Somi Se’k (The Land of the Sun – La Tierra del Sol) by Carolina Caycedo and David de Rozas (Courtesy of the artists)
The research, presented as an art, draws on the didactic to form the poetic, the subversive and the speculative. Freed from the institutional boundaries of peer review and verification, research-based art creates space for multiple conclusions and narratives; it rejects the amalgamation of the “scientific” with the unquestionably true or legitimate.
In “The Blessings of the Mystery” (currently on display at UT’s Visual Arts Center), Carolina Caycedo and David de Rozas present their research on West Texas. By putting together created and found objects, drawings and video footage – and writing every exhibition label in the exhibition – the artists offer a beautiful alternative, and perhaps a more completely truthful understanding of the place, one that includes non-Western models of knowledge and making history.
At the entrance of the exhibition hangs a drawing in colored pencil, Somi Se’k (Land of the Sun), which takes its title from the word of the Carrizo Comecrudo tribe for the Chihuahuan desert, the Rio Grande valley and its delta. While the illustration can read like a glorified pictographic map, it notes important indigenous and industrial sites that serve as repeated motifs throughout the exhibit, and presents the setting Caycedo and de Rozas use to approach the area. . In the accompanying text to the design, the creators refer to Somi Se’k as a “web of universes where the past, present and future of the region are always in conversation.” In several of the following works, the artists return to this Indigenous concept as a source of artistic and empirical research.
Viewing the West Texas landscape as a site of cosmological convergence contrasts directly with Western constructions of land ownership and environmental extraction. Caycedo and de Rozas highlight how West Texas embodies this paradox in an adjacent work, Measure the immeasurable, which features various devices used to survey the land – colorful flags, safety vests, field notebooks and rulers – hung in the center of the gallery. By reducing these tools to works of art, artists emphasize the absurdity of breaking down something as mysterious as nature into crude boundaries designed to increase profitability. They ask, “What is missing or lost in this process? Who waives rights when this happens?
These questions and the notion of preservation – of land, identity and natural resources – are explored through Caycedo and Rozas objects taken from the archives of UT. Of particular note are the 1930s drawings by Forrest and Lula Kirkland, who copied Indigenous rock art from Lower Pecos to protect it from environmental and industrial threats. The drawings make an appearance in the show’s long climactic video, “Teachings of the Hands,” which discusses the exhibition’s central ideas through the voice of Juan Mancias, president of the Carrizo Comecrudo tribe of Texas.
Investigating Texan stories of colonization, manifest destiny, westward expansion and environmental vulnerability is a delicate task, especially for two artists born in Europe. But in their thoughtful display of research, Caycedo and de Rozas let the viewer construct their own version of the region’s history. And as they point out, who are we to give a land a name, history and value anyway? Maybe this question is the point.
Carolina Caycedo and David de Rozas: The Blessings of the Mystery
Visual arts center
Until December 3.