How an artist builds connectivity across border walls

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This week, artists find unique ways to bridge connections in chaotic times. One artist performs poetic actions that highlight the impact of border walls on communities, another has posted billboards across L.A. that encourage civic involvement, and another creates interlocking ceramic sculptures that gesture towards unity.  

Tanya Aguiñiga’s border wall activations

Tanya Aguiñiga, “America’s Wall”
(performance photo). 2018. Performed by Tanya Aguiñiga, Jackie Amézquita, Cecilia Brawley, Natalie Godinez, Izabella Sanchez, and Shannen Wallace. Image Courtesy of the artist and AMBOS Project.  Photo by Gina Clyne

Tanya Aguiñiga’s exhibition “ Borderlands Within/La Frontera Adentro ” at The Armory Center for the Arts opened just a month before statewide shutdowns were put in place. Now the exhibition has been extended through December, and this month, the Armory has been screening several of Aguiñiga’s films online in conjunction with the exhibition. The Tijuana-born artist grew up traveling across the U.S. and Mexico border. She situates her craft-based practice within the political and relational tensions that surround the border wall and its regional communities. Aguiñiga stages border-wall interventions as part of her initiative AMBOS Project that works to activate artists on both sides of the border and engage in cross-national connections. “America’s Wall,” shows Aguiñiga and a group of female collaborators spraying a rusty metal section of the border wall with vinegar and then pressing a white sheet against it to create a “rust-dye” imprint of its surface on the fabric. In another video, the artist performs a similar action while wearing a wet garment — she hugs a post in the border wall, creating an intimate gesture of cross-border longing all while tracing the imprint of rust on her clothing. The final of Aguiñiga’s films, “Borderlands” is now screening through October 25th, and timed appointments to view the exhibition (which includes additional sculptures, installations, and performance documentation) will be available on Saturdays beginning November 7. 

Armory Exhibition on view: Feb 9, 2020—Dec 12, 2020

Weaving through border walls

Tanya Aguiñiga, “Tension” (performance photo), 2017. Performed by Tanya Aguiñiga and Jackie Amézquita. Courtesy of the artist and AMBOS Project

In one video included in her Armory exhibition, Aguiñiga utilizes the method of the backstrap loom, which she learned from Mayan women in Chiapas, Mexico. The method involves wearing a strap around the weaver’s waist and using one’s own back to stabilize the loom while weaving. Poetically, in “Tension,” the artist and her collaborator, Jackie Amézquita, sit on opposite sides of the border fence and string a double-sided backstrap loom through the slots in the border wall. The two women weave, using each other as literal support as they collaborate and work in unison — a potent poetic gesture that points to the intimate connections that transcend the limiting boundaries of borders. 

Billboards that encourage civic participation

Image courtesy of the artist and Hunter Shaw Fine Art. Photo: Courtney Coles

Early in the pandemic, artist Molly Surazhskyrt  began sewing masks in her studio, organizing donations to health care workers. Now Surazhsky has a new public art project on view, which uses her masks to mobilize people to vote. Across 10 billboards around Los Angeles, as part of a project hosted by Hunter Shaw Fine Art cheekily called “People’s Power Enhancement” — the artist’s images of people wearing her artist-made masks carry potent messages: “Vote Nov. 3,” “Redistribute Power,” “Care for All.” The subjects are photographed wearing the masks against a vibrant patriotic background of red, white, and blue triangular patterns, and strike poses that range from the dramatic (arms flexed) to the pleading (arms outstretched towards the camera). The models include artists Barbara T. Smith, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, and Harry Gamboa Jr., as well as a broad spectrum of individuals, such as a local witch and her familiar and an ex-Sandinista fighter and his daughter. Together the billboards point to the mask as a locus for political ideology (mask-wearing is often split along party lines), while also urging the residents of LA to show up to the polls and tap into our collective people power.  

Billboards on view October 12–mid-November

Julia Haft-Candell’s interlocking forms

Julia Haft-Candell, “Interlocking,” installation view at Night Gallery, 2020. Image courtesy of the artist and Night Gallery. Photo by Marten Elder

At Night Gallery downtown, Julia Haft-Candell’s ceramic sculptures are installed in the gallery’s outdoor space. The large ceramic forms are suggestive of two hands that connect in the center to imply interwoven fingers. Though “Interlocking Arch” (2019), in which two sets of “hand forms” connect to form a continuous circular shape, seems to transcend figuration, pointing towards the ouroboros symbol of a snake eating its own tail. In this way, Haft-Candell’s imagery is open-ended, suggestive of both human connection, and more metaphysical notions of eternity and infinity. The series of sculptures — made from clay-based mediums that suggest an intimate contact with the material — feel poignant amidst a pandemic reality that limits physical contact with friends and family. Together, the sculptures insist on the power of unity amid our current landscape. 

On view: September 19–October 31, 2020. 

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