The perceived purity of the desert derives from its aridity, the absolute vectors of sky and land, the rising and setting sun. It offers up caches of death to us — bones bleached by the sun that form readymade headstones, the melodic sounds of predatory animals, and flowers that bloom for only one night a year wilting at the first rays of sunlight. As the desert kills it also cleanses, wipes away and we aestheticize it as a way to mitigate our fear of its inhabitability, our own presentiment of death. In Border Cantos, a photography book released by Aperture documenting the collaborative work of Guillermo Galindo and Richard Misrach, the artists presume to express grief for those lost in the passage through the American-Mexican border. The book itself is a collection of expert landscapes and documentary photographs from Misrach, partnered with art objects made in collaboration with Galindo that operate as musical instruments. The artists created guitars out of effigies found in the desert clothed with the garments of immigrants, shakers out of discarded water jugs, a gong out of a large hanging chunk of the border wall, and more.
Ojo (or Eye) is a functional theremin made from a bicycle wheel crushed by border police; its image invokes Duchamp’s Bicycle Wheel, while its music is the eerie whine of radio static against a dry road. The manifestation of a voice from the relics is uncanny in itself, but what is further unseating is the aptness and the precision of the music. The performances of the instruments are available on bordercantos.com, and they offer a sort of living counterpart to the book itself. The edition from Aperture also includes an introduction and texts from Josh Kun. The landscapes, objects, texts and music truly make an artful assemblage, greater than the sum of its parts. Assemblage is the way that all of our best mythical figures begin, after all — and, sometimes, it’s in myth alone that we have the courage to face violent realities.
An exhibition of Border Cantos is on view at the San Jose Museum of Art through July 31, 2016.
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