Bad Spell | Migration Corridor | California
Internet Curse: Cannot get off of the Internet. Cannot get off on the Ether. Stuck on Web. Stuck right now. Stick onto the body of the beast: her genital imprint.
Service Curse: Leave Internet. Leave settlements. Leave water, bandages, electrolyte heavy drinks, and energy bars in the desert within the migration corridors where informal crossers...cross. Hundreds of thousands walking through the thorns and rocks each year...you, pick up the empties left behind. Caution: Drug smugglers are reportedly active in the area. Locals use this abandoned stretch of freeway for unauthorized target practice. Cretaceous-aged granites surround the mural; bullets ricochet. Assault assailants. Protect protectors. Curse, command.
Directions as of March 2014
East on Hwy 8
Exit at Mountain Springs Road (2 exits past In Koh Pah Road/Coyote's)
Left at end of ramp onto Mountain Springs Road
Head north on Mountain Springs Road, past/underneath underpass of Hwy 8 (where there's usually a border patrol car parked)
Look for three white posts (2 close together, 1 a bit separate) on right hand side
Turn right at/before three white posts
Navigate down large gravel/stone path slowly
Follow unpaved path straight ahead
Look for well paved road surface (abandoned Hwy 8), perpendicular to unpaved path, ahead
Left on paved road surface/old Hwy 8
Continue down the road until you see the mural.
Record of a Bad Spell, California, 2014.
Painting Spell: Find a borderland. A violent social process roils there. Stain that border with the depiction of unholy and holy things. The marks are a protection spell that draws the crossers over the line and towards the center. The marks are a retribution spell that assaults the powers that have made and sustained a manufactured border. Visitors make pilgrimage to the painting. Leave your offerings. Aid the refugee. Putrefy the break in the land.
[The informal crosser requested the depiction of bodies within the mural because the desert contained the impression of 5,000+ dead; at each crossing, he looted the clothing of corpses to stay warm in the night; one by one traverse, he watched his fellow crossers hallucinate UFOs just before dying (reportedly the border patrol helicopter maneuvers sometimes imitate the "behavior of UFOs" to scare crossers)].
In the day, some people dehydrate in the shade, some claw the ground for water. A forensic anthropologist, attempting to identify a body, found a small dead hummingbird in the pocket.
I will not, as a stranger, paint pictures of people found in the Sonoran. Instead, I look to the side. The ancient corpses, in fetal coils, dragged from European bogs are visually similar to the men and women and children dead within the frontier. The Bog People, sometimes bearing the marks of violent deaths and all compressed by time and wet earth, are the stand-ins. Although painted collectively, the mural channels the singular fury of Antonin Artaud's black magic conceptualism (RE: his drawings as curses, his asylum spells; mailed to enemies and dear ones and designed to transform the bodies of the recipients).
In Tijuana, a recently deported informal crosser is asked: If a mural is painted within a migration corridor, what objects should be painted within that mural? Cacti | Bones | Clouds | Disappearing Bodies... On a website, activists list what can be left in the path of informal crossers. Water | Bandages | Energy Bars... The professor, in an academic journal, catalogs the traces of use and the substances found on materials collected within the migration corridor. The professor notes the broken shoe repaired with bra strap. The Anthropologist lists: blood | sweat | semen...
If I had not sought out instruction the mural would have, rightly/wrongly contained the objects skimmed from the Internet's surface, from digitized newspaper reports and academic journals surveying the materials found alongside human remains: the hummingbird in the pocket | the mirror with Orlando Bloom's face attached | an empty Gatorade bottle | injectable xylocaine | cholla cacti needles covering a pair of hands| dirt inside a mouth.
Gallery Trick: The gallery is not the site. Remember the border is at center. Empty the gallery. Turn off the electricity. Open the door. Daylight will pour in. The gallery contains the draft of the spell and it will float to the ceiling. Do not diffuse its capabilities by gazing directly at the entirety of the image. Use a hand-held mirror to behold the spell on the ceiling. Breathing will shake the mirror and the image in the mirror. The whole should not be seen at once.
[The draft of the mural (28' x 32') was installed on the ceiling of the University Art Gallery at the University of California, San Diego in March 2014 as part of a solo exhibition, My Strangest Stranger, curated by Michelle Hyun. The gallery was lit by sunlight. Visitors were asked to view the ceiling mural by looking down at a handheld mirror. It was accompanied by a sound installation that transmitted locally recorded seismic frequencies that could be felt but not always heard, the stranger as the intra-terrestrial; the intruder (vis-à-vis Jean-Luc Nancy) as located within. It was not intended to operate as a valentine to Empire, but rather a disruption of Empire's processing of the stranger, extraterrestrial, expat, or immigrant.]
Interview (excerpts): Corpses, Border Patrol as Extraterrestrials, Painting, Tijuana, Mexico, 2013.
Here, in the rec room of the mission house, E. recounts the deaths of fellow crossers, describes border patrol maneuvers, and gives his instructions for a mural. (Original duration of interview 1 hour.)
In Tijuana, Casa del Migrante is operated by the Scalabrini order of priests, who self-describe as "living in solidarity with the displaced." The shelter annually serves over 12,000 men recently deported from the United States. Deportees are generally left by the US Border Patrol on the Mexican side of the border without any means of survival or further transport.
In this room, Sofia Gallisa Muriente and I interviewed a man who had attempted several crossings. The faces of the crossers are not evident in the documentation because within the visual grammar of social justice, faces are empty blanks—the motor replication and repetition of face as victim detaches what we sometimes call humanity from the subject. Artaud, the actor, claims that the human face is an empty force, a field of death. If the face as a form has been drained by the lens and the looker, maybe his live voice and my bad Spanish stumble towards something other than a field of death.
Mary Walling Blackburn lives and works in New York City and Dallas, Texas. e-flux journal published her latest online project, a free, downloadable pro-choice children's book, Sister Apple Sister Pig. She is an artist and director of the Anhoek School and its sister radio station WMYN.