Dreams Under Border Skies at Rubin Center

I thought the day the DACA program was rescinded would be a good day to visit Erika Harrsch’s installation Under the Same Sky..We Dream at the Rubin Center.
Before I talk about the show, I want to talk about the flood. No, not that flood, but the one that hit the Rubin Center here in El Paso. It seems the intense rain last Friday completely flooded the first floor of the center. There had been problems during rains before, but this was so bad that everything had to be ripped up and torn out from the small auditorium to the offices. The first floor currently looks like a construction site. Fortunately the main gallery space upstairs was untouched, and the indomitable director Kerry Doyle is currently running her empire from a card table set up in the small corridor between the reception desk and the back room. Here’s hoping that all get repaired soon.
As I said the upstairs gallery is fine and that means one can certainly explore the current exhibions. Erika Harrsch is based in New York, but she has spent a fair amount of time on the border and her work often concerns immigration and border issues. A year or so ago, she set up a huge spinning wheel here in which participants could “win”a North American passport”” which presumably would give one the right to freely cross all borders in North America. Revolutionary concept. Shengen convention anyone?
Here she has done something quite moving.
Hanging from the ceiling and completely stretching from one side of the gallery to the other is a cutout of the US-Mexico border completely filled with a video composed of 35,000 photographs of the sky over the Juarez-El Paso border. This video consisting mainly of shifting cluds is projected on both sides of the cutout. Ducking through this low hanging cutout (well, some probably have to duck, others of us can just fit beneath)brings one immediately to a darkened space filled with the same mats and blankets used in ICE detention centers. On each mat is a “Dreambook” illuminated by an attached reading light, containing the words of the “Dream Act.” From stereo speakers comes the magical voice of Mexican singer Magos Herrera singing those same words and thereby transforming the pure legalize into something truly wonderful. I was vaguely reminded of the practice of singing the words of the Torah, which also transforms what are, at times, purely prosaic words and some fundamental laws into something somehow much greater.
One is encouraged,to sit on the mat, read the book, listen to the words being sung and wafting over the room and then looking up at the shifting clouds projected above and ponder, reflect and perhaps to dream.
This is a deceptively simple, and perhaps precisely because of the simplicity powerfully moving work.
The installation is accompanied by a collection of interviews with various dreamers made by the Santa Fe Dreamers Project. Around the corner from Harrsch’s installation photographers Sylvia Johnson and Kerry Scherck show portaits of dreamers and a short interview with each one in which they discuss their life and hopes and dreams.
The two parts of the show combine perfectly into a profound reflection on an extremely relevant and important issue.
Erika Harrsch and some of the “dreamers”will be holding a panel discussion on September 28 at the show’s closing. It is scheduled for 6 pm, but check with the center for more details. -david sokolec

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Exceptional African American prints at EPMA

San Antonio art collectors Harmon and Harriet Kelly have put together an extremely impressive collection of African-American art. If they had collected nothing more than the works on view at the El Paso Museum of Art, they would have still made an impressive accomplishment. These works on paper  can be viewed in any number of ways, all of them satisfying.
The exhibit ranges from the late 1800’s to 2002 and does a pretty good job of providing a cross-section of important artists during that time. Most of these artists studied at prestigious art schools in the US and abroad, and many travelled extensively . One question raised by the exhibit is why aren’t these artists better known?
The early works by artists like Grafton Tyler Brown (1841-1918) who spent most of his life in Canada  or Lois Maillou Jones (1905-1998) or Henry Ossawa Tanner(1859-1937) who studied with Thomas Eakins at the Pennsylvania Academy and then went on to spend most of his life in France generally focus on purely aesthetic concerns whether a shipwreck off the coast of Brittany or a ranch in western Canada. These are   highly skilled and well trained artists.
There is a shift a bit later with the rise of the Harlem Renaissance and with a general trend by many artists to focus on the society and social conditions around them. Although white artists like George Bellows and photographers like Walker Evans or Dorothea Lange have long been much better known, the skill and perception of an artist like Aaron Douglas (1899-1979) known as the Dean of the Harlem Renaissance among others makes us want to see more.
Although Europe was often a favorite place for these artists to live and study, a few also went to Mexico. Elizabeth Catlett (1915-2012) and Hale Aspacio Woodruff  (1900-1980) were among those who found inspiration in that country. Woodruff in fact  worked with Diego Rivera on murals.
The newer pieces in the show are generally far more overtly political, some using humor others straight-forward.
The Kelleys apparently started collecting this art when they saw a show and were somewhat embarrassed they were not very familiar with many of the artists. Their gain is also our gain in this excellent exhibition which can be seen purely from the point  of view of aesthetics as there are a wide variety of printing techniques employed and a wide variety of artistic skill at play, or  it can be seen as a socially relevant show documenting African -American life and concerns over a century or it can be seen as at long last bringing to view some extremely talented artists who are not nearly as well known as they should be at least to much of the general public. This show helps to rectify that situation.
It is free and on view until April 16.-david sokolec

 

 

 

 

Reimagining the City

The informative (Re)imaginando el Ciudad desde el borde (reimagining the city from the edge) conference last week here in Juarez gave us a chance to learn about the intensive work so many artists, writers, architects and culture workers were doing to actively engage the community in an attempt to reconnect us all with the strength and beauty found here in the city whether that meant through the strength of its people, or through the beauty of some of its old buildings or through preserving its literary history.

In some cases that specifically means going to the oldest colonia in Juarez and working with the local residents to teach them about the value of the adobe homes which are still (barely) standing, as well as giving workshops on helping kids make their own adobe. It’s interesting how highly valued adobe homes are in say Sante Fe, NM and how little valued they seem to be here. In other cases it means making a literary cartography of the city and taking a large group of us on a tour of sites used in the work of well-known authors as well as making sure their wroks are preserved. Sometimes it means holding weekly seminars on skills such as phtography where people can exchange info and learn techniques which can then be used in documenting daily life in ever-changing Juarez, and above qall it means honoring and celebrating all of the diverse groups of people who live here.

This was the second year of the conference and perhaps it should better be called (Re)descubriendo el ciudad… (Rediscovering the city) because in many ways it was as much about discovering what has been here all along as it was about reinventing the city, but in either case it was a wonderful event and congratulations are due the Coordinacion de Artes Visual de UACJ and coordinators like Brenda Ceniceros and everyone else who worked so hard to make this happen.-david sokolec

Active arts week on the border

This is a busy week for arts and cultural enthusiasts on both sides of the border. This Wednesday begins a 3 day event in Juarez called 2ndo encuentro(re) imaginando la ciudad desde el borde. This amazing event brings together artists, architects, writers, photographers etc to make presentations and interchange ideas on reimagining the city, and on the events and activities they are currently providing. There are a large number of individuals who tirelessly work to help the city and those of us who live in it, and this is a great opportunity to become acquainted with some of them. This is the second year for this event which is sponsored by coordinacion artes visual UACJ and organized by my frind Brenda Ceniceros and others. Info and schedule can be found on their facebook page.

Thursday night in El Paso brings a night of prints.

Christian Casteneda who has been the featured artist at Proyecto Impala, and therefore been touring various locations and schools in Juarez to show his work, will be holding a print demonstration sponsored by Proper print shop at 601 N. Oregon. (note the address; this is in the new Artspace lofts building). The event is at 7 pm.

Finally, but certainly not least, there is the opening of an exhibition of prints at the Purple pop-up gallery. These have been curated by the tireless Karl Whittaker, who has selected new prints from some of the artists he recently showed a the El Paso Museum of Art as well as some additional artists working in Mexico. -david sokolec

Plans for a Nuevo Siglo

The folks at Los Paisanos de la Chamizal have an ambitious plan for a new huge Hispanic themed festival designed to bring artists and performers from all over the world as well as the inclusion of local talent in what sounds like a wonderful proposition. They have the support of the City and County of El Paso as well as the National Park Service and are looking for local talent, businesses and people in general to join in. Their website is  at Nuevo Siglo-elpaso.org.

I have to say that one of the things I found exciting when I moved here was the Siglo de Oro theater festival at the Chamizal. Under the leadership of the indefatigable Virginia Ness, theater groups and academics from all over the world came to both sides of the border to perform widely varying interpretations of plays from the Golden Age of Spain. I could never figure out why the city and various arts organizations didn’t use this as an opportunity to join hands and create a citywide, or binational wide, festival which would attract theatergoers from all over a la Spoleto festival in Charleston or the Santa Fe Opera. At last there  seems to be a recognition that a festival bringing together local and national talent to the region would be an enormous boost for the region.I’m not sure the new plan is designed to include the Siglo de Oro festival, which has unfortunately been allowed to dwindle to a pale shadow of its former self, or if , as it appears to be, an entirely new type of festival. In either case, it sounds wonderful and good luck to them.-david sokolec

Berlin Juarez- Gut Fiesta

Before too much time elapses, I wanted to just say what a great opportunity we had last week to have an exchange with the team of artists from Project Space Festival Berlin. Thanks to Gabriela Duran Barraza who arranged this and to Nora Mayr, Stine Marie Jacobsen and others who made the trip over here.
This was not about object oriented art, but rather about active exchanges between participants, and learning about different ways that interchange was happening in Germany. It was also about having a party and the lucha libre at the Bazaar de la Monumento or the Hard Pop concert provided a huge amount of fun.
Stine talked about her work with at-risk teens as well as with immigrants. She does something really interesting. They take specific laws and court cases in which they demystify the language and then she has the teens write their own law and give their opinions on how a court case should have been decided. Both of these things helps give them a handle on what the law is really saying in the midst of all the legalise and gives them an opportunity to own it in the sense that once they understand what the law is really saying, they can have a better judgementof it and feel more comfortable discussing it.
Nora also showed a wonderful presentation of the widely varied spaces in Berlin which have been converted to use for art presentation-the spaces often informing the art being shown.
I believe there was also ample interchanges between students here in Juarez and the team from Berlin. This was simply a great time for everyone, and a reminder of something of which I think many people north of the border are unaware, and that is that there really is a huge amount of exchange between artists here in Juarez and artists from various European countries as well as those from South America and it gives everyone a much broader perspective. -david sokolec

Willkommen Project Space Festival Berlin

One of the more exciting events happening this week is the interchange between  artists from Berlin and Juarez in Project Space Festival Juarez, an expansion of Project Space Festival Berlin.
The original idea for Space Festival Berlin was to introduce people to some of the independent art spaces opened in Berlin and thus to start a conversation and an interest in what was going on in that fiercely independent art scene. We are fortunate in having them come to Juarez and to have what should be an amazing interchange between some of our artists here and  artists from there.
The underlying theme for the event is the “Party” as something which brings people together, which fosters community, and which is also a reminder of the extremely rich night life which has been a part of the Juarez fabric for decades. Of course, Berlin also has a rich tradition of night life with its cabarets and experimental theater also going back decades.
Most of the events will take place in the usual places like the Museo de Arte, the new Centro Cultual de la Frontera , and the Bazaar Monu, but also at -where else?-Hard Pop naturally.
This is all happening from the 24th-28th and more specific info about individual events can be found on the Facebook page Projectspacefestivaljuarez as well as on the website Projectspace festivalberlin.
While going to these events, you should also stop by the Project Impala truck to see Francis Alys videos and documentation of his work. The van is parked all this week in front of the Museo de Arte before the exhibition goes to its final stop at La Rodadora.-david sokolec