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Pia Camil - Bara, Bara, Bara

Tramway, Glasgow until June 23rd
Four stars

Pia says relax. Mexican artist Pia Camil doesn’t actually appropriate Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s much replicated Katherine Hamnett-styled 1980s slogan and design for life. Symbolically, however, such international lingua-franca springs to mind on stepping into Camil’s monumental installation of sewn-together secondhand t-shirts that hang beside each other. Tramway’s main space becomes a dormitory of giant hammocks, or tarpaulins providing shelter for dodgy market dealers flogging knock-off or bootlegged goods on the cheap. Beneath them, pairs of jeans are stuffed inside each other and piled up like cushions of disembodied cowboy mannequins collapsed around the campfire like double denim bean-bags.

Each hammock/tarpaulin is colour-coded, with the neck-holes of each t-shirt enabling viewers to pop their heads through to get a closer view of the stitching. At first glance, Camil’s first UK solo show makes for interactive adventure playground fun before chilling out on the child-friendly mounds of jeans. Look again, however, and an indictment of how the rag trade crosses borders in a two-way traffic that keeps the customer satisfied is unfurled.

Originally produced in Latin America by American retailers, the garments subsequently found their way back to the street markets in Mexico City, where the street vendors cry, shortened from ‘barato’ – which translates as cheap - gives the show its title. With all garments picked up secondhand from Las Torres Market Iztapalapa, slogans, advertorial, football team logos and souvenirs of sporting events with numbers on the back hang beneath the denim. This points to how the west was once won with a dressed-down jeans and t-shirt combo. Such not so obscure objects of desire were eternal symbols of rock and roll rebellion, immortalised in images of Marlon Brando and James Dean and sold off to the eastern bloc like gold. For all the to-and-fro of the internationalist melting pot inadvertently stirred up by such cultural crosswinds may end up going for a song, but in Camil’s world at least are priceless.

The List, May 2019



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