Wednesday, April 2, 2014

this land

I v á n   N a v a r r o
This Land is Your Land
Madison Square Park

Ivan Navarro, This Land is Your Land, 2014, Madison Square Park, New York

Iván Navarro's sculpture stands in the cross-hairs between the artist's youth in Santiago and his adulthood in New York City. His work, a collision of lights, memory and illusion references sociopolitical issues, linking minimalism to human rights, poverty, immigration, poetry and homelessness as well as a swath of distinct and biting cultural history. 

On view now, his installation of water towers, This Land is Your Land, at Madison Square Park transforms the ubiquitous barrel-form towers that line the New York skyline into an interactive exchange of provocative word pictures.

thank you to

The installation has been on view since November, so the work has seen its share of snowy midnights, freezer burn and high winds.  Now is a great time to experience the work before it closes April 13th under a nearly full springtime moon. 

Three wooden towers are mounted on risers that are just high enough to allow visitors to stand underneath. Inside each of the towers are word images -- "me" and "we" and "bed" for example -- that are spelled out in neon tubing. The strategic use of one of Navarro's signature agent, mirrors, creates an illusion of infinity that sends the illuminated words upward into an eternal distance. The effect is dazzling yet contemplative. An ode, of sorts, to New York.

Like haystacks in a Flemish landscape, the thousands of water towers that dot our skyline are unique to this city and while they might look antiquated, most of them are still very much in use. 

For Navarro, the cedar-plank towers not only represent New York but they carry with them the most elemental of life-giving, life-sustaining materials: water. 

"This simple and timeless wooden structure contains water—the most 
primitive and elemental resource, the essence of human sustenance, 
and a reminder of the basic condition that all humanity shares."

Ivan Navarro


The work takes its title from Woody Guthrie's 1940 anthem, renowned for its political message of cultural inclusiveness. Watching people crane their necks underneath the towers, you can't dream of a better venue -- a public park in the middle of New York City, perhaps the most diverse city in the world -- to celebrate inclusivity. 

Navarro lives in Brooklyn now, but he grew up in Pinochet's Chile amid that bloody regime's 17 year tenure. Amnesty International has reported that Pinochet's military tortured and killed thousands, with perhaps tens of thousands of more Chilean citizens that are still missing. 

The human rights violations were beyond comprehension. Among other things, electricity was a favored tool of the junta who used it either as an instrument of torture or by exerting mass oppression through vast rolling power outages throughout the country. The fact that neon, fluorescent and incandescent light has been the favored medium of Navarro's sociopolitical works has not been lost on the keen observers of his art. 

You Sit ,You Die, 2002, fluorescent light bulbs, transparent sleeves, shoelaces, list on paper
of people executed in Florida from 2012 - 2001, electric energy

In his 2002 piece, You Sit, You Die, Navarro references both the murderous coup that tortured so many of his Chilean compatriots as well as the United State's former use of the death penalty, which was rampant, some would say, in states like Florida. A deck chair made from white neon tubes and shoe laces is fragile but delivers a potent symbol. In its lap is a list of the people executed in the state of Florida from 1924 to 2001, a sobering reminder that human rights violations come in many packages.

The Armory Fence, 2011, neon tubes

Navarro turned the tables in 2011, enclosing Paul Kasmin's booth at New York's Armory Show with a massive neon fence through which there was no access in or out of the gallery. 

His observations on social structure, politics and human rights are incisive, transforming language and syntax into works that reference domestic life, modernist design, minimalism and the brutal history of his birthplace. In a way, Navarro takes possession of his country's history -- as well as this country's -- by transmuting it through the ultimate political tool: art.

Iván Navarro's This Land is Your Land  
is on view daily from 8:30am to midnight 
through April 13th

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