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reclaiming fragments - the mining of the psyche 

Melanie Gritzka del Villar

My three-month artist residency at the Leonora Carrington Museum in San Luis Potosí, Mexico, culminated in the final exhibition ¨Ghosts of San Luis Potosi¨ (7th November 2019 to 23rd February 2020).


What had initially started out as an idea to investigate the relation of the mining towns of San Luis Potosí with the galleon trade between Mexico, Spain and the Philippines evolved into a much more personal and surreal exploration. Unprocessed trauma from childhood had finally caught up with me and was compounded with the sudden passing of both my stepfather and biological father during the residency. The weight of these events caused me to descend into a state of heavy despair, one that made me empathize with Leonora Carrington’s ¨descent into madness¨[1] in 1940, which Carrington wrote about in her autobiographical fiction piece ¨Down Below¨.


Carrington recalls that during her psychosis, she ¨was no longer suffering in an ordinary human dimension. [She] was in another place…¨[2]. In similar vein, the depression I had fallen into had me gasping for air and during this period I was barely able to be present with those around me. Thus, paralleling the visit of the actual physical mines of San Luis Potosí, I went within my psyche and was forced to confront the darkness and depths I found there. As a consequence, the final works for the exhibition were richer and had more depth, then had I merely stayed on the surface of the investigation.


For the exhibition ¨The Ghosts of San Luis Potosí¨ I created a small altar with the portraits of my late fathers I had painted on scrap metal; a painting of the Virgin of Guadalupe on a silver dish; a sculpture made of silver thread tracing the voyage of the Manila-Acapulco galleon; a display of rocks and minerals from the actual mines; and a series of hay sculptures that were re-formed coronas de la muerte, or death crowns used in Mexico for funerals.  

Seen as group, the six coronas showed a progressive closing or opening of the center void, depending on the starting point the viewer took. Perhaps in the way they morphed between an opening and closing at their center, the coronas tried to allude to the cyclical nature of growth and healing: reminding how every void fills up again, and how these phases are necessary in the larger scheme of spiritual growth.


To accompany these works and because of my interest in surrealism and the mining towns, I collaborated with Joanna Vasquez Arong to produce three short films dealing with this liminal state between reality, dreamscape and the underworld. The films were projected on the gallery walls during the final exhibition. Loss, death, rebirth, descent, nostalgia, memory: these were the themes of the final exhibition, the mines of San Luis Potosí having become a metaphor for my journey inwards.

After my recovery, my interest in depth psychology, dream analysis and spirituality has only grown. I am very fascinated with the existence of other realities and fantastical realms, especially since my intimate encounter with Carrington’s work during my residency at the museum. My current drawings try to visualize the transformation I had been, and continue to be undergoing; each drawing holds key imagery of my journey within. Moreover, through the drawings I also try to bring to life imagery from other dimensions I have encountered in dreams and visions, meditation and prayer.


Leonora Carrington’s aim was to ¨repair a shattered world and [find] a means to live in it by unearthing the many images that came her way¨[3]. In a similar vein, and much in the surrealist spirit, I am working on reclaiming images from my unconscious and by doing so, am hopefully able to create symbols that hold a wider resonance.



 - Melanie Gritzka del Villar, Jávea, Spain, 2.9.2021




[1] Carrington, Leonora, ¨Down Below¨ (2017), The New York Review of Books: New York, p.XX

[2] Carrington, Leonora, ¨Down Below¨ (2017), The New York Review of Books: New York, p.XX



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