Sometimes the timeline of planning, researching and executing a complex art exhibition aligns in such way that it seems as if the artist was a soothsayer who knew exactly how the last few years would play out. Such is the case with two new exhibitions at Artpace, both by German-born artists based in San Antonio. Certainly immigration and borders have been ever-present issues (especially in Texas), but in the last few years, the refugee crisis in Europe, ascension of Trump, calls for a 2,300-mile wall along the entire Mexican-American border, and the unleashing of an emboldened border security apparatus and nativist department of justice, render these two exhibits especially timely.
In the Hudson Showroom, Sabine Senft’s “Borderline Reality” is an ambitious, multifaceted work. Working with a grant from the Artist Foundation of San Antonio, Senft created several interlocking pieces. Like solar flares or volcanic eruptions, gold “surges” conjure the migratory surges flowing into Europe. Each of the surges is adorned with a piece Senft found from border camps of migrants trying to enter the U.S. — a key whose purpose is unknown, a coil, a latch. Photographs of tire “drags” in Warholian colors (Senft’s family owned a tire shop while she was growing up in Germany) reflect the latticed treads of the tires. Border agents use these tire drags to create tread imprints to capture the footprints of migrants attempting to cross the border. A river of candy shaped like the Rio Grande will wind through “Borderline Reality,” symbolizing the “sweet life” migrants are seeking when they risk their lives to cross borders. The centerpieces of the show are the stone “sentinels” meant to resemble the watch towers of the border. Senft sourced the large stones from the border noting: “Geologically, it is the same on both sides of the border.”
In Artpace’s Main Space (previously known as Window Works), Doerte Weber’s “Checkpoint” simulates the border wall between the U.S. and Mexico by weaving massive tapestries of thick cotton and plastic newspaper bags (from the San Antonio Express-News and The New York Times). Weber grew up going through the checkpoints of the Berlin Wall and felt the experience was akin to an animal becoming caged. The tapestries stretch 15 feet to the ceiling, not quite the 20 feet of the actual walls but approximating their looming intimidation. The tapestries are not connected and swing freely, inviting viewers to walk between them and iterating the intrinsic porousness of any borders and the impossibility of a secure wall. The translucent bags between the cotton alight in the afternoon sun, and like the candy river in Senft’s “Borderline Reality,” suggest an enticing new world on the horizon.