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Triennale Milano
© Gianluca Di Ioia

The Science of Dreams: An Interview with Daniel Godínez Nivón

December 2 2022
For the Mexican Pavilion in the 23rd Triennale Milano International Exhibition, Daniel Godínez Nivón, an artist interested in the knowledge of indigenous peoples, presents Essay on Oneiric Flora, a work that brings imaginary plants to life with the help of technology and science. We interviewed him to learn more about his practice and its relationship with the themes of the 23rd International Exhibition.
Daniel Godínez Nivón
The relationship between art and the public is fundamental in Daniel Godínez Nivón’s work, and his project at the Triennale is a perfect example of that approach. Specifically, Essay on Oneiric Flora is the product of a workshop held with a group of girls from the Yolia Orphanage in Mexico City, with whom the artist led weekly sessions of meditation, drawing and writing, aimed at sharing their dreams of plants and natural landscapes. Entitled Oneirical Propaedeutic, the workshop took inspiration from the tradition of midwives of the Triqui indigenous community of San Juan Copala in the state of Oaxaca in south-west Mexico, for whom dreams are a source for both learning and teaching. After two years of work, the team expanded to include botanists and scientific illustrators, who created 3D models and animations of this dream flora.
 Daniel, how important is it for you to involve other people in your artistic process? It’s essential! I began developing this open approach to public involvement during my college years, leading up to the Tequiografías project (2010 – ongoing), created in collaboration with the Indigenous Migrant Assembly (AMI) of Mexico City. Through that experience, I learned to work according to the methodology and ethic of tequio, a concept of Mexican indigenous peoples referring to voluntary collective work for the common good. The tequio can take a variety of forms, such as fixing up a dilapidated building or painting the walls of a childcare center. I am particularly interested in the creativity that a practice of this type can release, and in its relational aspect. In this context, my role as an artist is to serve as a bridge or a means to reflect on the languages with which knowledge is transmitted. Getting back to the work presented in the Triennale, I sometimes think of my artistic practice as a greenhouse full of many different plants, where complex, almost alchemical, transformations take place through a process requiring suitable materials and conditions. In a favorable environment, the plants manage to live together and intermingle. I see that as a metaphor for my relationship with the public: I am open to grafts coming from outside. My ideas need more ideas, and those ideas in turn probably benefit from mine, a bit like what happens with pollen mixing in the spring, generating ever stronger, more successful natural varieties.
Reina, Essay on Oneiric Flora, 3D Modeling, 2020
Tejedora, Essay on Oneiric Flora, 3D Modeling, 2020
Tejedora, Essay on Oneiric Flora, 3D Modeling, 2020
Now that you mentioned it, let’s talk more about the project you presented in the Triennale. Essay on Oneiric Flora was made possible in part thanks to the collaboration of scientists and botanists. Tell us about how this relationship evolved.
After observing the series of drawings of plants and flowers made during the Oneirical Propaedeutic workshop, I decided to contact the Science Department of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México to get advice from biologists, botanists and scientific illustrators. My extremely propitious encounter with the biologist and scientific illustrator Aldi de Oyarzabal ended up connecting me with several professors who were immediately very curious about the project and wanted to start identifying the families to which each plant could possibly belong. That is when the concept of this work first emerged, which involves not only the scientific illustration of each plant but also imagines the development it has undergone, considering its past and future appearance, exploring the possible shape of the seeds and thickness of the leaves, analyzing the mutual relationship of plants in dreams, etc. After a lengthy period of research and scientific speculation, I collaborated with the artist Adrián Gama to make clay models of each plant and then with the multimedia artist David Camargo to create holographic projections, and finally with the musician Fernando Vigueras to do the sound design, inspired by the sound evocations of the girls from the orphanage and their descriptions of their dreams. As is obvious from this explanation, I tried to create a polyphonic, complex work that respected in equal measure the scientific approach and Mexican indigenous knowledge.
That raises an interesting question: how can the traditional vision of indigenous knowledge align with a scientific point of view?
Political, historical, social, cultural and economic conditions have always favored Western science as the dominant vision. In various villages in Mexico, however, there are still traditional obstetricians and doctors who use dreams as a learning tool in their work. Essay on Oneiric Flora encourages dialogue between viewpoints that do not normally intersect, reflecting on shared knowledge and collective ways of working. It is not a matter of one model prevailing over the other or of a conflict between science and fantasy, but of a dialogue between the two parties. I do not believe there is only one way of doing and understanding science. I’m convinced that science can be influenced by dreams and can discover themes and ideas in dreams that open up new horizons.
Essay on Oneiric Flora, Scientific Illustration by Marco Antonio Pineda. Mixed media. 2020