This fall, Hauser & Wirth hosts a selection from Zoe Leonard’s latest work ‘Al río / To the River’ (2016 – 2022), a six-year undertaking in which the artist photographed the 1,200-mile stretch along the Rio Grande / Río Bravo that runs between Mexico and the United States and is used to demarcate the border.
‘Al río / To the River’ is structured through ‘passages,’ sequences of photographs that impart a sense of movement. Pointing to the dynamism of the river, Leonard groups images so that the topography and communities depicted invite associations and interpretations from the viewer.
The artist depicts the river and surrounding borderlands with an eye for the complexity of the various ecosystems, communities, and histories that converge at the river—from families swimming off the riverbank at Ciudad Juárez, to helicopters and border patrol vehicles on sentry; and from dams and irrigation canals, to bridges and boundary markers.
In thoughtfully composed, black-and-white analogue photographs, Leonard reveals the tensions that erupt when a river is made to perform a political task. Like much of Leonard’s work, ‘Al río / To the River’ reflects upon the historical role that photography has played in defining territories and shaping social consciousness as well as its present function as an instrument of surveillance.
By employing a range of perspectives from both sides of the river, her work blurs the various binaries so often ascribed to the border and underscores the often-imposing infrastructure that has been built around the river.
The full work, ‘Al río / To the River,’ encompassing hundreds of photographs, debuted at MUDAM, Luxembourg, in February, and will travel to the Musée d’Art Moderne, Paris this fall. Hauser & Wirth’s exhibition presents excerpts from this epic project for the first time in the United States.
‘Al río / To the River’ is accompanied by a two-volume catalogue featuring a selection of photographs in order, as the river flows, from west to east. Published by Hatje Cantz and designed by Joseph Logan in close collaboration with Leonard, the catalogue includes texts by over twenty contributors from a variety of fields – including art, art history, fiction, journalism, music and poetry – chosen by the artist and editor Tim Johnson to approach the river in their own right.
On the occasion of ‘Zoe Leonard. Excerpts from Al río / To the River,’ we joined the artist and Cleveland Museum of Art associate curator, Nadiah Rivera Fellah, for a conversation, with an introduction by poet and book editor Tim Johnson. Leonard’s exhibition features a selection of works from her expansive photographic project ‘Al río / To the River’ (2016–2022) which traces the 1,200-mile stretch of the Rio Grande, as it’s called in the US, or the Río Bravo, as it’s known in Mexico, that is used to demarcate the border between the two countries. The conversation touches on the history of borderlands photography and delves into how Leonard explores the conflation of, and boundaries between, nature and politics as they manifest in the landscape of the US / Mexico border.
Zoe LeonardExcerpts from ‘Al río / To the River’
On view now through 29 October 2022 at Hauser & Wirth New York, 22nd Street.