Borders worldwide carve out adjacent regions of flux. While governmental currencies and economies may remain distinct, with each crossing the fluid realms of language and culture blend. The resulting hybrid zones of neither/nor reflect hierarchical complexities of colonial histories and create uniquely rich landscapes that unconsciously and deliberately pull from both sides.
The group exhibition Spanglish offers distinct contemporary perspectives on the hybridity of South Texas. Recent pieces by San Antonians describe the region as Mexican and American, not a reduction of either. Included works offer reflexive responses to the everyday, political gestures toward a troubling history, and the realities of the language and culture of Spanglish.
Gary Sweeney approaches the difficulties of cross-cultural communication with biting humor. Sin Cuenta, a three-part fence piece, addresses the forcible separation of historically interdependent territories and the resulting issue of undocumented crossings while subverting the “patriotic” sayings that regularly appear on school fences. Looming at the exhibition’s entrance is a giant watchful eye composed of colorful plastic in chain link topped with threatening barbed wire. More permeable fences complete the piece with charged Spanish phrases that play with language’s inherent flexibility. One derisively asks how many undocumenteds there are, while the other puns “Sin Cuenta,” which translates, to the ear, as both “countless” and “fifty.” The piece is a chilling reminder of the infinite dilemmas posed by erecting and enforcing borders.
Luz María Sánchez’s soundworks indicate relationships between people and environments. In one piece twelve authoritative power horns broadcast police radio transmissions along the contested Laredo/Nuevo Laredo border. While static and code obscure crimes and responses, the frenzied energy is audible. In another work the soothing rhythm of the Rio Grande, a scenic geographic feature-turned-border, is periodically interrupted by sirens signaling an illegal crossing. Sanchez’s minimal presentations gain maximum power through startling juxtapositions, dislocation of associated imagery duration, and repetition.
Daniel Guerrero’s paintings map the complex formation of identity and the merging of traditional Mexican and American influences. In Here’s a story… Guerrero departs from the television show The Brady Bunch to suggest the components of his “family.” Against a wall painted test-pattern colors, The Brady’s grid now centers on Guerrero, with significant figures from both cultures surrounding: Jesus and Aztec god Quetzacoatl, Speedy Gonzales and Mickey Mouse, Marilyn Monroe, La Virgen de Guadalupe, La Malinche, and Hernán Cortés. The piece boldly evokes the breadth of positive and negative influences and the United States’ insularity.
Cruz Ortiz uses various media to embrace the bicultural landscape of South Texas. COYOTE-LANDIA is one of a new series that forgoes Ortiz’s alter ego Spaztek for a diagrammatic examination of Ortiz himself. Hung with twine and clothespins, the pencil on paper schematic drawing connects Ortiz’s signature love-song inspired Spanglish phrases with representations of broken-hearted figures and skulls signifying the deceased. The piece remarks upon the present Chicano experience by infusing tradition (folk music, graphic style, storytelling, death) with contemporary pop and punk sensibilities.
Ricky Armendariz’s paintings update Western art history with Chicano heritage. Lonesome highways are the only kind I seem to travel… features an expansive sky referencing traditional landscape painting bordered by varnished wood panel alluding to American kitsch. Additionally, each painting in this series is routed with dicho/truism and indigenous Mexican characters and symbols, an invasive branding gesture which further re-adjusts a hierarchy that habitually marginalizes Americana and Chicanismo. In these imposing images of hybridity, the cultural blending of South Texas is expressed as necessity, choice, and above all, reality.
Ann-Michèle Morales’s intricate and intimate dicho drawings bilingually present rules to live by, suggesting intuitive shifting between cultures as ideas demand. In Del Dicho al Hecho Hay un Gran Trecho the artist has painted thought bubbles on a wall, filling one with images of Spanish sayings and the other with truisms in English. Leading up to these options is an asphalt road suggesting the role of choice in the formation of philosophies and reception of influences.
Culturally-specific reception and perception is explored with humor in Rae Culbert’s installations and photographs. Mexican hat trick, like several recent photos, is at once poignant and dark. Three sombreros appear to be crossing a watery expanse from one side to the other. The mind’s eye fills in the bodies below: people forced by tightening borders to risk their lives and become invisible for the promise of America. Another photo features the neon of a United States and Mexico-shaped sign selling beer. Reading “Países Sin Fronteras,” it is a glaring example of enterprising attempts to capitalize upon politics of the Lone Star State.
Beto Gonzales puts a graphic designer’s eye toward commercial Tejano imagery, often abstracting it and sometimes further fusing it with pop. For Tejano Baroque and Calvins Con Sombreros he re-appropriates common American symbols (bucking horse, a cartoon character) often manipulated and placed on bumper stickers. While the decorative patterns’ origins are hinted at through the use of vinyl decals and the strategic application of car window tinting, the complex combination of styles and traditions is evocative yet hard to place.
Like many of the pieces in Spanglish, Gonzales’s embody the uncanny nature of hybridity found along the United States/Mexico border and others worldwide. The works in the exhibition suggest that this frontera’s language and culture is neither formed nor owned by either side. Rather it exists in its own zone, tethered to both and constantly re-defined as it is created from within.