Untitled (Brute Force)
Safe, mathematical calculation,
surveillance cameras, cash
In order to pique the curiosity of the common citizen, Irizar placed a safe in a public space in Mexico City, inscribing a mathematical equation on the surface the solution being the combination to open the safe. The action combined the symbolic value of a specialized language, one marked by an aura of intellectual superiority associated with highly educated classes, with an object designed to be impenetrable, its presence implying the safekeeping of a valuable asset.
No other information about the safe was provided on-site, so uncertainty acted as an added incentive to find out its contents. The safe was monitored 24 hours a day by a closed circuit surveillance system, transmitted in real time at the exhibition space. A passerby’s desires were thus confronted with two possibilities: engaging in intellectual effort or taking the contents of the safe by force.
Fritzia Irizar has a special interest in how economic structures determine individuals. She addresses the sentimental relationship people establish with money, the behaviors produced by acts of economic exchange, and the way in which such acts configure particular subjectivities. Untitled (Brute Force) is an experiment based on this premise. In 2010, during the weeklong contemporary art fair Zona Maco in Mexico City, Irizar deposited a safe, containing 30,000 pesos in cash, in a public space. The safe was welded to a planter in front of a jewelry store on Presidente Masaryk Avenue in the Polanco neighborhood. Engraved on its surface was a math- ematical equation; its solution was the combination that would open the safe. The knowledge and effort required to solve the equation would be rewarded by the money inside. The experiment was circulated among the public through the gallery’s website, social media, and within the fair itself.
To obtain the equation, the artist approached a mathematician at the Universidad Autónoma de Sinaloa (Autonomous University of Sinaloa). On multiple occasions, Irizar has shown interest in how other disciplines approach the world and how different languages are configured to name it. For the artist, this movement among disciplines means an attempt to truly understand others.
The fact that Irizar decided to locate the safe in a public space, yet outside a jewelry store in one of the city’s richest neighborhoods, points to the frictions at work for her in the concepts of public and private with respect to the configuration of emotional realities. Thus, she chose to tackle this matter through the conceptual lens of surveillance and legitimacy, both embodied by another of the project’s key elements: a camera in front of the safe, a kind of “eye” allowing civil society to watch what happened on a website. In the public/private terrain constituted by the Internet, the very same participating society could verify the “legality” of the project.
The title Irizar selected for the piece is also symptomatic: she wants to test the range of human behavior that arises when a reward is involved a kind of battle between reason and brutality, as she calls it and presupposes that individuals will be inclined to rob or force open the safe. Thus, the title contains the anticipation of a particular result.
A group of young people and an adult couple repeatedly visited the location of the safe. The couple solved the equation a day before the experiment ended, opened the box, took the money, and closed it again. The next day, the safe had disappeared; the young people had decided to seize it and demand a ransom for its return, unaware that it was already empty. Along with ex- pressing frustration at not being able to solve the equation, then, people also began to question the veracity of the project itself.
Ultimately, the “capture” that concluded the piece was the revelatory device for what Irizar wanted to explore: the configuration of emotions in a specific society was revealed through its relationship with money and the concepts of “crime,” “legality,” “effort,” “work,” and “power” that the group of young people had put into practice.