New Online Exhibition Asks UMMA’s Instagram Followers To Rethink Border Neutrality

New Online Exhibition Asks UMMA’s Instagram Followers To Rethink Border Neutrality

U-M Student Alexis Herrera’s Contingent Perimeters Is The First Exhibition From Museum’s New Guest Curator Program

"Camera Room, NM" by David Taylor

For Alexis Herrera, the opportunity to join UMMA as the Museum’s inaugural Instagram Guest Curator was a way for him to engage with the realities of the United States–Mexico border, an ever-present part of life in his Arizona hometown.

The border, around one third of which is made up of various walls and fences, isn’t just “a static physical partition,” Herrera writes. Instead, it’s “an assemblage of institutions, ideologies, infrastructures, and technologies.” Even where there is no physical wall, there’s still a wall.

Herrera, a U-M School of Information graduate student, developed Contingent Perimeters: Infrastructure, Technology, and the (Re)Production of the U.S.–Mexico Border, an online exhibition of photographs, sculptures, and other media from six contemporary artists (Yaritza Flores Bustos, Gloria Martinez-Granados, Hillary Mushkin, M. Jenea Sanchez, David Taylor, and Alex Turner). He wanted to use art to explore questions around borders, immigration, and racialization.

The exhibition, available now via UMMA’s Instagram account, is the first to be developed as part of the Museum’s Instagram Guest Curator Program, a pilot project launched in 2021 to support student-led online exhibition development at UMMA. In addition to guidance from UMMA curators throughout the development process, program participants are given a budget to directly support the artists and creators they love.

One of the project’s parameters was that Herrera would find all of the participating artists via Instagram or other online platforms, and that it would be a way for UMMA to engage with the work of emerging artists. He also notes that several of them are connections in real life, part of a network of like-minded people.

Herrera, who earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Pennsylvania, also used his skills as a former software engineer to design the exhibition’s webpage. Unlike the more static, linear setup of an exhibition in a physical gallery space, Herrera’s is unique in that each visitor sees the artworks in a different randomized order. He intentionally designed it that way because he thinks of the border as an “assemblage,” or a collection of various objects or ideas interacting with one another (including technology, infrastructure, prisons, the law, and ideology). Rather than privileging a single dominant narrative, the randomness to the order of the art foregrounds the relations between the works and their messages.

Herrera hopes that people who view the exhibition will come away with a more expansive understanding of the United States–Mexico border, including the realization that the border’s technological infrastructures, while often invisible, are just as brutal as the fence separating the two countries. “The border isn’t neutral,” he says. “It is actively animated through a matrix of people and technologies.”

He notes David Taylor’s Working the Line series of photographs (2010) as exemplifying this: “Although Taylor’s images are largely devoid of people, the technologies used to monitor and control bodies loom large, giving viewers glimpses into the elaborate infrastructures utilized by U.S. Border Patrol.”

Herrera says that this project has helped solidify his interest in visual culture, as well as deepen his research and writing skills. He enjoys making connections between the aesthetic and the political, and thinks that enthusiasm will serve him well in future careers after grad school. “I don’t know what’s next for me,” he says. “There’s a lot of possible trajectories.”

Support for Contingent Perimeters and the UMMA Instagram Guest Curator Program comes from Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch

Contingent Perimeters

Explore Alexis Herrera's exhibition Contingent Perimeters: Infrastructure, Technology, and the (Re)Production of the U.S.–Mexico Border

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Gloria Martinez-Granados (b. 1983)
Social Security
Installation, Silkscreen Print on Plastic, Personal Documents