‘”I’m a border deconstructionist,” said Weyant, a 50-year-old Tucson resident. “I want to deconstruct preconceived notions. What I’m saying is you don’t need to be afraid of the wall. You have nothing to fear.”’ – Cindy Carcamo (Carcamo). Glenn Weyant is a former journalism professor turned musician. He lives along the US-Mexico border and is known for turning the border wall into a musical instrument. The piece, “Performance for Surveillance” is a part of Weyant’s Anta project.
The piece starts out with the artist approaching the wall with a mask having features of a goat. The title for this piece is “scape goat / ghost”. The mask can be a seen as a statement about the current immigration crisis around the wall. Mexican immigrants are blamed by a large majority in the US for illegal guns, drugs and supporting Hamas infiltration into the US. They are a kind of scape goat for the problems the US faces with its own consumption. According to CNN, Americans are the biggest consumers of drugs produced by Mexican cartels. Americans are also the biggest guns suppliers to these cartels. Immigrants caught in the middle are made the scape goat by the American government (CNN Library).
As the piece progresses, it uses a key that is eerie and unsettling. Much like the wall itself, it puts you on edge. The wall is a kind of symbol of an unsettled relationship between the US and Mexico. A history of abhorrent practices such as the bracero program illustrates the US taking advantage of Mexico. The paradoxical nature of the US towards Mexico and its cartels is hypocritical. And finally, a great wall separating the US and Mexico to keep the “barbarians” out much like China’s great wall solidified a relationship of mistrust and uncooperative foreign policy.
Around two and a half minutes in, rhythmic tapping is added. This “native” sound is reminiscent of instrumentals accompanying native story telling. I think that’s what Weyant is after. He’s telling the story of this intrusive and disturbing eyesore in the middle of the desert. In an interview with Robert Siegal Weyant expresses is need for bringing the Mexican and American people together (Siegel). His experiment to have musicians playing on both sides of the wall illustrates that. Part of the story of the wall is its fragile border. The border floated down across many Mexican families throwing them under new governors and countries. First Spain, then Mexico, then the US. This happened after a long process of US expansion through war and economics (Martinez, 30-32). The floating border finally settled but at the expense of separating peoples, cultures and families. It is such an abstract obstruction, it seems absurd. It seems that an allied people is possible and just around the corner but is never quite reachable.
Around 6:15, the music reveals a ghastly sound. It laments and speaks of an “other-worldy” perspective. This lamenting theme continues into 9:34 when the artist begins playing a violin through the piece. It resonates with the Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima by Krysztof Penderdecki. Penderecki uses unconventional means to get odd sounds in order to create an eerie, lamenting sound. This is often done by tapping or rubbing the bottoms of violins or tapping the sides of drums. Much like Hiroshima, there is a deadly theme that surrounds the border. In the fiscal year of 2013 there were 463 deaths having to do with illegal immigrants crossing the border. The governor of Texas compared this to the “Trail of Tears” (Santos).
I believe the artist is expressing the abstract nature of the border. The border seems so forbidden according to the artist. Yet he is close and interacting with it. It is almost taboo (Taboo being a social concept as well). Those along the border region along with the artist are effected by the border in dramatic ways. The separating of families, communities, economies and even environmental damage that causes are extreme. And yet it is such a thin boundary. Only 1-3 inches of steel bars separate an entire country from another. You can stick your hand and feet through many places. You can shake hands with people on the other side, exchange drugs, guns and money, throw rocks, or borrow movies. It has been moved numerous times throughout history and should the border move again, it will mean moving hundreds of miles of steel fencing.
In a way the piece is also a corrido. It tells the story of the struggle of the Mexican people. Oppression from the cartels and the Mexican government’s lack of ability to manage Mexico’s economic conditions forces people to leave. The only place they can go is North. They then meet with more obstacles to overcome. A horrible administrative infrastructure that offers them little opportunity to immigrate rejects them. In their desperation the go through the process of crossing the border illegally. They evade border patrol, put up with abuse from mules, work through the oppressive bosses they have that take advantage of their illegal status, and flee from harm as they cannot go to American law enforcement for protection on the streets. It is a life and death struggle to send money back home to feed their families.
It is also a song about the border fence itself. A great wall dividing two peoples is erected to drive them apart. The people of Mexico are made into villains by the American government as law breakers and trouble makers. The border fence separates what would be single cities along the border. It divides shop vendors working right across from each other. It obstructs legitimate commerce and does little to block illegal commerce.
The artist, himself, has said very little about his motivations behind the piece. On his site, he is very detailed about his technological process but not his artistic process. He leaves it to the listener to understand the border. Over-all I enjoyed this piece in light of the Threnody. The innovation required to play steel bars as a musical instrument is very creative. The political act of using the border as something as simple as an instrument correlates to the artist’s “deconstructionist” philosophy.
Bauder, Harald. “Toward A Critical Geography Of The Border: Engaging The Dialectic Of Practice And Meaning.” Annals Of The Association Of American Geographers 101.5 (2011): 1126-1139. Academic Search Complete. Web. 6 Nov. 2014.
Carcamo, Cindy. “Border Fence Is Musician’s Wall of Sounds.” Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 30 Jan. 2014. Web. 06 Nov. 2014.
CNN Library. “Mexico Drug War Fast Facts.” CNN. Cable News Network, 01 Jan. 1970. Web. 14 Nov. 2014.
Mexican Cartels Help Hezbollah Infiltrate U.S. – Judicial Watch.” Judicial Watch. Judicial Watch, 2014. Web. 15 Nov. 2014.
Martínez, Oscar J. Border People: Life and Society in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands. Tucson: U of Arizona, 1994. Print.
Santos, Fernanda, and Rebekah Zemansky. “Arizona Desert Swallows Migrants on Riskier Paths.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 20 May 2013. Web. 14 Nov. 2014.
Siegel, Robert. “Sounds of the Border: Playing the Wall.” NPR. NPR, 13 June 2006. Web. 06 Nov. 2014. www.npr.org (Links to an external site.)
VELASCO ORTIZ, Laura, and Óscar F. CONTRERAS. “The Border As A Life Experience: Identities, Asymmetry And Border Crossing Between Mexico And The United States.” Frontera Norte 26.(2014): 37-56. Academic Search Complete. Web. 15 Nov. 2014.