OUT HERE DEATH IS NO BIG DEAL | Quintan Ana Wikswo

“Quintan Ana Wikswo’s trenchant interdisciplinary investigation into the sites of massacres and other atrocities is a vivid reminder that art no longer serves religion, but is progressively supplanting it in terms of ritual and sanctity.”
– Thomas Micchelli, Hyperallergic 
“haunting pieces fluctuating between the startlingly specific and the surreal…eliciting such intense emotional response. [Her work] points toward a culture and world where gender violence is a perpetuating, terrifying norm.” – Devin Kelly, Warscapes

 

CLICK TO READ WIKSWO’S ESSAY FEATURED IN GUERNICA
CLICK TO READ THE FEATURED INTERVIEW IN HYPERALLERGIC

 

ABOUT OUT HERE DEATH IS NO BIG DEAL

Quintan Ana Wikswo’s OUT HERE DEATH IS NO BIG DEAL addresses the lives of women navigating the tangle of institutional and sexual violence in the desert borderlands between Northern Mexico, the Tohono O’Odham Nation, New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, and borderland California. The completed project will comprise an interdisciplinary, interconnected suite of the artist’s photographs, films, prose poems, performance texts, short stories, essays, installations, and solo and collaborative live performance works.

After surviving kidnapping and rape, Wikswo helped establish networks of safe houses for victims of sexual violence and sex trafficking within the boundaries of various Tribal Nations along the U.S./Mexico border. For twenty years she worked and lived amongst women, girls, queer, and transgender people as a human rights worker.

In 2014 she embarked on a pilgrimage to return to sites where she and other women experienced gender violence. Working with three avatars – the Vulture, the Coyote, and the Scorpion – Wikswo creates site-specific series that illuminate the intersection of trauma and survival of bigotry violence.

Wikswo recreates and revisits her own experiences with trauma as an attempt to mourn the many who died and to heal with the those who survived. Upon arriving at the safe houses, survivors were often missing limbs, eyes, and teeth. Their bones broken— bodies contorted and mutilated. The experience of trauma is a visceral emotional landscape for the body and psyche. Surviving violence is an abstract and fragmented experience. As an expression of the disjointed nature of trauma, Wikswo utilizes damaged cameras to create a prismatic exploration that reveals the multiplicity of realities and perspectives of gender violence with text and photographs.

OUT HERE DEATH IS NO BIG DEAL is concerned with the process of personal and societal transformation, recognition, protest, and intervention around endemic violence against women and queer people. It surrounds the epidemic rate of gender violence perpetrated against women on Tribal Nations, a vital and volatile terrain of sex trafficking and femicide, organized crime and paramilitary mercenaries, vigilantes and fugitives and gender crime refugees, military bases and government research installations, missile sites and drone airfields, deep-space observatories, utopian separatist religious conclaves, archeoastronomical telescopes and prehistoric temples, turquoise mines and collapsing coal shafts, weapons proving grounds and clandestine Manhattan Project facilities, indigenous resistance strongholds and genocide grounds, Uranium contaminated Navajo Nation Superfund sites…and networks of safe houses, crisis centers, shelters, and treatment facilities for the women, children, and soldiers who are casualties of various kinds of combat, in various kinds of deserts.

In the midst, an underground railroad, a renegade network of liminal identity queerness – especially between female bodies often spiderwebbed with the battle-scars of gender violence and an un-mappable ancestral DNA

 

 

 

ABOUT QUINTAN ANA WIKSWO

Like me, most people who live/d along the U.S.-Mexico border discover themselves caught up in a peculiar intersection of geopolitical violence, existential explorations, and the intimate personal consequences of both. Starting in my adolescence and continuing for subsequent decades, I began navigating my own experience of these intersections in Northern Mexico, South Texas, New Mexico, Southern Arizona, the desert borderlands of Southern California, and several native/tribal Nations. While living in a progression of utopian – and dystopian – borderland subcultures, I became a small part of various efforts to address the repercussions of violent conflict in the deserts of the Southwest (and the deserts of the Middle East, since many soldiers returned from combat to inhabit the military bases and training sites, GI-Billed state universities, and Veterans Administration hospitals that are so plentiful throughout the border region).

OUT HERE is deeply invested in these lives and experiences, in particular those I lived and lived amidst during many different iterations of my life. For a time, I helped set up shelters and safe houses for a group of people who should be called gender crimes refugees, but were often just called women, wives, daughters, mothers, queers, prostitutes. At the safe houses, our youngest survivors were newborns. Behind the secret walls, stories and wounds revealed human cruelty on a level of complexity and barbarity that I found devastating to comprehend even while I bore witness, and experienced impacts and echoes and ricochets of that violence in my own life.

Over time, the differences between the lives of the “helpers” and the “helped” merged into a continuum of female and gendered and sexual experience that I had not – previously – entirely conceptualized.  The constant level of secrecy, confidentiality, high security, and omnipresent fear of retaliative violence underscored the degree of power that men and male perpetrators maintained at all levels of society. The messianic, exploitative zeal of whiteness, straightness, wealth, power, and colonial imperialism further influence, escalate, and exacerbate the volatility. And likewise, the nearly always wrongly-placed authority and control of law enforcement.

Several years later, I am beginning to excavate the lives we have led there, one story at a time.

 

ABOUT THE PROCESS

At fieldwork sites, I work with salvaged, damaged 120 mm cameras — nonprofessional models designed for white American tourists to take on road trips, during the early days of automobiles — a sort of second, visual colonization of the West. My other cameras were created by fascist dictatorships using mostly female slave labor during wartimes.

Each of my cameras has experienced traumatic and sublime events that have permanently transformed how each one interacts with the world. Their experience makes them radically unique. Salvaged cameras filled with rust, cracks, and detritus respond uniquely to the film, the subject, andthe photographer. They no longer adhere to standard calibrations, most people consider them broken and useless. The damage these cameras endured is the source of their strength— they see differently. It takes a tremendous amount of time to adapt to each camera and produce an image.

Time for adaptation is an integral part of my process. I inhabit a site for extensive durations before I begin to create a photograph — I learn the camera, the site, the legacies of violence that are obscured in the landscape, and within the cameras themselves. These cameras are well-equipped to inhabit and sanctify the terrain of trauma. They have taught me much about the fierce, tenacious abilities of survivors and that being broken is a matter of perspective.

My photographs are achieved in-camera through mechanical, optical and chemical means, without the use of digital or software manipulation. The multiple exposures are made by advancing the film very carefully, often in both directions. I create the composition in my mind and then composite the photograph image by image, with each click of the shutter or advance of the film. I rotate the camera, I contort my body and adapt to the camera, the subject, and the environment so the final photograph requires no additional manipulation. It typically takes about a month of fieldwork to learn to see, and then about a week to complete one roll of film. I expose the entire negative, as a single continuous image as document of the entire experience.

 

 

 

FEATURE INTERVIEW IN HYPERALLERGIC

In the Desert, a Vulture Spirit Follows a Trail of Femicide

ESSAY IN GUERNICA

Fieldwork

 

 

Wikswo’s project is supported by grants and fellowships from Creative Capital, the Theo Westenberger Estate, Some Serious Business, and the Corporation of Yaddo. Selections have appeared or are forthcoming at the Ronald Feldman Gallery in NYC, and in Guernica, Hyperallergic, High Desert Journal, Funhouse, and Conjunctions.

MORE ABOUT QUINTAN ANA WIKSWO