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Lerman's installation part of “Trafficking” exhibition in Sweden


September 29, 2006

Arizona State University professor and sound artist Richard Lerman and installation artist Mona Higuchi are participating in an international exhibition to raise awareness about human trafficking, the world's third most lucrative illegal commercial activity. The exhibition titled “Trafficking” is featured at the Museum of World Culture in Göteborg, Sweden.

Lerman and Higuchi’s installation, “Fences/Borders,” is a multi-media work based on their interest in the social, political and human rights issues of the U.S./Mexican border. Their installation will remain on display through the end of December 2007.

Lerman, a professor in the Interdisciplinary Arts and Performance in the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences at ASU’s West campus, focuses on the place, the symbols and the inanimate border fences themselves. He sees them as witnesses to many bitter moments. Using video and self-built audio recording devices, Lerman gathered numerous field recordings of the different steel fences and desert areas separating the two countries.

“I have also recorded fences at many sites: internment camps in California, concentration camps in Germany and Poland, and sites along the Chilean/Argentine border where persons have ‘disappeared,’" said Lerman. “For me, these fences have witnessed events. I hope to record the presence – and present state – of the fence while also hoping some of what this place/fence has witnessed comes through.”

According to the United Nations, the U.S. is the largest destination country in the world for trafficking in persons, and Mexico is the major point of transit for people from all other Latin American countries. Human smuggling along the Mexican border claims nearly 1,500 lives each year.

Using his self-built transducers and amplifiers, these sounds are played back through a large coil of bougainvillea vine that Lerman spliced together. This coil divides the gallery like razor wire. In addition to the 20 ft. long bougainvillea coil, “Fences/Borders” consists of a large 23 foot by 8 foot wall map created from 46 U.S. Global System satellite images and a vector map of geographic information system (GIS) data of the entire U.S./Mexico Border. The map was designed by Higuchi in collaboration with ASU’s Institute for Social Science Research and the Visualization Laboratory, the School of Life Sciences, and with partial support from a Career Advancement Grant awarded by the Arizona Commission on the Arts.

“Trafficking” is organized around 14 different places that serve as nodes, or routes, used to smuggle human beings. The exhibition features strong personal stories, art works, documentary film, photography and private objects, testifying to inequalities, power relations, exploitation and profiting from peoples dreams of a better future.

“Fences/Borders-USA/Mexico is a geo-political piece that gives museum visitors a sense of the scale of the border and the landscape confronting persons who cross over,” said Lerman. “Many people assume that persons crossing the borders are simply economic migrants. I believe that these people have been impacted by years of political and social unrest in their former countries. I also believe that mixed messages by the U.S. of increased border security coupled with our history of hiring illegal workers will continue to feed the problem not solve it.”