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The hybrid beasts that inhabit Ex Situ Canis Latrans, Ruben Ulises Rodriguez Montoya’s solo show at Murmurs, are composed of fur, silicone, car parts and other bits of detritus found on both sides of the US/Mexico border. From their material structure to their mythological origins, the sculptures capture the man-made border’s porous nature. Through Rodriguez’s lens, the border is less an impenetrable boundary imbued with xenophobic intent than an arbitrary invention, across which people, goods, and animals—both illicit and permitted—flow, as if along living networks that spread like arteries through the land.
The coyote, Canis Latrans in Latin, is the central metaphor in Montoya’s show—here referring to both the animals who live on either side of the border, and the human traffickers who borrow their name. Montoya’s sculptures pair themes of the coyote with another member of the Meso American bestiary, the Tlahuelpuchi, a shapeshifting vampire of Nahua mythology. In a short story written by the artist to accompany the show, the Tlahuelpuchi turns herself into a mist and hides in a styrofoam box, recruiting a coyote to smuggle her into a shipment of goods bound for the States.
Suspended from the ceiling and floating, Montoya’s creatures blend sci-fi body horror with a kind of Indigenous futurism, referencing aliens both otherworldly and terrestrial. This is manifested in the hanging work A Being Mistakenly Called ‘La Nave de Kylo Ren’ (all works 2021), whose title alludes to the Star Wars character. One side is a piece of battered, white car shell, while the other resembles a flayed animal, with twisted brown silicone, animal horns, and a goat leg. Tlahuelpuchi features five hanging segments, long curved strips of plastic, fur, silicone, horns, and other materials that writhe and twist in the air, recalling the way the bionic bloodsucker transforms into a mist in Montoya’s narrative. A set of bright-orange toy fangs is nestled into the fur, playfully pointing to the creature’s origins in legend. Below the hanging segments sit piles of styrofoam packaging gathered from Mexico, New York, and New Mexico (as per the work’s lengthy media description), a bleached landscape of consumer ruins.
While Montoya’s short story gives his creatures a fictional narrative, the detailed media descriptions on the checklist inject a personal narrative, elucidating where he found certain items or noting creative collaborators: “motorcycle part of a man with an inflated ego driving too fast on a sharp turn on Mcnutt Rd.” or “white car part laying next to a palm tree while Karla and I were on route to get boba.” The construction of each work mimics the story of the border-crossing beasts as well as Montoya’s own—he was born in Parral Chihuahua, and grew up in between Texas and New Mexico.
Dripping with viscous ooze, all spines and fur, broken plastic and chrome, Montoya’s beasts are not simply occult creatures. They are also familiar, skillfully assembled bit by bit with detritus from his travels. We recognize their constituent elements from the mundane aspects of our own lives: fast food containers, freeway detritus, roadkill glimpsed from a car window—a mixture reflecting the webs that criss-cross the border, and have, for centuries. Ours is the most heavily trafficked border in the world—traversed by students on their way to school, truckers hauling produce, and laborers traveling both north and south. Montoya’s fiends embody this dichotomy as alien phantom tricksters who can lay claim to paths established well before a wall cut through them.
Ruben Ulises Rodriguez Montoya: Ex Situ Canis Latrans runs from August 15–September 26, 2021 at Murmurs (1411 Newton St., Los Angeles, CA 90021).