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Video art looks at U.S.-Mexico border, addresses significance in current global climate
K. Yoland, British, born 1980, Military Cut, 2013, single-channel HD video, 15 minutes 25 seconds, Courtesy of the artist. K. Yoland.

SARASOTA, FLA.- In Approaching the Border, five video works by five international artists challenge us to examine our thinking about the U.S.-Mexico border, and the significance of borders in an era when migration and the reemergence of nationalism are key global issues. Some of these artists situate their work in the physical space of the borderlands of Mxico or the U.S. Other projects consider the power of borders to divide and construct national identity. Organized by The Ringling, the exhibition is on view there from Nov. 5, 2017, through Jan. 21, 2018.

“Each of the works in the exhibition explore challenging new ways we might approach conceptualizing the border,” said Christopher Jones, associate curator of photography and new media at The Ringling. “Some of these artists are quite direct while others may be more oblique, but each confronts the power and complexity of what the borderland represents.”

Approaching the Border includes works by Francis Als, Emilio Chapela, Yoshua Okn, K. Yoland and Christiana De Marchi. The five videos are being projected on a continuous loop in The Ringling’s Monda Gallery for Contemporary Art, which debuted in November 2016 as a permanent space dedicated to the display of work in a variety of media by living artists.

Born in Belgium in 1959, Francis Als has been based in Mexico City since 1986. Als enacts simple, poetic actions in cities or in border regions around the world to heighten awareness of sociopolitical realities and struggle. In Paradox of Praxis 5: Sometimes we dream as we live & sometimes we live as we dream, Ciudad Jurez, Mxico (2013) a collaboration with Julien Devaux, Rafeal Ortega, Alejandro Morales and Felix Blume, the artist kicks a soccer ball on fire through dark and nearly empty streets. Als’s actions highlight how menacing this frontier town has become after decades of narco-trafficking violence.

Emilio Chapela (born 1978) lives in Mexico City and works internationally. His practice often deals with technology’s effects on society. His work Radio Latina embodies thousands of images taken from Google street view in Mexico, pointed towards the Mexico-U.S. border. The sound accompanying the video is a live feed from a bilingual radio station that is popular with those living and working near the border. The work underscores the arbitrariness of physical borders, with digital technology and radio waves able to move effortlessly across borders.

K. Yoland, a British multidisciplinary artist, looks at the essence of identity, power and borders in our society. For several years Yoland lived and worked in Marfa, Texas, making frequent trips to the Mexican-U.S. border. Her body of work entitled Border Land Other examines borders, invasion, migration and the alien. Approaching the Border features a piece from this project, Military Cut, in which a solider receives a buzz cut on a ranch, while subtitles from a third unknown party discuss aliens observing Earth.

Yoshua Okn, born in Mexico in 1970, combines staged reenactments, documentary footage and improvisation in his work. His video installation Oracle looks at the events of 2014 in Oracle, Arizona, the site of the largest-yet protest against the influx of unaccompanied minors from Central America to the U.S. The leaders of the militia who organized the protest agreed to create staged scenes based on their nationalist ideology, including a reenactment of the protest, for Okn. The piece also includes nine immigrant children singing a modified version of the U.S. Marines’ Hymn.

The fifth work in the exhibition, from Cristiana de Marchi (born 1968), an Italian-Lebanese artist and writer working in Beirut and Dubai, is a broader meditation on the idea of borders. Typically her work incorporates video and textiles to explore concerns around identity, displacement and the penetrable borders separating regions. In Doing & Undoing (Borders), the word “borders” is embroidered in white thread on black fabric and then carefully removed – a comment on their transitory nature.

“This exhibition provides new ways of looking at meaningful issues that are front and center in the news today,” said Steven High, executive director, The Ringling. “Through presenting them in the context of a museum we are able to remove them from the strict political realm and create a vibrant space for open discourse.”

Approaching the Border is part of The Ringling’s ongoing and wide-ranging Art of Our Time initiative to present and commission new works by contemporary artists in the visual and performance fields.

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