10 Erika Harrsch
Erika Harrsch: Relational Art
The second artist I will be discussing is another contemporary Mexican American artist named Erika Harrsch who was born in Mexico City and is now based in New York. Her work capitalizes on the power of interactive installations to bring her viewers into perspective on what it is like to be a Mexican immigrant traveling to America.
One installation that really stood out to me is titled “Under the Same Sky…We Dream.” This installation has been on view at the BRIC Arts-Media House in Brooklyn, NY, the B3 Frankfurt Biennial for the moving image, and the Rubin Center for the Visual Arts at UTEP in El Paso, TX. This installation pays homage to children crossing the border either with our without their parents. On the ground, there are mattresses with Mylar blankets to replicate the detention centers for undocumented minors. Overhead, there is a projection of the sky over the border from sunrise to sunset. Viewers are invited to lie on the mattresses where there is an illuminated “dream book” which contains word for word the Dream Act of 2001. The dream act stands for “development, relief, education for alien minors.” The inclusion of the Dream Book allows for viewers to educate themselves about the rights that immigrant children have, but are not being granted. Detention centers like the one Harrsch is replicating in her installation hold over 90% of all undocumented children, and they are profiting off of illegal immigrant children, instead of granting them the rights that they deserve according to the Dream act. Erika Harrsch is using the power of interactive installations to educate her viewers about the current state that many immigrant children are living in, and through this practice giving a voice and raising awareness about a pressing issue that many people are otherwise not educated about.
Installation art can be very powerful in educating viewers on whatever topic the artist is trying to convey. To make a comparison to Eric Almanza’s paintings, although they still portray a strong message about immigration, the viewer still has a tendency to objectify the artworks. Harrsch’s interactive installations directly engage viewers in an educational experience with the art she creates. Relational aesthetics comes into play when analyzing the relationship between the viewers and the art that they are viewing. Nicolas Bourriad first coined the term “relational aesthetics” as a way to define interactive installation art as “a construction of concepts with the help of percepts and affects.” The goal of interactive installations is to put the viewer at the center of acts of interpretation through participation. Viewers are able to draw value from these types of installation based on two factors: one being the amount of relational conjunctions the artwork makes viewers recall from their own memory, and second being the types of relationships the artist creates between the art and the viewers.
Erika Harrsh successfully creates relational art in her exhibit “Under the Same Sky…We Dream” because of her ability to evoke memories from her viewers while at the same time creating a new relationship between her art and its viewers. Regardless of a viewer’s personal background, it’s a universal affect to empathize with children who are struggling. Harrsch creates a relationship between the children she is representing and the viewers by inviting the viewers to physically put themselves in the place of immigrant children in detention centers. Although every viewer may not have a direct relationship or memory related to immigration, the act of participating in this installation allows them to create a new memory of what it is like for illegal immigrant children in detention centers. The dream book is vital in this interactive education experience because, in a way, it forces the participants to spend the amount of time it takes to read the book, while laying in the uncomfortable mattresses with a Mylar blanket. Upon leaving the exhibit viewers are left with a new interpretation of the struggles faced by Mexican immigrants fleeing to America.
Contemporary Mexican America artists are constantly using their work to educate the public about issues that are not being discusses in mainstream media. The main goal is to educate their viewers through visual representations of these issues. Erika Harrsch is an artist who successfully completes that goal through her “Under the Same Sky…We Dream” installation. She represents all the aspects of relational art by providing her viewers with a chance to form their own interpretations of the message she is trying to convey, hopefully with the result of a more educated America that can accomplish to goal of equal rights and opportunities for Mexican immigrants of all ages.