Muckoutby Mike Curran
Water has a way of seeping in. It pools at the window wells and finds cracks in the foundation. Or it rushes in all at once, when the mechanisms we designed to contain it fail—when the channel becomes overrun or the levees break or the sewage line backs up. Once the floodwater is pumped out, the long labor begins to again make a basement inhabitable: throwing out soaked-through belongings, replacing drywall, scraping away the muck carried in with the water. This exhibition is built of that muck. It’s also built of that long labor, and the hope that this place can again be made livable.
Carlos and Rubén Macías Esparza’s incisive poetry reminds us that, while some are just noticing the water lapping at their ankles, others have long been inundated. The brothers live in Ciudad Juárez, México, in a neighborhood that should be—in fact, used to be—a short walk from El Paso, Texas. In the U.S., Ciudad Juárez is imagined through a single frame as a center of femicide and cartel violence. Carlos’ “Maquilas” utilizes the imagery of maquiladoras—U.S.-owned factories operated at a low-cost across the southern border that are known to exploit their workers, most of whom are women and migrants with statuses in limbo—to expand our understanding of those responsible for this violence (La soledad está planeada en otro mundo). Containment and exploitation also course through Rubén’s writing. But the poet-activist demonstrates that poetry and protest are one and the same; enclosed in his home, he determines to write on the walls (Escribo en las paredes).
Working from this same geography, Alejandra Aragón’s most recent series La Grieta is aimed at disrupting the binary logic of border imperialism. The project is in conversation with Legacy Russell’s concept of “glitch feminism”, which embraces the digital glitch as a means of generating malfunction in oppressive systems. For Aragón, the mundane movements of juarenses walking the informal paths that link their city disrupt the imperialistic frameworks that transformed this stretch of Chihuahuan Desert into a landscape both hyper-surveilled and systematically shunned. She deploys datamoshing techniques to magnify the daily resistance of these figures, writing poetry directly into the video’s code to emphasize the disruptive potential of each soft body. As Aragón puts it, “an accumulation of errors can lead to the restart of the machine.” Two objects from La Grieta have also made their way to Minneapolis: an electronic flower and found barricade tape form a makeshift monument while, in the backyard, her image of trash-covered bramble borrows the visual language of plastic billboards emblematic of Ciudad Juárez’s commodification.
Jonathon Rosemond manipulates another kind of error, utilizing the basement’s pre-existing cracks and crannies to embed dripping, alien-like forms. Blending into the gallery’s slapdash architecture, his assemblages suggest that a rot might exude from the house itself. The wood bracing these sculptures is gathered during his own wanderings, as Rosemond keeps a set of garden shears at his Minneapolis studio to cut branches he finds in his neighborhood; he then combines this organic material with industrial products like adhesive caulk and glass beads used to illuminate road markings, riffing on these elements to distort and bend our physical reality just enough to create unexpected openings. Fundamentally playful and inventive, Rosemond’s assemblages question how artworks should behave in a gallery, quietly suggesting a different infrastructure altogether.
Jantsankhorol Erdenebayar is also interested in the transformative potential of ubiquitous materials. Referencing the layout of a lunar calendar, his wall pieces are made with patterned textiles collected at Narantuul Market—an open-air market in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia’s capital city—which are then mounted on plywood and burned with a propane torch. Erdenebayar’s practice is informed by the millennia-old sensibilities of nomadic people—a lineage that runs through his own family—for whom improvisation and a profound understanding of materials are less an artistic concern than a necessity for survival. His sculptural works recall these enduring knowledges to broadly address contemporary issues including peoples’ fraying connections with nature, experienced acutely in Mongolia as the nation rapidly urbanizes.
Scattered throughout the exhibition are four objects from Angus McCullough, each of which he found in the woods behind his home in Troy, New York. Situated at the confluence of the Mohawk and Hudson Rivers, Troy was once a center of the country’s textile industry. McCullough’s excavation of these long-buried textiles—a cotton practice pinnie, a polypropylene tarp and archery targets—could be viewed as evidence of the city’s industrial decline. But through the simple act of stretching them onto frames, he has revealed a more fundamental dialogue between humans and nature and the ways we mark one another. Part of his ongoing Woven Earth series, McCullough refers to these objects as “landscape paintings”—a compelling addition to a canon that has depicted a more idyllic Hudson Valley for centuries.
Steadily decaying in a corner of the basement, Tom Bierlein’s floral arrangements also examine the entanglements between humans and nature. Despite the fact that Bierlein works as a garden-maker, he notes that the majority of gardens he encounters are those of the fellow designers and landscapers he follows on Instagram—lush spaces that seem suspended in perpetual bloom. In one sense, his assembly reflects a culture that fetishizes houseplants while steamrolling into accelerating climate chaos. In another, it points us to the necessity of care—that behind each blossoming garden there’s a set of hands (or many or a beak or a hive) tending to its growth.
The lilies used in Maija Hecht’s works were gathered from her grandmother’s backyard in Deer River, Minnesota. She then crushed these wildflowers into an emulsion for anthotype printing—a method of photo-making that utilizes plant-derived dyes, causing images to fade when exposed to light. The precarity of this process is reflected in the landscapes of Hecht’s Someday This Too May Be Gone series, which contain both intimate childhood memories and the legacies of extraction that scar northern Minnesota. Her grandmother—who introduced her to many of these places—appears again in a sequence of semi-translucent curtains that Hecht has drawn onto. This tender layering imagines her grandmother through the window of her crowded kitchen, suggesting the inheritance of family memories rooted to a changing land.
Of a similar terrain but dealing with a different flood, Sam Finegold uses photography as a tool to reconstruct his own personal history, creating new family memories in the process. A Korean adoptee who grew up in the suburbs of Milwaukee, Finegold describes his reckoning with his adoption as akin to sifting through belongings after a flood, and seeing what made it through. From these photographs, he has built an archive as fragmented as it is filled up. Blanketed by a covered piano but about to cry out, the images he has included in the exhibition offer a language that precedes words.
Through their paintings and sculptures, Ann Moody mines a more physical archive. On the same plane of their quilt-like painting Paw Paw, Moody integrates shoe polish rags, doilies, donated fabric, and discarded fragments from their studio in the outskirts of Birmingham. This improvised combination of materials grounds the exhibition in the site of a basement—a place where treasured objects get crammed beside plastic yard decorations. Crammed in a closet and fabricated with the makings of past sculptures and “other things”, Moody’s Reverse Knot embodies this tension between what we’ve deemed valuable and disposable, its loose tie a reminder that things may come undone as quickly as they’re fastened. Above any material concern, Moody defines their practice as being oriented around the “liberatory, community-building potential of making.” This world-making potential courses through Muckout, with each artist working from a different flood but with the same muck.
Alejandra Aragón (she/her) is from Ciudad Juárez, México. Through a multidisciplinary process using photography, video, audio, and performative and collaborative strategies, her work explores the intersections between gender, territory, and identity. She was part of the Photography Production Seminar of the Image Center at México City in 2017. Her work has been exhibited throughout Mexico, North America, and Europe.
Tom Bierlein (he/him) is a Minneapolis-based sculptor and gardener cultivating spaces to encourage awareness within our environment. These spaces show the world not as a singular thing but as a series of ongoing relationships. Holding a BFA from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, Tom has created public works at Franconia Sculpture Park, Belwin Conservancy, and has exhibited at Silverwood Park and with the Art Shanty Projects.
Jantsankhorol (Jantsa) Erdenebayar (he/him), was born in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, where he now lives and works. He received his BFA from Hunter College and his MFA from the University of California, Los Angeles. His work deals with the resistance of living and non-living things, and often explore adaptation. Jantsa's recent exhibitions include A Temporality at the Mongolian Pavilion of the 2019 Venice Biennale, and shows at Blum and Poe, Half Gallery, and the China Art Museum.
Carlos Macías Esparza (he/him) was born in Ciudad Juárez in 1978. He’s mainly a self-taught writer, and took classes at the Universidad Autónoma de Ciudad Juárez. He writes for the literary magazines Pluma de ganso and Alforja, and appeared in the poetry anthology edited by Fernando Sabido Sánchez. He is an adherent of the Zapatista movement and a member of the José Revueltas Collective.
Rubén Macías Esparza (he/him) was born in Ciudad Juárez in 1982. He studied Hispanic-Mexican literature at the Universidad Autónoma de Ciudad Juárez. He is a member of the José Revueltas Collective, and has published in Anuario de poesía (FCE, 2006), Alforja (2007), Periódico de Poesía (UNAM, 2007), Zeit Online (2011) and El Puente con la migra: anecdotario de la vida fronteriza (2012).
Sam Finegold (he/him) is a photographer whose work grapples with themes of identity, race, and belonging. He often tries to situate these elements within the context of where he lives and where he grew up, which is Midwestern America. He graduated from Macalester College in 2016 and currently lives in Minneapolis.
Maija Hecht (she/her) is a multimedia artist and writer from Clearwater County, Minnesota. She makes anthotype photographs using location-specific plant dyes to explore the interplay between solastalgia and hope. These prints are part of the ongoing collection Someday This Too May Be Gone.
Ann Moody (she/they) received her BFA in printmaking from the University at Montevallo in 2012 and completed their MFA at the University at Buffalo, SUNY in 2017. Moody has exhibited her work nationally. Currently based in Alabama, Moody’s practice combines reclaimed materials with painting, soft sculpture and other craft-based techniques to explore the artist’s identity, map their lived experiences, and process the present.
Angus McCullough (he/him) is a multidisciplinary artist, musician, woodworker, mechanic, and designer, practicing and developing a life of Material Husbandry. His work has been shown, installed, or performed at venues in the U.S. and Europe, including SPACE Gallery, The Bronx Museum, AA|LA, BUOY, Roman Susan, Judson Memorial Church, The Lust Gallery, and Border Patrol. He has been in residence at the Vermont Studio Center, VCCA, ACRE, BoxoHOUSE, and SomoS, among others
Jonathon Rosemond (he/him) is an artist based in Minneapolis. He received his BFA from the Minneapolis College of Art & Design in 2018. He was one of the inaugural members of Public Functionary's Studio 400 cohort. Rosemond will be an MFA candidate at Northwestern University in the Fall of 2022.