Law Text Culture


Teresa Margolles is a founding member of SEMEFO, Servicio Médico Forense (Forensic Medical Service), an artist’s collective in Mexico City that created artworks using forensic materials between 1990 and 1999. Since the late 1990s Margolles has created her own solo encounters around death and the mortuary, extending SEMEFO’s interest in the biographies of the dead in relation to social, political and economic practices. This article traverses Margolles’ distinctive forensic and aesthetic history to arrive at her testimonials to the dead women of Ciudad Juárez on the US/Mexico Border. Known as ‘The City of the Dead Girls’, Ciudad Juárez has more than a decade-long history thick with the unsolved murders and disappearances of women in this borderland; a situation that has received increasing international attention. As deputies to the dead, Margolles’ artworks about the dead women of Juárez resonate with ethical tensions present in other work. Yet her practice offers a curiously forensic compassion. This article explores those practices to consider the relationship between mourning, the forensics of death and posthumous biography lived in the shadow of law. To begin, the article introduces two texts, one literary, the other cinematic, to consider the concept that anchors Margolles’ work and the concerns of this article: the life of the corpse. Thereafter, in moving to discuss specific artworks, the article considers the funereality of her aesthetics and the reconstitution of crime, evidence and violence in Mexico that emerges in the wake of Margolles’ labour. Ultimately, the article is interested in these moments which remind us of death; a passage marked on and by the body, even in its absence.