Artist's Statement

Tomas van Houtryve

"Lines and Lineage" and "Divided"

Although they play a consequential role in human lives and group identity, borders are artificial, impermanent and often absurd. Seen through the prism of contemporary politics, these lines between countries can take on dramatic and distorted meanings. From 2017 to 2018, I created several lens-based works about the Mexico-U.S. border that reframe our perceptions using line, memory, and perspective.

The first work, Lines and Lineage, 2017-2018, addresses the missing photographic record of when Mexico ruled what we now know as the American West. Although photography was invented in Paris in 1839, it didn’t arrive in the West until after the U.S. seized the region from Mexico in 1848. Images of the Mexican era were never fixed in our collective memory. Using a 19th century camera and glass negatives, I attempt to fill that vacuum. The work combines landscape photographs of the original Mexico-U.S. border with portraits of descendants of early inhabitants.

The next work, Divided, 2018, is a single-channel video installation that focuses on the timeless repetition of lines of waves from the Pacific Ocean as they crash perpendicular into the steel barrier that splits Baja and upper California. The collision of waves is mesmerizing, and we notice unified lines of waves that are divided in two.