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Pushing the Artistic Borders

Mexico, America and La Frontera find expression in "Poison Amor"

In their "Poison Amor" collaboration now showing at Blaffer Gallery, Lubbock-raised Terry Allen and James Drake use junkyard refuse to make assemblages strongly rooted in the contemporary life of "La Frontera," the northern border region of Mexico. Drake, based in El Paso, is known for his huge drawings with steel components and epic bronze sculptures of incisive social commentary; Allen, who currently lives in Santa Fe, is a multimedia artist known for his satiric and humorous constructions, paintings and installations, as well as for his songs and performances.

For "Poison Amor," Allen and Drake used drawings, rugs, a power saw, a stuffed rooster, TVs and other objects to create narrative environments that deal with the Texas/Mexico border. The artists took some time recently to discuss the process of their collaboration, their deep attachment to West Texas and their ongoing fascination with border culture.

SK: Why did it seem the right time to do a collaboration?
TA: Jeffrey Moore, the director of Blue Star Art Space in San Antonio, had the idea of doing something with the two of us, and James had recently bought a house across the street from me in Santa Fe. So it really came about logistically from that point of view. James knows some people down in Oaxaca who make rugs. So our initial idea was, let's make some rugs and let's do some drawings. The first day we pinned up a blank sheet of paper on the wall. We said, okay, we're going to have to do a drawing to get one of these rugs made. We stood there and then pinned up another piece of paper and said, okay, you work on this one, IÕll work on that one, and then weÕll change. We didn't have a procedure, but it was real tense. Both of us just concentrated on the piece, not on identity. James brought up a bunch of his stuff and I had my stuff and we just kind of went at it. Somebody said that it was like suspending our egos. But it was absolutely the opposite. It was a matter of trust.

JD: It was the first time I had ever done anything like this. It may sound silly, but sometimes I believe ideas fly through the air, you grab them, and they happen. But we didn't set out to do certain things. We thought we'd just get together, drink some beers, have a good time and if it turned out we made something -- fine. If it didn't, well thatÕs fine, too. No preconceived notions.

TA: The collaboration really came about after James and I made several trips to the dump in Juarez. It was that funny collision in yourself of being stunned at the poverty and the way people live, but equally stunned at the ingenuity they have in how they built their houses, how they live their lives. The title of the show, "Poison Amor," comes from that Ñ the idea of using whatever is at hand, including each other's ideas. But there's no real border when it comes to business, information or money. It's just flesh. That's the border.

SK: A good deal of your works address political issues. It seems to me that a lot of political art produced during the '80s has been diffused of its power. How do you maintain effectiveness?

TA: You can't avoid the fact that if you deal with any issues about people, it's going to be political. But usually when people hear that word they assume there's a position. But picking a side has never interested me. To say you're a Democrat isn't going to solve all your problems. To say you're a Republican, a terrorist or an artist isn't going to put you on political holy ground. I think political correctness is the most advanced form we've seen in this country of real heavy-duty fascism. We're getting people to the point where they canÕt move Ñ they can't speak, can't eat, can't use their natural humor. Every move you make, somebody is pissed off at you.

SK: Why has Juarez -- really, the whole concept of the border as imaginative site and geographic location -- preoccupied both of you?

TA: It hasn't been an obsession, but it's been something that always comes up in some form or other in my work. There's always been a huge pull to Mexico since the time I was a child -- for the most crass reasons and the most romantic reasons. In West Texas, especially, Mexico was like every movie you saw. If someone committed a crime and wanted to get out of the country -- go to Mexico. If you just wanted to get away from the bullshit -- go to Mexico. One of my first music memories is of the migrant workers who came to Lubbock to pick cotton. TheyÕd always park at the fairground where my dad had an arena for music and wrestling. It was like a giant gypsy camp outside and he'd walk around with me. There'd be people cooking and singing and playing music. It was another image I had of some other place that wasn't where I was, but I was real curious about.

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