The astounding bid to designate Trump’s border wall concepts as land art
With the onset of 2018, the notion that Donald Trump’s Republican administration is by now splayed out and broken at the bottom of a very deep ethical void is hardly a fresh take. But ‘Prototypes’ – a new land art exhibition that recently opened in Otay Mesa, San Diego – feels like a particularly abject manifestation of these tumultuous times.
The concept screams satire. Fingers crossed it is. Curated by a US-based non-profit art organisation dubbed MAGA (what else?), the show presents eight border wall prototypes commissioned by the US government for Trump’s long-mooted barrier between Mexico and the southern United States.
In March 2017, US Customs and Border Protection made a call for proposals for border prototypes, in concrete or ‘other than concrete’, both of which are represented here. Eight contracts were awarded to six companies, and each was given 30 days to finish their 30ft tall concepts, beginning on 26 September 2017. These were built for testing (against ‘breaching, digging and scaling’) in Otay Mesa, a part of San Diego close to the Mexican border, and where they’re now on view to the public.
In architectural and design contexts it’s an objectively interesting idea. Where the water becomes murkier is in the partisan, congratulatory way the show’s press release and website sells the border wall concepts as facets of the Trump administration’s maligned security strategy – lest we forget the vitriolic 2015 campaign pronouncements of Mexicans as rapists and drug-smugglers, and the subsequent belittling of President Enrique Peña Nieto over who’d be paying the estimated £25bn cost of the border wall (Trump declared Mexico financially responsible, a notion immediately dismissed by Nieto).
What’s more, the ‘Prototypes’ website links to an on-site petition calling for the wall concepts to be designated national monuments under the Antiquities Act of 1906, ‘preserved and protected for all future generations of people’ – effectively a safeguarding of the very worst of the contemporary American condition.
An elaborate parody? We can only hope. There’s a nihilistic humour in redefining Trump’s nationalism and retrograde policies as conceptual art. Bad taste, sure, but less depressing than the po-faced alternative. What a time to be alive, eh?