It seems that here, seventeen years into the 21st century, we have more people than ever before envisioning themselves in places they never thought they might be. They can be at Standing Rock, protecting water via six degrees of “status shares.” Through a sepia filter on a camera app aimed at a panoramic desert, they can walk a northbound mile in someone else’s burning shoes. One can even triangulate their preferred newsfeed to one pinpoint, not geographically speaking but rather to objectively arrive at a comfortable destination of information that agrees with them. Of course, one may not physically be at these sites of conflict. Or maybe they are. When one can so easily define and understand the world for themselves, what can be done to rebreak it?2
The word “Mexican” means a person who is a citizen of the nation of Mexico. The etymological origin of the word comes from the indigenous Uto-Aztecan language of Nahuatl. Other Uto-Aztecan languages include: Paiute, Shoshoni, Comanche, Ute, Serrano, Luiseño-Juaneño, Hopi, O’odham, Northern and Southern Tepehuan, Tepecano, Yaqui, Upper and Lower River Guarijio, Tubar, Yaqui, Mayo, Opata, Eudeve, Huichol, Pochutec, and Pipil. All of these linguistically related languages are rooted across geographies from throughout most of the western part of what is now called the “United States” to as far south of what is now referred to as “Central America.” Some of the languages listed above are dead, while most are surviving—some thriving and others dying. In terms of additional relationships, linguistic hypotheses suggest that the Tanoan Pueblo languages of Northern New Mexico also connect to the Uto-Aztecan languages. The Pueblo Languages of New Mexico may be part of the Uto-Aztecan language family, while at the same time they are related to Kiowa, which is currently spoken in Oklahoma.
The things that need to be done one cannot say on the Internet, nor even in an art essay. The freedom to broadcast so carelessly has become a liability to even the most deliberate of thoughts and organization. So let us talk about actions that have no consequence other than anesthetizing the already stunned, or, at best, those that are running in retrograde to progress we think we agree on.
The choir took on the preaching, and what we heard in the masses were insights such as “at least this will make punk rock great again,” which sounds exactly like the slogan it thinks it is countering. And we heard a lot of “should’ve, could’ves.” And when the reality truly hit, a million points.
“Mexico,” an indigenous word, comes from the Nahuatl word “Mexica,” a word referring to the indigenous peoples of central Mexico, also commonly known as the Aztecs. “Mexico” means the home of the Mexica—and some Mexicanos say that the word “Mexicano” refers to someone who comes from the land of the sustaining maguey agave. You may have tasted the nectar of the maguey (and if you are curious about whether or not you have drunk from the maguey, just simply ask your Grandmother Google about it). This ancient plant, a sacred source of clothing, food, and drink, helped give birth to the legendary city of Tenochtitlan, which was built in the middle of Lake Texcoco. Despite this glorious “noble savagery” so notably celebrated by historians and anthropologists, the sacred Native American word “Mexican” bears derogatory connotations in the United States, where it is synonymous with the notion of human persons of this identity as “illegal” and (or) “alien.” Now, how the fuck does an indigenous people who descended from a magnificent history become labeled “illegal” and “alien” while remaining a part of their own sacred ancestral continent? And how in the hell did it become a reality that indigenous peoples of our western hemisphere would suffer the indignity of being called illegals and aliens for moving along the ancient migration and trade routes—as their ancestors have done since time immemorial?
The weakest link in this chain is the safety pin trying to bind these selfappointed saviors to the bundle of people who have always been oppressed. But are they ready and willing to imagine the future that those in the bundle have been dreaming of our entire lives?
Who can render the sketch for the New New World? Who should imagine it?
And why does being “Native” often cease to exist south of the US/Mexico border? And why are some white people calling themselves “nativists”? At the same time, how did indigenous mestizos come to publicly accept the oversimplified Hispanicization and Latinization of their identities? Why is it such a difficult thing for these so-called Latinos and Hispanos to explicitly recognize their indigenous heritages, even though it is as clear as day that indigenous knowledge systems circulate as they farm, hunt, dance, sing, walk, laugh, tease, gather, cook, and tell stories? How did so many Native Americans come to look upon their southern cousins through the culturally chauvinistic pride born of US capitalism and racism? How have so many of us forgotten where we come from? It appears that many of us suffer a colonial-induced amnesia. The time has come for us brown peoples to remember.6 The time has come for us brown peoples to bless each other—our sacred lands have been broken, and we must quickly respond first by blessing each other.7
So the triangulation is occurring, for better and worse. Activations are resounding amongst the noise. But listen, the indigenous people trapped with the borders of the United States of America have been through this before. The stories are handed down for a reason.
1 The three of us who make up the collective Postcommodity were brought up in spiritual homes. In our homes, in our communities, prayer was always present, and this prayer includes singing, silence, dancing, more silence, speaking, even more silence, running, thanking the Creator, and then silence. All of this with a set duration: sometimes from dusk until the sunrise, sometimes on Christmas Eve, sometimes in the last moments of a relative’s life. Yet, despite the acknowledgment of duration, all participants had entered a new world where the disappearance of time was the first indication you had arrived.
2 We see the installations, land art, and socially engaged works Postcommodity creates as a collective form of “reimagined ceremony” that reflects aspects of traditional indigenous ceremonies, in that they are immersive, interactive, multimodal, durational, shared, generative, and sacred. As with traditional ways, indigenous reimagined ceremony supports building and maintaining public memory, knowledge creation, intergenerational knowledge-transfer and relationships, placemaking, health, and governance. Through art we use indigenous knowledge systems to prepare a grounds for ceremony, while maintaining an acute awareness of market systems, weapons, and speed. Although indigenous reimagined ceremonies are grounded by indigenous knowledge systems, it is critical to make the nuanced distinction that Postcommodity does not “reimagine indigenous ceremonies.” Instead, we turn to indigenous knowledge systems, as well as their knowledge of the Western worldview, to generate methodologies that inform methods by which to forge conceptual artworks that engage the emergent present and its publics.
3 As part of our generative practices, we often position Postcommodity’s reimagined ceremonies within contested spaces as a means of publicly recovering knowledge about the social, geopolitical, and economic foundations of the Americas, and as a way of emphasizing how the competing interests of the Americas have reached a point of violence, coercion, de-socialization, and displacement. Within these increasingly challenging conditions, our intentions are to express and use ephemeral immersive environments as a vehicle for positioning multimodal metaphors that articulate transformational experiences. The purpose of transformation is to envision, co-intentionally with peoples, a more desirable future via respectful human relationships in concert with responsible stewardship to the lands we occupy.
4 Today’s US tribal lands are case studies of contention, where overlapping jurisdictions, histories, and conflicts of interest have reached the domain of the esoteric—legally, politically, economically, socially, and culturally. Cities can be equally complex, as almost every major city in what are now Canada, the United States, Mexico, Central America, and South America has literally been constructed on top of multiple layers of indigenous civilizations, past and present. Rather than provide a contrast to the tribal experience, the borderlands extend this experience to a liminal, binational space where complexity moves beyond the esoteric and into realms of the metaphysical. For our community engaged land art installation Repellent Fence, we chose to work in the borderlands for this very reason.
5 In 2012, we arrived in Agua Prieta, Sonora, and Douglas, Arizona, by invitation, after spending five years becoming familiar with the politics of the borderlands and mapping assets and opportunities for a potential public artwork that would intersect the Mexico/US border. Engaging communities from the state line of California and Arizona to the state line of New Mexico and Arizona, we sought out communities, organizations, and government agencies on both sides of the line that had preexisting policy frameworks in place designed to encourage and facilitate binational cooperation around critical social and economic policies—independent of existing federal or state government frameworks on each respective side of the border. The transborder city of Douglas/Agua Prieta worked intensely with Postcommodity for three years. This was possible because Douglas/Agua Prieta chose itself to prepare for four days of indigenous reimagined ceremony during which this divided community would suture itself back together again.
6 The suturing of Agua Prieta and Douglas began with a fairly simple idea: let’s use 10-foot-diameter replicas of a consumer bird-repellent product known as “scare-eye” balloons—which utilized an indigenous iconography referred to as an open eye—for some type of land artwork. Tribes throughout the Americas have used this icon in their material and ceremonial cultures for thousands of years as a means of demonstrating the interconnectedness of the land, people, cultures, and communities of the borderlands. The collective also wanted to shift public discourse toward acknowledging the indigeneity of migrants entering the United States from Mexico, Central America, and South America. As we prepared for Repellent Fence, we learned about the unparalleled generosity and survivance of a community split in two. We also learned about the capacity of socially engaged art to mediate the construction of powerful relationships, even in the most divisive geospatial environments.
7 By opening an aesthetic portal or fissure in time-space, the Repellent Fence sought to catalyze public discourses with the capacity to mediate complexity about the transborder systems we as humans create, embody, and maintain in the world. During Repellent Fence/Valla Repelente, there were brief moments of sacred time during which the power of the human spirit emerged, as did dignity and the humanization of peoples across lines within contested space.
8 On occasion, we successfully create these portals by hacking and modifying conventions and formal aesthetic systems. Through our work, we as Postcommodity operate as a learning community of indigenous storytellers within the neoliberal world now largely governed by a multinational oligarchy. The purposes of our ceremonies are to critically engage high-speed market systems propagated by violence capitalism and to leverage the power of our work to interface with local independent policies, such as a transborder memorandum of understanding between two adjacent binational border cities.
This essay—published online and as a print-on-demand pamphlet—is published by the Walker Art Center as part of its online Artist Op-Eds series, an ongoing project that commissions artists in all disciplines to respond through writing to events in the news. The essay was accompanied by March 11, 2017 artist talk/launch event at the Walker Art Center. As with any forum for urgent conversation, the views presented are those of the artists and do not represent those of the Walker Art Center.