Art in Translation aims to explore the questions of home, language, and identity through the collective experiences of Jackson’s Latino community. Sponsored by the Art Association of Jackson Hole, this is a deliberate effort to continue its work of building bridges of visual art in the Jackson Latino community. A series of programs has been designed around this theme, with the goal to cultivate and encourage a sense of belonging through common experience.
Curator Cecilia Delgado Masse with muca-Roma contemporary art museum in Mexico City brought together Mexican artists Verònica Gerber Bicecci, Edgardo Aragón, and Sandra Calvo for a two-month collaborative exhibition that includes guest-artist talks and education programs for the Jackson community. The exhibition statement reads partly, “Art in Translation: Drifts for the Memory of an Encounter is proposed as a series of collective exercises of observation and community critical reflection, where the invitation is to look at ourselves in the ‘others’ to construct, through the creative act, new possibilities of coexistence and integration… and thus be able to recognize ourselves in an intercultural community.”
The installation “Palabras migrantes / Migrant Words” is the result of Verònica Gerber Bicecci’s Migrant Words workshops with the Jackson Hole High and Middle schools, Journeys Elementary and High school as well as the Community School. Bicecci defines herself as a visual artist who writes. “Palabras migrantes / Migrant Words” blends origin stories and experiences from her time in Jackson with experiences, thoughts, and statements by students in the Jackson schools. To experience the installation the viewer is invited to sit and listen to a 20-minute podcast that defines the evolution behind the emojis that have been redrawn on the gallery wall.
Bicecci began the workshop by placing the students in groups to discuss their migrant roots; It wasn’t long before the chorus “we are all migrants” could be heard. The emojis evolved through student reflection on the words migrant, border and translation. In Bicecci’s own story, her family migrated from Italy to Argentina, later landing in Mexico just a few years before she was born. This came into question one morning during her stay at the Wort Hotel in Jackson. When the Mexican housekeeper began to speak in English, Bicecci replied in Spanish. Yet the housekeeper pushed back saying she didn’t look “Mexican enough.”
As the stories weave through the podcast, they reference numbers corresponding to the emojis and symbols drawn on the wall in charcoal, reminiscent of graffiti or the street art signature stylization of a tag. The word “Migrant” became a flag with two non-existent countries that enjoy free movement between. The students defined “Migration” as “movement from one place to another that makes you an outsider.” I entered the podcast nearly in the middle where, accurately pointing to my disorientation, discussion from students defined “translation” as “thinking twice.” Bicecci explained their frustration of thinking in one language but speaking in another, while those fluent in a second language would never grasp the cultural context needed for a full connection.
On the wall adjacent to “Palabras migrantes / Migrant Words” is the projection “Conferencia secreta / Secret Lecture.” The projection shows images of the 28 illegible index cards of the lecturer. A corresponding 25-minute lecture fills the headphones, the vast majority in Spanish. The most revealing artifact is the artist statement, in Bicecci’s own words: “This visual and literary performance explores the ephemeral, fragile and contradictory lexical matter of secrets; the paradoxes between telling and hiding, between keeping a secret, writing, and language.”
We are also told that there is a secret contained in this lecture, which was performed April 29th at the Center for the Arts. I was unable to attend this event, and even if I had I would be unable to share the secret as no recording was allowed. Feeling out of place, not knowing what window to look in and unsure if I would even understand are actually feelings that, at this point, I am beginning to savor. I feel that this piece has playfully shown me the paradox at the root of “Conferencia secreta / Secret Lecture.” I, and all those who enter late into this secret conversation, will forever be locked out.
With a background in urbanism and anthropology, political science, film, literature, and art history, Sandra Calvo has developed a critical and interdisciplinary approach to her artistic practice. Her projects require long-term commitment and integration into communities, resulting in critical reflection on public space, housing and urbanization, as well as segregation, spatial rights, and the use of space.
In a side-by-side projection, the result of Calvo’s community integration is visualized in “Arquitectura sin aruitectos ASA / Architecture Without Architects AWA.” This video documents a 2-year project that Calvo describes as “a collaborative site-specific intervention.” This collaboration with the Puente Moreno Velandias family takes place in an informal settlement on the outskirts of Bogotá, Columbia. It began by replacing the sheet metal roof with a concrete roof — providing a physical and existential sturdiness to the home. The family planned an extension and, in the form of real-life AutoCAD, Calvo worked with it to draft a 1:1 scale of the future spaces outlined in heavy cotton thread. This ghostly 3-D line drawing allowed a visual realization of their new space and also highlights the uncertainty of the fragile, informal neighborhoods.
On the other side of the loft gallery space, a different story is unfolding. “Los palacios sonados de Tlaxcala / The Dreamed Palaces of Tlaxcala” builds a comparative study about the housing of Mexican migrants. Pedro Popocatl has drawn architectural plans on plywood; they lean against the wall with the familiar sharp, sweet smell of building. Popocatl is a Mexican migrant; the architectural plans represent the house he currently lives in as well as his projected house in Mexico that references the Jackson Hole house he works in.
Side-by-side video monitors depict scenes from homes in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and Tlaxcala, Mexico. The stark differences cannot be ignored and eloquently build a study of Mexican migrant housing that is part of the overall housing crisis in Teton County.
In the town of Jackson we see a trailer occupied by six people with three rooms and a makeshift room built from a closet. Two windows are broken while one is covered with plywood. Constant noise from a heater, at least two ceiling leaks, and carpet composed of car mats are background to an impending eviction that will come with only a 2-month notice. The video loops into scenes of a woman cleaning and straightening the rooms within a $16 million home on a golf course in Teton County. The home contains eight rooms and is inhabited by two people for a maximum of three weeks per year, however the sheets and towels are refreshed weekly.
The video depicting Tlaxcala, Mexico records a home under construction, built in the style and detail of a millionaire’s home in Jackson Hole, complete with balconies, classic columns, and a spiral staircase. These “Dreamed Palaces” are built with the migrant’s remittances; the construction will last decades and will most likely remain unfinished. The owners might not be able to return to Mexico due to their immigration status, yet they dream of a future home — an ideal based on the homes where they work in Wyoming. The homes under construction in Tlaxcala sit vacant, empty dreams with insufficient resources, only the shadow of hope.
Edgardo Aragón employs film and photography to explore storytelling through the cyclical lens of political, social, and historical issues.
A short looping video, “302 a Blues Song,” relies on symbols to re-tell the chilling story of the 1998 assassination of James Byrd, a Texas African American, at the hands of white supremacists. Layered into this imagery is a combination of two Mexican desires, as Aragón states: “on one side, ‘the pick-up truck’ as a trophy won after years of living in hiding, and on the other side, the yearning of the stereotyped American life being denied to them as an acquired right after years of work.”
Encompassing the adjacent wall is a large video projection of another film by Aragón, “El paso, hombre invisible / Invisible man.” The 29-minute video combines sweeping landscape with the ambient sound of place. While some clues may point to location — mountains, badlands, desert, snow, bison, cattle — I found myself lost in space and thought. Occasionally subtitled text breaks the hypnotic sounds of nature:
Animals are here, as huge walls,
in their site to identify
the boundaries between ranchers and biologists:
protected from this blood supply,
sacrificed by processing plants
if the beast leaves the Mexican fort.
And just like that, I snap back to reality and it does not matter that I do not know where I am or where I am supposed to go.
Each artist explores the theme of home, language, and identity with his or her distinct voice. Without verbalizing them, they raise questions that cannot be answered but are deserving of a conversation.
The Art Association Gallery is located inside the Center for the Arts. The exhibition will be on display until June 29, the gallery is open Monday – Saturday 8:30 a.m – 9 p.m., Sunday 9 a.m. – 7 p.m.
Jenny Dowd is an artist living in Alpine where she co-owns the small pottery business, Dowd House Studios. Her pottery can be found in several Jackson shops and restaurants. Jenny teaches studio art classes for Central Wyoming College and the Art Association of Jackson Hole. See more of her sculpture and pottery at jennydowd.com.