March 8, 2017
State of Exception, an exhibition co-created by artist/curator Amanda Krugliak (BFA 1984) and artist/photographer Richard Barnes in collaboration with UM anthropologist Jason De Leon, was recently reviewed in the New York Times by Holland Cotter. The exhibition, currently on display at Parsons School of Design in New York, is based on De Leon’s Undocumented Migration Project, a research initiative that studies clandestine and unauthorized desert traffic between Mexico and the United States and collects its material traces.
Strong political art is hard to make. So when it turns up, it’s worth a look. In an era of “great, great walls” and “bad hombres,” an exhibition called “State of Exception/Estado de Excepción” at Parsons School of Design fills the bill. It starts with a kind of special-effects installation, a video of what looks like fast-flowing river projected across the gallery floor and surging toward you. You walk over it to enter the show, and the shuddering current makes you feel woozy, as if you don’t quite know what your feet are doing.
The image turns out not to be of water but of human debris — castoff clothing, backpacks, water bottles — seemingly swept along by some unseen force. From wall labels, you learn the source of the stuff. It all belonged to illegal immigrants entering the United States from Mexico through the Sonoran Desert in Arizona, one of the hottest, driest stretches of land North America. The hazards of trying to cross it are potentially deadly: heat stroke, (summer temperatures are regularly over 100 degrees), dehydration and attacks — robberies, rapes, murders — by bandits and border patrols. From 2001 to 2009, at least 2,500 migrants died, and probably many more whose bodies vanished.