I have a thing about doors in Mexico and I have a special passion for rundown doors with little holes that I can peek through to see the building inside. To me there is nothing more beautiful, mystical and magical than seeing nature retaking its space behind a deserted doorway. Being read books like The Enchanted Forest and The Secret Garden when I was a young girl undoubtedly inspired this love and mystical intrigue.
To me there is always a childlike delight in discovering the secrets behind doors; that wild essence of nature regaining its rightful place. This love is so strong that I could probably offer tours of the deserted houses and best peepholes of Oaxaca. So imagine my surprise and delight when taking my sister to see my favourite peephole that the door I intended to peep through was open and an art installation had taken over the space! Someone else had seen the beauty I saw in this elegantly, crumbling building and they had opened it up to the world.
The first thing that struck me when I walked inside was the orange tree thriving in the central courtyard. Oranges had fallen all around and an old man was sitting there as if guarding the tree. Needless to say, countless stories about this man and his relation to the decomposing house started to form in my head. The smell of oranges infiltrated my senses and I smiled to think that this tree knew all of the secrets of this building.
The art installation was diverse and intriguing, and at points I was uncertain as to whether what I was seeing was art or in fact things left behind when the house was abandoned. And that mystery was beautiful, that uncertainty overjoyed me, because it left space for the fantasy, for the creation of my own story.
Some parts of the building still showed signs of the house as it was. The odd sink or window was still in place. The artists had worked with these features to juxtapose the old and the new. Piles and piles of wood were stacked in one room of the building. Could it be art or was it simply part of the house?
A theme that ran through the art was “Day of the Dead”. There was an altar and metal bedframes covered in the Cempazuchitl flower, traditionally used to decorate graves and altars during that time. My mind wondered imagining that the bedframes were found inside the deserted house and therefore to cover them in these flowers so they looked like graves signified an offering to the ancestors of the house, whose beds they would once have been and whose history lived on in secrets buried in the walls. The themes of life and death so intricately interwoven during the Day of the Dead played out hauntingly in this building, that signified both of these things at once.
The installation also allowed for interaction, asking the viewer to become part of the art, part of the building. Inspired by the story of Elpis and Pandora we were asked to visualize a miracle, write it on a piece of paper and pin it under a metal Oaxacan heart and onto the wall. I stood for a while, visualizing a peaceful Mexico, a Mexico without the “drugs war”, wrote down my wish and hammered the heart onto the wall and breathed deeply imagining the possibility.
If I am honest, I loved the art behind my beloved door, but for me the most beautiful aspect was the run down walls with bricks appearing beneath the stucco, the original arches standing proud, moss and plants retaking their natural place juxtaposed against metal building poles now exposed as the bricks have fallen away. And all this was highlighted by the bluest of blue skies that took the place of the ceiling and was another sign of nature taking back its rightful role!
Susannah Rigg is a freelance writer and Mexico specialist. Her work has been featured in BBC Travel, CNN Travel, Conde Nast Traveler, AFAR and The Independent among others . Check out her portfolio here. Contact Susannah by email, info [at] mexicoretold [dot] com and join her on Instagram and Twitter.