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“To tell a story with stone is to intensely inhabit the preposition with,” suggests Jeffrey Jerome Cohen in Stone: An Ecology of the Inhuman. “It is to move from solitary individualisations to ecosystems, environments, shared agencies, and companionate properties.” As purveyors of deep time, rocks and their mineral composites are hybrid storytellers. Their bodies reflect an ongoing geological process of becoming-with, making visible the long duration of our planet’s activity that human memory precludes. In the startling, surreal work of the Mexico City-based self-taught painter Horacio Quiroz, gargantuan bodies deftly rendered in hypnotic chunks of stone toggle between the personal and the planetary. Hovering between human and nonhuman worlds, these mythical beings reject binary approaches to gender or embodiment, instead reveling in the possibility of indeterminacy.
Presented within Goddesses of Spoiled Lands at Annka Kultys Gallery, the artist’s first solo exhibition in the UK, are a series of eight paintings and animated NFT doubles that fuse Quiroz’s interest in mythology with his signature lithic painting technique. Citing the crumbling and idiosyncratic qualities of the sidewalks in Mexico City as one source of inspiration, Quiroz doubles-up on rocks’ rich metaphorical strata – as a carrier bag of cosmic history, as signposts for innumerable entropic events, as hard evidence of the interconnectedness of all matter – to communicate the possibilities of such an expanded perspective. “Rocks for me are simultaneously a representation of reality, the cosmic, the geological, and the human,” shares Quiroz. “They are monolithic composts that build ephemeral goddesses composed of legends, stories and beliefs that have formed layer after layer of human thought since its appearance on Earth.”
Goddesses of Spoiled Lands presents such fabulous deities encased in blocky, striated marbling and set against an alien sky of an ombre pedigree. Rendered in hypnotic pastels and buttery oil paint, apparent contradictions abound within these scenes: soft and hard surfaces, male and female genitals, human and animal anatomies, megalithic stone statues to ancient gods and banal icons of the modern convenience economy (Easter Island heads, known as mo’ai by the Rapa Nui people who carved them, butt up against faded Amazon boxes in Makemake’s Voguing (2023)). Quiroz’s goddesses vogue and creep, dance and sway; they slump sassily and bend over in platform boots, emanating a queer joy of lithic liminality. Each work’s title eludicates its subject, which Quiroz pulls from global mythologies, paying particularly close attention to origin stories across cultures.
While layering the generative capacities of casting chunks of stone as both evidence of humanity’s destructive past and the raw material for building alternative futures, Quiroz is equally critical of the western mythologies he onboards. In Luperca’s Amendment (2023), for instance, we encounter the self-sacrificing she-wolf goddess who nursed Roman baby-kings Romulus and Remus. But here, the roles are reversed: Luperca manifests as an intersex human made from rubble, decked in chunky sunglasses and reclining on a palatial terrazzo floor. Her breasts are bitten off by the monstrous twins, whose toothy mouths gape wide as their flounder-like eyes gaze hauntingly out at the viewer. By positioning the human as the caretaker in his reinterpretation of this classic scene, Quiroz suggests our responsibility to nourish the planet rather than remain extractivist babies.
Other paintings reinterpet indigeneous deities through a queer lens, drawing on drag aesthetics as much as cosmological imagery. In Pachamama’s Beat (2023), the Earth Mother goddess revered by the indigenous peoples of the Andes appears draped over a terrazzo wall. Her anatomy is piecemeal: a pair of marbled crossed arms, laced in frilly opera gloves, chunky sunglasses, and a dangling pearl necklace, with some kind of beret prickling like a sea urchin. Mountains rise in the absence of her chest, framing a pale blue dot that could be her heart. In Ometeotl’s twerking (2023), the planet floats higher in the picture plane; glowing a Mars-like red, it becomes the anus of two fused gods, known as one to the Aztecs, defiantly postgender.
Paul B. Precadio’s 2008 essay “Anal Utopia” highlights the liberating potentials of refusing to participate in hetero-productivity; for Precadio, the anus is an icon, a “bio-port” that rejects capitalist profit in favor of vulnerability, bullshit, and ecological non-production. There is, as Jack Halberstam would put it, a queer joy baked into this refusal. Though Ometeotl’s twerking (2023) is perhaps the most overt depiction of such provocative playfulness, it spans other works like Venus’s Moves (2023) and Makemake’s Voguing (2023). In the former, the classical goddess of love is rendered in thick chunks of marble; a cartoonish shell acts as an oxidised fig leaf, while one hand extends a comb into billowing hair as her other tugs playfully on a phallic hairdryer. In the latter, Quiroz’s pleasure in remixing and sensualising history is palpable: a tongue flops over a marble frieze of the last supper that depicts the disciples congregating around a macbook. Makemake’s body is a collaging of rich marble rendered as a harp, yet its strings are replaced with chunky drill bits.
The three smallest canvases of the show – Vesta’s Lecherousness, Apollo’s Rhythm 1, and Apollo’s Rhythm 2 (all 2023) – offer more intimate close-ups of two Roman deities. Known as the virgin goddess of the home, Vesta is most often represented as a flame; here, she peers at the burning wick of her own nipple, a pair of reflected embers flickering brightly in chunky sunglasses. Apollo, meanwhile, is shown as a coy instrument rendered in brass bars, smooth marble, what looks like confetti-colored reconstituted foam, and a flopping phallus. His egg-like face peers out coyly from the crook of his arm; defiantly cheeky yet wholly inscrutable.
“To think about rocks and other planetary matter as media is also to see them as agential,” argues Dana Luciano in Speaking Substances. “They are not inert matter but lively forces, communicating with us across deep time.” It is this simultaneous depth of data, coupled with a refusal of an easy read, that keeps Quiroz’s goddesses so beguiling and heterogeneous in meaning. The titular lean of Goddesses of Spoiled Lands may suggest a planet in peril, but these fabulous protagonists – cobbled together from the detritus of civilisation – also offer us a future that’s saturated with queer possibility.