All Along the Watchtower 


Francisco Mata Rosas (b Mexico City) tends to focus his lens on those people and places  usually marginalized in order to give them, if not a voice, at least an opportunity to be seen. A few years ago the Museo de Arte here in Juarez mounted a show of his series Tepito (Bravo el Barrio) in which he photographed residents of that somewhat notorious Mexico City barrio with excellent professional lighting against a white backdrop in order to afford each of them a dignity and recognition which they perhaps rarely receive from others.
In the series called “La Linea” which opened last Friday night at the Museo de Arte de Ciudad Juarez, he has focused on the border. For five years he has focused his attention on the border using his camera to capture some of the people and reality of the line between Mexico and the United States through a variety of means including a drone.
The photographic images, which are presented here without informational cards, take varied forms and sizes from more or less standard size photographs to landscapes that take up a whole wall. Here, as in his other series, he focuses on those who are often ignored or shunned, including  drug addicts as well as those who are doing the best they can in difficult circumstances. Many of the photographs focus on the detritus left behind by those attempting to cross from one side to the other or on some of the absurdities inherent in a situation in which those desperate to escape difficult situations bump up against the implacable forces which attempt to deter them.
The photography is wonderful, Francisco Mata has a keen sensibility and a sharp eye for the often overlooked and the small things which can imply much more, so why did the show leave me somewhat dissatisfied even while I admired the individual pieces?
There is a scene in Alain Resnais 1959 film  Hiroshima Mon Amour, which concerns both the destruction of Hiroshima and an affair  between a Japanese architect and a French actress , in which she says something like “When I  was in Hiroshima…” and he responds “You were never in Hiroshima.” (This despite the fact the film is set in Hiroshima). This kept playing in my head as I was wandering around the exhibit because unfortunately many people who live outside the border region probably believe these images constitute the totality of the border region. Many people tend to view the place as a wild and marginalized area consisting mostly of nothingness and desperate people trying to cross over or the very poor scrambling to get by.  While that is clearly are an integral part of the border, it is only a part.  Those of us who live here know that the border is an enormously dynamic place. There is a huge amount of trade and commerce which happens daily, there are universities and arts and a rich cultural mix which creates a distinctive culture. Despite a general misconception, the border is not simply  bicultural but  is filled with people from a wide variety of cultures. In Juarez alone there are people from an enormous number of  countries as well as many different indigenous groups. The number of languages spoken is enormous even though this isn’t often realized in daily life. I’ve been thinking lately that the border is a bit like the Nile in that there is a large swath of desert spreading out from either side, while along the banks or la linea  a distinctive and rich culture has sprung up on both sides.
The excellent photographs in this exhibition show an integral and important part of that culture, but it is important to remember that it is only a small part of the much larger and much more varied world this border forms.
For those who cannot see the show in person Francisco Mata’s website (Francisco Mata.com.mx) provides an even more complete selection of photos, though of course they are better seen in person, particularly for the variety of forms and sizes they take.

The exhibition runs through October 15.-david sokolec

New Space at Museo de Arte

Tomorrow, Thursday 23, the Museo de Arte in Juarez is opening a new space dedicated to promoting local, national and international artists who deal in new media. Called Antecamara de proyectos it will be inaugurated by a film called Reflexiones en Torno al Cielo by Mexico City based artist Alexandra German who will be attending the opening, and curated by Victoria Vinamaragui.
Here is the description in Spanish from the museum. Looks like a wonderful new addition.
Antecámara de Proyectos del Museo de Arte de Ciudad Juárez tiene el enfoque de promover y difundir la producción y consumo de arte actual y nuevos medios. A partir de curadurías y diseños de exhibición que nazcan desde el museo. Antecámara es una sala alternativa que se logra dentro de una dinámica de rotación de artistas locales, nacionales e internacionales, para así lograr alcanzar mayores públicos.
the opening is set for 6 pm.-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

Chalk the Block Rides Again

A reminder that this weekend is Chalk the Block weekend, and this year features an enormous dragon and the perfect selfie lighting. It’s been great to watch this fair grow and change and become really one of the major family events  in El Paso
The dragon, an enormous multi-ton light breathing monster using a dump truck as a base, is the brain child of Hong Kong artist Teddy Lo and Detroit artist Ryan Doyle. The selfie wall is a modular wall featuring the prospect of a wide variety of lighting situations so you can take the perfect view of yourself. I might be the only person who doesn’t  quite get the point of selfies other than as a possible hedge against dementia. They vaguely remind me of kidnap situations where you are asked to hold up the day’s paper to prove you’re alive, but everyone else seems to love them and this should be quite wonderful.
Among other art events here is also going to be a mural wall anchored by the El Paso Museum of Art and the Convention center. Artists are well-known and seemingly ubiquitous local street artists like Jellyfish collective and Los Dos as well as artists from Albuquerque and elsewhere.
And of course there will be lots of chalk drawings.
In any case the weather promises to be nice and it should be, as always, a lot of fun-david sokolec

Cinema magic

Here in Juarez there is an even greater than usual opportunity these days to see  interesting and varied films from all over the world. There is the 20thTour de Cine Francaise sponsored by Alliance Francaise, among other organizations, which features one film every day through the 13th at Misiones Mall.. This is perhaps the most commercial of the film series on offer, but commercial does not mean some blockbuster adventure film, but some of the better or more interesting films recently produced in that country. Incidentally, Alliance Francaise also shows French films every two weeks at its headquarters here and recently wrapped up a six day showing of some amazing shorts from all over Europe.hese
Over at the MUREF (Museo de la Revolucion en la Frontera) they are showing a series of internationally made documentaries promoted by Documental Ambulante Asociacion Civil, a national organization founded in 2005 devoted to promoting documentary films. These are shown Friday at 4 and Saturday at noon, and the series runs through the end of the month.
Cafe Unico, which always shows different cycles of films on Thursday, is this month featuring German films selected by cineclub kino Juarez.
While admission at Cinepolis is the usual admission price to the theater, the rest of the films are free.
So while I was watching an ad for the Morelia film festival I couldn’t help wonder why doesn’t Chihuahua have an international film festival and I don’t mean the local binational film festival but a really large statewide affair. There are any number of local filmmakers, and if the push in El Paso for more state funding for filmmaking is successful, you might have a really interesting situation. Morelia, Oaxaca and other states seem to have big international film festivals, so how come not here?  David sokolec

Border Biennial spans the Rio Grande

There are a lot of ways to set up a biennial or art festival.  You can have a group from the sponsoring body scour the landscape to handpick artists a la Whitney or you can have an individual select a portion of the festival with other galleries or countries sending in their own choices a la Venice. The El Paso Museum of Art seems to have adopted what I’m calling the Emma Lazarus approach. To paraphrase that poet’s words from the Statue of Liberty “Send me your oils, your videos, your installations, yearning to be displayed.” Anyone living within a 400 mile radius of the border can submit work, but there is no criteria given, no theme, simply a request for entries with judges deciding based on their own private criteria. This is perhaps more democratic than some other methods, but I can only imagine it leaves some people scratching their heads. In any case, this year some 285 artists responded, a larger number than previously and of those 44 were selected. They were pretty evenly divided on either side of the border with 21 from Mexico and 23 from the US.
This year’s judges were Santiago Espinosa de los Monteros from Mexico and Eduardo Diaz from the United States, although  a few days before the opening Mr Diaz resigned in protest over the exclusion of a local artist who he had selected to be included. (I have been told there are lawyers involved at least on one side so I want to leave the matter alone except to say that the grounds for exclusion apparently involved a perceived violation of one of the few requirements for entry.)

Santiago has a long and distinguished career as an art critic and curator in several Latin American countries writing for  Art Nexus among other publications;He also worked in the cultural section of the Mexican embassy in Venezuela and later Canada.  and in 2008 was named National Coordinator for Plastic Arts at  the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes y Literatura(INBAL). In short he seems to have spent his life dealing specifically with contemporary art as both critic and administrator.

Eduardo Diaz is currently the Director of the Smithsonian Latino  Center, though El Pasoans might remember him from when he was a consultant  in San Antonio and was paid a great deal of money by the El Paso City government to form a master plan for the city arts department which included, among other things,  putting all of the major cultural institutions under one umbrella organization rather than having them continue to run as separate fiefdoms.
From this MCAD came into being. He also had a meeting with artists where he spent a fair amount of time explaining his plan and they spent a fair amount of time yelling at him; I forget why. Prior to being named to the Smithsonian post, he was the  Executive Director of the National  Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque, the largest such  center in the country.

A major interest of Mr. Espinoza was to select art which “had something to say”. This is not only a view currently in vogue-many festivals and biennials all over the world have suddenly discovered they need to take a look at the world around them, but I have long believed that a great majority of Latin America art has long concerned itself with societal issues, sometimes overtly and others obliquely, but always taking society or local history into account. This in contrast with northern attitudes which too often seem to be about me and what I found in the trash or my bed.
There is of course an alternative view which  is perhaps more interested in purely aesthetic matters or other ideas. This tension might have played a part in deliberations for this biennial, but I would say the bulk of the show reflected, in a variety of media, societal concerns such as immigration and violence, life on the border, and the use of reworked  historical iconography to express present day concerns.  The works were mainly two dimensional but using widely varied techniques and media.There were also videos, sculptures and in one case, yes, found objects
I want to mention  a series of small elegant pencil drawings by Ana del Aguila Malvaez illustrating health pointing out health hazards in maquilas, and large oils by Rigoberto Gonzalez imitating Caravaggio to show powerful but horrifying scenes of modern cartel violence  in “Medusa” and “Perseus with the head of Medus”. There were photographs of daily life on the border and a series of small cards remembering the 43 disappeared students at Ayotzinapa.

Not all was specifically border related. Quing Liu’s Tea Dream series showed beautiful  delicate brush and ink work on tea bags, and others were concerned with color and composition and I very much liked Rebeca Mendez’s two deceptively simple videos El Norte and Circumpolar.
Artists had to submit two works because the show opened simultaneously in El Paso and Juarez, and it is really worthwhile to see the show in both museums. not least because the difference in spaces also makes a difference in the show. The larger El Paso Museum of Art was originally a bus station while the smaller circular Museo de Arte was built specifically to show art. What this means in practice is that in Juarez the smaller space makes the show seem more intimate while in El Paso the works seem more separate. Something the El Paso museum does is to provide text taken from the catalogue in which the artist  talks about the specific pieceon view. I know there are differing opinions about text on gallery walls, and some artist statements can be problematic, but here it often does much to enhance the work.
Without the text, we might not really know what Rebeca Mendez was doing trudging back and forth in the snow with a Mexican flag (she was trying to symbolically claim a part of the Arctic for Mexico) nor would we understand that Andres Troncoso’s overweight virgins came about because he was troubled as a child in church from  the discrepancy between the images of the flawlessly beautiful Virgin he saw in paintings and the women he saw around him in church, wondering why the Virgin didn’t look like them. Many reading fashion mags are asking the same thing, so I’m wondering if these early religious images were the Vogue or Elle for the faithful, but I digress.

There is much to like in this show, though I have to say much of it seemed famiiar. Perhaps this simply reveals a unity to be found here-the distinctive voice which emerges from this very distinctive culture, but of course, there are thousands of artists living on the border and many of them are working in an entirely different vein or with different concerns. Regardless the show which will be up through early February is definitely worth an exploration.

The bilingual catalogue is for sale in El Paso, though not at the Museum in Juarez. -david sokolec

Roundtable on Mexican design

Want to call attention to the roundtable discussion tomorrow night on contemporary Mexican design at the Museo de Arte aqui en Juarez. The discussion is at 7 and free to all.-david sokolec

La exposición “De ida y vuelta. Diseño contemporáneo en México” producida por el Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes, será clausurada en el Museo de Arte de Ciudad Juárez el próximo 5 de julio y como última actividad se realizará la mesa redonda “Diseño, innovación y desarrollo el próximo 18 de junio a las 7:00 pm. en el Museo de Arte de Ciudad Juárez con la participación de los diseñadores y empresarios Ariel Rojo, Mauricio Lara y Sebastián Lara, moderada por Sergio Villalobos, coordinador de la carrera de Diseño Industrial de la UACJ.

 

Le invitamos a que nos acompañe en esta destacada intervención y visite nuestras exposiciones, recuerde que esta y todas las actividades de este Museo son gratuitas.

 

Esperamos contar con su asistencia.