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Large-scale public art installation in Seattle addresses border wall
Red Sand Project: Border US-MX is being presented as part of the Sea-Tac Airport Art Program. Photo: The Storymakers. Courtesy artist Molly Gochman.

SEATTLE, WA.- On August 3, New York-based artist Molly Gochman will open, in Seattle, Red Sand Project: Border US-MX, a large-scale earthwork created to bring attention to how the ongoing battles over the border are making vulnerable populations even more susceptible to mistreatment, abuse, and trafficking. The 350-foot long, 2-foot wide installation, which replicates the US-Mexico border in red sand, will open at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, timed to the Seattle Art Fair, and is part of a long-term vision to present the work at airports and other highly visible public sites across the country. On view for approximately one year, the installation will be activated by a series of public programs developed in collaboration with non-profit organizations local to Seattle, including Refugees Northwest and NW Immigrants Rights Project, among others. The installation stands in direct opposition to the development of the border wall and serves as a platform for spurring dialogue on human trafficking, immigration, and the impacts of political maneuvering on individuals and communities.

Red Sand Project: Border US-MX is being presented as part of the Sea-Tac Airport Art Program, one of the first publicly-funded art programs formed within an American airport. The installation of Gochman’s work marks the first time that the Sea-Tac program will feature a temporary exterior installation, encouraging more people to engage with the airport as a site for the experience of art. In addition to the programs that will activate the installation, information regarding the installation and the issues it addresses will be available inside the airport, helping travelers to understand what they are seeing in flight and on the ground. The announcement of the installation also coincides with the formalization of the relationship between Gochman’s Red Sand Project and Freedom United, one of the largest non-profit organizations working to fight human trafficking and modern slavery through social, political, and governmental actions.

Information about opening events around the unveiling of the installation and the developing roster of programs for the year will be announced later this summer.

Border US-MX is part of the broader Red Sand Project initiative, which Gochman first launched in 2014 after realizing the depths to which slavery continues to be a contemporary reality. Globally, an estimated 40.3 million individuals live as slaves, whether in forced marriages, forced labor, or for sexual exploitation. Gochman recognized that to begin finding a solution to such a widespread challenge, increased public awareness and engagement would be essential. She initiated the first Red Sand Project action in Miami, where she filled the cracks of sidewalks in and around the Art Basel Miami Beach pavilion with red sand. The approach was symbolic, with the grains of sand representing those individuals who fall through the cracks—whether the cracks of our social, economic, and political systems or those of our personal consciousness. At the same time, the performative aspect of actively filling sidewalk cracks offered Gochman a way to engage people, with curious onlookers becoming unexpected participants in the conversation.

To expand the reach of the Project, Gochman, then, launched a website-—still active today—offering Red Sand Project toolkits, which include packets of red sand and information about slavery and trafficking in the U.S. and across the world, giving participants a way to physically engage with the cause and to build discussions around the action. Today, Red Sand Project actions have been done in all 50 states and in 70 countries, with more than one million participants. In 2018, 374 groups in the U.S. requested toolkits as a means of drawing attention to this critical issue, including high schools and colleges, district attorneys and police departments, governmental agencies, religious organizations, organizations dedicated to women and family services, and a wide range of others. These efforts can be tracked online with the hashtag #RedSandProject.

“As individuals, we are often confronted with information about big societal ills and challenges. It can feel overwhelming and difficult to see how—as one person—you can really make a difference. When I got engaged with this issue, I spoke to a number of organizations who lobby the government and work with survivors and they all said that raising awareness is critical,” said Gochman. “So, I decided this was something I could do—use my voice as an artist and my engagement with social practice to connect with others and bring further light to the issue. Often individuals, who have or are being subjected to trafficking, appear to us in plain sight, but we aren’t present enough to ask questions or knowledgeable enough about the ways in which we can help. The Red Sand Project is about moving that needle and getting more people involved.”

Then, in 2015, in the lead up to the presidential election, when polarizing, political rhetoric around immigration and the US-Mexico border began reaching a fever pitch, Gochman began to consider, again, how to make Red Sand Project more visible. “I started thinking about scale in different ways and what that meant about bringing the plight of vulnerable individuals into our general consciousness. When we talk about the border, we’re often not talking about how security efforts also contribute to the full range of human rights abuses. I decided I wanted to create a large-scale installation that could be seen from the sky and on the ground and that could be further activated through programming,” said Gochman.

This vision has resulted in the earthwork, Red Sand Project: Border US-MX, which was most recently presented at the international airport in Houston, Texas in 2018, as part of what will be an ongoing tour to bring the project and the conversation to different communities across the U.S. The presentation in Seattle will be the first to be activated with a full slate of programs, happening regularly throughout its one-year run. “As ideas, ideals, and fears about immigration, security, community, and the social safety net continue to proliferate within our political dialogue, it is ever more important to stand in opposition to the atrocities that are happening at the border and to provide opportunities for discussion, building understanding about how governmental actions are affecting the most vulnerable among us,” said Gochman.

Molly Gochman is a Houston-born, New York-based artist and activist, whose practice is centered around raising awareness about critical social issues—and our roles within them—through participatory and collaborative actions. Her projects have included: Buffalo Bayou Products (2006), in which Gochman developed a purchasable, faux beauty product line to draw attention to the polluted waterways of the Buffalo Bayou in Houston and to the ways in which real estate and media worked in concert to deceive the public about the issue; Traffic (2009), which highlighted, through a sound installation, the adverse effects of car traffic on bird populations; and Give-away Project I - IV (2002-2012), which invited the public to give and take material possessions of personal value, encouraging participants to consider emotional attachments to physical objects while also contemplating the impact of the amount of stuff we make, use, and discard. Among Gochman’s most enduring and impactful works is the ongoing Red Sand Project, which she initially launched in 2014. Underlying Gochman’s social practice is a vision to inspire thoughtful consideration of the society in which we live, and more specifically how our daily actions, or in many cases inactions, contribute to negative impacts on individuals, communities, and the environment. Her work has been presented in solo and group exhibitions throughout the U.S. and is held in several important private collections. In addition to her personal practice, in 2018, Gochman launched Stardust Arts to support the development of new partnerships with artists, nonprofits, community organizers, and individual innovators.

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