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Téllez, Javierlocked

(b Valencia, Carabobo, Feb 22, 1969).
  • Miguel Rojas Sotelo

Venezuelan film maker, active also in the USA. Téllez used allegory, mental health, perversion, confinement, voyeurism, film history, and the ethics of representation as components for his work. By combining documentary footage with fictionalized narratives, Téllez questioned definitions of normality and pathology. The son of a psychologist, many of his works are created in collaboration with patients of mental illness. Téllez studied at Arturo Michelena School of Arts (1984–6), the Film and TV School at University of Caracas (1987), P.S.1 International Studio Program, New York (1993), Gasworks Studio Program, London (1999), and the Whitney Independent Study Program, New York (1997). In 1999 he received a Guggenheim Fellowship.

Téllez’s works draw attention to stigmas around the mentally ill in Mexico and questions societal definitions of insanity and disability. In Bedlam (2000), visitors sat inside a large wooden bird house to watch a film showing restraint techniques used at the Bethlem Royal Hospital in London. One Flew Over the Void (Bala Perdida) (2005) was a film and performance produced for inSite_05 (San Diego–Tijuana) where patients from Mexicali’s CESAM mental health centre walked in protest against general views on mental illness. Patients wearing animal masks are singled out from members of the general public in a procession that ends when human cannonball David Smith is shot over the Mexico–USA border. Letter on the Blind for the Use of Those Who See (2007) was a film inspired by an Indian fable in which six blind men each touch a different part of an elephant and disagree about what it looks like.

Some of Téllez’s other works include Caligari and the Sleepwalker (2008), an installation and film on hypnosis and visual and auditory hallucinations produced for the exhibition Rational/Irrational, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Cologne and The Passion of Joan d’Arc (2008), produced in collaboration with female patients of the Rozelle Mental Hospital, which focused on the architecture of control and illusory contemplation for the 16th Sydney Biennial. Durer’s Rhinoceros (2010) was a film shot inside a former prison for the criminally insane in Lisbon, where psychiatric patients enacted fictional scenarios about the prison’s past, while a preserved rhinoceros was wheeled around. The Conquest of Mexico (2013), a film inspired by Antonin Artaud’s trip to Mexico (1936), was created in collaboration with outpatients of the Fray Bernardino Psychiatric Hospital, Mexico City. In his hallucinogenic works, which blur the distinctions between documentary and fiction, creativity and insanity, Téllez questioned viewers’ perceptions of mental illness and the mentally and physically handicapped, just as the role of subject and collaborator blended for his films’ participants.

His work can be found at the Cisneros Collection, New York and Caracas; Fundación Noa Noa, Caracas; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Castilla y León, León; Tate Modern, London; Nouveau Musée National de Monaco; Princeton University Art Museum; and Daros Latinamerica Collection, Zurich.


  • H. Cotter: ‘ART IN REVIEW: Javier Téllez—“Alpha 60 (The Mind-Body Problem)”’, NY Times (18 Oct 2002)
  • L. Wei: ‘Report from Sydney, South by Southeast’, A. America, vol.11 (Dec 2004), pp. 63–5
  • R. Olivares: 100 Latin American Artists (Madrid, 2007), pp. 410–13, 452
  • T. Dalton: ‘Javier Téllez’, Whitney Biennial 2008, ed. H. Huldich and S. M. Momin (New Haven and London, 2008), pp. 238–9.
  • A.-K. Auel: ‘Javier Téllez, 41/2 und Mind the Gap’, Kunst-Bulletin (June 2009), pp. 70–71
  • C. Oswald: ‘Die verrrückten Welten des Javier Téllez’, Tages-Anzeiger (13 May 2009), p. 4
  • S. Stern: ‘Javier Téllez, Invisible populations; animals, sight, translation and interpretation’, Frieze, vol.116 (June–Aug 2009), pp. 210–11
  • P. Reyes: ‘Javier Téllez by Pedro Reyes’, BOMB Magazine, vol.110 (March 2010), pp. 80–87
  • A. Rosenmeyer: ‘Javier Tellez, Zurich, at Peter Kilchmann’, A. America (5 April 2012)
  • Parallelwelt Zirkus (exh. cat. by V. Konrad and others, Vienna, Ksthalle, 2012), pp. 22–42, 264–7
  • T. Flores: ‘Javier Téllez’, ArtNexus, vol.98 (Sept–Nov 2015), pp. 50–55
  • Jing Cao: ‘In Defense of Play: Javier Téllez’s Games Are Forbidden in the Labyrinth, or How Do You Play Chess’, Art Practical (24 March 2015)