Alien Nation

ARTSblock exhibition “Mundos Alternos” seeks to subvert ideas of immigration and nationhood through science fiction

By Lilledeshan Bose

Hector Hernandez, ‘Bulca,’ 2015.

Hernandez is an Austin, Texas-based artist who explores the relationship of the body in motion to urban spaces through his performative photographs of “jellyfish monsters” that he calls “hyperbeasts.” These cute, alien characters move through industrial settings, reconfiguring built spaces through their whimsical shapes and cartoon aesthetic. The title for Bulca is a play on words referencing both a Mexican tire shop and the famously emotionally restrained Vulcan alien species from “Star Trek.” The hyperbeast’s intense colors complement those of the setting, the front of an Austin-area, Latino-owned tire business. The location also speaks to Hernandez’s concerns with gentrification in Austin. Courtesy of the artist and UCR ARTSblock.
Rudi Kraeher


Indigenous futurism. Information control. The border.

These are but a sampling of the ideas tackled by artists whose work appears in “Mundos Alternos: Art and Science Fiction in the Americas,” an exhibition at UCR ARTSblock that began on Sept. 16 and runs through Feb. 4.

Conceived as part of the J. Paul Getty Trust’s “Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA” initiative, which explores Latin American and Latino art in dialogue with Los Angeles through a series of thematically linked exhibitions, “Mundos Alternos” is ARTSblock’s most ambitious venture to date.

Featuring nearly 100 works from more than 40 artists, “Mundos Alternos” offers a transformative perspective on economic, social, and political issues through the lens of popular sci-fi tropes such as alternative worlds, speculative thinking, and alienation.

Visitors can expect large-scale installations, photographs, sculptures,
drawings, paintings, performances, and video installations from Latin American, Latino/a, and Chicano/a artists with an emphasis on the United States, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, and Central America. The exhibition encompasses 11,000 square feet in ARTSblock’s two adjacent buildings: the California Museum of Photography (CMP) and the Barbara and Art Culver Center of the Arts.


Laura Molina, ‘Amor Alien,’ 2004.

In 2005, a groundswell of anti-immigration alarm led Tejano artist and San Antonio resident Luis Valderas to the realization that science fiction is a powerful visual language in Latino art that allegorized liberation, escape, and possibility amid perilous times. Chicano artists could turn to outer space, a limitless platform where another world could be imagined, as a form of expression.

He organized Project MASA: The MeChicano Alliance of Space Artists, a name that riffs on the cornmeal staple of pre-Columbian civilizations and NASA. MASA artists dared to create possibilities unbounded by geographical boundaries, citizenry, and militarized national borders. Molina’s acrylic painting, Amor Alien, was included in a MASA exhibition. Set in a vacuous alien world, a green-pigmented goddess is cradled in the arms of a human astronaut. The astronaut emulates a recurrent trope in science fiction in which mastery over space, science, and technology is accomplished by someone who is masculine, heterosexual, and white. In Molina’s iteration, she focuses on the astronaut’s alienation; he’s a white savior without the capacity to rescue or penetrate the alien queen. Courtesy of the National Museum of Mexican Art, Chicago. CC BY-SA 3.0 (creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)
Robb Hernández

Rigo 23, ‘Autonomous InterGalactic Space Program,’ 2009-present.

Portuguese artist Rigo 23 emphasizes community-based forms of art practice in his many paintings, murals, sculptures, and public interventions. Autonomous InterGalactic Space Program is a collaboration between Rigo 23 and Zapatista artists and artisans in Chiapas, Mexico. After more than three years of building trust with the Zapatista Army of National Liberation communities and artists, the original plan for the piece — a spaceship for “intergalactic” global meetings — grew into an immersive “planetarium” of Zapatista iconography. The resulting artwork is a powerful vehicle for the artists’ anarchist ethic of collective decision-making, indigenous selfdetermination, and a general commitment to worldwide struggles against globalization and neoliberalism. Courtesy of the artist and Anglim Gilbert Gallery, San Francisco. 
Rudi Kraeher


“Mundos Alternos” curators Tyler Stallings (left), Robb Hernández, and Joanna Szupinska-Myers at the exhibition’s opening celebration on Sept. 30. Photo by Carlos Puma.

“Mundos Alternos” is curated by UCR Assistant Professor of English Robb Hernández; Tyler Stallings, artistic director of the Culver Center of the Arts; and Joanna Szupinska-Myers, senior curator of exhibitions at the California Museum of Photography. The trio was inspired by UCR Libraries’ Eaton Collection of Science Fiction & Fantasy, one of the world’s largest collections of science fiction, fantasy, horror, utopian literature, and related genres.

“One of the underlying concepts (of the exhibition) is the alienated alien, or the other, and how they reposition themselves in a world in which they are not marginalized,” Stallings said. “In the United States, we have called immigrants ‘aliens,’ so there is a double meaning in the use of the word alien in the context of the show.”

The Getty Trust funded 70 other nonprofit institutions throughout Southern California as part of “Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA.”

According to the U.S. census, almost half of Riverside County’s population is Latino, as are about 41 percent of UCR students. UCR is also one of 275 institutions of higher education in the country designated as a Hispanic-Serving institution (HSI).

The exhibition explores themes pertaining to the Latino community, such as the politics of immigration and the dangers of military surveillance.

“Science fiction offers a unique artistic landscape in which to explore the colonial enterprise that shaped the Americas and to present alternative perspectives speculating on the past and the future,” said co-curator Szupinska-Myers.

Explanatory wall text throughout the exhibition is displayed in English and Spanish.

The California Museum of Photography’s lower level gallery also features Latino and Latin American science fiction books and journals from the Eaton Collection. UCR’s Sherryl Vint, a professor of English and director of the school’s speculative fiction and cultures of science program, has guest curated a Latin American and Latino science fiction film series to accompany the exhibition.

ARTSblock curators defined science fiction of the Americas as a genre that looks at how today’s technologies will evolve in the future and affect society. In essence, Stallings said, science fiction is about world building, while visual art serves as a portal to imaginary worlds conceived by artists.

“The maker of this world, be it an author or an artist, has to decide about the environment, the politics, the type of people, the nature of commerce, and so on,” Stallings said. “This means that their idea of the future reflects their
own thinking.”

For example, El Salvador-born artist Beatriz Cortez, who now lives in Los
Angeles, hand-welded a silver space capsule the size of a shed for her 2017 piece, Memory Insertion Capsule, which is on display as part of the exhibit.

“If I had to go in a space capsule because I couldn’t live on Earth anymore,
I’d want it to feel like a home,” Cortez told the New York Times about the piece.


Beatriz Cortez, ‘Memory Insertion Capsule,’ 2017.

Cortez invites visitors to piece together the fragments of an obscured history that draws connections between eugenics and U.S. corporate interventions in Latin America. Her work is informed by her experiences of loss, migration, and armed conflict before migrating from El Salvador to the United States in 1989. Cortez’s immersive installation includes cozy amenities, such as a fireplace built from steel river rocks evoking indigenous architectural methods. Through the “memory insertion” helmet, visitors can engage with archival materials that illuminate neocolonial entanglements between the United States and Central America. The work stresses the need for historical reflection combined with a thoughtful consideration of which technologies and materials we will carry with us into the future. Courtesy of the artist and UCR ARTSblock. 
— Rudi Kraeher

Tania Candiani, ‘Engraving Sound,’ 2015.

Intersections among language systems, sound, and technology are Candiani’s primary interest. The artist’s work elicits nostalgia for the obsolete, but often does so through analog technologies that appear futuristic in nature. For this piece, Candiani selected eight 17th-century cosmological engravings by English physician and polymath Robert Fludd, who held extensive interests in science and the occult. She worked with a printmaker to produce copper plates engraved with the images to be “played” with a needle. The engraved grooves are read as sound waves, much like a record, and are emitted via analog synthesizers. Engraving Sound is an interactive work in which visitors choose a copper plate engraving to play in the machine and are able to modify the sounds using a large soundboard. The sound produced varies depending on the individual playing it and the unique character of the electricity contained within his or her body. Courtesy of the artist and UCR ARTSblock.
— Kathryn Poindexter

Claudio Dicochea, ‘de la Gobernatura Suprema y Jefe Saddle Blazing, se convierte en Marciano (of Supreme Governance and Chief Saddle Blazing, it turned into a Martian),’ 2010.

Dicochea’s brightly colored, mixed-media paintings scramble historical Western art practices and popular culture in order to playfully interrogate how colonial ideology continues to inform contemporary visual culture. Using imagery from science fiction, comics, and popular music, Dicochea draws on 18th-century colonial “casta” (caste) painting in his work. Casta paintings depict mixed-race families and functioned as visual taxonomies of racial hierarchy. Departing from historical casta paintings, Dicochea creates his own postmodern portraits of “mestiza” (mixed-race) families. Through a technique of re-appropriation and visual sampling, Dicochea creates unique, hybridic characters. A key element of this collage-like process is what Dicochea calls the “re-racing” of his figures: darkening or lightening the skin tone of the people he portrays. These eccentric — and even bizarre — juxtapositions recontextualize visual stereotypes and invite a serious, yet fun consideration of the ways in which visual arts have structured our modern conceptions of difference. Courtesy of the artist and UCR ARTSblock. 
— Rudi Kraeher

Jillian Mayer, ‘I Am Your Grandma,’ 2011 (video still).

Mayer’s artistic practice encompasses video, sculpture, painting, installation, and web-based projects. The Miami-based artist fuses camp, humor, feminist commentary, and the absurd with do-it-yourself and art school aesthetics, crafting fresh takes on conventions surrounding intimacy and celebrity in the 21st century, as well as science-fictional and satiric notions of “the future.” Mayer’s I Am Your Grandma, a YouTube–hosted video work, is dedicated to her future grandchildren. By hosting many of her video works on public forums such as YouTube, Mayer purposefully engages a metadialogue about celebrity, mortality, the impending outdatedness of the present technological phenomena, and our contemporary compulsion to share and connect virtually. Courtesy of the artist and UCR ARTSblock.
— Kathryn Poindexter

Rubén Ortiz Torres, ‘Alien Toy (La Ranfla Cósmica),’ 1997.

A kinetic sculpture and video installation that extrapolates the customizing aesthetics of Chicano lowriding to create a remote-controlled lowrider that radically fragments itself. Built by experimental customizer Salvador “Chava” Muñoz, the car hydraulically disassembles itself, performing a kind of frantic, mechanical dance. The front of the vehicle completely separates from the body, driving off like some rogue lowrider escape pod. The work also parodies the U.S. border patrol logo. Alien Toy illustrates a technological iteration of the Chicano “rasquache” attitude of playful and irreverent flamboyance. It is a “techno-rasquache” art practice of juxtaposition, reversal, and the resourceful recontextualization of mass-cultural images and materials that are ready at hand. Collection of Tom Patchett. Courtesy of Track 16, Los Angeles. 
— Rudi Kraeher

Artwork photos by Nikolay Maslov. Courtesy of UCR ARTSblock.


Visiting the Exhibit?

UCR ARTSblock
3824–3834 Main St.
Riverside, CA, 92501

Phone:
(951) 827–4787

Hours:
Tuesday-Thursday
11 a.m.-5 p.m.
Friday-Saturday
11 a.m.-7 p.m.
Sunday
11 a.m.-4 p.m.
Monday
Closed.
Open until 9 p.m. every first Thursday of
the month

Tickets:
General admission $6. UCR students, faculty, and staff can visit for free.