While many curators harbor a fear of open space, guest curator Kate Bonansinga allows individual works the freedom to breathe in her “Art at the Border: 21st Century Responses” installation at 516 ARTS.
The nicely hung show features works by seven individual artists and several collaborative pieces.
The show dramatically begins in the atrium with Adrian Esparza’s “Vitrina de Colonias, 2013” an 18- by 16-foot construction symbolizing an ad hoc neighborhood where workers live near the USA/Mexican border. The large construction represents the haphazard street layout which is the product of spontaneous construction to fill basic needs.
The asymmetrical grid is wrapped with colorful strands of yarn pulled from a serape that hangs next to the grid. Though the Mexican serape has a proud history that had its beginnings in Spanish Colonial days on the looms in Saltillo, Mexico, Esparza has selected a cheap knockoff item made in China from synthetic wool.
The entire construction, despite its elegant craftsmanship, is a searing commentary on the human and cultural exploitation that is a sad part of life at the border.
A dozen years ago Margarita Cabrera began looking into the maquiladora assembly plants created by the NAFTA trade agreement signed in 1994. The pact allowed U.S.-based multinational corporations free access to the cheap labor pool available in Juarez.
Several soft sculptures by Cabrera were made from discarded border patrol uniforms and are interesting, but her ceramic “John Deere Tractor Model #790 (#1), 2007” is awe inspiring.
The life-size tractor is constructed with small pieces of fired clay depicting the machine itself as well as birds, butterflies and flowers that cover the tractor.
The entire piece questions the validity of the predatory territoriality of political and economic boundaries. The monarch butterfly does not check in with customs on its many thousand mile annual migration. Birds fly wherever they please without FAA approval.
Cabrera seems to be asking why the Mexican migrant workers who end up driving the tractors manufactured in Mexico to harvest America’s bountiful crops need to be treated differently than the border transcendent birds, butterflies and bee-borne flower pollen.
Marcos Ramirez ERRE is a cinematographer and actor who produced “The Body of Crime,” a short video in which he plays the part of victim, perpetrator and police officer. The video documents the drug cartel killing of an enemy and the police investigation.
On the floor in front of the screen are crime-scene markers next to the spent bullet shells. The walls are embellished with symbols of violence and an outline of the U.S./Mexican borderline.
By playing all three leading roles Ramirez ERRE is saying we all share responsibility for and are infected by criminal behavior.
The upstairs galleries are filled with installations including an electric-fan-activated model of a proposed 65-foot-tall vertical wind turbine titled “Independent Truck” that was supposed to be installed at the border. The original project was rejected by the U.S. General Services Administration but an alternative design was approved.
The artistic duo of Steve Badgett and Matt Lynch working under the acronym of SIMPARCH hoped to draw attention to the economic interdependence of the United States and Mexico.
There are wonderful pieces throughout the galleries too numerous and complex to mention. They include a functioning Tesla coil, synthetic music makers, elegant drawings and a look at the world of tomorrow.
The show is complemented by Bonansinga’s book “Curating At The Edge” with a foreword by critic Lucy R. Lippard.
The overall exhibition is filled with finely crafted and intelligently conceived works that make it well worth a lingering visit.