Coconino Center for the Arts, Flagstaff, AZ, 2022
Materials: 1,785 black water bottles and prepared crow specimens
In 1994, the federal government launched Operation Gatekeeper in an attempt to stem the tide of illegal immigrants by "restoring integrity and safety" to the U.S./Mexico border. By advocating "prevention through deterrence" and using the "geography as an ally," the policy purposely funneled migrants into more extreme and dangerous landscapes. It eventually led to the deaths of thousands of migrants within the southern desert of Arizona, deaths that continue today.
On February 14, 2022, during one of my humanitarian trips to the border, I visited with a group of refugees seeking asylum at a migrant shelter in Agua Prieta, Sonora, Mexico. I asked a Guatemalan mother how she and her child had travelled to northern Mexico. She shared with me how they and 250 other refugees had stood locked inside two darkened tractor trailers for eighteen hours in the cold and heat.
On March 9, 2022, I met the photographer Tom Kiefer when I stopped in the border town of Ajo and visited the gallery where his work is exhibited. Tom needed assistance with hanging one of the photographs in his studio and I agreed to help. The image depicted fifteen black water bottles wrapped in cloth. I told Tom that I had wanted to include an installation using a large number of these bottles in my upcoming exhibition, but I didn't have enough in my own collection. He told me to follow him and led me to a closet where he had 1,750 black water bottles. I asked him if I could borrow them for my exhibit.
While designing this installation, I recalled the Guatemalan mother and the story she had shared. I learned the the inside footprint of a tractor trailer is 52.5 feet long by 8.5 feet wide, or 105 water bottles long x 17 water bottles wide = 1,785 water bottles. Tom had 1,750 in his collection. I went to my studio to count the number I had as part of my collection: 35.