Under the Same Sky…We Dream at the Rubin Center for the Visual Arts

The Rubin Center for the Visual Arts is located on the campus of The University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), a uniquely bilingual, bi-cultural and bi-national campus less than a quarter mile from the U.S.-Mexico border. Our student body is 80% Hispanic with an additional 5% or more who cross over daily from our neighboring city, Ciudad Juárez. Issues of immigration, educational access and the relationship between the nations of Mexico and the United States are not just political topics or theoretical conversations here, they form the very fabric of who we are as a border community, which is precisely why we are excited and honored to host Erika Harrsch’s new project Under the Same Sky…We Dream, a multi-media installation by the artist in collaboration with internationally acclaimed Mexican singer Magos Herrera.

The installation by Harrsch takes place in a darkened room which is separated by a time-lapse video projection of the sky, visible from both sides of the hanging screen, and sculpted to the contours of the US-Mexico borderline. Visitors will pass under the screen where they will encounter a series of military-style mattresses and mylar blankets, exactly like those used by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in detention centers used to house undocumented minors who have been caught trying to enter the country illegally. Audience members are invited to sit or lie on one of these mattresses as an act of reflection and solidarity. From their seat on the gallery floor they can observe the subtle changes in the video sky which compresses more than thirty thousand still photographs from sunrise to sunset, a metaphor for both travel and the passing of time in an immigrant’s journey. Visitors are simultaneously surrounded by Magos Herrera’s musical rendition of the DREAM Act, projected in stereo into the gallery space, and can use tiny personal clip lights to follow along in artist books that contain the words of the DREAM act superimposed on top of images of border fences, passing clouds, desert landscapes and immigrant detention centers.

While there are no precise statistics available to document the number of UTEP students who would be affected by the passage of some version of the DREAM Act, what we do know about our student body and the surrounding community is that many of them come from mixed-document families and all of them are living out different versions of the American Dream. We have students who are children of farmworkers, and who may have been brought here as children themselves; students who have earned their legal status through service in the military; students who were born here but who have undocumented parents or siblings that live in constant fear of deportation. The core question that the DREAM Act seeks to address – how do we ensure the security, safety and economic future of accomplished and long-standing members of our community, regardless of their place of birth? – is a question that has a particular relevance in this place and at this time in our nation’s history. Core to the Rubin Center’s mission is a commitment to using contemporary art as a springboard for deeper conversations about the world around us. Erika Harrsch’s Under the Same Sky…We Dream will be central to fulfilling that mission in the months ahead.

Kerry Doyle, Director and Chief Curator
Rubin Center for the Visual Arts
The University of Texas at El Paso