When much of a railway intended to connect Mexico City to the Atlantic Ocean was abandoned in 1995, communities were stranded and tracks were left to decay. From 2010 to 2012, Mexican artists and brothers Ivan Puig and Andrés Padilla Domene set out to ride those nearly 9,000 kilometers of rails in a retro-future exploratory vehicle called the SEFT-1.
SEFT-1 Abandoned Railways Exploration Probe – Modern Ruins 1:220, presented by the Arts Catalyst at Furtherfield Gallery, opens in London this Friday, with artifacts from the project along with the SEFT-1 itself. The silver vehicle looks not unlike a rail-ready version of Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion Car, a small invader on the long-empty tracks in which Puig and Domene lived and slept while venturing into the unknown.
Their journey also took them to abandoned passenger railways in Ecuador, collecting interviews with locals along the way (the whole trek is documented online). Christening themselves “Los Ferronautas,” they modeled the SEFT-1 after a mid-20th-century vision of a spaceship and positioned themselves as explorers of this isolated world.
With just a guitar and her voice, Vargas performed in a red poncho and pants at a time when Mexican women didn’t wear pants. She sang with arms open wide like a priest celebrating Mass, modeling her singing on the women of the Mexican revolution. “A mexicana is a very strong woman,” Vargas said, “Starting with la Adelita, la Valentina — mujeres muy mujeres.” Chavela Vargas belonged to this category of women-very-much women.
Even when Vargas was young and her voice still as transparent as mezcal, she danced with her lyrics tacuachito-style, cheek to cheek, pounded them on the bar, made them jump like dice, spat and hissed and purred like the woman jaguar she claimed to be and finished with a volley that entered the heart like a round of bullets from the pistol she stashed in her belt.
“She was chile verde,” remembers Elena Poniatowska, the grande dame of Mexican letters.
Vargas lived and sang a lo macho. She sang love songs written for men to sing without changing the pronouns.
Read it in full here, and check a performance of the song for which she’s probably best known, Macorina, below.