Mireia Sallarès 

Las Muertes Chiquitas, 2012

Multiple | Mexican paper cutting (handmade); black marble-like card
50.5 x 35 cm


Little Deaths is an edition by Mireia Sallarès that employs the Mexican decorative craft of papel picado or perforated paper and is part of the extended project of the same name that the artist carried out in Mexico between 2006 and 2009.

La muerte chiquita, the petite mort, is a colloquial term for the state of catharsis and drunkenness following the climax of sexual orgasm; the extreme state that Georges Bataille defined as ‘the desire to live while ceasing to live or to die without ceasing to live’. For the project, Mireia Sallarès borrows a line from a Mexican popular song that implores ‘give me the little death before the last sleep (or dream)’. In fact, this is precisely the desire expressed by María, one of thirty women interviewed for the film around which the project as a whole revolves, when she says ‘If I could choose my death, I would like to die in an orgasm’. But in María’s narrative, as in those of the other participants, the question of orgasm serves essentially as a pretext with which to blow apart the dichotomy between the concepts of pleasure and pain, life and death; to find points of contact between the erotic and the political; and to put forward reflections on such issues as femicide, armed struggle or the socio-political reality around them.

In additional to the hard-hitting film, the project also includes a luminous sign that accompanies the artist wherever she goes, a series of photographs of the protagonists, an artist’s book that combines the documentation generated by the project with specially commissioned essays, and a pair of papel picado pieces made by the artisan Miguel Santibáñez, one of which offers us an excerpt from a text by Maite Larrauri analyzing the complexity of desire in Deleuze while the other shows the female face of death grinning at us impassively.

For this latest production, Mireia Sallarès has used a traditional Mexican craft technique that is a celebrated symbol of the country’s popular culture. On the one hand she has appropriated a decorative element with which Mexicans decorate the altars dedicated to their ancestors for the celebration of Día de Muertos, and on the other she has created a new version of La Calavera Garbancera — or as Diego Rivera renamed it, La Calavera Catrina or ‘the Elegant Skull’. This recurrent iconic figure, which invokes the age-old Lady of Death and fuses the imaginaries of woman and death in a single form, is now stripped of all her accessories in Little Deaths.

In 2009 Mireia Sallarès conceived a sound installation — which to date has not been produced — that would place in relation with one another fragile garlands of papel picado and pieces of music chosen by the women interviewed for the project. The sketch of this proposed intervention shows that it would take the form of a kind of altar, perhaps another of the artist’s collective monuments dedicated to Mexican women. As the artist has said, ‘it is in this way, in my opinion, that the papel picado pieces represent, as in a metaphor, the essence of the experiences of orgasm, the pain, death and life history of these women and of this project’.

Cèlia del Diego