Art & Photography / AnOther Thing I Wanted to Tell You

Sarah Lucas on the Magic of Mexico

YBA favourite Sarah Lucas on her life-altering time in Mexico among the Old Gods and the spirits of Jodorowsky and Rivera

Work by Sarah Lucas, from Tittipussidad
Work by Sarah Lucas, from Tittipussidad Photography by Julian Simmons

“I’ve been reading a lot of Carlos Castaneda's work, particularly The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge. They’re a series of books about a Mexican wizard. I always had this idea of going to Mexico, but I never got around to it. Then, I had a reason to go: I was invited to show. I said I’d love to do it to get immersed in the culture. It was a show at the Anahuacalli Museum, built by Diego Riviera. It houses a big collection of pre-Hispanic art and it was also his studio – he wanted it to be his tomb (but it isn’t). It’s a dark pyramid made of dark granite, it’s huge. From the inside, it’s like it’s been carved out of rock. It doesn’t have many windows. It’s quite gloomy and it’s stuffed with pre-Hispanic figures, people, in a way.

The work for my show was made in Oaxaca, right in response to the figures in one of the valleys; I developed a whole new set of figures from it. The drawings and sculptures insinuate themselves into the story.

"I got to know these people – Diego Rivera, Alejandro Jodorowsky – I got so clear with them by being there" — Sarah Lucas

I also really like the work of Alejandro Jodorowsky, the filmmaker who directed The Holy Mountain and did these Mexican cartoons. Jodorowsky is also a shaman in a way, doing tarot and stuff like that. He calls his whole philosophy “psycho magic.” It’s like an alternative to conventional talking therapies because it’s much more concerned with taking action, on a symbolic level, to deal with problems.

From time to time, I do an entire show somewhere else. It’s not very often – it’s also quite a bit of pressure to not know what you’re going to do – but I’ve always had an element in most of my shows of doing some things wherever I am. It’s a mixture. It can be fantastic, when the circumstances are very inspiring, which is what Oaxaca in Mexico is. I didn’t run into any problems, it just sort of went – it had the wind behind it, or a volcano.

We made a book from our experience, a storybook with pictures about the time we spent there. It’s not like a catalogue or anything – it is an artwork in itself. Julian, my partner, took all the pictures and he made the book. He did some of the text, and so did I. Some of the text is a transcription of talks with friends. It’s the story of our time there, the whole story. Is it life-altering? I guess everything is, in a way. It was an exercise in conviction. I got to know these people – Diego Riviera, Alejandro Jodorowsky – I got so clear with them by being there, as well as some of the old Gods. It was a brilliant trip, how do you do that again? I don’t know. But things as good as that? Yes please.”

British art provocateur Sarah Lucas’ rise to fame was in the 1990s as part of the Young British Artists movement, graduating from Goldsmith’s College alongside artists like Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst. What set Lucas apart were her bold selfies filled with visual puns – chomping on a banana, fried eggs over her breasts – while her most iconic self-portrait has her giving the camera a cold stare, a cigarette dangling from her mouth. With a practice that combines photography, collage, found objects and form, she is well-known for her stuffed pantyhose sculptures, as well as her knack for recycling. Arriving in Mexico a day after the spring 2012 earthquake, Lucas and her partner Julian Simmons stayed in Oaxaca for a month. She made work while Julian photographed it, and the project evolved into an encyclopaedic art book, Tittipussidad, which captures their adventures in Mexico and proffers an unique viewpoint on the process of creating art.

Sarah Lucas, Julian Simmons is at Contemporary Fine Arts in Berlin until August 2. Tittipussidad is out now, in a limited edition published by Sadie Coles HQ.

Text by Nadja Sayej