Repellent Fence: Art that Engages Communities through Collaboration

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PC Balloon in Desert copyThe interdisciplinary, Native arts collective, Postcommodity, will install the largest bi-national land art installation ever exhibited–in the southern border area. Taking place from October 9th through 12th, 2015, the installation entitled, “Repellent Fence” will span two-miles across the U.S./ México border near Douglas, Arizona and Agua Prieta, México. The project includes twenty-six “scare-eye” balloons, 10-feet in diameter, that will be anchored to the ground and float nearly 50-feet above and intersecting the national border. Community engagement in both countries will include public programming, live performances and the premiere of a Cross-the-Border Art Walk between Douglas City and the Agua Prieta Township.

After eight years in development, the art installation, “Repellent Fence” is coming to fruition. This unique, monumental-scale installation involves numerous partnerships and collaborations among citizens, public institutions, arts organizations and foundations in both the United States and México. Along with an impressive list of individual community collaborators, Postcommodity’s cooperative partners include the border patrol, the local municipalities and Native Nations in both host countries.

Postcommodity’s artists are comprised of Raven Chacon, a composer and sound artist (2014 NACF National Artist Fellow); Cristóbal Martínez, a digital designer, artist and scholar in rhetoric and Kade L. Twist, a writer and multidisciplinary artist using video, installation, two-dimensional media. The fthree men function as a think group in a collaborative Indigenous voice who through art elicit observation, participation and dialogue about conventions and discourses that dominant forces have defined–with accelerating velocities and manipulative forms of communication and technology from the past into the present.

Postcommodity aspires to create impact and by presenting “Repellent Fence,” the group seeks to demonstrate the inter-connectedness of a region’s inhabitants, acknowledge and reaffirm a First Peoples’ perspective and create an extensive social collaborative that cooperates in a celebrated, bi-national and monumental art installation.  They attempt, as Native artists, to forge different metaphors and alternative perspectives; promote dialogue that examines sound, language and humanity; and engage a broader public with Indigenous topics and occurrences. The think group/arts collective works within a network of Indigenous knowledge and talent to create and demonstrate new perceptions–counter-point to ingrained misperceptions of Native peoples–through uninhibited, innovative art installations.

To understand the inspiration behind “Repellent Fence”, Postcommodity tells the story as follows:

It started two years before the Great Financial Crisis, in 2006, with a dole of morning doves and a fig tree in the backyard of a tract home in a subdivision surrounded by subdivisions in suburban Phoenix. The nonindigenous tree was planted for its fruit, and thrived in the desert environment– when supplied with ample water. Of course, the indigenous doves, the more prominent of two Arizona species, roosted in the tree and feasted on its fruit. For the doves it was survival within an ever-sprawling world of development. After all, they had lived in the region since time immemorial. For the owner of the tree the birds were destructive and problematic because they littered the tree and ground with dove feces. The imagined solution was a scare-eye balloon; a bird repellent product hung from the tree that would scare away the doves without killing them! It was an idea meant to instigate their removal, or migration, to another tree somewhere else within the subdivision.

 

The scare-eye balloon itself is a curious invention. On one hand it is a pure consumer object designed with embedded obsolescence and is entirely ineffectual. The balloons work for a few days; but then the birds return, and soon the balloons are covered with their feces. On the other hand, as an object-de-arte, the scare-eye balloons are beautiful and embedded with numerous layers of meaning that extend well beyond its relationship to fast capitalism. They purposefully, or inadvertently, employ indigenous medicine colors of the Western Hemisphere — yellow, red, black and white. They also employ an iconography of oblong concentric circles known as the “open eye,” an iconography used by indigenous peoples ranging from South America to Canada for thousands of years.

 

Together, the medicine colors, iconography and circular form constitute an indigenous semiotic system that demonstrates the interconnectedness of indigenous peoples throughout the Western Hemisphere, and provide long-form historical evidence of the cultural exchanges that have taken place through trade, intermarriage, migration and warfare. Regardless of the intentions behind the design of the scare-eye balloon, it is perhaps one of the most powerful indigenous ready-mades of our contemporary era. The fact that it has been positioned within the market as an instrument of repulsion is not surprising. Indigenous ways of being and indigenous byproducts have been rationalized by European colonizers of the Americas as instruments of repulsion for more than 500 years. This historical narrative and discourse are embedded in each scare-eye balloon.

 

The scare-eye balloon had captured our imagination and our full attention.                                                                                                        

Postcommodity 2015, www.postcommodity.com

The Native Arts and Cultures Foundation–nurturing the passion and power of creative expression—is a proud sponsor of the “Repellent Fence” installation and events  and grateful for the support of the Ford Foundation and the generosity of arts patrons for making these Community Inspiration Projects possible.

Repellent Fence is presented in collaboration with Arizona State University Art Museum and supported by grants from Creative Capital, Native Arts and Cultures Foundation, Joan Mitchell Foundation and Art Matters.

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