There’s plenty of heated political rhetoric about the U.S.-Mexico border these days. But multimedia artist Lauren Strohacker takes a different approach, creating video installations that put border-dwelling animal life front and center.
The creative is concerned about both the literal disappearance of animals, as species die out, but also animals’ metaphorical disappearance when they seemingly fade into the urban landscape.
Her newest work focuses on the Northern Jaguar, a species facing extinction. Its habitat includes the Southwest border region.
Though Strohacker recently moved to Michigan from Arizona, she's spent years exploring desert themes.
But the Northern Jaguar was never on her radar. That is, until last year when she attended a talk about the plight of the big cats in the borderlands.
It was presented by the Northern Jaguar Project, a binational organization dedicated to reducing poaching and habitat destruction in the Southwestern borderlands.
“I knew a lot about wildlife in the Sonoran Desert, but hadn’t thought about the border or how many animals live there,” she says.
Now she has a new exhibition called “Tension and Territory,” which includes video installations of jaguars, both in the wild and in captivity.
It continues through Friday, October 20, at MCC Art Gallery, located on Mesa Community College's Southern and Dobson campus.
The show includes Un-Fragmenting/Des-Fragmentando, a two-channel video, with motion-triggered camera photographs binationally projected onto a segment of the U.S.-Mexico border wall.
Strohacker premiered the temporary public art installation earlier this year, for viewers in both Agua Prieta, Sonora, and Douglas, Arizona.
It’s part of her larger body of work, which has addressed several different species.
In 2013, she created Encounter, which set several silhouettes of mule deer on a small pad of land at Roosevelt and Third streets. For NO(w)HERE, she installed silhouettes of Mexican Gray Wolves at several locations including Tempe Center for the Arts.
She’s also collaborated with Kendra Sollars, to create Animal Land installations that reimagine traditional wildlife encounters in contemporary settings.
For the "Chaos Theory 15" exhibition in 2014, they projected images of vultures taking flight onto an exterior wall at Legend City Studios, revealing the beauty of the birds that many people find repulsive.
Three of Strohacker's wildlife-based public art works are featured in a new artist catalog titled Lauren Strohacker: Rewilding? She'll unveil the catalog, created with a nonprofit called Phoenix Institute of Contemporary Art, during an artist reception at the MCC Art Gallery on Friday, September 29.
Of course, extinction figures prominently in the work of several contemporary artists. Last year, London-based Louis Masai painted a patchwork jaguar and honeybee mural in Roosevelt Row during his “The Art of Beeing” tour across the U.S.
But Strohacker’s latest work explores species survival in the context of border wilderness and communities.
Her current exhibition includes a video titled Life/Death, which is being shown in the gallery, as well as projected onto the dome of the Mesa Community College planetarium.
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For that piece, Strohacker worked with astronomer and planetarium director Kevin Healy, to re-create the night sky on September 28, 1963.
That’s the night the last known female jaguar in the U.S. was killed near Big Lake in Arizona’s White Mountains. For Strohacker, the piece is both a memorial for the jaguar and a means of mourning the species’ habitat loss.
“I want people to grieve, and be spurred to action,” Strohacker says.
“Tension and Territory” continues through Friday, October 20, at MCC Art Gallery. An artist reception takes place on Friday, September 29, from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Get details on the Mesa Community College website.