Monday, September 22, 2008

Movement & Confinement

Upon seeing someone recklessly speeding on the highway, my parents would always say, "There goes someone in a hurry to get to their funeral." Now, when I see the same, that phrase inevitably pops into my mind - and sometimes out of my mouth. (We do become our parents, don't we? [Please say no, please say no, please say no.]) For instance, a couple of weekends ago, I was driving down to San Diego for a wedding when, all of a sudden, I noticed a hearse speeding by me on the left. I had to chuckle. At no other time in my life has that phrase been more appropriate.

That odd occurrence got me to thinking of the recent trip I took to LACMA (the one I posted about last month). One of the installations that really affected me was one called "Rigor Motors" (a play on the word rigormortis), by Ruben Ochoa and Marco Rios, which was part of the Latin American Modernism exhibit. The artwork consisted of a black and a white coffin, each constructed to hold a body in the seated position. The authors conflate the concept of the coffin with a custom car, the work inspired by the feeling that the car is in more control of the person, rather than the other way around. The artists realized that they more often sit in a driving position than they do in a prone, sleeping position and asked themselves, "What if I died frozen in the driving position? What would the coffin look like?'"

"Rigor Motors" is an arresting enough art installation on its own, but it particularly struck me because it reminded me of a dream I used to have. When I was in college, I had a disturbing, recurring dream where I was driving my boyfriend at the time's white Camaro. (No, the disturbing part of the dream wasn't that I was driving a Camaro. That was a disturbing part of my waking life, . . . but that's a story for another day.) In the dream, I would be going pretty fast and the back of the bucket seat wouldn't stay up and support me as I went faster and faster and faster. Then, I would discover that the brakes were positioned just barely out of reach. As I stretched my foot further to reach the pedal, I would end up in a reclining position, my line of vision dipping below the dash board. When I finally made contact with the pedal, I would realize that the brakes didn't work. The dream would always end the same way - I would crash the car . . . which would instantly transform into a white coffin. I would always wake with a start, in a cold sweat, and not be able to fall back to sleep. (My subconscious telling me things about my relationsthip with my boyfriend at the time? Oh, of course. Duh. But, again - that's a story for another day.)

The drive to San Diego also reminded me of something else I'd seen at that exhibit - an installation called "Phantom Sightings: Art After the Chicano Movement," by Julio Cesar Morales. In it, the artist "illustrates some of the ways in which undocumented immigrants have attempted entry through border crossings into the U.S. by hiding inside vehicles or freight." (To the left here, you see two such illustrations.) In the same room, accompanying 6-8 such illustrations, a looping video by Ruben Ochoa employed "special effects, applying large-scale digitally printed photographs of highway landscaping onto freeway walls, to make the walls appear to disappear." The video was meant to "question the notion of physical or perceptual boundaries and whether they can - or should - be maintained."

I remember the first time I drove to San Diego and was surprised to see the signs on the highway alerting drivers to be careful because groups of immigrants fleeing Mexico often try to run across the busy highway (see sign here to the right). As I traveled the same road that these immigrants do, I couldn't help but be struck by the disparity of our circumstances - me: traveling in comfort, for pleasure, without fear; them: traveling under harsh conditions, for survival, afraid at every turn they might be caught; me, having moved to California from as far away as the east coast, free to do so without restriction; and, them, unable to (legally) move a short distance north to a land that, back in the day, was theirs first. Kind of sobering thoughts to consider right before a wedding, . . . but certainly something worth considering as we quickly approach the November presidential election. Do you know where your candidate stands on the issue of immigration (Obama, McCain, Nader)?

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