Reynier Leyva Novo’s exhibition, The Sunset Road, is centered around the transfer of matter and energy in relation to migration. Like much of his artistic practice, Novo combines research and art-making to create a conceptual space that invites the viewer to dive deeper into the subject matter. In this case, a solitary artwork, Sauna Truck, guides the visitors’ experience.
Sitting in the middle of the gallery, the back of a commercial truck bed has been transformed into a sauna that visitors are welcome to enter. A sauna is commonly used as a place of rest and restoration; it is a space for meditation and cleansing of the body and mind. The heat in a sauna causes blood vessels to relax and dilate, increasing blood flow and reducing tension and soreness in the body.
While the idea of a sauna itself is relaxing and the experience energizing, the initial idea for the installation stems from the June 2022 tragedy, when a tractor-trailer filled with migrants was abandoned on a desolate road in San Antonio, Texas, resulting in the deaths of 53 people. This incident is considered the deadliest human smuggling incident in United States history. As part of his Artpace project, Novo held a Mass of Remembrance in honor of all the immigrants who have lost their lives on their journey to the United States. Held at the Sacred Hearts Chapel at Our Lady of the Lake University, the bilingual mass included a “Book of life” that included the names of the immigrants who died in last year’s smuggling disaster.
While the 2022 tragedy was at the root of this installation, the concept surrounding the experience is creating a new, dystopian object “related to the migration and the conservation of matter.” More specifically, the artwork is dedicated to exploring how energy can be transformed in different environments and how environmental conditions have a direct impact on the matter. Ultimately, the Sauna Truck is an extension of our global reality, exploring the impact of migration on San Antonio, Texas, and the world.