Camilo Ontiveros, “Some Boxes and Two Photographs About America”

Camilo Ontiveros, "Este Es Mi País," 2011. Inkjet print, 30.5" x 71.5"

Camilo Ontiveros, "Este Es Mi País," 2011. Inkjet print, 30.5" x 71.5"

Hello friends,

Have you seen Camilo Ontiveros’s show “Some Boxes and Two Photographs About America” at Steve Turner? You really should. In fact you ought to make a habit of seeking out work by Ontiveros.

My encounter with Ontiveros’s current show at Turner started outside the gallery where the above photograph is visible through the front window. I sort of recognized the image as one I’d seen before and at first glance noted that it had some patriotic message and that it might be a photo of a peeling billboard. Inside, in the front room, there are metal boxes mounted on the walls – in a variety of colors hung grid-like, vertically and horizontally on center. These aren’t refinished, rather they seem to be sanded down. The kind of attention that is required to buff a surface to a nice finish often speaks to me of love and respect. Softening any rough edges, bringing a luster to the materials – this all takes time, meditative and contemplative time.

I didn’t necessarily recognize these as “security” boxes but I did understand they are related to building and buildings and to labor.

Camilo Ontiveros, "The Burial of Anastacio Hernandez," 2011. (Installation view).

Camilo Ontiveros, "The Burial of Anastacio Hernandez," 2011. (Installation view).

Continuing into the back room I found a photograph of a group of people taken from a distance across a green lawn. In front of this stands a plywood pedestal, about four feet high, upon which stand two candles. The wicks were blackened but the candles were not burning when I saw them.

My experience of the show started with the quotidian military enlistment poster, in the second room it became a little “refined” and recognizable as an art experience, and in this last room the silence that was suggested in the installation of boxes turned mournful and quiet and dark. Without quite knowing the story I became still and I teared up.

As I passed the desk on my way through I had signed a cheery “hello” and “congratulations” to the artist. I now left the back room and read the press release.

The basics: Yup, the photo in front is an enlistment photo. This had me considering the military as  security – national and personal, in that military service – making our nation secure – does provide a good career to millions of individuals.

The metal boxes in the next room typically contain security devices. The artist gathered these examples while working as an installer in homes and banks across the city. More is the security and the echoes of fear. That the boxes are sort of Donald Judd-looking placed me comfortably (and a little too self-satisfyingly) in the territory of art. Hmm, another form of security to be questioned.

The last room with the photo and memorial candle installation document and honor the death of Anastacio Hernandez Rojas, a man who was beaten and Tasered by Border Patrol agents in 2009 near San Ysidro.

Several pertinent links regarding the case of Hernandez Rojas:

A San Diego Union Tribune series of articles, the most recent from March 16, 2011 and the earliest from June 1, 2009.

A fairly chilling compilation of mobile phone videos shot by a passerby and witness to the beating, uploaded to YouTube by the San Diego Immigrant Rights Consortium.

Feeling safe. Acting out of fear. Keeping people out. Preventing crimes. Punishing bad guys.

Security and the lack thereof.

(This is off the subject but are you as tired as I am of hearing the phrase “bad guys” used as a signifier for criminals and murderers? We are not all seven years old and in front of the tv watching cartoons, cheering the characters we like – and who often look like us – and booing the ones that we hate –  and who mostly do not resemble us on the surface.)

Camilo Ontiveros, in a quiet and beautiful show, has me questioning the assumptions I brought into the gallery with me and also several of the reactions I had while looking at his work.

I am not like those people who hate immigrants and want to close the borders and punish those who cross it. I enjoy the diversity of our city and I don’t much mind how individuals come here. I think criminal behavior should be punished. But I’m not that different (from the haters), am I? Maybe I live farther away and do not need to think about it much. Maybe my ideas on this subject are simplistic and uninformed? Maybe answers aren’t the point?

People I know and respect have served and are serving in our military and police forces, if not in the Border Patrol; unlike my friends and relatives, who swear to uphold without questioning, I have the responsibility to question and so to inform myself on the actions our government takes. Um, I read newspapers and listen to the radio, but how much work do I put into it –  what actions do I take? I remind myself that I vote, but is this enough or even anything?

I live in a pretty safe neighborhood, and yet I got mugged at gunpoint a few years ago in my street. The condo I live in has a cute little guard house at the street entrance, so how smart is it for me to pontificate about security and safety?

Security and our desire for it are pervasive in this country, all the way from helmets and child seats and social safety nets to security boxes on our houses and drone missile attacks on our enemies and fences on our borders.

Cripes – I’m as much invested in our consciousness of safety as I dread the continuing effects of it on our culture.

Camilo Ontiveros, “Some Boxes and Two Photographs About America”

Steve Turner Contemporary, 6026 Wilshire Blvd., 90036

Camilo Ontiveros, "It's Not Just Security, It's Peace of Mind," 2011. Found security boxes, (installation view).

Camilo Ontiveros, "It's Not Just Security, It's Peace of Mind," 2011. Found security boxes, (installation view).

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