Mundos Alternos: Art and Science Fiction in the Americas

Review

Mundos Alternos: Art and Science Fiction in the Americas

By Genevieve Quick October 16, 2017

In a rich array of over thirty artists working in a variety of media, the sprawling exhibit Mundos Alternos: Art and Science Fiction in the Americas stunningly combines speculative narratives with Latinx histories and identities. Amid many fascinating works and themes in the show, most interestingly, several artists reimagine intergalactic and Earth-bound transports as objects from hybridized times and places. As the exhibition focuses on the "New World," many of the artists speculate on the transportation and regulation of commodities and people through the Americas to revisit and disrupt narratives of colonization, modernization, and immigration.

While the exterior of Beatriz Cortez's Memory Insertion Capsule (2017) appears to be a spacecraft’s, the interior presents elements of a contemporary Californian home—a stone fireplace, a desk—entirely fabricated of steel. Additionally, a virtual-eality viewer dangling from the ceiling presents a stereographic video that chronicles the history of the United Fruit Company (now known as Chiquita Bananas) and its owners’ involvement in eugenics. As the agricultural industry attempted to create greater yields, and eugenics erroneously tried to engineer “better” humans, United Fruit colonized Central America and exported its produce to the U.S. With the sculptural capsule and immersive video, Cortez proposes travel as a physical and virtual experience where viewers straddle time to bear witness to history, while moving forward.

In Clarissa Tossin's Transplanted (VW Brasilia) (2011), the artist references the past through a flattened latex skin made from a Volkswagen Brasília. The car, manufactured in Brazil from 1973–1982, was named after the city of Brasília, the modernist, utopian city co-designed by Oscar Niemeyer, who envisioned a modern Brazilian capital friendly to cars. By fabricating the sculpture out of rubber, a chief export of Brazil, Tossin also draws upon Henry Ford's failed Fordlândia (founded in 1929), a Brazilian city designed specifically for Ford to secure rubber for his tire manufacturing. In Tossin's sculpture, cars and rubber stand as symbols of economic and cultural globalization, where utopian and dystopian urban planning collapse into a flaccid latex shell.

While Tossin investigates histories through automobiles, Rubén Ortiz-Torres's Alien Toy (La Ranfla Cósmica) (1997) builds a vehicle for the present and future. The vehicle, a white Nissan pickup truck, common in the U.S. Border Patrol fleet, is transformed by the artist into a spectacularly souped-up low-rider. Referencing low-rider culture, Ortiz-Torres draws upon the hybridity of place and culture within the Southern California Chicano community, where the vernacular is a transnational mix of Mexican and American, which the artist expands to the extraterrestrial. While the object lies in suspended animation in the gallery, the accompanying video reveals how, like a Transformers toy, the car morphs via panels that twirl and move up and down. Ortiz-Torres converts this Alien Toy, a border-control vehicle deployed to search out "illegal aliens," into a remote-controlled toy for the Chicano artist. In the vehicle's logo, the artist reworks the term Unidentified Flying Object (UFO) into Unidentified Cruising Object, such that flying becomes cruising, as both low-riders and police do. Ortiz-Torres's vehicle proposes a world that moves beyond national borders to the fantasy and extravagance of intergalactic space. 

Through fantastical vehicles, the artists address the export of bananas and rubber and the regulation of people across borders. As the artists harness history, they also employ wordplay and devise mash-ups to create new worlds where the familiar and strange somehow coexist, and travel becomes a geographic and temporal exercise of the imagination. While the exhibition is exhilaratingly disorienting and wild, the show's eloquent catalog contextualizes the work in terms of identity and adds to the growing scholarship on global forms of futurity.

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Mundos Alternos: Art and Science Fiction in the Americas is on view at UCR ARTSblock in Riverside, CA through February 4, 2018.

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