Recent Acquisition | Post Commodity's Repellent Fence/Valla Repelente

In 2017 the artist collective Postcommodity came to campus as the Sarah Lee Elson, Class of 1984, International Artists-in-Residence. Postcommodity’s time with the Museum resulted in a sound art performance and the acquisition of N13: 31°20'50.88"N; 109°29'47.62"W, one of twenty-six large-scale balloons from their 2015 land art installation Repellent Fence/Valla Repelente. The artists, Raven Chacon, Cristóbal Martínez, and Kade Twist, raised the monumental balloons in a two-mile line across the United States–Mexico border to reunite two communities.

Postcommodity’s Repellent Fence/Valla Repelente installed along the US–Mexico border in October 2015. © PostcommodityEach of the yellow PVC balloons is ten feet in diameter, with concentric circles in primary colors on four sides. An ineffectual, miniature version of such balloons found at big-box stores claims to repel birds with “bright colors and predator eyes.” The design, however, riffs on Indigenous iconographies. The colors, circles, and compass-like directionality of the four partitions harken to concepts of balance and harmony invoked by similar symbols used by Plains and Diné peoples, and the eye design is found on objects throughout the Americas.

Postcommodity collaborated with the civic governments in Douglas, Arizona, and Agua Prieta, Sonora, along with local schools, business owners, artists, community organizers, and ordinary people, to bring attention to the longstanding immigration crisis at the US–Mexico border. For four days, the line of monumental balloons became a beacon for “the historical stewards of the land, and those who are following ancient indigenous trade routes in search of economic opportunity.”

Repellent Fence/Valla Repelente deeply resonates with the politics, policies, and polities of our time. For more than a decade, the US government has been aggressively tightening security at its southern border and increasing deportations, while violence and human rights abuses have worsened in Central America. Political discourse in the US has grown increasingly polarized. By this year, when Princeton acquired N13: 31°20'50.88"N; 109°29'47.62"W, tensions at the US–Mexico border had reached a new level, with hundreds of migrant children forcibly separated from their parents during immigration detention. Meanwhile, Indigenous communities living on their ancestral homelands continue to cope with the irony of often vehement American nativism.

For Princeton, the acquisition of one marker of this powerful land art installation situates the Museum in current transnational conversations about immigration, nationhood, and indigeneity. The balloon will be raised at the Museum during the exhibition Nature’s Nation.

India Rael Young
Collections Research Specialist, Native American Art