State of Exception

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State of Exception is an exhibition exploring the human experience of crossing the U.S./Mexico border. Artist and photographer Richard Barnes and Curator and artist Amanda Krugliak talk about the exhibition.

Jose Cardenas: State of exception is an exhibition that presents traces of the human experience, such as water bottles, backpacks, and other objects left behind in the desert by both law enforcement agents who look to keep them out, and undocumented migrants on their journey into the U.S. Here with me to talk about this exhibition is Richard Barnes, artist/photographer. And Amanda Krugliak, artist and curator. Thank you both for joining us on "Horizonte."

Richard Barnes: Thank you.

Jose Cardenas: Amanda, give us background on how this came to be. It started in Michigan.

Amanda Krugliak: That's right. I'm an artist and curator at the University of Michigan institute for the humanities -- and Jason, an anthropologist there for the last five, six years, has been collecting objects left in the desert by undocumented migrants.

Jose Cardenas: You are talking about the Arizona desert.

Amanda Krugliak: That's right.

Jose Cardenas: Why would that be of interest to people in Michigan?

Amanda Krugliak: Let's say as a curator for an institute that thinks about affecting change through art and humanities and research, that was a really compelling project to think about for us to support. Jason's interest as an anthropologist, is thinking about the objects and what they can tell us about this migration as a scientist, or as a researcher. I had worked with Richard Barnes as a visiting artist at the institute, and he has a vast experience with collections, again, and objects and how we think about objects and what stories they tell, and, so, I called him up and I said would you work with me on this project, conceptually thinking about how we might represent Jason Delion's research and these objects and what taking that into a gallery situation might do.

Jose Cardenas: This was several years ago.

Amanda Krugliak: Now, three, four years ago that we began this conversation.

Jose Cardenas: Richard, what is the significance of the title, state of exception?

Richard Barnes: State of exception, comes from a social thinking philosopher, Antonio -- an Italian. It represents this place of limbo. This place of -- in between state, and political designation, but as artists, we're looking at it in a much more ambiguous way. We are not so interested in the politics, even though you cannot escape that. There is no way. We're interested in interpreting this work and creating awareness around the objects that have been collected by Jason and his crew.

Jose Cardenas: Amanda, objects and the people, right? That's part of the title really.

Amanda Krugliak: Well, right. In the same way that this is, you know, political designation, it also refers to this exceptional journey, and exceptional people taking this journey. By presenting this work and assigning value to it also in an exhibition, that you would be engaging with something very real. From these objects, of course, then we would be talking about a human story. You couldn't really distance yourself from the engagement with the object. And, so, of course, then it becomes about a human experience, and something that you can relate to, much like your own life, your own backpack, your own bottle, your own child, and their belongings and -- and so I think that is really where for us there was a resonance. What could these objects do? How could engaging with them accomplish something else? What could we think about in terms of how we value something that otherwise one might think should be discarded?

Jose Cardenas: Richard, I want to put a picture on the screen of what I think is kind of the signature piece for this exhibition, which is the collection of these objects. What are we looking at here?

Richard Barnes: These -- this is 500 backpacks that have been collected by Jason and his crew as migrants cross the border. They carry a set of clothes to change into. Backpacks are the containers for the set of clothes. What they do is they leave the backpacks in the desert and try to blend in by changing into these new set of clothes when they come across the border. So, these backpacks, Jason and his crew, has found the most of, represent kind of the life, belongings, essential elements when migrants make the journey across the border.

Jose Cardenas: What are you as an artist trying to communicate with this arrangement?

Richard Barnes: We thought the backpacks, it becomes part of the body. It takes on the back side of your human existence, so to speak. And we really felt that that was symbolic. Simple objects, as Amanda said. Certainly there are rosaries and other objects that are very significant, but we thought it is was the everyday objects that were really important and that becomes the major part of this exhibition, this wall of backpacks.

Amanda Krugliak: It also references to the human body, the backpack itself, the shape of it, it seems to mimic this burden or what one carries or what one leaves behind, and -- backpacks that seem to belong to children. Backpacks with American sports logos. A whole range of backpacks that tell you that this is everybody like all of us. This is a really diverse story and we don't know -- this is a -- one kind of person or one kind of experience.

Richard Barnes: Global situation, when we have what is happening in the Mediterranean right now, this is being played out across the world.

Jose Cardenas: Exhibition itself consists of this three-dimensional representation and you have still photographs and videos. One I found quite striking, a picture of a tree with a carving. We have it up on the screen now.

Richard Barnes: As far as we know, that was carved by a migrant, because they found underneath it a set of clothes that had been laid out, neatly laid out. And perhaps this migrant had to bolt, had to run off because immigration was coming, I don't know. He left behind a set of clothes. We're not exactly sure who did this but we're quite sure it was a migrant.

Jose Cardenas: And the last picture we have up on the screen, I want to make sure that we talk about it before we run out of time. This is the border we're talking about.

Richard Barnes: This is the border. The border that separates Nogales Mexico from the Nogales U.S.

Jose Cardenas: People in Michigan, what was their reaction?

Amanda Krugliak: In some ways -- it was complicated. I think it made something real in a place that you could feel like you're far away from something, when, in fact, our communities there are -- we have, you know, a significant Hispanic community. There are certainly people there who are undocumented, part of our town. So --

Jose Cardenas: Did you have people who said I crossed that border myself?

Amanda Krugliak: Absolutely. People would write their feelings in this book, and it would be everything from how could you do this? To thank you so much, this really makes me feel like I can now talk to my children about this experience and about our family and about our history, and I think it forced people to have different feelings, different experiences, and that in the end I guess is what we wanted. Something that isn't static. It is not meant to just sit on a shelf or be one version of something. It was really meant to have all of these different responses and room for these responses, I guess.

Jose Cardenas: Richard, you and I talked a little off camera about one of the things you wanted to communicate to people which is that people are dying crossing that desert. Is that something that -- I think people in Arizona appreciate that. They may have different reactions to immigration question, was this a surprise to people in Michigan?

Richard Barnes: I think it was a surprise to people in Michigan, I think it was a surprise to people in New York where I'm from and where I currently live. Yeah, this issue -- we're very excited to bring this exhibition to Phoenix, to Arizona, because we feel like it's important that people see this, even though you're living it day-to-day, we are looking at it in I think a much different way. We are artists responding to it. We cannot deny the politics, but at the same time we feel if people are dying in the desert, because of policies, governmental policies, because of failed states -- that is a moral issue that needs to be addressed and that is how we are addressing it through the exhibition.

Jose Cardenas: Any apprehensiveness, trepidation about putting this on display here in Arizona?

Amanda Krugliak: I guess I don't know quite what to expect. I think the project has seemed to have led us from one thing to another, and I feel we have all become so invested in it as well as being important to do and to take different places, and it means something different each place we take it. So, I guess, not really in the sense that I -- I look forward to knowing that it's meant something else to each part of the United States that we end up taking it to. What is it doing?

Jose Cardenas: Richard, almost out of time, a little less than a minute left. What do you expect people to think of when Arizonans when they see this, what are your hopes, what are your expectations?

Richard Barnes: I think there will be controversy. I think there will be people who will be -- what does this -- what does this garbage mean? Why should I be interested in it? Why should I be interested in people who are illegally crossing to the states when maybe my relatives came here legally? I think that will bring up questions. And finally, that is what this exhibition is about. It is about asking more questions --

Jose Cardenas: We will see how many questions we get -- it runs through August, right?

Richard Barnes: Yes.

Jose Cardenas: Thank you both for joining us. And that's our show for tonight. From all of us here at eight and "Horizonte," thank you for watching. I'm Jose Cardenas. Have a good evening.

Video: Funding for "Horizonte" is made possible by contributions by the friends of eight, members of your Arizona PBS station.

Richard Barnes:Artist and Photographer; Amanda Krugliak:Curator and Artist, State of Exception;

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