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The Irresistible Force: Judi Werthein

October 11th, 2007     by Stacey May Fowles     Comments

I’ve finally returned, jet-lagged and swimming in unreturned emails, from London, UK and wanted to share a fantastic exhibition I saw at the Tate Modern while I was MIA from the Shameless Blog. The Irresistible Force, currently showing at the Tate’s Level 2 gallery space, “examines how economic forces shape our lives, as cultural values and traditions are realigned by global capitalism.” Most strinking of all the artists’ works in the show is Judi Werthein’s controversial “Brinco.”

From a simplistic perspective, Brinco (or “jump” in Spanish) is a running shoe, “designed to help illegal immigrants negotiate the sometimes deadly terrain they encounter when crossing the border from Mexico to the US.” The shoes, designed by the artist, are equipped with a compass, light and painkillers. They also feature a removable insole printed with the most popular illegal routes from Tijuana into San Diego. As part of the art project, Werthein distributed free pairs of the shoes to migrants at shelters in Tijuana. A few days later she sold the shoes at a hip boutique shoe store in downtown San Diego for $215 US.

Brinco is a conceptual art piece conceived to make a statement about the politics of immigration, economic disperity and xenophobia: “Though the (San Diego) store is only about 15 miles (24km) from Tijuana, here the champagne-sipping crowd sees the Brinco as a vehicle for discussion - not transport.”

The most amazing thing about the exhibition is how Werthein has been received by American mainstream media since she launched the project in 2005. The gallery space features a number of televisions broadcasting interviews with and reports on Werthein, where reporters repeatedly criticize and accuse her of aiding and abetting illegal immigrants by giving them free shoes. In fact, she has to repeatedly state over and over in these newsclips that she is an artist as her interviewers fail to ever mention it. It seems that the media was completely incapable of understanding a) contemporary art and b) that the shoes were created as a symbol of and commentary on a social problem.

With headlines like “Designer shoes made for border-crossing” and “Designer giving $215 specialty sneakers to illegal immigrants for border run,” it appeared that many news sources were missing the point completely. One on the recipients of Werthein’s shoes sums up the missed point well in a BBC news article:

“I’m crying because you gave me these and almost no-one ever helps me,” she explains, adding that she has never owned new shoes before.

Tags: arts

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