Zac Hacmon at the Border

Eva Mayhabal Davis in dialogue with Art Spiel – Beyond the Pale

Installation view of Beyond the Pale by Zac Hacmon. Image courtesy of the artist. Photo by Etienne Frossard

Zac Hacmon‘s sound sculptures at the intimate Border project space are overpowering in size, as if cutting the air with their sharp diagonal tiled lines to create a sense of suffocating sterility. Their oddity is intriguing and repelling simultaneously, and their placement in the room forces the visitor to navigate around with considerate effort. The sound consists of a series of stories recorded at the Arizona-Mexico border, and adds another layer of urgency, creating altogether an inspired fusion of sound/form. Eva Mayhabal Davis, the curator of Beyond the Pale , elaborates on the premise behind the show.

AS: Tell me a bit about your curatorial background.

EMD: I was first introduced to the role of a curator while on a fellowship at the Guggenheim Museum, NYC. Although I was there with the education department, I learned that as a curator, one builds the bridge for art and the audience. I am interested in creating the platform that will convey a message to the audience in a variety of ways. My background in museum education indisputably shaped the way that I work with artists and develop programming. I have been actively working on curatorial projects since 2014 when I received the Milton and Sally Avery Arts Foundation Curatorial Fellowship at the Bronx Museum of the Arts and participated in the No Longer Empty: Curatorial Lab. Additionally working in nonprofit and commercial art spaces.

Learning about curatorial roles within institutions has been a backbone. But my commitment to social justice and interest in history has grounded the curatorial projects I work on. I intend to bring together conversations that advocate for the artist and their response to various social and political issues. For example, in 2017, I co-curated an exhibit and a series of programs for the New York Immigrant Coalition (NYIC). The artists identified as immigrants and both through their presence and artwork advocated for their voices within the NYIC office space, reverberating the mission and urgency of the work. In addition, my advocacy also reflects in collaborative work structures with artists and spaces.

In 2020, I joined Transmitter, a collaborative curatorial gallery and I will be the Curator-in-Residence at Kunstraum LLC, both in Brooklyn. Their models of collaborative and shared work amongst committed members is an attractive opportunity for ideas and space. I look forward to exploring these curatorial models that are consciously thinking about the economic sustainability of a gallery.

AS: What is the genesis of Zac Hacmon’s Beyond the Pale?

EMD: There are historical layers and narratives. At first through sculpture followed by sound, simultaneously enveloping the audience. Beyond the Pale derived from the framework of the British subjugation of Ireland and according to scholar Wendy Brown in Walled States, Waning Sovereignty: the phrase was also used by the United States’s forced relocation of Native Nations. The sculptures are modeled after the Czech hedgehogs, a military structured used by European armies during and post-World War II. The Germans built the Atlantic Wall as a major fortification that was ultimately penetrated by Allied forces. Their size takes over the gallery requiring that the audience maneuvers around. They are tiled structures that have a familiarity of everyday spaces both inviting and off-putting. Additionally, the sound is a series of stories –recorded at the Arizona-Mexico border where a current and ongoing crisis of refugees and migration is proliferating. There is an undeniable conversation between borders that construct sovereign nations, delineate warfare, and continue to separate families to this day.

AS: Please elaborate on some of the ideas behind Zac Hacmon’s installation.

EMD: : Each story that is shared is a layer that considers the various perspectives of the ongoing border crisis. A notable story is the conversation with Jose Rivera, the Director of the Tohono O’odham Nation Culture Center and Museum, where he details the environmental consequences of a border that separates animals and their natural migration patterns. He also gives context to the border struggles of Canada with the USA and Mexico with Guatemala; ultimately relaying the loss of family ties that settler colonialism is responsible for. The personal tales of border crossing are also poignant, detailing desert walks and wayfinding. While we also hear about the intricate system of applying for asylum. These perilous and necessary journeys create a cacophony of sound that fill the gallery and over time separate into individual narrations and then overlap again. The installation overall becomes an exercise for listening with time and empathy.

Installation view of Beyond the Pale by Zac Hacmon. Image courtesy of the artist. Photo by Etienne Frossard

AS: What can you share about the artist’s resources and work process?

EMD: The stories that make up the sound of the sculptures are firsthand accounts of experiences at the Arizona-Mexico border. Zac’s commitment and time are distilled through the narratives and then edited for the sculpture. The sound clips are only a fraction of his time spent in conversations. The folks that guided his trip have been instrumental. This includes Sarah M. Reed the Program Coordinator at Casa Alitas Program – Aid for Migrant Families who speaks on the administrative challenges of providing social services. Similarly, the poem read by Gail Kocourek, a member of the Tucson Samaritans, highlights a painful journey while anonymous contributions are stories by folks that have embarked on crossing the desert. Their choices and perspectives focus on their resilience and family. The story by Jose Rivera, the Director of the Tohono O’odham Nation Culture Center and Museum, contextualizes ongoing border disputes that go back to the history of colonization. The overall sound that echoes throughout is a desert walk recorded with the Humane Borders Humanitarian Organization to refill water tanks stationed in the Sonoran Desert and Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge.

The process of the work is also embedded beyond the exhibit as a commitment that a percentage from any proceeds will be donated to the Casa Alitas Program – Aid for Migrant Families.

AS: Tell me a bit about the space and how does this curatorial project fit in.

EMD: The Border Project Space hosts and demands a conversation on the concept of borders considering both physical and socially constructed. Beyond the Pale embraces the totality of the gallery in accordance with the history of installations in the space. The hedgehog sculptures fit inside so that one easily maneuvers around them, getting closer to the grates where the sound is coming from and then hearing it bounce off the floor and fill the space. The gallery’s focus on nurturing and supporting immigrant artists goes beyond identity into a realm of aesthetically deconstructing what borders are and have been.

Beyond the Pale, Zac Hacmon
The Border Project Space
56 Bogart Street, Brooklyn NY

Curated by Eva Mayhabal Davis
On view through March 15, 2020

Upcoming Event:
Listen, Sunday, March 1st, 3–5 PM
For the duration of the program, we invite you to listen to the sculptures in Beyond the Pale. The volume of the stories will be turned up and played individually. We invite you to spend time with us, the artist and curator will be present to hold individual conversations.

Etty Yaniv works on her art, art writing and curatorial projects in Brooklyn. She founded Art Spiel as a platform for highlighting the work of contemporary artists, including art reviews, studio visits, interviews with artists, curators, and gallerists. For more details contact by Email: