Saturday, January 25, 2014

Maize Y Mas: From Mother to Monster?

--> Corn was at the heart of Mesoamerican culture. It was more than a staple food, but a part of the majority of meals and festivals and rituals were organized around its planting and harvest. Similarly, today, corn plays a central role in U.S. farming economy and in U.S. diets, although its role in the food we eat is hidden—we don’t eat the whole food but its processed byproducts, as an ingredient in food we buy or, as the main food for the animals we eat, even when its not good for them, we subsist on it through meat. Whereas corn comes in hundreds of varietals and was represented by deities colored blue, white, red and yellow to honor the wide variety of corn, today in the U.S. we basically eat the same corn cob over and over and over: nearly 100% of corn in the U.S. is GM--and is actually registered as a pesticide with the EPA. The wind doesn’t follow the confines of geopolitical borders and GM pollen has spread into Mexican corn crops. What was once celebrated as both creator and mother has been processed into something terribly unhealthy and dangerous for consumers.Mexico has recognized this threat by  temporarily banning GMO corn.

San Jose's MACLA has also recognized this shift in corn from giver of life to threat in it's current show, Maize Y Mas: From Mother to Monster. In the curated show featuring Yvonne Escalante, Yolanda Guerra, Fernando Mastrangelo, Viva Paredes, and Jorge Rojas, MACLA explores corn's  place in our culture across time.

Mastrangelo presented This Too Shall Pass,a stature of the Virgin Mary made entirely out of corn. Corn kernals form the base and her body and yellow corn meal adds more detail to the top of her. It is a commentary on the blending of Mesoamerican and Catholic ideologies--both corn and the Virgin Mary play an important role in origin myths and are good omens and the two became mythologically linked in some cultures. A subtler layer of meaning in the pieces points to the Spanish Conquest and the contemporary conquest of agribusiness over corn in the making of GM corn.

Paredes made a series of glass vases which suggest the shape of corn and filled each of them with the kernels of different corn varietals. She fills an entire wall with them, and the kernels are of all different shapes, sizes and colors--from red to blue, yellow, white and all shades in between. It makes me realize, that, besides how dangerous GMO corn is, just how bland the corn is which we have access to in this country. Paredes' installation also suggests a seed bank of sorts, a living memory of the long, rich history of corn but also the delicate state that corn is in right now as GMO corn pollen can be contained about as easily as the wind.

Across the room, the flip side to Paredes' heirloom kernels is a series of small jars containing the toxic products of corn--items which are no longer considered food, but ingredients: corn syrup, cornstarch, the kernels of GM corn. Items which are not healthy to ingest yet infiltrate our food system.
Escalante presented a series of pieces which combine the essence of corn and their place in our culture with weapons--bullets, missiles and grenades. With this combination, she comments on the ease of destruction corn now has on our society and culture.

In her popcorn stand, instead of filling it with popcorn, she fills with casts of corn to which he had added the fins a missile has. They are falling out of the popper, much like popcorn does as the kernels puff open and spill over, but these missiles are hitting the floor and exploding. Then, in Kernel of Truth, Escalante makes bullets, filling resin with corn kernels and setting them in metal casings. From a distance, they look just like bullets but up close they contain life. Her combination of life and creation in the corn and destruction and death of the weapons perfectly sums up the state that corn is in--it is still a staple in our food and still a part of our culture but as more and more of it is GMO, it is no longer something which promises health and life, but disease and danger.

Friday, January 10, 2014

De Esperanza Y De Locura/Of Hope and Madness

Migration is beautiful
De Esperanza Y De Locura closed but it has stayed with me: I find myself ruminating over pieces I saw there in the way that I run my thumb over a swatch of cloth, feeling the same small part again and again, for the pleasure of feeling it and, in feeling it, knowing it. So I re-begin this blog that was so close to my heart that I had to stop writing it with an exhibition that is no longer up but, I believe, still speaks.
Los Brincos

This show pulled together several artists-- Erika Harrsch, Miguel Luciano, Esperanza Mayobre, Omar Pimienta, Favianna Rodriguez and Judi Werthein--on the topic of migration. Though none of the pieces were collaborative, the resounding theme across the show was one of flight. There were kites and butterflies, most particularly the Monarch butterfly—which, because it migrates between México and North America and takes several generations for each migration, is an apt symbol for Mexican-Americans—altered passports and paper currency that invoked dreams of the ease of motion across borders that butterflies have. Collectively, the exhibition set about imagining a new geopolitical geography, erasing limitations and exploring the freedom of flight, of superseding borders.
Pimiento, Harrsch and Wertheins’ installations all directly addressed the politics and physical limits of the borders. Pimiento works primarily with expired passports, which he takes and alters, granting the holder citizenship to Colonia Libertad in Tijuana. His simple inclusion of all into the Colonia defined by transition and passage extends the reach of Colonia Libertad to all the places in the world where Libertad citizens reside and grants the holder movement to move freely across all the earth’s landmasses. While Pimiento imagines passage into a borderless world, Harrsch sets forth a united North America, a borderless union of Canada, the United States and Mexico, “similar to NAFTA yet, in this case, actually providing equal social, political and economic benefits to all citizens of these regions.” She, like, Pimiento, also designs passports; hers, however, are embossed with a monarch butterfly, as is her flag of The United States of North America. Her installation features a series of passports mounted on the wall with history, law and hopes of her fictional land inscribed on them as well as a “Wheel of Fortune,” which attendees could spin to determine if and how they could pass, with the potential to land on illegal alien, non-citizen, caution, try again, citizen, you are not eligible.
Werthein’s “Los Brincos” was one of my favorite pieces here. She created the shoes (for that is what Los Brincos are: a pair of shoes in the likes of Air Jordans—meaning, “the jumps,” the athletic shoes play on the high cost and coveted status of some athletic shoes) specifically for a pathless journey through the desert: they come equipped with compass, flashlight, map of crossing-routes on the bottome and painkillers in case of injury. She designed them toe-forward towards the U.S.: the Aztec eagle is embroidered on the heel and the American eagle on the front. She sold them in San Diego and NYC galleries for 215 dollars and distributed them for free to migrants.

United States of North America-Passport Installation
Rodriguez, Luciano and Harsch, in another piece, all literally used wings in their pieces. Rodriguez created “Migration is Beautiful,” a mural of butterflies flying upwards and out from three children. It comes with a poster featuring a single butterfly, based on the monarch butterfly, but the markings, in this case, outline faces. Hers is a celebration of the “beauty, pride and resilience” of migrants. Luciano, with his “Dreamer Kites” performs a similar celebration. He used images of Dreamers—students who are undocumented but wish to study—, made kites out of them and mounted them from the ceiling, literally giving them wings.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Imagining the Death of NAFTA

I wish that I could have seen this installation: A Future Memorial for NAFTA. 20 black flags planted at the border field between Tijuana and San Diego. Each flag mourns a year that NAFTA has been in effect and looks towards the future death of NAFTA.

As the artists' website acknowledges the increase of migrant deaths since NAFTA and the attempt to stem the flow of people though the amount of migrants increase because of the drastic economic downturn in Mexico, the black flags also commemorate the massive amount of death and social upheaval.

It is a beautiful site that nods towards a larger movement.

Friday, January 3, 2014

A few no-brainers

I have been taken down by that horrid flu going around. Instead of blogging about art, I am supplying some links to Mexican American news.

During the 20th year of NAFTA, the first non-documented lawyer was admitted to the state bar. You can check it out here.

University of Texas is set to create a Mexican American history course for its public schools, which, considering how Arizona has banned Mexican American history and this was ruled constitutional, is a much needed step.