This article was first published in Artheorica Magazine.
Felipe Ehrenberg was born in Mexico City in 1943. He started his artistic training early, under the mentorship of Mathias Goeritz and José Chavez Morado. In 1960, after the Tlatelolco massacre, he fled to England together with his first wife, the artist, Martha Hellion and their two children, and was in exile.
While in England, together with Martha, David Mayor, and Chris Welch, Ehrenberg founded Beau Geste Press (BGP), which was dedicated to presenting visual poetry and conceptual and neodada art. In 1968, he founded the Polygonal Workshop (1968) with Richard Kriesche, Daniel Cazes, Rodolfo Alcaraz, and Mick Gibbs, which snubbed the 7th Paris Biennale. In 1974, back in Mexico, he cofounded Proceso Pentágono, part of what is now known as the Group Movement. He worked with the Tepito Arte Acá collective and taught at the Universidad Veracruzana. In 1979, he founded the H2O Talleres de Comunicación collective, where he taught independent publishing and mural art.
Ehrenberg’s rebellious and irreverent artistic trajectory is of quite varied, too, for he experimented with various techniques, from mail art and visual poetry to performance, fanzines, graphic work, and conceptual art. In addition, he served as Mexico’s cultural attaché in São Paulo from 2001 to 2006, a position he was dismissed from for having starred in the critically acclaimed Beto Brant’s film Crime Delicado (Delicate Crime). Ehrenberg has received various awards, including the Femirama Prize (1968), the Perpetua Prize and Guggenheim and Fulbright fellowships, among others.
Ehrenberg, who was a member of the Fluxus movement, realized some fantastic pieces, including his famous A Date with Fate at the Tate, where he arrived at the Tate Gallery in London with his head covered with a hood, claiming himself as an artwork. Ehrenberg recorded all the conversation he had with the museum guard (who did not let him enter) and that was his piece. The recording was later acquired to be incorporated in the museum’s collection. I do not think there was even one episode in Ehrenberg’s life where art was not the crank wheel of his existence… In addition, he had that powerful gift of becoming your best friend just moments after meeting you. Felipe was an inexhaustible source of knowledge, an extraordinary draftsman, a performer, a writer, a great walker, a rebel, a provocateur… and an untiring discoverer of the new or better said, a neologist as his friend Fernando del Paso defined him. Felipe began his journey to eternity this past 15th of May in Morelos (México) due to a heart attack. Ehrenberg’s rebellious and irreverent trajectory explores, in his own nomadic methodology, one of the subjects he liked must: the enjoyable skulls, full of life and humour. Indeed, one of the most important themes in his production was death, especially the mixing and adaptation of Mexican indigenous traditions with Christianity. Ehrenberg’s career redefines and claims the social role of art through the adoption of innovative and experimental modes, both conceptually and technically, and his works were of the greatest variety. For instance, once he cut himself on the chest and then imprinted his blood on a roll of paper which had the form of bird footprints. Yet again, when he placed a piece of grey duct tape on a wall, the artwork was the frame’s shape itself, as created with the tape. His commitment to resistance and to questioning any imposed concept is present in the entirety of his life-long oeuvre. All his works evoke an attitude of a constant critical examination of society, which Ehrenberg crossed not only through analysis, but also physically, using urban space as a political gathering place. Art for Felipe was only an excuse, an excuse to live… an excuse to love…