A Country is Not a House at ASU Art Museum grapples with the U.S.-Mexico border and capitalist notions of public and private life.
A Country is Not a House
May 7–October 30, 2022
ASU Art Museum, Tempe
Proponents of the border wall separating Mexico and the U.S. sometimes liken the structure to four walls enclosing a home, bringing capitalist conceptions of private property to the sphere of public space. A Country is Not a House: Ronald Rael + Virginia San Fratello counters that notion while elevating the borderlands as a site of beauty, dialogue, and collaboration.
Curated by Brittany Corrales, the exhibition at ASU Art Museum on the Tempe campus of Arizona State University includes drawings, prints, models, videos, and two newly commissioned sculptural installations created by Rael and San Fratello, Oakland, California–based artists and a married couple who blend activism and design.
Collectively, these works highlight the shared humanity of people living on either side of the border wall, while also suggesting the essential role of imagination and hope in pushing back against xenophobia and fear.
For House United (2022), the artists sourced 172 steel slats from abandoned border wall efforts to create an open structure echoing the lines of bird wings, which is visually anchored by two short walls of adobe bricks. For House Divided(2022)they built a home bifurcated by an invisible wall, with two open sides that reveal interior spaces as they might appear on either side of the border.
One single-channel video with sound documents the June 2019 installation of their Teeter-Totter Wall at the border, and another captures everyday life at a migrant shelter in Nogales, Arizona. Other works illustrate or model speculative border interventions including a library and a giant xylophone.
Here, the artists poignantly position the borderlands as a place of community manifested through shared food, conversation, and play. During an age marked by anger, apathy, and despair, the exhibition presents a compelling vision of what’s possible, and posits ways artists and other community members can work together for change.
Correction 8/29/2022: Since the printing of this article in Vol 6 of Southwest Contemporary, we have been notified that the artists Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello are no longer a married couple.