Art in America, 06/01/2017
Long before the forty-fifth president of the United States rolled out his demonstrably preposterous plan to build a security wall stretching two-thousand-plus miles across the country’s border with Mexico, Postcommodity was investigating that boundary as a site of fantasy and folly. Comprising three collaborators—Raven Chacon, Cristóbal Martínez, and Kade L. Twist—from the Southwestern US, the interdisciplinary collective spent years developing Repellent Fence (2015), a work whose ambitious aim to foster transcultural dialogue is particularly relevant at a moment when the president appears intent on muffling such dialogue for good. The work, the realization of which relied on the support of innumerable public and private collaborators on both sides of the border, consists of a two-mile-long row of giant tethered balloons hovering fifty feet above the ground. Emblazoned with an eyelike motif, the balloons are enlarged versions of an apparently ineffective bird deterrent and refer simultaneously to border surveillance efforts and to indigenous iconography.
In “Coyotaje”—the group’s first solo exhibition in New York—Postcommodity further explored the complex relationship between those trying to penetrate the US border and those employed to prevent that from happening. The term coyotaje refers to human smuggling, and the exhibition seemed designed to evoke some of the trepidation felt by migrants as they make their way across the border at night. But it also implicated viewers in the complex strategies deployed by the border patrol.
Positioned near the entrance to the darkened space was a giant inflatable chupacabra (or “goat-sucker”), a spiny, sharp-toothed folkloric creature thought to prey on livestock. Inspired in part by the decoys that patrol agents use to confuse or frighten smugglers, the inflated chupacabra wears a pair of night-vision goggles—a piece of equipment used by patrol agents to track migrants. Viewers’ initial identification with the trespasser in this staged encounter is disrupted as they approach the sculpture and encounter their own image projected in green onto the flank of the work.
A sound piece, emitted at intervals from ceiling-mounted speakers, lured visitors down a hallway toward the rear of the space. The urgent whispers in Spanish evoke the voices of smugglers communicating in the dark with one another, while also alluding to tricks used by authorities to trap border crossers. Since the border patrol includes many native Spanish speakers among its ranks, a seemingly friendly voice calling out in the dark is not necessarily to be trusted.
After navigating the treacherous corridor, visitors were met with a large digital print: Es más alcanzable de lo que se imaginaban (It’s More Achievable Than Imagined, 2017). The image features a pair of dogs standing before a fence next to the disarrayed, decaying skeleton of a horse. Exhibition notes inform us that the photograph was taken on the US side of the border, and that dogs were present in the Americas and integrated into indigenous societies for many thousands of years before the introduction of horses by the Spanish. Insofar as the horse serves as a symbol of colonialism, the image may be read as one of perseverance and decolonization. Over the long course of human history, the work seems to suggest, those who come to dominate for a time may just as quickly fade away and turn into dust.