Ann-Sofi Sidén

Galeria Pepe Cobo

A long, low wooden bench faced a succession of videos projected onto the wall by five projectors. The thirty-five-minute-long 3MPH (Horse to Rocket), 2003, begins mysteriously, with the noise of hoofbeats but no image. Eventually one sees a woman dressed in pants, a blue shirt, and a wide-brimmed hat, setting off for what turns out to be a twenty-five-day journey on horseback.

The woman is Ann-Sofi Sidén herself. Her project: to ride from San Antonio to the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston—an exceptionally slow trip by the standards of contemporary transportation. In a society that values speed above all and is always in a rush, this undertaking might seem like nonsense. And yet Sidén has not entirely abjured modern transport technology, any more than she has today’s recording techniques. Paul Giangrossi, her husband, shot the footage of her from an RV that served as their center of operations.

Sidén’s imagery is fully immersed in a certain familiar idea of Texas (a conservative, even puritanical state populated by farmers and cowboys), but it goes beyond clichés and commonplaces by combining rural and urbanized settings in equal measure. In this succession of moving images and still photographs, edited down from more than forty hours of recorded material, the Swedish artist shows a landscape full of contrasts and paradoxes. The Texas painted here speaks English and Spanish, is white and black and also mestizo. It is a territory where men and women work (and are the pillars of the traditional family; there is no other model for coexistence here). Especially striking to the foreign viewer are the signs and icons on the billboards and posters so common in North America: Some sell products or services; some send greetings to an astronaut; still others campaign against abortion. There is no lack of religious slogans either, especially those of the Baptist church. And in this country, violence crops up in a smattering of images of dead animals smashed at the side of the road.

While there is a sheen of credibility and realism on Sidén’s seemingly casual visual idiom (we see her drinking, scratching her back, talking to children and adults, giving the horse water), hers is nonetheless an aesthetic of the fragmentary and the partial, one that does not try to appeal to any brand of objectivity or absolute truth. It is no coincidence that, in a country where the Indian population is practically invisible, the artist has chosen to ride a neutered fifteen-year-old Appaloosa, a breed of horse used by the Nez Percé Indians since the eighteenth century. Cocky and controlling as she rides, the artist seems to ridicule the stiff machismo associated with cowboys. Reaching the sanctuary of the advances in space technology embodied by NASA, the final images barely linger on the empty case of a rocket displayed before the public like a relic—a mournful symbol of national pride for the sole world power.

Juan Vicente Aliaga

Translated from Spanish by Jane Brodie.