Curatorial Projects > Perpetual Motion/Movimiento Perpetuo (2005)

Perpetual Motion/Movimiento Perpetuo

by Victor Cartagena & Elisabeth Oppenheimer

October 5 - December 3, 2005
Intersection for the Arts
San Francisco, CA

This installation, developed collaboratively over the past two years, reflects upon the human aspiration and propensity for transit and migration. In a time when many are questioning what it means to live in this country, when immigrants are turned away, detained, and viewed suspiciously, a re-examination and re-discovery of the voices, hopes, and dreams of those who choose to make their homes here, either out of desire or necessity, can provide a powerful opportunity to see those around us in a new light and create new notions of community. Bringing together a wide range of experience and perspective, Perpetual Motion/Movimiento Perpetuo reminds us of where we’ve been, and acts as a counteraction to the current trend of cultural and historical homogenization that threatens personal memory, collective history, and broad notions of identity and community. While Victor Cartagena came to the U.S. from El Salvador to escape life-threatening political and social strife, Elisabeth Oppenheimer moved back to this country from Switzerland on her own volition. Together, they comment upon the constant transit and movement of people across streets, rivers, borders, and time zones.

By using the daily speed of life as primary inspiration, Cartagena and Oppenheimer offer an opportunity to contemplate the number of people on our planet and the unending motion of bodies across borders of time and space. Without the unrelenting cycle of people moving from one place to another, many of us might not even be here in the U.S., and our society would not be as culturally diverse as it has come to be. Recent events, such as the forced migration of Gulf Coast residents, underscore the ceaseless flow of people across boundaries - political, social, geographical, class, and racial boundaries. Immigration affects everyone; even if people never even move from the house they were born in, immigrants directly affect the cultural, political, and social fabric of the communities that they move into. This installation emphasizes the perpetually changing and shifting nature of our communities, and accentuates the movement that generates such changes.

Immigration and migration, perhaps more than any other social, political, or economic process, has significantly shaped the U.S. as a nation. As we witness the 21st Century unfold, the rate of immigrant-driven transformation of the U.S. continues to accelerate. According to the U.S. Census Bureau's 2003 Current Population Survey data, 33.5 million foreign born reside in the U.S., representing 11.7% of the entire population. Data from the U.S. Census Bureau 2004 Current Population Survey reveals that the foreign-born population is geographically concentrated, with 67% residing in only six states – 29% in California alone. While these six states continue to attract and retain the bulk of the foreign-born population, there is a growing trend toward broader dispersal across the country. Economic conditions, such as cost of living and employment opportunities, are increasingly motivating immigrants to move to states such as Georgia, Nevada, and Arkansas. These non-traditional receiving states have seen significant growth in their foreign-born populations.

The speed of modern life, specifically the race to modernize technologically, economically, culturally, and politically, has continued to widen the irreparable gap between those that have access to power and resources and those that do not. As theorist Rey Chow writes in her 1993 book Writing Diaspora, which is also used as audio in this installation, "A direct result of this race for speed that dominates life across the globe is the emergence of the migrant – the involuntary passenger-in-transit between cultures, for whom homelessness is the only home 'state.' Along the borders of countries in Asia, Africa, Europe, and America, as well as the internal boundaries of cities within those continents, migrants swell to make up a new ecology, the ecology of human waste, of humans-as-waste. While the American media are full of surreal dreams of triumphant soldiers returning home from a devastated Middle East, the refugees from the Gulf War and other wars, the unwanted and forgotten products of speed culture, will continue to deposit in the vacuum left by speed as unrecyclable matter, as destitute bodies." We want to find alternatives to oppose this tendency, to contemplate ways in which we can honor and support each person's story of transit and migration.