Mu­seum ex­hibit dis­tills the Mex­ico-U.S. bor­der

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - ROB­BIE NEISWANGER

Richard Mis­rach has been cap­tur­ing im­ages along the U. S.- Mex­ico bor­der since about 2004, well be­fore the area be­came what he de­scribed as a daily “prime­time news event.”

When the Ca l i fo r - nia-based pho­tog­ra­pher be­gan col­lab­o­rat­ing with sculp­tor and com­poser Guillermo Galindo sev­eral years later on a project that would be­come “Bor­der Can­tos: Sights and Sound Ex­plo­rations from the Mex­i­can-Amer­i­can Bor­der,” he still couldn’t imag­ine its cur­rent rel­e­vance.

“It’s un­canny,” Mis­rach said. “There’s no way we had any idea.”

Nei­ther did Crys­tal Bridges Mu­seum of Amer­i­can Art, whose first ex­hi­bi­tion of 2017 fo­cuses on the cul­tural and po­lit­i­cal di­vide be­tween the bor­der­ing coun­tries. “Bor­der Can­tos” — which opens Satur­day — fea­tures large-scale land­scape pho­to­graphs, ar­ti­facts left be­hind by bor­der crossers, sculp­tures, and mu­si­cal in­stru­ments crafted from ob­jects col­lected along the 2,000-mile bor­der across Cal­i­for­nia, Ari­zona, New Mex­ico and Texas.

“Bor­der Can­tos” ar­rives at Crys­tal Bridges in Ben­tonville after stints at the San Jose Mu­seum of Art in San Jose, Calif., and the Amon Carter Mu­seum of Amer­i­can Art in Fort Worth last year. Ali De­morot­ski, the cu­ra­tor for the ex­hi­bi­tion at Crys­tal Bridges, hopes guests will visit with an “open mind.”

“They’re not try­ing to

take a po­lit­i­cal stance,” De­morot­ski said of the artists. “They’re re­ally pre­sent­ing the place and the peo­ple that are be­ing af­fected by the wall and by the mil­i­ta­riza­tion of the bor­der. It’s not con­fronting you with spe­cific peo­ple and spe­cific sto­ries and re­ally try­ing to make any­one feel guilty. It’s re­ally open-ended to cre­ate a space to think and to kind of re­act, en­gage where you’re com­ing from and maybe why you feel that way.”

Mis­rach has spent much of his ca­reer pho­tograph­ing the Amer­i­can desert, which is part of an on­go­ing col­lec­tion of land­scape pho­tos that, like the cur­rent ex­hibit, bear the “Desert Can­tos” ti­tle.

His trav­els through the South­west have taken him to the bor­der, where about 680 miles of steel walls and fence have been con­structed to de­ter il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion. In 2009, Mis­rach said he started notic­ing an in­creased mil­i­ta­riza­tion along the bor­der and the area be­gan draw­ing the fo­cus of his cam­era more.

The col­lab­o­ra­tion with Galindo be­gan in 2011, when Mis­rach at­tended a per­for­mance in which he played orig­i­nal com­po­si­tions on in­stru­ments made from ob­jects found along the Texas bor­der. The two be­gan work­ing to­gether on the “Bor­der Can­tos Sights and Sound Ex­plo­rations from the Mex­i­can-Amer­i­can Bor­der” project a year later, want­ing to give peo­ple “the ex­pe­ri­ence of the bor­der” through sights and sounds.

In his trav­els, Mis­rach would pho­to­graph and col­lect ob­jects along the bor­der. He would then take them to Galindo, who would craft them into sculp­tures and in­stru­ments. One ex­am­ple: The An­gel Ex­ter­mi­nador (Ex­ter­mi­nat­ing An­gel), a man­gled piece of the bor­der wall dan­gling by a chain from a wooden frame.

“I started get­ting more am­bi­tious over time,” said Galindo, whose 260-minute orig­i­nal score of mu­sic from bor­der in­stru­ments can be heard through­out the gallery. “This is one of my most am­bi­tious things. Richard asked me what I wanted, and I said I wanted part of the wall.”

Most of the pho­to­graphs in the ex­hi­bi­tion are land­scapes fea­tur­ing parts of the bor­der wall or ob­jects left be­hind by trav­el­ers. Mis­rach said he pur­posely avoided pho­tograph­ing peo­ple, in­stead fo­cus­ing on the bor­der wall or left-be­hind items like shoes, wa­ter bot­tles, clothes or tuna cans.

Agua #1, which Mis­rach pho­tographed near Calex­ico, Calif., in 2004 proved to be the first photo in the project. It fea­tured a blue bar­rel with the word “agua” and a wind-tat­tered blue flag. Sim­i­lar bar­rels con­tain­ing gal­lons of wa­ter are left for trav­el­ers in the re­mote parts of the desert by hu­man­i­tar­ian groups.

Galindo used one such bar­rel in an ac­com­pa­ny­ing piece called The Foun­tain of Tears. “I would find things, and he would get ideas from it,” Mis­rach said of the col­lab­o­ra­tion with Galindo. “He would do things, which would give me ideas that I would be sen­si­tized to see in the land­scape. It was this back and forth. … That dy­namic was so im­por­tant for this project and the way our two medi­ums and prac­tices sort of in­spire each other.”

“Bor­der Can­tos” also is the first full-scale bilin­gual ex­hi­bi­tion at Crys­tal Bridges. Every part of the ex­hi­bi­tion — in­clud­ing la­bels, quotes and brochures — are in English and Span­ish.

To pre­pare, the mu­seum formed an ad­vi­sory com­mit­tee con­sist­ing of His­panic com­mu­nity lead­ers through­out North­west Ar­kan­sas to aid in the plan­ning process. The group met once a month dat­ing back to Au­gust, of­fer­ing feedback and guid­ance for a project that be­came timely through­out the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion cam­paign, espe­cially in re­gard to the anti-im­mi­grant rhetoric of the win­ner, Don­ald Trump.

So­nia Gu­tier­rez, founder and chief op­er­a­tions of­fi­cer of the New Design School in Fayetteville, was a mem­ber of the “Bor­der Can­tos” ad­vi­sory com­mit­tee. Gu­tier­rez said she be­lieves that art has an in­cred­i­ble power to move, ed­u­cate and en­lighten and is look­ing for­ward to the pub­lic’s re­sponse to “Bor­der Can­tos.”

“It’s open. It’s not telling you what to think,” Gu­tier­rez said last month. “It’s only show­ing what is there, and it leaves it to the viewer to make that choice. That’s what is beau­ti­ful about it, and you in­ter­pret it how­ever you need to and ap­ply it how­ever you want.”

The ex­hi­bi­tion, which is free to the pub­lic, will be on view un­til April 24.

Mis­rach said, “I’m mak­ing some­thing about to­day, but hop­ing that 30 years from now peo­ple will look back at this and kind of learn lessons about who we were at this his­tor­i­cal mo­ment.”

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/BEN GOFF • @NWABENGOFF

“Eye (Watch Out)” (front) and “Ex­ter­mi­nat­ing An­gel,” fea­tur­ing a piece of bor­der wall, by Guillermo Galindo sit on dis­play Thurs­day with pho­to­graphs by Richard Mis­rach dur­ing a me­dia pre­view of the ex­hibit “Bor­der Can­tos: Sight & Sound Ex­plo­rations from the Mex­i­can-Amer­i­can Bor­der” at Crys­tal Bridges Mu­seum of Amer­i­can Art in Ben­tonville. The ex­hibit, a col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween Mis­rach and Mex­i­can-Amer­i­can sculp­tor and com­poser Guillermo Galindo will be on dis­play from Satur­day through April 24.

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/BEN GOFF • @NWABENGOFF

Richard Mis­rach (left), an Amer­i­can pho­tog­ra­pher, and Mex­i­can-Amer­i­can sculp­tor and com­poser Guillermo Galindo take ques­tions Thurs­day about their work dur­ing a me­dia pre­view of the ex­hibit “Bor­der Can­tos: Sight & Sound Ex­plo­rations from the Mex­i­can-Amer­i­can Bor­der” at Crys­tal Bridges Mu­seum of Amer­i­can Art in Ben­tonville. The ex­hibit, a col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween Mis­rach and Galindo, will be at the mu­seum from Satur­day through April 24.

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