Past participants of the International Artists-in-Residence program at ArtPace in San Antonio, Texas, reads like a whose-who of art stars from the contemporary art world: Felix Gonzalez Torres, Antony Gormley, Glenn Ligon, Shahzia Sikander, Daniel Joseph Martinez, Edgar Arceneaux and Wangechi Mutu, just to name a few.
In residence January 13 to March 17, 2008 were Margarita Cabrera from El Paso, Texas; Regina Jose Galindo from Ciudad de Guatemela, Guatemala; and Rodney McMillan from Los Angeles, California. Selected by Franklin Sirmans, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at The Menil Collection in Houston, Texas, the work of these three artists was on display at ArtPace between March 13 and May 11, 2008.
Cabrera’s ArtPace project, The Craft of Resistance is the second in a series of works that explore the impact of border politics on Mexican craft-making traditions, examining the social implications of Mexico’s export oriented, maquiladora-based economy. At ArtPace, Cabrera has recreated a traditional copper craft-making factory, based on a research visit to Santa Clara del Cobre, Michoacan, Mexico. Her mock maquiladora was created using a team of volunteers who worked on the assembly line production of thousands of copper monarch butterflies. Twelve schematic cubicles feature specific instructions for creating the product and were on display at Art Pace.
Thirty-seven volunteers created 2,500 copper butterflies which were then sent to a private home in San Antonio and installed plague-like throughout the beautiful, elegant room, massed on chairs and walls, tables and appliances. Photos of the installation are hung at the gallery and scheduled off-site tours were booked periodically to visit the private home (the owner’s name and location of the property kept strictly hush-hush).
The copper butterflies were imprinted with the wing pattern of monarch butterflies on one side and the impression of an American penny on the other. The monarch butterfly migrates annually from Canada to Michoacan. Cabrera seems to draw a comparison between the butterflies and Mexican immigrants to the United States.
The disparity between those who assemble mass produced goods and those who purchase them is made obvious by the fact that the installation is unavailable for general viewing. And one can’t help but wonder if the patron who volunteered their guest house for the butterfly installation really understood what the artist was trying to say about consumerism and immigration.
The message is abundantly clear in Regina Jose Galindo’s performance piece and resulting exhibition. The private prison industry in the United States has experienced exponential growth in recent years and today flourishes due to anti-terrorism measures and the tightening of immigration laws. Currently in Texas there are more than forty private prisons like the T. Don Hutto “Family Detention Center” in Taylor, Texas, operated by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). CCA, according to the gallery notes accompanying Galindo’s exhibition, is the largest private jail company in the world with one of the highest stock market values on Wall Street. The prison typically houses whole families of immigrants awaiting resolution of their immigration status.
The cell on display in Galindo’s America’s Family Prison was rented for $8,000 from Sweeper Metal Fabricators Corp. It was occupied by the artist and her family for a performance that lasted only a limited period of time and then remained open to the public for two months as an installation. This tiny jail with children’s drawings and baby bottles, to remind viewers that a family lived here in this harsh, metallic space.
In contrast, Rodney McMillan’s Untitled multi and mixed media installation conjures up an atypical cathedral. A large cavernous space in the adjoining gallery to Galindo’s features a group of gigantic paintings, anonymous photographs organized uniformly as if tombstones and a ragged chair and rug, surmounted by a vaulted six pointed paper canopy. The canopy is dwarfed by the red and black paintings that dominate the walls. The chair and rug are soiled with red acrylic paint referencing blood. An oddly meditative sound component reverberates throughout the space. Is it church? Landscape? Or home?
The three installations of these diverse artists leaves one to contemplate the meaning of home and family as it relates to the greater world in which we live and to realize that somehow, we are all connected, whether we want to accept that reality or not.