In 1989, Nintendo revolutionized the video game industry by offering a portable 8-bit gaming experience. Game Boy was the first handheld device that freed players from arcades and family home setups, becoming the quintessential object of desire for kids in the ’90s. In Mexico, the high demand for video game devices combined with the elevated cost of imported goods before (and even, after) NAFTA gave place to a prolific market of piracy gaming, including low-cost bootleg imitations, hacked consoles, and a myriad of unlicensed copies sold through informal trade across the country. Today, Mexico consumes more video games than any other country in Latin America.
The same year Game Boy was launched in North America, a long-term joint effort between Mexican and US authorities led to the arrest of Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo, founder and leader of the presumed Cartel de Guadalajara. His arrest marked the dissolution of the first Mexican criminal organization dedicated exclusively to drug trafficking and the disbandment of an alleged alliance made between the most powerful drug lords at the time. The separation of this coalition allowed for the consolidation of situated organizations working independently—and oftentimes, in opposition—from each other. The border towns of Northern Mexico became the theater of operations for the activities of vicious groups that identified themselves by geography and blood-bath-filled origin myths. The Cartel de Tijuana was one of them. At the end of the ’90s and early ’00s, even with Game Boys or bootleg handheld devices, kids would rather game from home to avoid the crossfire of the criminal organizations that violently disputed the most coveted border-crossing points.
Artist Andrew Roberts traces these events as part of his aesthetic genealogy, profiling an artistic language particular to a late-millennial growing up between Tijuana and San Diego. First as a player, then as an artist, Roberts is familiar with the narrative potential of video game design. Amidst on-screen zombie-shooting and bloodshed on the streets, survival horror means protecting yourself from everyday mayhem without the infinite ammo reserves offered in the virtual realm. When the footage on the news and shooter video games look very much alike, what else is left to do than to choose a character?
The installation of the video component of the exhibition We are sorry to notify you that due to the end of the world your delivery has been delayed (2020) resembles a character selection screen. Presented as 4K video portraits, Roberts introduces eight zombie characters in workwear, affiliating them to transnational companies like Amazon, Walmart, and Netflix. In a chorus of voices with perfect diction, each of them shares their own —almost premonitory, somehow philosophical— expectations for the end of the world. Unlike the narratives that approach the figure of the living dead from the mechanisms of othering, this group of zombies turns out to be very relatable. Not able to escape the logics of late-capitalism, they had become labor machines driven by Apocalyptic fantasies. And, like most of us, they are working themselves to death.
As part of the same project, Roberts created a series of hyper-realistic silicone sculptures of severed tattooed human body parts. Covered in lifelike dried blood, arms, feet, tongues, and heads are presented as dreadful signifiers of a post-Y2K Mexican gore: props for a movie based on the reality of narco-violence, where slaughtering is a form of communication. Moreover, the ink motifs tattooed directly on the synthetic flesh are yet another representation of the late-millennial zeitgeist. Taken from the artist’s personal imagery, the silicone-body art is heavily charged with consumerism symbolism.
Text by Paulina Ascencio Fuentes