Curating at the Edge: Artists Respond to the U.S./Mexico Border

By Kate Bonansinga. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2014. 296 pp. $24.95 (paperback). ISBN 978-0-292-75443-0.

Having recently read The Boy Kings of Texas: A Memoir by Domingo Martinez and Murder City: Ciudad Juárez and the Global Economy's New Killing Fields by Charles Bowden, I was drawn to Kate Bonansinga’s book Curating at the Edge: Artists Respond to the U.S./Mexico Border as I was curious to see how contemporary visual artists are responding to the dynamic and complex social reality that makes up the U.S./Mexican border. Bonansinga is the founding director of the Stanlee and Gerald Rubin Center for Visual Arts (“Rubin Centre”) at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). The Rubin Center is a non-collecting institution that strives to nurture “cross-disciplinary discussions and learning, and consistent community engagement with art and artists,” that is sensitive to space and place (7). Part of The William and Bettye Nowlin Series, Curating at the Edge provides readers with a glance into the work of a contemporary art curator by exploring the decisions and collaborative processes behind a number of exhibitions that took place at the Rubin Centre from 2004 to 2011. As noted by the author, “Curating at the Edge is a series of case studies of exhibitions that [she] identified and curated as cogent and worthwhile responses to the El Paso/Juárez region during the first decade of the twenty-first century” (11).

Curating at the Edge is organized into twelve chapters with each chapter devoted to one artist or artist team. Chapter 1 discusses several installations by Alejandro Almanza Pereda, “a UTEP student who exhibited at the first annual student art exhibition at the Rubin in spring 2005” (11). Chapter 2 is devoted to Tijuana-based artist Marcos Ramírez ERRE, who exhibited To Whom It May Concern: War Notes at the Rubin Center in fall 2005. ERRE’s exhibit included four separate pieces that explored the “U.S./Mexico border as a subject and signifier of more universal human concerns of social and political injustice” (47). Chapter 3 looks at SIMPARCH’s 2007 installation Hydromancy, “which centered on solar stills positioned on the hillside to the north of the Rubin and addressed the preciousness of water” (11). In chapters 4 and 5, Bonansinga reflects on two group exhibitions that showed at the Rubin Center in 2008: Unknitting: Challenging Textile Traditions and Claiming Space: Mexican Americans in U.S. Cities. Liz Cohen’s work is the focus of chapter 6 and includes a discussion of her 2008 show at the Rubin Center entitled No Room for Baggage that consisted of large-scale colour photographs and videos. Chapter 7 is devoted to the sculptures of Margarita Cabrera and explores her response to the “economic and social environment of immigration and of the border” as well as her examination of artistic ownership and authorship (123). Chapter 8 discusses a number of projects by Tania Candiani including her 2009 show at the Rubin Center entitled Battleground, a performance piece involving UTEP students that explored among other things “the border fence as a symbol of failed dreams and unnecessary division between people” (159). Chapter 9 reflects on a 2009 installation called Snagged, by landscape architecture firm Tom Leader Studio, chapter 10 looks at the work of Ivan Abreu and Marcela Armas and an eight-person show entitled Against the Flow: Independence and Revolution, and in chapter 11 Bonansinga discusses Enrique Ježik’s performance piece Lines of Division. Lastly, in chapter 12 the author considers Atherton | Keener’s 2011 installation entitled Light Lines, which she writes “explored the properties of light and reminded us that there is still much that we do not understand. It brought to our awareness the incomprehensible” (226).

Bonansinga’s writing style is descriptive and narrative. The book is written in the first person and recounts first meetings and conversations with the artists featured in the book. She also contextualizes and interprets the artists’ works in a way that makes them more accessible and thought-provoking. The book includes numerous color reproductions, notes and bibliography. Overall, Curating at the Edge broadened my appreciation for contemporary visual art and the collaborative process involved in making and exhibiting it. As noted by the author, this book is recommended for “artists, art lovers, museumgoers, students of curatorial practices and museum studies and anyone else who wants to better understand how contemporary art curators operate” (1). Curating at the Edge: Artists Respond to the U.S./Mexico Border can be previewed at

Goldwynn Lewis

Ottawa, Canada