May 1, 2017
POSTCOMMODITY Coyotaje
The BrooklynRail, 05/01/2017
Jared Quinton

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POSTCOMMODITY Coyotaje
The BrooklynRail, 05/01/2017
Jared Quinton

In part of Postcommodity’s takeover of Art in General’s new Dumbo space, a single photograph hangs at the end of a long gallery, spotlit and seemingly suspended in darkness. In the image, shot from a moving car on the U.S. side of the U.S. – Mexico border, two dogs preside over the bones of a dead horse. One stands protectively, meeting the camera’s gaze, while the other looks away uninterested, dwarfed by the skull nearby. The chainlink fence and scorched brown grass locate viewers in the hardscrabble borderlands of the American Southwest, at the same time calling to mind contested landscapes around the globe. The photograph is titled Es más alcanzable de lo que se imaginaban (2017)—“it is more reachable that you imagined.” Moving between installation, video, performance, sound, and hybrid land art/social practice, Postcommodity is known for crafting aesthetically and conceptually dense works about the U.S.-Mexico borderlands, a region where powerful political and economic forces come to bear on individual people and landscapes. Founded in 2007, the collective consists of indigenous artists Raven Chacon, Cristóbal Martínez, and Kade L. Twist, who explicitly center indigenous narratives, politics, and forms of expression in every project. Rather than the catharsis sought by much popular art that deals with the U.S.-Mexico border—think, perhaps, of the entry to Pedro Reyes’s spectacle Doomocracy in which visitors experienced a simulated ICE raid against their van—Postcommodity embraces the affective modes of alienation and irresolution, offering a compelling suggestion of what art can be and do in this age of xenophobia and the anti-immigrant tactics that fuel it. The rest of the Art in General exhibition is given over to an installation called Coyotaje (2017), a reference to the practice of smuggling undocumented Mexican and Central American people across the border into the United States. In researching for the work, the artists spoke with border patrol agents about the decoy tactics they use to ensnare would-be immigrants as they make their way through the forbidding desert, usually in the dead of night. These decoys often take the form of audio recordings, of which the artists have made their own versions, whose earnest warnings in colloquial Spanish belie their sinister purpose. From two overhead speakers in the darkened gallery, urgent voices whisper phrases like “ten cuidado,” “puedes morir aquí,” “escuche, ven conmigo,” or “mira, la policía”—each one offering a fleeting promise of companionship or relief. The effect produced is one of profound spatial, auditory, and emotional disorientation. It suggests the level of eerie, technical precision that is used in the fight for control of bodies and their movement through the contested region—control maintained by preying on the emotional vulnerabilities of the already weakened and vulnerable. The other component of Coyotaje is a large, inflatable sculpture of a chupacabra, a creature in Latin American folklore named for its alleged proclivity for sucking (“chupar”) the blood of goats (“cabras”). Illuminated by a sickening green light, the spiky, heaving sculpture becomes a screen for closed-circuit surveillance footage of gallery visitors as they walk through the space. The artists note that many border agents are mistaken for chupacabras on account of their night-vision goggles. Postcommodity produces these effects of oppressiveness with masterful precision. The conceptual rigor and density of their subject matter is echoed in the density of their manipulation of space, sound, and image. Also on view right now, at the seventy-eighth Whitney Biennial, is their four-channel video installation A Very Long Line (2016), which surrounds viewers with a disorienting vision of the border fence. Shot from a moving vehicle, the scenes mix gorgeous slow pans of the desert landscape with abrasive, dizzying jolts across train tracks, highways, and ugly housing developments. Everything is viewed through the fence. The distorted and dissonant soundtrack creates a Doppler effect that heightens the intensity of the radical shifts in pace and perspective. The installation conjures the many forms of violence done to indigenous land and people by the border and its enforcement, figuring the fence as “a very long filter of bodies and goods,” as they describe: “a mediator of imperialism, violence, market systems, and violent capitalism.” Others may know Postcommodity for their 2015 project Valla Repelente (Repellent Fence), a line of weather balloons that formed a temporary two-mile-long “stitch” connecting Douglas, Arizona with Agua Prieta, Sonora. (A documentary about the work premiered at MoMA in February.) Created in collaboration with local organizations and town officials on both sides of the border, the work offers a glimpse at the artists’ ethos: perhaps not quite optimism, but something closer to that than is immediately apparent in projects like the two on view in New York. Postcommodity’s embrace of alienation and refusal of catharsis is a testament to their respect for their subject matter, a region that means many things in many collective imaginations and yet is also the site of real, lived experiences of psychic and physical trauma. At the core of these obstinate installations is a suggestion that art about charged politics can be useful as a proposition. The irresolution of the aesthetic experiences they create is inseparable from the irresolution of the crisis they instantiate in the gallery space. But they refuse us any answers beyond the symbolic.

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January 17, 2017
Globalocation: Celebrating 20 Years of Artnauts
J. Willard Marriott Library
The University of Utah, 01/17/2017

The University of Utah’s J. Willard Marriott Library will host the art exhibition Globalocation: Celebrating 20 Years of Artnauts, Jan. 20-March 3.

Artnauts, an art collective formed 20 years ago by George Rivera, professor of art and art history at the University of Colorado, Boulder, consists of 300 global artists who serve as goodwill ambassadors, acknowledging and supporting victims of oppression worldwide. Their creativity has generated over 230 exhibitions across five continents. Five faculty members from the U’s Department of Art and Art History are members of the collective, Sandy Brunvand, Beth Krensky, V. Kim Martinez, Brian Snapp and Xi Zhang.

Globalocation derives from “Globalocational Art” — a concept used by the Artnauts to refer to their exhibitions in international venues. It is the mission of the Artnauts to take art to places of contention, and this anniversary exhibition is a sample of places where they have been and themes they have addressed.

“The Artnauts could not exist without the commitment of the artists in the collective to a common vision of the transformative power of art,” said Rivera. “The Artnauts make their contribution with art that hopefully generates a dialogue with an international community on subjects that are sometimes difficult to raise.”

Krensky, associate department chair of the Art and Art History Department, had the opportunity to travel with Rivera in Chile as part of an Artnauts project, working with mothers who were searching for their children who had mysteriously disappeared during a time of political unrest.

“When I travelled to Chile in 1998, George and I spent an afternoon with the Mothers of the Disappeared, and the meeting changed my life,” said Krensky. “It was from that moment on that I placed a picture of them on my desk to look at every day. I was so moved by what they each had lost — a son, a brother, a father — and yet what remained for them was a deep, deep well of love. They were fierce warriors and stood up to the government to demand the whereabouts and information of the people who had disappeared, but they lived within profound love.”

The 20th anniversary exhibition at the Marriott Library is a retrospective of the traveling works the Artnauts have toured around the globe. The exhibition will be located on level three of the library. The opening reception is open to the public and will be held on Friday, Jan 20, 4-6 p.m. Rivera will speak at 4 p.m.

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