No Distance Is More Awesome
8/5/2007 - 9/28/2007
|No Distance Is More Awesome examines immigration issues from the perspective of 19 contemporary Latino artists. Participating artists include: Ana Adarve, Enrique Chagoya, Liz Cohen, Jamex + Einar de la Torre, Sergio De La Torre, Andy Diaz-Hope, Francisco Dominguez, Ana T. Fernandez, Dolissa Medina, Jaime Mendoza, Julio Cesar Morales, Camilo Ontiveros, Dulce Pinzon, Alex Rivera, Favianna Rodriguez, Luz Maria Sanchez, and Shannon Spanhake. Curated by Carolina Ponce de Leon. |
The globe shrinks for those who own it; for the displaced or dispossessed, the migrant or refugee, no distance is more awesome than the few feet across borders or frontiers. —Homi K. Bhabha
In No Distance is More Awesome, nineteen contemporary artists from north and south of the U.S./Mexico border look at issues related to immigration from critical perspectives that counter those reflected in the media and public discourse.
Poverty, social inequity, and civil wars are all local reasons that explain the massive migrations from south of the U.S./Mexico border. However, these causes often themselves due to the economic imbalances generated by global free market economies and the impact these have on the more disadvantaged sectors of society. NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement between the U.S., Mexico and Canada, in particular, has been blamed for the loss of hundreds of thousands of agricultural jobs in Mexico, a root cause for the mass relocation of campesinos both to the maquiladoras (assembly plants) that stretch along the U.S. /Mexico border as well as across the border to el norte.
In the U.S., the off-shoring of manufacturing jobs is at the core of the tensions between advocates on both sides of the immigration issue: laid off manufacture workers are victims of the same free trade agreements that prompt immigration. Rather than protesting against the Government’s complicity with corporations that depend on cheap labor to boost their bottom line, anti-immigration proponents choose instead to demonize the border-crosser.
In the wake of the failed immigration reform bill in Congress, immigrants are facing harsher realities. Undocumented migrant workers are faced with human and labor rights abuse: poverty-level wages, raids at the workplace, deportation, and hate crimes. States and municipalities are enforcing extreme measures that further criminalize their labor. With the backdrop of the “war on terror,” right-wing politicians, radio talk show hosts and vigilante groups, such as the Minutemen Project, are instigating the rising tide of anti-immigrant sentiment across the country. This systematic vilification is ever more tragic in the light of the steady increase of immigrants who die crossing, in numbers that reach the several hundred each year.
The quote, “The globe shrinks for those who own it; for the displaced or dispossessed, the migrant or refugee, no distance is more awesome than the few feet across borders or frontiers,” by Homi K. Bhabha that inspired the exhibition title, evokes the daunting experience of immigration at the personal price of displacement, cultural loss, and physical and spiritual risk. Referring both to this individual dimension and to the larger framework of globalization, labor, border politics and the culture of fear, No Distance Is More Awesome offers a wide range of interpretations from the perspective of contemporary Latino artists. Featuring artworks that vary from the direct approach of documentary and activist strategies to the suggestive means of conceptually driven projects, the exhibition seeks to bring critical nuances and texture to the current discussion on immigration.
Carolina Ponce de León
ABOUT THE ARTWORKS
Detection 1, 2005
Laminated Digital Photography on aluminum
Soaking 2, 2005
Laminated Digital Photography
Every city is an organic system where inhabitants and physical space are interdependent yet both determine and shape the other’s identity. Observing and participating in the dynamics of this system led me to the examination of certain urban and social phenomena found in human interactions mediated by indifference, fear and silence.
The Pastoral or Arcadian State:
Illegal Alien’s Guide to Greater America, 2006
The Pastoral is a pastiche based on an Albert Bierstadt painting of the American West. In this commentary on current immigration issues, Chagoya populates the scene with a diverse mix of characters appropriated from various sources.
Body Work, 2002-2007
Digital print and video
Body Work is a metaphor about migration and cultural transformation. The series encompasses works in video and photography that document the transformation of a Trabant —an inexpensive, utilitarian car widely used in East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall— into a flashy, customized Chevrolet El Camino like the ones showcased on the low-rider car show circuit. Simultaneously, Cohen has also followed a physical training program to take on the persona of a bikini model posing with the car. The transformative process of both of the car and the model provokes questions about the nature of cultural adaptation.
The Trabant and the El Camino were both born of culturally specific utopian ideas. The Trabant was meant to be practical and inexpensive, while the El Camino was designed to have the power and comfort of a muscle car. The Trabant’s migration to the U.S. and its transformation to an El Camino implies adopting a different configuration of values goals and ultimately of identity, even though the Trabant will never totally become a stock El Camino.
JAMEX & EINAR DE LA TORRE
Soy Beaner (Sexto Sol series), 2007
Video, glass, mixed media
Soy Beaner transforms the traditional Aztec calendar into a Chino/Chicano hybrid that combines sculptural glass pieces made by the artists, dollar store curios made in China, and a video portraying a “border Buddha”. Inspired by the mass production of traditional Mexican arts and crafts in China, the calendar parodies the commodification of culture to reveal the ironies and loss of authenticity in the global age.
SERGIO DE LA TORRE
Paisajes is a series of black and white photographs of landscapes composed of assembly plants (“maquiladoras”) located in the city of Tijuana. With the aid of the computer, the photographs have been altered: some of the houses have been erased, as well as windows, doors and fences to emphasize the assembly plants’ sculptural/monumental aspect and to mimic the language used by those who design and assemble the Industrial Parks.
Tijuana expands 2 acres per day, accommodating nearly 50 Industrial Parks and more than 900 assembly plants in which filters, batteries, cassettes, flybacks, yugos, oxygen masks, clothes, toys, and keyboards are assembled. Most of them are transnational. The Industrial Parks are now also residential zones. Nevertheless, the mechanisms used in the construction of the Industrial Parks deny human presence in these areas. Bulldozers, caterpillars and other types of heavy machinery settle in the “colonias” shaping hills and valleys. The result is a series of monolithic buildings at the top of the hills. More than just buildings they look like monuments, imposing a memory to a city that has none.
Everybody Is Somebody's Terrorist is a series of hand knit balaclavas representing a variety of socio, economic, or political groups that someone might consider terrorist. Each mask is the subject of a series of photo essays and videos that explores our relationship to that group and the ideologies it represents as well as our comfort level with extremity of the label of terrorist.
BALACLAVAS (SKI MASKS)
• American Tourist
• Inner City Youth
• Summer Of Love
• Financial District
(All balaclavas are mélange wool, limited edition of 3, unless otherwise indicated)
Financial District Infiltration
Late Night Carnaval Clown
Story of the Gideon Bible
LA Tourist Tube
Carnaval Clown with Balloons
Fatehpur Sikri Tourist
(All photos are fuji color crystal archive print, acrylic, edition of 20 total)
Minutemen Project rally in Sacramento protesting Presidente Vicente Fox’s visit to the state capitol.
Silver Gelatin Print, 2006
Protest at the SF Mexican Consulate on behalf of Brad Will, an American journalist and activist who was shot while documenting clashes between activists and government agents in Oaxaca.
Silver Gelatin Print, 2006
Border Patrol Station surveillance room in Douglas, AZ at the U.S./Mexico border.
Silver Gelatin Print, 2006
The Campo memorial in Campo, CA.
Silver Gelatin Print, 2006
Hunger strike for immigrant rights (domestic workers), Tucson, AZ.
Silver Gelatin Print, 2006
Migrant death marker, Arivaca, AZ.
Silver Gelatin Print, 2006
U.S./Mexico border and Pacific Ocean convergence
Silver Gelatin Print
Border fence Tijuana/San Diego.
Silver Gelatin Print
ANA TERESA FERNANDEZ
Untitled (Performance Document), 2007
Untitled (Performance Document), 2006
Fernandez’s paintings are based on photographs of performance rituals where she personally takes on the task of cleaning the fence along the Tijuana/San Diego border. Her quasi-surreal imagery explores a complex negotiation of boundaries that are simultaneously related to gender roles, female sexuality, labor, and North/South relations. The biblical washing of the crosses suspended on the fence to symbolize the death of undocumented border-crossers, strangely evokes the proliferation of human rights abuses in maquiladoras (assembly plants) along the U.S.-Mexico border. Since the nineties, over 400 young women, mostly maquila workers have been murdered, raped, and mutilated; some 400 have disappeared, and others have been tortured. These deaths symbolize the dark side of the social system, which U.S. corporations and the U.S. and Mexican government have created on the common border.
19: Victoria, Texas, 2006
Video, 4 min.
This experimental short film is based on a case of human smuggling that left 19 undocumented immigrants dead —the highest number of deaths in a smuggling operation in U.S. history— after being packed in a sweltering truck trailer. Using rich sound design and abstracted news footage, this award-winning four-minute short by San Francisco filmmaker Dolissa Medina is a visceral journey into the dark, claustrophobic experience of a human tragedy.
La Sirenita Café, 2007
Chicago artist Jaime Mendoza’s minimal installation incorporates a recurring icon that represents a family of border crossers, traditionally used on highway caution signs along the US-Mexico border. Establishing a parallel between gentrification and immigration, Mendoza plays with this highly charged icon to create a graphic design motif both for the wallpaper and coffee. Sirenita Café satirizes the influx of corporate coffee houses into the urban landscape that goes hand in hand with the eviction of immigrant and low-income communities.
JULIO CESAR MORALES
Undocumented Interventions 3 and 7, 2005
Digital light jet print on watercolor paper
Undocumented Interventions explores the cultural phenomena of human trafficking documented through the failure of smuggling attempts, both from the artist’s memory of growing up in the Tijuana/San Diego area and actual photographs from the U.S. Customs.
CAMILO ONTIVEROS + SHANNON SPANHAKE
The Ear of the Pollo, 2006
The Ear of the Pollo (Family Portrait), 2007
The Ear of the Pollo is a video and photo documentary produced during a Minutemen Project rally in Naco, Arizona. Spanhake and Ontiveros wired two chickens with audio transmitters then sent them off to cross the Mexico-Arizona border while transmitting the sounds and conversations of the Minuteman Project to a live radio broadcast in Tijuana. Pollo (chicken) is a commonly used term that refers to undocumented immigrants.
The Real Story of the Superheroes, (2004-2007)
• Batman 2, 2005
• Spiderman, 2007
• Catwoman, 2005
• Elasticman, 2005
• Flash, 2004
The Real Story of the Superheroes consists of color photographs of Mexican immigrants dressed in the costumes of popular American and Mexican superheroes. Each photo pictures the worker/superhero in their work environment, and is accompanied by a short text including the worker’s name, their hometown in Mexico, the number of years they have been working in New York, and the amount of money they send to Mexico each week. The series pays homage to the brave and determined men and women that somehow manage, without the help of any supernatural power, to withstand extreme conditions of labor in order to help their families and communities survive and prosper.
• Farouq, 2002-2003
• Akira, 2002-2003
• Richi, 2002-2003
Multiracialportrays people of mixed ethnic origin in front of primary color backgrounds. The images bring to mind two important aspects of immigration. One, its global nature —mass migrations are reshaping demographics world-wide, and two, love —an important force behind many stories of migration— and its capacity to erase all borders, one couple at a time.
The images challenge the concept of race by highlighting the disparity between the stark natural boundaries between the primary colors, and the ambiguous and artificial, yet commonly accepted boundaries between the different races.
Love on the Line, 2002
Video (2:11 min.)
Over the past ten years Rivera has been making work that illuminates two massive and parallel realities: the globalization of information through the internet, and the globalization of families, and communities, through mass migration. Alex Rivera’s “The Borders Trilogy: Love on the Line” shows the surreal elements of political realities such as the family picnics across the San Diego/Tijuana border, where divided families spend a Sunday afternoon to talk, eat and exchange a hug or a kiss, if even through a small space between the fence bars.
Esperando la Señal
Favianna was schooled in East Oakland by Chicano political poster artists at a very young age. Her posters support national and international grassroots struggles, and tell a history of social justice through graphics. Inspired and informed by the stylistic and radical impact of Chicano painters and printmakers, Favianna’s work speaks to the contemporary urban barrios, rebelling against racism, homophobia, sexism and corporate irresponsibility.
LUZ MARIA SANCHEZ
Luz María Sánchez’s sound work 2487 was originally commissioned by Artpace San Antonio as part of the International Artist-in-Residence program New Works: 06.2, curated by Yuko Hasegawa, Chief Curator, Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, Japan. 2487 was presented as part of Sánchez’s solo exhibition diaspora I / II, July 6 – September 10, 2006.
Sources: Coalición de Derechos Humanos/Alianza Indígena Sin Fronteras; Stop Border Deaths Now! A project of the Border Working Group, Religious Task Force on Central America and Mexico (WTFCAM); How Many More? Stop Gatekeeper! The California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation’s Border Project; Centro de Documentación del Centro de Estudios Fronterizos y de Promoción de los Derechos Humanos A. C. (CEFPRODHAC); Mexican and US newspapers.