La Celda Anonima (The Anonimous Cell)
La Celda Anonima (The Anonymous Cell) is a multimedia project that includes elements of installation, video, sound and performance. The work recalls the often distorted and limited notion of the Central American immigrant in the United States while alluding to the state of Isolation, alienation and displacement they experience as a consequence of violence in their homeland and extreme immigration policies in post 9-11 U.S.
The stereotypes that link latino immigration to a range of national unemployment issues and crime rates, the distorted perception of the latino immigrant among other communities, have resulted in the consideration of extreme immigration laws effecting both undocumented and documented immigrants.
For Central Americans seeking to escape daily death threats, violence and poverty in their countries, the experience of crossing over to the U.S. alone often proves to be extremely dangerous. Many are subjected to extortion, theft, kidnapping, rape and murder at the hands of corrupt Mexican officials and organized criminal groups. As a consequence, many prefer to live a life of anonymity, exploitation, and fear in the U.S. rather than returning back to the bleak prospects they left behind.
"La Celda Anonima" will be installed in public places in various politically strategic cities throughout the U.S. including Arizona, a border U.S. state, well known for its radical anti-immigrant laws.
The project consists of various 3.5 ft x 3.5 ft x 5.5ft sealed wooden shipping crates. The interiors present viewers (who will be able to peek in through slats) with extremely distorted objects/settings made to fit in the spaces, i.e. food cart, or play-scapes. The inside of the crates are decorated with donated personal, and cultural objects. Tiny TV sets present loops of mainstream news bulletins, while other settings present radios playing nostalgic Latin American music which recalls the lost ”home”. The crates also allude to post 9-11 paranoia regarding abandoned or misplaced objects in public places. Two individuals, dressed up as immigration officials, answer questions about the “object” while engaging onlookers in dialogue. The presence of the officials further heighten the tension of the work.
The project involves the installation of a colorfully painted short schoolbus filled with bananas. Special HD video cameras, lights and sensitive microphones (to record fruit flies) will be used to document it over a10-day period. The project’s final form will be a 4-channel time-lapse video installation loop.
At first appearance, “Bananas” presents an image full of many kitsch resonances in American culture. The short, picturesque banana-filledbus – a popular symbol of Central American culture used for public transportation – calls to mind the archetype of the banana republics with their tinpot dictators; any form of zany behavior (“goingbananas”) ; classic popular songs like Louis Prima’s “Yes! We Have No Bananas;” and even Woody Allen’s farcical film “Bananas.”
The narrative thread revolves around the vehicle’s metamorphosis. Stored and documented inside a warehouse for 10 days containing about 3 tons of fruit, several HD video cameras, strategically placed lamps, and ultrasensitive microphones installed inside and outside of it will record the increasingly disturbing sight and sound of fruit flies swarming and buzzing around the fruit.
The final product, a 4-channel time-lapse video installation loop, compresses the decaying of the fruit before the viewer over the course of 15 minutes. The original kitsch image thus mutates into a sordid tableau of death and destruction. In the end, the decaying of the bananas – a Central American export staple – alludes to the countries' horrifying metamorphosis to societies plagued by violence and death.
The putrefaction and decay will be brought home to the viewer by allusions to last decade’s bus massacres where dozens of civilians were killed in Central America. The attacks were later claimed as messages sent to the governments who had implemented strict laws against gang members, or mere retaliations against bus drivers who refused gang extortion.
Calma Muerta (Dead Calm)
Project in Collaboration with Videogang
Dead Calm is an interdisciplinary project which includes installation, video, sound and interactive elements. For the proposed project we plan to build a stilt house, (12ft x 8ft x 8ft approx.) out of new and salvaged materials i.e. wood, corrugated panels, etc. Viewers experience the environment as they walk around on a deck. In the center there's a pool filled with 18 inches of water. The pool contains a boat, which floats in the center.
Using short throw projectors, beachfront views are projected, while seascape sounds complement the panorama spread over three walls. As viewers walk around the dim space, strategically placed surveillance cameras capture them and project the random images on the walls thus making viewers a vital part of the project. The stills are then processed, manipulated into disturbing imagery while ambient sounds replaced by drowning gasps randomly disrupt the pleasant tropical view. Underwater vibration producing devices and subtle lighting manipulations further heighten the unsettling experience. A boat floating in the middle represents a journey unrealized.
"Dead Calm" alludes to sea piracy in Honduras. In the past years many citizens have disappeared while at sea or the beach never to be found again. There have been rumors that the disappearances (especially in the Bay Islands) are linked to drug cartels. Authorities believe the individuals were kidnapped and used as mules, or silenced when they accidentally witnessed something they shouldn’t have.
In 1997, my seventeen year-old cousin, Oliver Cornejo Leiva, was on vacation in Güanaja island. He went out at night and got on a boat with two friends to go to a nightclub. They disappeared and were never found. The only survivor’s testimony was incongruent and misleading, but the authorities eventually released him. He left the country shortly after. This issue is not only personal to me but also to many other families that have lost their loved ones in similar situations. The violence that plagues Central American countries today has led citizens to adapt to living with the constant threat of death; drastic measures are taken to protect their homes and to stay safe. A consequence of this cycle is that eventually those very same measures end up alienating the individual from society.