Friday, March 12, 2010

Geography of Transterritories

Exhibition Title: Geography of Transterritories
Walter McBean Galleries 800 Chestnut San Francisco, CA 94133

Dates: February 25 - May 22, 2010

I have often wondered about the interpretation of art. Everyone has different levels of understanding when it comes to art and during shows. I wish I could read minds. After attending the opening and lecture for Geography of Transterritories at the Walter & McBean Galleries, I wish I could read minds more than ever. From my own walk around the show, I had plenty of questions about what was presented and how it all fit together in the arts. I’m still on the learning track for art because, as I’ve seen it, art is a lifestyle and not an interest or hobby (please argue with me if you think otherwise) and I entered into it rather late. Going back on topic, my big question for this show was whether some art seemed unreadable from the lack of geopolitical knowledge on behalf of the audience or failure of the artist to relate to this audience?

Let me go into detail. The idea behind this exhibition was to address “those issues of transborder conflict that are profoundly changing global modes of production, communication, and space / time organization.” Keeping this in mind and not only viewing this show but also listening to the artists and doing a little more research, my question remains. The most accessible artist in this show was Michael Arcega. His human cargo boxes touched on the topics of airport security / restrictions and human trafficking in the context of immigration and, to some extent, terrorism. Immigration has become more of a heated issue as a result of September 11th and I believe that his work is highly personal given his relationship to this topic and his heritage. I connected with this piece as a first generation Mexican-American. Though my parents are legal, I have known family friends who had somewhat questionable backgrounds. The power of their stories, as well as many others, reverberates through these boxes.

With Carlos Motta and Ursula Biemann, I had trouble separating them from oral history and anthropological discourse. After the lecture, however, I was able to see that Carlos’s discussion was not limited to the documentary but there were two other elements to La Buena Vida that completed the story. There is an Internet archive ( that includes texts that further delve deeper into the issues of geo and national politics. The audience is able to control their experience by choosing how they view the archive. In it, videos are narrowed by various factors including age, question, gender, language, city, theme and occupation. It is not as dry and narrow as a documentary as layers are revealed the more one engages in the project. With Ursula, having heard her speak twice, I’m still not sure how to separate her work, The Maghreb Connection, completely from oral history. From her explanation, the politics behind the situation of North African immigration does not allow for much information to be disseminated. With her work, however, in the context of art, she is able to produce and reveal more information than would generally be acceptable under sanctions. In other words - as I understood her - it is art because otherwise you wouldn’t be able to see it.

Ursula Biemann Sahara Chronicles (film still)

Quite frankly, with Claire Fontaine and Société Réaliste, I was confused by their choice of work. Claire Fontaine’s work was the stars of the European Union burned into the ceiling of the gallery room and 5000 posters of Flags of the World in Arabic. The flags were interesting as my friends and I discussed how many flags we could identify since none of us speak Arabic. It was quite embarrassing for those of us from the United States could recognize far less than our international friends. The question is why? Do Americans not place themselves in the global community? Why is geography not taught as predominantly as it is in foreign countries? The burned stars, however, didn’t really stick with me. Even after hearing them talk about it, it sounded more like a process than a message. Their other works involving Israeli-Palestinian relations, however, were very strong and passionate and were produced using similar methods. Did they think we wouldn’t understand? And lastly Société Réaliste’s project completely flew over my head. I can’t really talk about it and do it any justice at all. After some research, I was disappointed that they did not try to bring a past project to the Walter & McBean. A really fascinating project entitled EU Green Card Lottery. It is both a website and installation in which people register to “win” a Green Card to live and work in the United States. Perhaps it is naïve of me to want the project to have an American connection or perhaps it returns to the topic of my / possibly other American’s lack of knowledge in geopolitics. I cannot be sure. Is it just me? This is that moment I wish I could read minds. I guess I am partly posting this because I hope more can be said about it.


1 comment:

  1. The best thing I can say is that with this kind of work we are dealing with artists that have taken the "oral history and anthropological discourse" that you mentioned as their subject matter, in the same way that a painter like Marilyn Minter takes fashion photography as the subject of her paintings. The rigid discipline towards what is considered to be a proper 'subject' for the discourse that art takes on, which is a discourse situated as a global social project, is a discipline more so of the patrons of the arts that have come to develop a sense of expectation s that are no longer, or rarely met.