In 2014 I voluntarily started giving visual arts workshops at a Readaptation Center for minors, between 14 and 18 years old, in Mexico City. I started with the firm conviction that art can go beyond the conventional circuits in which it is commonly inscribed.
In the beginning, the only materials that I was allowed to bring to the Readaptation Center were pencils, some prints of works or exhibitions in museums or galleries and books, so in the workshops, we drew, talked, and read aloud.
The experiences that I was accumulating giving the workshops led me to question my position within the Readaptation Center. Many times I wondered if what I was doing there was really of any use.
In 2018, I began to manage the first sessions of the Los Invisibles Laboratory, a laboratory for artistic explorations and practices, with the sole objective of investigating through various artistic explorations the concept of FREEDOM within the Readaptation Center.
At the Laboratory, we believe that accessible and inclusive artistic experiences, focused on developing critical thinking that is caring, empathetic, and loving, can impact people in such a way that they potentially become a tool for transforming sensibilities and affections.
We also believe that learning is always mutual; thanks to the Laboratory, I am now convinced that physical and psychological punishment cannot be a way to reintegrate young people in conflict with the law into society.
We also think of artistic exploration as a practice that, in conjunction with others, can help us transform our society. Relate differently with everyone and everything around us, expand our imagination, and coexist affectionately within this world that we do not possess, but of which we are part.
At the Los Invisibles Laboratory, we explore and share our thoughts and those of the authors we are reading from week to week. For example in 2018 we were reflecting with some of Nezahualcóyotl's poems; fragments of Species of spaces and The infra ordinary by Georges Perec; The invisible cities by Italo Calvino; Towards a poor theater by Jerzy Grotowski; A natural history of the senses by Diane Ackerman and at the request of two boys The Little Prince.
From 2019 and thanks to the suggestions of Pedro Reyes, who was my mentor with the support of the AFIELD fellowship program, we began to make various molds of our hands and faces inspired by the work of Georges Segal. With these molds, we will carry out an installation in the Readaptation Center, where we will show the hands of 100 boys with whom we have been working.
One work that inspires us the most is La Vigie by Jean-Luc Moulenè because, for us, it means hope. In this work, we see that even the smallest plants, those that appear alone, are struggling and autonomously survive between large concrete pavers without anyone's intervention.
We also paint outdoors and make replicas of our faces. The objective is to reconnect through the making of these masks, which is officially and for security's sake prohibited from exposing, that is, to re-encounter symbolically with the identity of those who are within the Readaptation Center, especially the boys.
In the Laboratory, imagination, freedom of expression, confidence, drift, and mutual support are privileged.
I believe in the strength that artistic exploration has to change people. I have the firm conviction that art can contribute to modifying the way the world operates now under a capitalist and neoliberal system in which exclusion between people, the privileges of certain groups, labor exploitation are normalized, and freedoms are increasingly limited.
It is clear to me that in contexts where violence is profound, artistic exploration allows us to open and expand sensibilities and affections, as well as the constant transformation of ideas, to adapt to change. And I think that when it is intertwined with science and philosophy, high impact projects can be developed that contribute to the solution of various social problems.
It is also essential that these explorations allow us highlighting apparently forgotten topics and thus generate meaning where there is none or is not yet perceived.
For us at the Los Invisibles Laboratory, education is an act of love and social justice. And change is the only constant in life; by this, we mean that we believe in changing people and places.
From 2019 and thanks to the support of the authorities and some workers of the Center, as well as because of the feedback I was receiving from various artist colleagues, we managed to open a permanent classroom for artistic explorations. This room will count with the participation of other facilitators. That is to say, more ideas and more young boys will have the possibility of approaching this type of reflections.
For the Los Invisibles Laboratory, it is crucial to maintain communication and participation of all the people involved in the Readaptation Center, listen to their voices, and obtain feedback. That is why in our work meetings and the classes, we invite the highest-level authorities in the Readaptation Center, the security people, and the tutors of the dormitories, to get involved. The boys' relatives continuously come and are aware of the project and, of course, the young people with whom we share this experience.
Finally, young boys are our main axis. After asking them what they think of the activities we have carried out, many have told us that during the Laboratory sessions, they forget that they are inside a Readaptation Center and dare to imagine. For others, what we do becomes a possibility to communicate many repressed feelings, reflect, and get to know yourself more.
As far as I am concerned, I have noticed that the boys learn to collaborate among themselves over time. They begin to help each other; and become flexible in the face of others' ideas; that is, before the difference. They try new things; they are motivated not to leave their activities unfinished, and above all, they dare to dream and imagine something new.
Despite what we have achieved, we know that we can fulfill and even expand this dream even more.