Carlos Amorales (in collaboration with André Pahl), Logo for Juárez Project, 2006
Guns, narcos, prostitutes, rape, murders, these are some of the most common images that the media utilizes to portray Ciudad Juárez. Once considered an attractive city, in recent decades Ciudad Juárez has become synonym with violent crimes and terror. As an artist residency program, Proyecto Juárez started as an independent initiative in an attempt to approach the socioeconomic changes of the border city; commissioning artworks that considered the context of the city while benefitting from the help of local institutions and the community. Lasting only from 2006-2007, ten artists from different areas of the world were invited to participate and create works. Nuevas Producciones Proyecto Juárez, an exhibition at the Museo de Arte Carillo Gil in Mexico City, gathers the resulting work of some of the artists that participated in the program. The exhibition brings to light the dynamics among art practice and the role of cultural institutions, while at the same time reflecting on complicated social realities.
Proyecto Juárez focused on topics of discrimination, domination and the practice of violence at a larger scale, while providing multiple views of Ciudad Juárez. It was interested in discussing a collective reality, that could overpass the context of Ciudad Juárez as another symptom of globalization. One of the pieces in Nuevas Producciones Proyecto Juárez, “Risas Enlatadas” (2009) by Yoshua Okon, is a video installation that pays attention to notions of production in a globalized system. With an ambiguity that mixes humor and social commentary, in “Risas Enlatadas” Okon creates a fictitious maquiladora -an assembly plant that is exempt from taxes since what it manufactures is exported elsewhere. Since the 1980s, Maquiladoras have become a driving force of income in Ciudad Juárez, and other parts of the world. Okon’s maquiladora fabricates canned laughter in Ciudad Juárez, which is then exported to the United States as an essential product for the entertainment industry. The installation is composed of videos that show the workers at work, uniforms of the company, and the cans of laughter. There are four different types of laughter, hysterical, sexy, evil, and masculine. Okon’s ironic take on Ciudad Juárez makes apparent the absurdity of a globalized economic system that by means of production is meant to increase wealth, but as seen in Ciudad Juarez’s current situation is unable to produce compelling positive emotions for all the parties involved. Arthur Zmijeski’s “Yolanda, 2007/Danuta,2006/Ursula,2007” is a video installation that records the daily life of Yolanda, an immigrant who works in a burrito restaurant, as well as two other women living in Poland and Germany which may share a similar situation to her. Yolanda’s narrative serves to give a voice to individuals that have a life in Ciudad Juarez that does not follow the stereotypical representations of the city.
Santiago Sierra, Sumisión (Antes Palabra de Fuego), 2006-2007
Other pieces in the exhibition, such as Santiago Sierra’s “Submission (formerly Word of Fire)” (2006-2007) addresses hierarchies of power and domination. Sierra’s action took place in Anapra -a neighborhood of Ciudad Juárez, located just a few meters away where the state of New Mexico wants to build a wall to “prevent” illegal immigration. Anapra is one of the most informal human settlements in Ciudad Juárez. People are known for accessing public goods such as electricity and water by their own means. In Anapra, Sierra employed local workers and excavated the word sumisión (submission) with a tractor owned by the Chihuahua State Government. The word was meant to be seen from the sky and lit on fire for 30 minutes. Although all the environmental permits for burning in the open were obtained, the municipality repealed them on the grounds that the action put in danger the families that live in Anapra. Ironically, the site where the installation took place is inhabited by 60 homeless families. This made apparent the way in which the hierarchies of power function in Anapra. One is left to question which is the role and intentions of the municipality in the local community. In the gallery, “Submission (formerly Word of Fire)” is represented through a 4 image video projection of photographs of the event.
Artur Zmikeski, Yolanda, 2007/Danuta,2006/Ursula,2007
After coming into contact with the works in Nuevas Producciones Proyecto Juárez questions about the significance of art and cultural institutions reflecting on Ciudad Juárez remained. As a residency program, Proyecto Juárez is a provocative proposition that gives way to other means to discuss a complex social context. In Nuevas Producciones Proyecto Juárez, viewers are given another entry point to Ciudad Juárez that does not solely centers on disturbing images of terror, which at times help to take us farther away from the subject at hand. This is appreciated in the humor of Okon’s “Risas Enlatadas,” and with the intimacy of Arthur Zmijeski’s “Yolanda, 2007/Danuta,2006/Ursula,2007.” At the same time, pieces like Sierra’s “Submission (formerly Word of Fire)” and the ones previously mentioned make evident a paradoxical system that Ciudad Juárez -as a border city and a center for the production of goods in a globalized world- is part of. While it was refreshing to experience a museum tackle Ciudad Juárez through contemporary art, it can turn difficult to comprehend what else besides reflecting, or pointing to a problem, an individual and a cultural institution can do in such precarious circumstances. Maybe, it is the case that the success of Nuevas Producciones Proyecto Juárez relies on this uncertainty.
-María Elena Ortíz
Nuevas Producciones Proyecto Juárez was curated by Mariana David. It goes through January 2nd, 2011. The exhibition includes thw work of Artemio, Carlos Amorales, Gustavo Artigas, Santiago Sierra, Yoshua Okon, Paco Cao, Jota Castro, Democracia, Iván Edeza, Antonio de la Rosa, Enrique Jezik, Ramón Mateos and Artur Zmijewski.
For more information:
- Quintín Rivera Toro at Museo de las Américas
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