Por Debajo de la Mesa: Terreno Familiar | Under the Table: Familiar Terrain, 2023. A cross-border weaving collaboration con tule.
By artist Isidro Pérez García
in collaboration with
Los Invisibles de Santa Ana (Santa Ana, CA)
Colectivo ProArte (Michoacán, MX)
Plan Acalli (Xochimilco, MX)
Por Debajo de la Mesa: Terreno Familiar is a cross-border weaving collaboration that uses el tejer con tule – weaving with tule – as material and metaphor for investigating and upending regimes of migration, capitalism, land, labor, and art. For two weeks in the summer of 2023, a collective of art collectives from both sides of the US-México border worked together to weave an oversized set of table and chairs in Mexican “folk art” style – estilo de Maravatío, Michoacán. The project took place in Santa Ana, CA, where we also offered workshops and events for the community to participate in, where participants wove tiny chairs to hold their cell phones, and a tularco – a woven arch made from tule which has a tradition stretching back to precolonial times.
In the art world, there are clear hierarchies of value between “center” and “margin,” “contemporary” and “traditional.” This project engages with how making makes the world and upends the supposed one-way directionality of cultural diffusion – no longer center to margin, but many centers.
Here, weaving is incorporated in the chair seats and tabletop, done with tule/cattails which is a native plant, harvested locally over the course of an entire year. The table itself references kinship ties and how tables serve to center us around something, while the scale of the piece references not only the contemporary art aesthetic of working at monumental scale, but also the lack of fit and the inability to use the table. However, at the same time, being “under the table” provides a kind of shelter and a sense of satire about the undocumented immigrant situation.
The table is not a metaphor but an object that does something in the world. In working with art collectives from México, we realize a cross-border exchange that is not mediated through national-culture or political frameworks, but through a shared plant. By harvesting tule/cattails over time, we create an algorithm for how we relate to the material and the land. By documenting process, we remember how we labor for each other and why. Recontextualized into networks of migrant life, the table creates continuity between lives left behind and lives here. The metaphor is weaving, reminding us that we make the world through making.
The final performance for this project consisted of an offering in October at the border, in Calexico CA, al lado del border fence, as part of the Mexicali Biennial. Tuleño, the spirit of the tule, served offerings of pulque (an ancient drink made from the fermented nectar of the maguey plant), while attendees of the event climbed onto and walked under the giant table and chairs. In the shadow of the border fence, the table and chairs made us realize that we were all both large and small in the world. And Tuleño reminded us that plants do not recognize borders, a fact in honor of which it is worth raising a vessel of pulque.