Hoisting the White Flag: A New Art Installation at Rio Vista Farm
At Socorro, Texas’ Rio Vista Farm (a National Treasure of the National Trust), nomadic contemporary art museum Black Cube is featuring a new project called Unearthed: Desenterrado by artist Adriana (Adri) Corral. This outdoor, site-specific work consists of a 60-foot flagpole that hoists a large-scale, white cotton flag. A Mexican golden eagle and an American bald eagle—representing both countries’ flags—are embroidered on either side of the piece. The flag is a meditation on the Bracero Program, a guest-worker program that brought skilled Mexican laborers to agricultural areas across the United States. The installation will run at Rio Vista through June 9, 2018, when Corral plans to take the flag on tour to museums and cultural institutions across the country.
To create Unearthed, Corral spent years of researching, compiling interviews, and spending time in the space, before filtering the information she gathered through her artistic practice. To learn more about Unearthed and its profound impact on a sense of place at Rio Vista, we spoke with Corral and Black Cube curator Cortney Lane Stell.
Tell me more about Black Cube.
Stell: We are based out of Denver and work on projects in Colorado, as well as nationally and internationally. A few different underpinning concepts are core to our mission. We want to offer a different model from most museums that are geographically or city center-focused, and that model is based on increasing access to contemporary art. By moving exhibits into diverse communities, we hope to broaden the reach of contemporary art and show it differently than most “white cube” museums and gallery spaces do.
Another aspect of our curatorial approach is caretaking. You normally think of a curator as a caretaker of a permanent collection, but Black Cube procures projects by trying to move the needle on the artist’s career in some way.
Why do you decide to center this piece around Rio Vista?
Stell: Adri and I thought about different ideas before this one stuck. We had many conversations about important concepts in her practice and different ways to engage audiences. We ended up coming back to the El Paso Ward area and this site, not only because Adri is from this area, but because her experience in the borderlands has influenced her practice.
Corral: I first learned about Rio Vista after spending about a year conducting a residency in Berlin. I was traveling Europe and trying to visit as many memorial and monument sites as possible, particularly in Berlin, to ask how we address human rights abuses. Through my research, I was required to travel to architectural spaces [such as] concentration camps.
When I came back to the States, I was visiting my parents in El Paso. My father was the one who mentioned [Rio Vista for the first time]. I said, "I don’t know much about it. Can you take me there, and can you share more?"
When I arrived at Rio Vista Farm, it felt like there was a strong piece of lead in my stomach. It was reminiscent of other spaces I had been to in Europe. There was a history in my own backyard, that we don’t really talk about or learn about.
What was your creative process for making Unearthed: Desenterrado like?
Corral: My work is generated by the site and the material I’m given access to, and that’s when the form takes shape. I had been wanting to do the flag piece for a long time. To a certain extent, I knew what I wanted it to look like, but it wasn’t ready [until I found Rio Vista]. I spent ample amounts of time in the space, and I wrote a lot about it; I also conducted interviews there.
Two flags welcomed Braceros to Rio Vista: the U.S. flag and the Mexican flag. Unearthed is in the exact same place as the original flags were. Since cotton fields surround the site, I also felt it was important to create a white cotton flag. Flags aren’t usually made of cotton anymore, because of its weight and its quick deterioration. The flag’s lifespan is apparently three months, which is why we’ll only have it at Rio Vista for that length of time.
The woman who helped fabricate the flag is a story in and of herself. She not only created and embroidered this flag, she also made the flags for the 2016 inauguration. Her story highlights the workforce and the objects and events they’re contributing to, from back then [during the time of the Braceros] to now.
How is the art installation reflected in the site?
Stell: I feel like it has this sort of a mile-marker sense, even with the title of the work, Unearthed. The flag towers over all the other one-story buildings in the area. You see it from the horizon and from the highway in the distance. You can even see it from Juarez in Mexico. From that distance, it almost looks like a surrender flag or a peace flag.
Being at Rio Vista and connecting with former braceros, former braceros’ wives, and the larger community in El Paso has been really important. Adri is giving them a platform as well, to share their stories and their untold histories. And this work will continue when we [take the flag] to different museums around the country.
Corral: It also shows a deeply rooted connection that we have with Mexico, and all of its complexities. This flag is looking to confront those complexities and have a meaningful dialogue that doesn’t polarize individuals—instead, it should create more awareness and empathy. The flag recognizes a very large group of individuals who took a chance in coming to this country during one of its most vulnerable times. They were the pulse of America during that time, and they still are now.