to play with this.

“We live a
pleasant life,
but this life
is also an

So, if I were to ask you now where are you from what would you say?

I don’t know [laughs], I would improvise. Actually, there was a really nice exercise I would do with some friends. We were trying to get the deepest emotions out of some random people. We were pushing each other as to who would get the biggest emotions out of people in the shortest time. Going to the bus stop and trying to know someone as deeply as you had been living with someone for years. It was really interesting, really powerful. You actually get people crying, sharing these emotions. You connect on a really basic level of needs.

How would that work here in Finland?

I think it would work. There is a strong need for communication. It is kind of interesting, that being in Finland you should not speak about alcohol here. But on the other hand they lower your sentence if you are drunk. What if I get drunk and do a performance and the performance is quite political, will they lower my sentence because I was drunk? [laughs]

James O’Sullivan