At 291 Grand Street, a bright red glow radiates from Home Gallery, a storefront window exhibition space in the Lower East Side. The light comes from large, fluorescent neon letters that spell out “Que no Quede Huella,” which are layered over a flat screen TV playing a rotating series of videos. The installation is the latest iteration of multimedia artist Jesus Benavente’s neon video sculptures, displayed in the exhibition Que no Quede Huella (Let There Be No Trace), curated by Elisa Gutiérrez Eriksen.
The phrase “Que no Quede Huella” is pulled from the title and chorus of the 1989 song of the same name by Mexican Grupera group Bronco. Its lyrics relay the painful loss of a loved one–lead singer of the group José Guadalupe Esparza bemoans that he must forget his love, and that she has likely already forgotten him. Bringing Bronco to international fame at its release, the song continues to act as an anthem and icon of Mexican and Latinx immigrant culture. For those in the know, the phrase “Que no Quede Huella” acts as an immediate trigger, eliciting a powerful nostalgia.
Overlaying the neon text onto video work forces the viewer to engage with each element in a different way than they are used to. Benavente explains his trouble with each medium; flashy neon has an immediate impact but is easily forgotten, while video can be passive, and easily overlooked. Juxtaposing the two, Benavente grabs the viewer’s attention with bright red neon letters, while simultaneously obfuscating the videos playing behind it. The viewer is forced to play closer attention to the films to see the action unfolding behind the neon glow. In turn, the footage informs the viewer’s understanding of the neon text, transforming its meaning over time.
The first video, a nearly twenty-minute recording of votive candles, acts as a symbol for remembrance of things lost. Easily confused for a still image, the filmic nature of the footage is only revealed by the flickering lights of the candles’ flames slowly burning in memoriam. The second video shows Benavente’s hands grinding roses into a cinderblock. The aggressive grinding of the flowers, however, leaves traces in the block, transferring a deep red stain into the gray stone. What can be interpreted as an attempted act of forgetting leaves a mark. The third film stands in marked contrast to the two longer, higher-resolution videos. A two-minute recording captured by the artist’s parents in their backyard in San Antonio, Texas, the footage is blurred, grainy, and nearly indiscernible. This more personal, home-movie-like film is easily missed; only those viewers lucky enough to catch the two minutes within the hour-long video loop will see it. The blurred footage serves as tribute to Benavente’s parents and their love for Que no Quede Huella, and as evidence of how easy it is to forget or overlook even those things that are most important. Benavente rewards the viewer that lingers with Que no Quede Huella (Let There Be No Trace); a love song rooted in nostalgia becomes a rallying cry for an overlooked and often disregarded immigrant community.
Though the featured song is a lament, the opening reception for the exhibition was anything but somber. A crowd gathered on the street outside Home Gallery, “Que no Quede Huella” playing from small speakers nearby. Those attendees familiar with the song reminisced with excitement and enthusiasm, at points singing along to Esparza’s impassioned trill. At one point Gutiérrez Eriksen and a friend began to dance. Ironically, the lyrics describing loss and forget inspire the exact opposite emotion, eliciting a deeply rooted nostalgia that cannot be swept away.
Benavente’s installation is indeed a lament, but it is also a celebration. Most importantly, perhaps, it is actively for the people it is about: those who are moved by the glowing neon words, who are inspired to sing, to reminisce, and to pause looking for more. The window installation is available to the masses but most meaningful to those who remember. Que no Quede Huella (Let There Be No Trace) is a love note to the overlooked, a neon-lit statement that they are remembered, and a promise that they won’t be forgotten.
Eliana Blechman is a curator and arts worker based in New York. She is the Archive & Collection Fellow at Dieu Donné and has previously held curatorial positions at Time Equities, Inc. Art-in-Buildings and AC Institute. She is an MA Candidate in Art History at Hunter College, where she also received an Advanced Certificate in Curatorial Studies, and she received her BA as a double major in Art History and History from New York University.