TESS VIGELAND, HOST:
Our collective image of the U.S.-Mexico border likely consists of a fence and desolation on either side of it. But that nearly 2000 mile stretch of land also holds a surprising amount of ephemera, and photographer Richard Misrach spent the last five years documenting it.
After the journey, he asked composer Guillermo Galindo to build instruments out of those objects and to create music from them. It sounds just like the desolate landscapes captured in his stunning photographs. I asked Misrach what sorts of things he comes across along the border.
RICHARD MISRACH: Backpacks, and water bottles, tennis shoes, things like that. Each one of those objects has this incredible story, and it's a tragedy. Every single one of them is a tragedy. I mean, tennis shoes of a 4-year-old, two of them, just sitting there without the child in them. What does that mean? Why it's just the shoes there? I get those and bring them back to Gillermo so he can incorporate them into his instruments.
VIGELAND: Right. Well, Guillermo, tell us about some of these instruments that you designed?
GUILLERMO GALINDO: Lately, I've been using objects from the border patrol or parts of the wall.
VIGELAND: Parts of the actual border fence?
VIGELAND: What did you turn that into?
GALINDO: Well, there's one that - it's a piece of iron. I made this metallic harp. There's also a shell pinata that is made out of empty shells of the rifles of the border patrol. And it's in the shape of a pinata.
VIGELAND: Well, you call one of these instruments an effigy, and it really does resemble a person or at the very least a scarecrow. Tell us about the design of that and what it's made from.
GALINDO: It's a dress with clothing from the immigrants. It contains strings in the chest and in the arms. They stretch really long so it plays really low tones, and inside a skeleton of it is hollow wood.
VIGELAND: All right, let's hear what the effigy sounds like.
(SOUNDBITE OF EFFIGY INSTRUMENT)
VIGELAND: Richard, do you find these effigies as they are, or is that something that you constructed for the photograph.
MISRACH: No, no, everything that I photograph I find in the landscape.
VIGELAND: So what would have been the purpose of those?
MISRACH: That's a good question. In 2009, when I found them, there were just maybe 15 to 20 of them along the border in remote desert canyons, things like that. And I didn't know whether this was an art project by somebody or a warning to immigrants coming over the mountain passes or perhaps even a, you know, protest against the border patrol. Part of what I found so amazing about them is that they were so enigmatic and mysterious.
VIGELAND: Then there's also the crank drum. And this is quite the instrument - a shoe, a glove - cranked down to hit a drum made of a tire and rawhide skin. Guillermo, how did you design that?
GALINDO: Well, It's based on a Leonardo da Vinci mechanical device named the martello. The whole thing is a crank machine and it has a donkey jaw, a horn that act as stoppers of these gears that are made of the shape of the border patrol targets. And this activates both a shoe and a glove. As you crank it, they play the drum.
(SOUNDBITE OF ZAPATELLO INSTRUMENT)
VIGELAND: Now, the San Jose Museum of Art will be exhibiting your photographs along with Guillermo's music in 2016, and then it's going on national tour. What happens to all these objects after that end?
MISRACH: We figure it's going to probably travel for three years. And after that, I imagine they'll end up in institutions to be preserved and to continue to be thought about. But we don't know. What do you think, Guillermo?
GALINDO: They have to be kept. They're very important. This is not trash and this is not a recycling project. You know, this is - these are sacred objects, literally.
VIGELAND: Richard Misrach, Guillermo Galindo, thank you so much for joining us. It's been a pleasure.
MISRACH: Thank you.
GALINDO: Thank you.
VIGELAND: To see Misrach's photos and Galindo's instruments visit our website at NPR.org.
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