Center Space Project

A Nation of Fear is on view at the Visual Arts Center through November 10. (Photo courtesy of the artist)

Capturing the violence and destruction of the drug war on the US-Mexico border, “A Nation of Fear” seeks to inspire thought. Coordinated by UT student art group Center Space Project, the exhibit features the work of three Mexican-American artists Miguel Aragón, Adriana Corral and Raymundo Delgadillo. Rather than focusing on the shock value of the violence, the artists subtly convey the gravity of the violence in Mexico.

With nearly 50,000 victims, the drug war along the border continues to escalate. Using the idea of human remains to represent the victims lost, the artists subtly draw attention to the impact the drug war has on the people of both nations.

Corral transferred the printed names of murdered victims from papers to the wall and burned the remaining paper. The ashes are arranged in a rectangle that represents the standard burial plot of a victim. Delgadillo created serigraphs of different drugs using animal blood to represent the blood lost in the drug war.

“I started working with blood because it was very raw, but I wasn’t interested in using it for shock factor,” Delgadillo, the coordinator of the exhibit and featured artist, said. “I wanted people to think about what blood really meant. It’s when someone is damaged, when someone is wounded.”

Born in areas now plagued by crime and drug traffic, the artists explored the way the crimes of the cartels have changed their homeland. Delgadillo has seen his once peaceful childhood neighborhood in San Louis Potosi torn apart by the violence.

“The city that I am from used to be very peaceful, and every time I talk to my family they tell me about more shootings and narco messages delivered close to the areas they live,” Delgadillo said. “It used to be a really peaceful city, so to see that years later is very shocking.”

The Mexican media is dominated by graphic scenes of mutilated bodies, drug crimes and narco mensajes. Attempting to bridge the divide between the U.S. and Mexico, the artists beautifully recreate and incorporate scenes of death and destruction into their pieces. The works themselves are very quiet, but they represent a much more powerful and emotional subject.

The opening of the exhibit on Friday featured a panel of experts that contextualized the violence portrayed in Chicano culture and art.

“All the works in the exhibition have so many layers for interpretation, so the panelists gave really good insight into how the social issues — cartels, drugs, immigration — are involved,” Luis Vargas-Santiago, Ph.D. candidate in art history at UT and the panel’s moderator, said. “But they also gave insight about the materials. I think it served to put those in context.”

The panel explained how the exhibit features a new genre of art referred to as border art. This genre combines elements of both U.S. and Mexican culture to portray the attitude of those caught in the crossfire.

“The aesthetic of this border art is very violent,” Vargas-Santiago explained. “The pieces in the exhibition describe this violence through subtle and sometimes minimal strategies. The way they treat it is very conceptual.”

The exhibit uses the conventional beauty of the art to explore the atrocities of the drug war. The work itself is simple, and often the explanation of the piece can only be found in the label.

“It’s quiet. The work is interesting because it’s addressing violence, horrendous acts of violence. It’s dealing with the media portrayal of this violence in Mexico,” Maia Schall, president of the Center Space Project, explained. “So all these issues are very tough issues, but the work is extremely delicate and detailed. Its an interesting contrast — to be talking about violent issues with a quiet voice, a somber and poignant voice.”

Hoping to inform fellow students and Austin community members, “A Nation of Fear” uses the powerful images of those affected by the drug war to portray the reality of the border.

“I want it to be evocative instead of provocative,” Delgadillo said. “I want people to think about it, not to be shocked.”

Printed on Monday, October 22, 2012 as: Exhibit displays violence of drug war

Bike Sale art show attendees observe work displayed at the Visual Art Center on Friday evening. The artwork, which was related to bikes, sold for $20 a piece as a fundraiser for the student art group Center Space Project.

Photo Credit: Shelby Tauber | Daily Texan Staff

Last year, when the student art group Center Space Project needed to fundraise, it came up with an innovative twist on the traditional bake sale. Instead of peddling brownies in the West Mall, it asked students, faculty and staff to submit “food-inspired” artwork. With the donated art it received, the group put on Bake Sale, an art exhibition held in the lobby of the Visual Arts Center where the price of admission, only $10, bought guests both an entrance to the exhibit and a piece of donated art.

By all accounts, the event succeeded. It brought in a diverse crowd of both students and non-students and garnered more than 50 pieces of donated art. Maia Schall, current president of the Center Space Project, said that the event succeeded in part because the “bake sale theme” was a “tangible thing that people can make art about.” Schall remembered one piece particularly fondly: a miniscule set of teeth cast from the artist’s mouth in which a tiny piece of spinach had been glued. “It was just a beautiful little object,” Schall said.

This year, Center Space Project had a different spin on the art sale concept. Instead of bake sale, which had an intentional, food-centric feel, it chose to hold a bike sale, in which bicycles, one of Austin’s favorite modes of transportation, inspired the submitted art. The call for submissions allowed artists to interpret “bicycle-inspired” however they wanted, but requested that artists make pieces smaller than a bike helmet, less than two pounds and able to be hung on a wall. The exhibition opened Friday in the lobby of the VAC. Unlike last year’s sale, guests were admitted for free and could elect to pay $20 for a piece of their choice.

This year, the event drew a smaller crowd, possibly because Center Space Project chose to hold the sale two weeks earlier than last year’s, giving students less time to work on submissions. Also unlike last year’s event, Bike Sale did not coincide with the opening reception for the Visual Arts Center’s fall 2012 season, which this year will be held Sept. 21. The total number of submissions also fell short of last year’s numbers, with the tally of submitted pieces coming in just under 30. At the event, most guests lingered in the courtyard outside the tiny exhibition space, listening to music floating from the speakers and drinking the provided Topo Chico. Inside the exhibition space, a few guests lingered along the hallway where the artwork was hung, considering which pieces to buy or not buy and critiquing the submissions. Many of the artists themselves attended, leading to at least one meeting between an artist and an excited patron.

The pieces themselves ranged in quality and content from impressive and interesting to dull and poorly executed, with the majority of pieces falling somewhere above the midline. Among the stand-out pieces was a painting featuring a bright blue bicycle on a whimsical multicolored background. Another memorable piece, a charmingly creepy charcoal drawing, depicted a revolutionary solider standing in a dark alleyway with his rifle in his hands and his bicycle at his feet. In another piece, a fantastical black-and-white print displayed a buxom lass with a bicycle over her breasts. The wheel rims coyly cupped her chest, while black text to the side of the figure read “She gets around.”

Also popular were 3-D pieces smaller than a postcard. The pieces were simple bicycle parts, such as bells and streamers, hung carefully on the wall, while others consisted of small pieces of interlaced wood reaching curiously out of paper — not all pieces contained obvious references to bicycles.

For all the interesting art at the exhibit, the show had some disappointing pieces as well. One large canvas combined pink paint, sparkles and broken bicycle pieces in a messy mix that demonstrated a lack of technical skill. Some blurry photo submissions felt half-baked, as if the artist had taken a series of shots and chosen one at random without a greater reason.

Ultimately however, Bike Sale deserves praise for inspiring student artists and providing art to students at an affordable price. As one contributing artist, PhaseZero, said, having her art displayed “feels like a thank you.” No doubt the students who walked away with a new piece of art felt like saying thank you as well.