Marielsa Castro Vizcarra (born 1984) is a Mexico City – based curator, educator, and architect. She is an Associate Curator at Museo Jumex and an Associate of coopia, a cooperative practice for the transformation of territory. She holds an Architectural degree from Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City and a Master’s degree in Art, Design, and the Public Domain from Harvard University. Castro Vizcarra was previously Head of the Public and Educational Program at the Art Museums of the Banco de la República (Bogotá, Colombia) and for three years she led LIGA, Space for Architecture, an independent platform in Mexico City that promotes Latin American contemporary architecture. Selected exhibitions and projects include: Minerva Cuevas: Game Over (2022), Museos en común (2022 – ), First Scena: Entre caballos de fuerza y caballos de vapor, Josué Mejía (2022), Un lugar en el mundo (2018 and 2019), LIGA 09: Eduardo Castillo (2013), LIGA 06: Frida Escobedo (2012).
LUCIJA ŠUTEJ: You co-founded the transdisciplinary platform: coopia, which is based between Bogota and Mexico City. The cooperative looks at how territories are perceived as well as actively contributing to reframing spaces through various actions – not limited solely to exhibition, and publication formats. coopia’s approaches are essentially pedagogical and spatial practices. Could we discuss the locations of the collective and the formation?
MARIELSA CASTRO VIZCARRA: coopia was founded in 2019 in Bogota, where I was living at the time with my partner. Initially, it was an architecture-based cooperative as we both share that disciplinary field. Yet, since its inception, coopia, has quickly transformed into a multidisciplinary cooperative – with the purpose of refusing architecture! We are aware that architecture has been a fundamental colonial tool for constructing the world that we inhabit today.
coopia works through learning and territorial processes. We engage different formats in the delivery of our projects such as workshops, collective spaces, exhibitions, and publications. We see coopia as a platform for the exchange of knowledge.
Through an open call, first in Bogotá and then in Mexico City, we found other colleagues and peers who are part of coopia today – Andrea Carrillo, Paloma Corcuera, Natalia Gálves, Felipe Guerra, María Camilia Leal and Sebastián Espinosa. Since the beginning, we have addressed questions such as: Is it possible to practice architecture (or any other discipline) in a non-hierarchical way? Is it possible to work in different modes – that are non-institutional? We look at formats that do not replicate oppressive ways of labour. In the beginning, we were located in Bogotá, and we were a cooperative of fifteen people from different backgrounds such as art, design, anthropology, and educational studies. Presently, we are six associates and we work in both locations, in a trans-discipline mode.
LŠ: Could you tell us more of the projects that have driven the learning and territorial practices within coopia?
MCV: At coopia, we experiment with projects that are self–determined, and we aim to move towards autonomy. One of our initial projects was Anarchivo [Anarchive] centered on composing an archive of autonomous practices through a series of interviews with people, organizations, and collectives that we admire. First to learn how others work and ultimately to make an archive of different practices that were nonhierarchical, transdisciplinary, and autonomous. Eventually to be shared as an open archive for everyone who is interested in similar practices.
Also, related to learning and territorial processes we are constantly facilitating and sharing virtual workshops about the impact of coloniality in the territory. Through the learning platform, we invite people to join us and study together topics that are related to the transformation of the territory. How have spatial practices (not solely architecture) colonized and how can we de-colonize territories?
LŠ: How do you see coopia developing in the future?
MCV: As I mentioned previously, one of coopia’s active goals is to pursue autonomy. I see coopia achieving its autonomy by experimenting with different formats.
We are interested in sharing knowledge and experiences – recently we have been researching the tamal, a traditional dish that expand all over Latin America by looking at where the corn grows, the evolution of ingredients, and also ultimately what it means to cook together as a community. Through the act of cooking, we engage in conversations. At the end of the day, coopia is not about building spaces but imagining modes of sustaining life in common.
LŠ: Through coopia but also your work with LIGA, Space for Architecture, your curatorial approach touches upon the understanding and activation of space. Perhaps you could also tell about your work with LIGA and how it defined new curatorial perspectives for you.
MCV: The non-profit organization was founded in 2011 by the architectural firm PRODUCTORA (Carlos Bedoya, Wonne Ickx, Víctor Jaime, and Abel Perles) and the contemporary art curator Ruth Estévez. I joined the team in 2012, in the very early days. LIGA was one of the first spaces for exhibiting and critical thinking of architecture at that moment in Mexico and I directed the space for the first three years. Together with the team, we focused on new ways of exhibiting and representing young Latin American architecture. Beyond the usual presentation of models, photographs, and plans, we looked at translating architectural narratives for the public.
LIGA was –until 2019–a very small almost lobby-like space in a beautiful building from the 60s in Colonia Roma on Avenida Insurgentes. The latter is one of the most popular and longest streets in Mexico City. The storefront of LIGA enabled immediate communication with passers-by. It operated almost like a self-service gallery, where everyone can enter and have an independent and personal experience through wall texts and free publications.
LIGA was an amazing learning experience for me, due to the small size of the team and the intensive program. I learned all kinds of tasks and roles in running an exhibition space. After 10 exhibitions and multiple events, I went to study a Master’s program at Harvard, where I focused my final research on museums of memory –museums or exhibition spaces in Latin America that focus on violations of human rights. Following my studies and to continue the research started at the Master’s, I moved to Bogotá, Colombia. From 2017 – 2020 I joined the Arts Museums of the Banco de la República´s team, as the head of the Public and Educational Program. Where in direct relationship with the curatorial team, we co-designed pedagogical and curatorial programs for multiple exhibitions.
LŠ: In addition to your work at coopia, you also hold the role of Associate Curator at Museo Jumex. Are there crossovers between your two roles in any capacity ?
MCV: coopia as a research structure has an impact on my day to day. The project has not only opened the possibilities of topics but also the ways of doing. A recurring intention in both of my practices is commonality. I am interested in studying through cultural and curatorial practices the possibilities and limitations of the production of the common.
LŠ: At Museo Jumex you recently started a long-term project: Museos en común. Could you tell us more about this project and your thoughts on curating outside the traditional institutional setting?
MCV: One of the interests of Museo Jumex is to connect with other types of communities that normally don’t visit the museum. How can we communicate with our neighbors and do projects outside of the museum? How can we do our exhibition and pedagogical projects engage with the public in a long-term relationship? With these questions in mind, we started working with a local market in the neighborhood where the museum is located–that is called Granada.
We started Museos en común in February 2022, by getting to know our neighborhood and neighbors, in particular a local market. We approached the Granada Market community and started conversations about theirs and our interests, schedules, needs, and practices. Then, we invited artists and architects, to work with a group of kids who are the children and grandchildren of the tenants. Together we defined the type of projects that would involve them and build a larger community.
The start of our communication with the tenants was through a social artist, Alo Gorozpe, and through workshops where we exchanged knowledge. The children of the market were an active voice in the decision-making of the project in which we transform an underused space of the market into a place not only for the children but also for the tenants and their clients. We designed a set of furniture through co-design workshops with an architect Mariana Ríos and an artist Chavis Mármol.
After 10 – months of working together, we celebrated the bonding process, and the co-designing through an opening of an exhibition about the community process in the Museum. Circa 200 visitors from the market joined us for a morning breakfast and a concert – a salsa band that is popular amongst their community. That was the first edition, we are still learning about communal practices as we are realizing the projects away from the boundaries of the museum.
We had started our next edition and this time it centered on the adults/ tenants of the Granada market. We plan to continue working with the community of the Market but also to expand it to other communities. The beauty of having the possibility to do such long-term projects is to create lasting relationships. Through Muses en común, we would like to research how certain elements develop and change over time. This gives us (curators and the institution) new results and information.
LŠ: The last question would be on the future and goals of private art museums– specifically Museo Jumex.
MCV: At Museo Jumex our visitor numbers are constantly growing. This is related to our constant high-profile shows, in the past we had artists such as Andy Warhol, James Turrell, Jeff Koons, and Marcel Duchamp. These types of shows are important because they bring a new and varied audience. As Museo Jumex is free and open to the public, on a very good day, we can receive circa 5000 visitors; we are probably one of the most visited museums in Mexico City. But that is not enough, that is why we are interested in proposing new ways of dialogue with the public– we are actively reaching out to new audience, and looking at new ways to engage with them.
I can say that one of the objectives of Museo Jumex is to evolve the relationship with communities. We aim not only to invite visitors through our doors as a once-in-a-lifetime experience but to create tangible relationships with our audience and to create lasting bonds with our new visitors.