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The Tunnel | 2012

The Tunnel. Repurposed horse fencing, 20′ x 7′ x 5,’ 2012

“The commodity becomes our uncanny double.” –Hal Foster via Marx


Corral panels as structural archetype are easily recognized in the North American southwest and reference a lot of different things from colonial animals to fencing antagonisms out/fencing commodities in…all a huge part of the human history of this ‘local’ region.

A fence can suggest fear of the outside world and the fence itself suggests our need to build a wall of resistance to keep the world apart from ourselves. I have been thinking about this idea with corral fencing for several months now. I didn’t quite know what I wanted to do with them except that I wanted to visualize a structure of some kind that would efficiently reference the corral fencing themselves and a spectrum of opposites while achieving an economy of expression by being condensed and deeply physical.

So initially I knew that I wanted to rupture the material somehow. I wanted to put into question the givenness of the prevailing normative horizon that resources in the west are endless and continually open for taking and that we are a world apart from the world (that we are merely local and separate from the macro). I also wanted to offer something that simultaneously registers ‘humanizing’ and ‘dehumanizing’ (with a hugely obvious external impervious to a life/ but also the thing that gives recognition a structure: I see you because of the ‘here’, i.e. a physical composition), a structure that although impersonal and uninviting actually may make a visitor conscious of their bodily boundary thus their ‘finiteness’ in that material sense.

As boundaries, fences can obviously represent our own boundaries within society, in relationships and work


We can feel ‘fenced in’, confined, and also in a reversal, a fence can suggest fear of the outside world and the fence itself suggests our need to build a wall of resistance to keep the world apart from ourselves. I have felt this many times growing up in New Mexico: this perspective, that we are separated from the outside world has helped create our unique character, but it has also contributed to a certain xenophobia that is happily dissipating in this 21st century. I also wanted to get beyond the simple reaction to a material like a fencing unit, which is easily the idea (either way: in the fencing out/fencing in paradigm) of being possessed; to ‘be’ possessed through restriction, or to possess through the establishment of boundaries which is a big part of the ‘local’ history re: colonial era, western expansion and statehood. The fence renders this dystopia pretty quickly via signifiers of confinement/restriction/barrier. I understand the failings of the false utopia, but the other certainty renders the world as a hapless mess, unable to recover anything — especially a critical hopefulness in our possibilities as humans.

This piece disturbs all of this somehow in a contemporary vision of a ‘local’ place. When a rupture occurs our ability to recognize something collapses, yet the effect is also a larger one…the ‘norms’ of recognition are also ruptured. This opening calls into question the limits of established regimes of truth and when a certain risking (or rupturing) occurs, this can become a sign of virtue – a split within normative values. So when a previously endorsed sensibility like xenophobia, seemingly endless resources, or the opposite, ‘my’ resources, etc, is ruptured: it is very much like when a fence or barrier becomes a tunnel or passageway. Accordingly I eventually daydreamed a tunnel…a tunnel that appeared tethered; high on one end low on the other. I could see it. Nine little houses almost. I couldn’t explain it right away, but it was absolutely the one visual in my imaginings I kept coming back to. I did several quick sketches of it. I really liked it…it felt extremely physical. Due to photography issues only two are shown here as part of the larger meshed installation.

This piece brings me back to what I hope to communicate about the American West, my home place from a contemporary perspective: the idea of no infinity, yet no separation which is exactly the opposite idea of the original ‘west.’ I wanted to create an image that shifted an imagining towards the ideal of a finite world where no parts could claim only one specific site. A fence is an artificial structure built to restrict and control movement, preventing us from engaging in transformation…there is no escape. A tunnel on the other hand speaks of a pathway. In a tunnel, you really never know the boundary or the direction and so here rather than being possessed by separation there is an attachment through connection: the tunnel represents a means for the outside world to enter the inside life, the tunnel represents our tethering to a world flooded with subtle conduits through both ungraspable subjectivity and intractable structure.

What if we were faced with a limit rather than the imagined copious amounts of resources, rather than the idea of the universe is constantly expanding, (there is always an out there: the imagined emancipation), what if this just was it? What if we got over the idea of ‘things’ as local or non-local and instead saw everything as dis local… everything is being sent from one place to some other place, and not as a territorial illusion of commodity: ‘owned’ and Saran wrapped static entities but imagined instead as fluid resources that are completely dislocal, bound to here + everywhere at once through a bewildering array of participants simultaneously at work in them dislocating their neat boundaries in all sorts of ways, redistributing them in all sorts of ways.

What would we as humans do then? The conundrum of the twin discourses of ours and only: This is our only river, this is our only Gallup, this is our only Pecos Wilderness. Would we approach life differently? Would we put a fence around it and bind it up for ourselves and be so possessed by it, so possessive of it, that it would never be dispatched… eventually drying up the hinterlands?


–Paula Castillo


Albuquerque Museum 2012. Albuquerque, New Mexico