Installation view of “Forecast,” Museo Jumex, Mexico City, 2023. Photo: Abigail Enzaldo y Emilio García

Forms of Prediction: A Conversation with Gabriel Kuri

“Forecast,” Gabriel Kuri’s current exhibition at the Museo Jumex in Mexico City, is his first institutional survey in the country where he grew up. Featuring more than 50 works, including three new pieces, the show centers around the idea of art as a “forecast” that might predict and imagine what is to come. The museum’s chief curator Kit Hammonds, who organized the exhibition, has said, “Kuri’s work signals an engagement with the contemporary world, where the ideals of the modern…world have turned somewhat surreal.” Gabriel Kuri lives and works in Brussels, Belgium.

Untitled Chart (Wall 2), 2016. Walking sticks and ruler, dimensions variable. Photo: © Andrea Rossetti, Courtesy the artist and Esther Schipper, Berlin/Paris/Seoul

Robert Preece: You left Mexico when you were in your 20s to study for a master’s at Goldsmiths College in London. How does it feel to have your first museum survey in the country now? 
Gabriel Kuri: It is a big deal. I felt a huge debt that kept accumulating, so it really feels like the right way to begin paying it back. It was an interesting challenge to think about how to present myself. I wanted to show what I do, but we avoided using chronology to do so. Instead, we focused on recent work, mainly from the last 10 years. And there was the limitation of space—700 square meters is generous, but once you begin working through the checklist, the space fills up quickly.

I left for London in the 1990s, then I went back to Mexico for five pretty important years between 1998 and 2003. Then I left again for Brussels, but I return intermittently for projects at the kurimanzutto gallery and to catch up with my peers. This larger show feels like a return in form, and the purposeful reigniting of a conversation. The museum is visited by more than 2,000 people every day, and most of the audience is quite young, which is particularly exciting.

RP: How does the concept of “Forecast” relate to the exhibited works?
GK: We discarded the idea of a show that looked back, thinking instead that we could ask viewers to invert the gaze, looking forward and focusing on works that could be thought of as forms of prediction, or embodiments of what may come. This was an open-ended framework, which allowed pieces of different forms and materials to be included, but it was still a focused enough structure to stop us from bringing in works that would send the script in directions we couldn’t cover within the limited area.

The exhibition includes mostly existing works, apart from three new commissions. Thinking of sculptures as forms of projection or hypothesis echoes some of my recurring theoretical interests rooted in social mechanisms and exchange, ranging from behavioral economics to the use of metaphors of nature in the language of graphics.

Installation view of “Forecast,” Museo Jumex, Mexico City, 2023. Photo: Abigail Enzaldo y Emilio García

RP: Could you explain Untitled Chart (Wall 2) (2016), with the walking sticks and rulers?
GK: That piece underlines my interest in basic ordering principles as rudiments of sculptural language. It is made with a rather simple gesture—leaning a group of walking sticks against the wall. They barely touch one another and are arranged in an ascending—or descending—order according to their color-coded size. This scaling is somehow disrupted, or at least visited, by a curved ruler that touches the wall and floor in a very contrasting way.

RP: What exactly is depicted through the juxtaposition that you set up in 1/1 Exponential Growth (2014)?
GK: It is the result of two enlarged objects meeting: one found and one fabricated by me. On the bottom, there is a giant found sandstone coin, and topping it, the slick figure of an enlarged black bean. It’s a sort of punctuation on top of another punctuation, a counting unit as the base for another primal counting unit. It’s primal as a sculptural gesture—stacking—but layered in its overlaying cultural tenets. I wanted the title, 1/1, to emphasize the conceptual similarity of the two components, which is, of course, contrasted by their distinct physicality.

1/1 Exponential Growth, 2014. Composite stone disc, painted fiberglass, and resin figure, 24 x 65 cm. Photo: Brian Forrest, Courtesy the artist and Esther Schipper, Berlin/Paris/Seoul

RP: When did you become interested in plastic sell-by ties? What do you see now that you’ve made them larger in scale?
GK: I had seen these plastic ties while I was living in the U.K. and during my many visits to the U.S. But it was really while shopping for groceries when I lived in Los Angeles between 2013 and 2016 that I started to pay closer attention. I finally had to relate to them and stopped to see how they were printed and what their color coding might stand for. Back then, I made a couple of somewhat taxonomic works with actual bag ties that I had collected.

I felt excited about the possibility of scaling them up because I could do so without having to build them out of a different material or method, like I would if I decided to make a giant crab shell, for instance. Scaling them up meant that they became thick enough to stand, and I aligned them into small groups. Their function as ties also enabled me to stick different objects through them, like I have for other pieces in other exhibitions.

RP: In preemptive forms (2023), you combine large stones with brightly colored metal forms. What are these additions and contrasts about?
GK: The circular curves and sharp or right angles of the colored metal shapes draw lines in space that I thought could be arrested, complemented, or punctuated with the large stones. The idea was to carry out a visually simple sculptural gesture with these very heavy components, one that I hoped would look effortless or gracious—a simple act of balance and propping up. And indeed, these are contrasting elements: the smooth, colored metal shapes push toward abstraction, while the volcanic rocks are porous and solid in the realm of the concrete.

preemptive forms, 2023. Powder-coated steel and rocks, dimensions variable. Photo: Ramiro Chaves, Courtesy the artist and kurimanzutto, Mexico City and New York

RP: What led you to develop hard credit soft guarantee (2023)?
GK: It all started with an impression at a really large supermarket. I loved the fact that the mattress covers for sale were labeled by hand by a sign maker. The fact that these specific consumer goods—of long duration and slow wear—were the support for a sign painting made for a great start.

I was further drawn to the fact that the displayed messages had to do with credit and guarantee, both social bonds of trust. So, I developed the idea over time, thinking of this piece somewhere between concept and object, occupying floor and wall space and also as an imprint on the wall itself. I intended it to articulate horizontality and verticality actively all across the show. The information scattered on the wall and mattress covers, both on and off the mattresses, comes from mechanisms behind credit scores and guarantees. The composition plays with volume and negative/positive space.

RP: The installation Forecast (2023) features banking and credit card signs installed in a vitrine-like space, against which you suspended a plastic bag filled with water. Will it break and collapse on the floor? Could you tell us about this work?
GK: I produced this large-scale work on a temporary wall that cuts across a large balcony. The wall creates a vitrine and blocks the view out toward the corporate landscape, and further into the mountains on the horizon beyond the city. On this wall, I represented the landscape, with the lights and shapes of ATM signs resembling stars and other elements in the sky. These rigid plastic geometries work like a backdrop for a clear plastic bag filled with transparent liquid, hanging right in the middle.

Hanging bags filled with clear liquid are often seen in street markets—they are supposed to scare away flies. As a device, they are admittedly temporary, but their presence, like an anima, always struck me as implacable and timeless. I’ve always found them enigmatic, and though they are modest and soft, they are also physically stable, which gave me the feeling that they could hang in one place forever. I wanted to take one and elevate it in an environment that would only heighten its importance. In this environment of light and shapes, it might also come across as an element of meteorology.

Forecast (detail), 2023. Luminous signs, plastic bag with clear liquid, and mixed media, dimensiones variable. Photo: Michael De Lausnay, Courtesy the artist and kurimanzutto, Mexico City and New York

RP: What were your goals for this exhibition? Looking at it in its completed form, what most surprises you?
GK: I was hoping to learn something from the ensemble. Taking more than two years to choose from a body of existing works on a computer screen provided a series of pretty rewarding associative clicks. Pacing around the actual exhibition, however, makes those associations work in many more directions, and their potential to signify grows exponentially. This surprise and reward is something we will never get from anything other than presence.

“Gabriel Kuri: Forecast” is on view at Museo Jumex through October 15, 2023.