An open grave is often surrounded by flowers, the coffin poised at the surface, waiting to be lowered into the earth. The one dug into the gallery floor of Artpace is unadorned and empty.
It’s part of local artist Adriana Corral’s installation for Artpace’s Spring 2016 International Artist-in-Residence Program. This is the closing weekend of the exhibit, which includes artists Daniel García Andújar from Barcelona and Wu Tsang from Los Angeles. The artists were selected by the independent, Spanish curator Juan de Nieves.
Corral’s installation title, Sous Rature ‘Under Erasure,’ is a philosophical term that refers to situations in which there are not ample words to express them. This is an accurate assignation for Corral’s subject matter, the ongoing violation of human rights in Mexico and throughout the world.
Corral’s gaping hole, 4-by-8 feet wide and 6 feet deep, is very precisely cut; the edges of the floor, foundation, soil and ground remain sharp and intact. To the south of this plot, leaning against the wall, is a huge panel of bullet resistant glass that weighs 800 pounds, and across from the empty grave is a series of eight panels. They are set into metal platforms, like informational signs, inviting viewers to read them. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is cast into them, in varying grades of legibility from left to right.
“I decided to go to the source,” said Corral, asking the fundamental question, “What is the language that is set out to protect us as humans?”
She spent more than a year creating the tablets that contain this language, which was written in 1948. The varying shades of the panels result from their ingredients: gypsum mixed with soil and ash.
“I used soil because it is the one thing that unites us all,” Corral said, “and ash because it fertilizes the ground; it gives us hope. … They are as extravagant as a French pastry.”
She collaborated with the mold company as well as printmakers and soil experts to get the mixtures exactly the way she wanted them. The ash was created by burning copies of the UDHR.
“Lots of my work is ephemeral, but each feeds into the other,” she said. For example, she saved the soil from the Artpace excavation to be used for future tablets.
The placement of every element the installation is intentional.
“I wanted to make a space that allows viewers to ask the same questions I’m asking myself. … When you look at the tablets, your back is turned to the plot, and when you look at the plot, your back is turned to the tablets,” she said. In the glass “people may see their reflections,” and with this reflective process, Corral asks viewers to consider who gets protection and who does not.
“Installations are like cathedrals and duomos,” she explained, “because a conversation is happening in a space,” that is quiet and meditative, and about humanity.
When the installation comes down on May 15, the tablets will be buried in the plot and each of the Spring 2016 IAIR artists will write a letter to bury “because we all dealt with human rights, in different ways.”
Corral wants to exhume the materials again in 50 years to reflect on the changes (and hopefully progress) in human rights work.
“The way cement is laid over is also a memory,” she said.
Corral’s 2014 installation at Artpace’s Hudson Showroom, LEGEM TERRAE (By the Law of the Land), addressed the disappearances, rapes and killings of women in Juárez, Mexico. A carpet of soil and ashes, sifted onto the gallery floor, reflected the names of these women that Corral transferred onto the gallery walls.
Corral obtained the names of victims from classified documents, but in the process of transferring them on the walls, she also layered them in a way so that the names were obliterated. With these fragments of names, explained Corral, she wanted to create a “tactile feel, wanting to touch, or go in search of.”
While growing up in El Paso, Corral constantly traveled back and forth from Texas and Ciudad Juárez, where she witnessed the struggle for power and issues of justice and injustice. The large Philippine, Jewish, Lebanese and Syrian community in El Paso exposed Corral to diverse groups and gave her insight regarding the refugee/immigrant experience.
“For me it’s the core,” Corral said of the socio-political element of her art. She catalyzes her observations into a form of active engagement with the complex and tragic social issues that she chooses to address.
“It’s part of the work, and it goes even further than that. My parents were like that, they taught us that at an early age and made it part of our being.”
Corral watched her mother work as a midwife for a short time, helping to deliver the babies of young women who had crossed the border. Her mother also helped the women get their visas and proper documentation. Her father started a therapeutic riding camp for children to ride horses as a way of physical therapy.
Both of Corral’s parents are “very in to their community and looking for ways to help,” said Corral, “and this extends to my aunts, uncles, and cousins as well.
“They instilled in us to spend time in Juárez, helping build homes, to take in another knowledge of what’s happening over there, and how we can be helpful – not giving money but doing through actions.”
For five years, Corral has been working with Ariel Dulitzky, the Director of the Human Rights Clinic and the Latin American Initiative. She has also spent time at the United Nations, attending private sessions on the worst violations. The Working Group on Enforced Involuntary Disappearances addresses “enforced disappearances,” which means hate crimes and other human rights violations.
“I feel fortunate to see how things get handled on an international scale,” said Corral. “I wanted to know, what does it take to get heard? How do you get heard among all the noise?”
Corral sits on the sidelines, “watching, listening, absorbing and observing” as various countries’ ambassadors, as well as attorneys and family members plead their cases. She’s not allowed to discuss what she witnesses, but she observed that “these violations and experiences are a universal issue.”
She has visited refugee camps around the world, filled with Pakistani, Iranian, and Ukranian people, but she has also visited refugee houses in the United States.
Along with students from the International School of the Americas, Corral visited refugees in McAllen, Texas, where they met with the mayor, the border patrol, a human rights attorney, and a forensic scientist who works to identify remains being found. The students helped refugees who had just been released from detention centers.
“They were on their way to meet with their families,” Corral said. While their cases are reviewed, which may take between one to five years, they are allowed to stay with family members.
“Our hope is with younger students, informing and showing them,” said Corral. “To be with these high school students and watch them try to come up with solutions to solve these problems is so inspiring. These students are so sharp and incredible.”
In her upcoming work, Corral plans to also focus on asylum and immigration laws. She was awarded the Fountainhead Residency in Miami and a residency from the Black Cube, which allows her to go France. Corral also received the Emerging Artist Grant from the Joan Mitchell Foundation, while her fiancé, Vincent Valdez, received the Painters and Sculptors Grant. They are planning two large installations to realize and do together.
Top image: Artist Adriana Carrol at her installation Sous Rature ‘Under Erasure.’ Photo by Rose Corral.