Drawing on the shifting conceptions of political geography and economy, the work of Lisa Alvarado mines a certain point of friction between western art history and other modes of visual expression, using historical frameworks and objects to populate her work with subtle but enduring critiques of capitalism and colonialism. Alvarado’s paintings operate as stage sets, artworks, and ritual objects simultaneously, often targeting a certain sense of meditative, considered reflection while looking, and using this space to incorporate new historical tropes into the work.
For her current show at Bridget Donahue, Alvarado turns her attention to the intersecting histories and frameworks of the American West through a series of free-hanging compositions. The show takes its name from a “thalweg,” a pathway tracing the lowest elevation within a river, a fluvial median that demarcates the boundary between political territories, or, in short, a border. This naturally occurring line often turns into a political demarcation, using bodies of water like the Rio Grande, for instance, as a site to mark the site between political bodies. The thalweg is an in-between space, an intersection of convergence, divergence, amalgamation and separation.
The show uses the thalweg as a context through which to frame the ongoing conversation over deportation and immigration in the United States, referencing the 1930’s policy of forced Mexican Repatriation pursued by the government at the time to send nearly 2 million people across the border to Mexcio, a figure that gains increasingly alarming resonance when considering the fact that 60% of the deported were American citizens, and that during World War II, many of those who were repatriated were encouraged to re-enter under the status of aliens to work as migrant farm laborers.
Alvarado takes these historical threads and weaves them together into a body of work that marks a point of connection between historical oppression, modern violence, and the possibility of an alternative. Her works here are colorful mandalas, visual symphonies of color and line that draw on the map and the boundary as informing modes through which the artist is able to explore and rework the tensions and frameworks of North American history. Creating a meditational space within these political and historical assemblages, Alvarado presents a site for reflection and reconstruction that seems to look for new modes forward, and new pathways in the rivulets left behind by the movements of massive bodies.
The show closes August 30th.
— D. Creahan
Lisa Alvarado: Thalweg [Bridget Donahue]