Water is a powerful metaphor. In her solo exhibition “Dias Liquidos” (Liquid Days) currently on view at Franklin Art Works, Mexican-born Minneapolis artist Lourdes Cué works to harness its poetic potential. Interested in bodies of water such as rivers and seas as vehicles for the migration of peoples and customs from one land to another, Cué has made three sculptural installations (a fourth is installed in the video gallery) employing materials rich with socio-political and economic significance.
In “Islas errantes” (Wandering Islands), the strongest piece in the exhibition, Cué presents a series of sculpted feet formed from molded and sewn burlap. A material used to make the sacks for transporting crops harvested by farm and immigrant labors, burlap also sometimes conceals the bodies of illegal immigrants at border crossings. Hollow inside, these disembodied appendages at once suggest the human body, small tattered bags, and strange hybrid seedpods. Combined with a particular type of small dried fish that is often eaten in Mexico as a snack, seventy-odd burlap feet are arranged on the floor throughout the gallery in a series of island-like clusters, which, as the title suggests, speak on the one hand of isolation (every man, every person, is an island) and on the other of aimless movement from one place to another without a safe and solid destination. Filling the gallery with a slight odor of fish, this piece resonates with myriad associations. Pleasant memories of bare feet padding across soft sandy beaches immediately came to this viewer’s mind. But in the end, thoughts of limbs cut from bodies and dead fish washed ashore call forth darker emotions.
Less successful are Cué’s net pieces, which together make up the installation entitled “Mar de historias/Historias de mar” (Sea of Stories / Stories of the Sea). Here, an arrangement of tangled fishnet and glass bottles hang from the gallery’s walls and ceiling. Inside the transparent bottles are tiny boats constructed from the pages of unnamed Spanish-language books. On the one hand this piece relates to the deconstruction of texts and the disintegration of cultural memories—the negative consequence of migration and cultural adaptation. Yet there is also a kind of hope and longing implied by the idea of a message in a bottle thrown to sea. The notion of words penned in a faraway land that in time fall by chance into the hands of a distant unknown reader speaks to the creative potential that accompanies any cultural collision.
Unfortunately, although the concept and founding motif are strong, “Mar de hisorias / Historias de mar” suffers from too much of a good thing. There are simply too many bottles, each with its cork top and neatly folded boat inside. The sheer number of the virtually identical bottles implies a certain prepackaged manufacture that undercuts the emotional investment inherent in the original motif. More troubling is the fact that Cué does not adequately disassociate her artfully tangled fishnet wall hangings from similar ”seaside” theme displays which hang in lobbies of suburban seafood restaurants throughout North America. Though this reading falls outside her intentions, Cué nevertheless must contend with it as she develops this visual language in works destined for display in the America of Red Lobster.