Volume XXI | Issue 2 | Fall 2021
delineation of breaths ii performative lecture zoom play, 80 min Portland OR/Mexicali BC MRC Reed College / rubén’s childhood bedroom, 2020 Video Still Photo: rubén garcía marrufo

Imagine beyond limits

rubén garcía marrufo, 2021 Hallie Ford Fellow in the Visual Arts

The word border is infused with a wealth of meaning. For some, it is a physical line, for others a political separation. It is all that to Portland artist rubén garcía marrufo PHOTO: Sam Gherke – but it is a lot more.

“Borders are a very specific form of separation,” says the visual artist and filmmaker. “At its core, a border is a definition of something by another.”

The concept of borders has touched every facet of marrufo’s life. Born in Los Angeles, marrufo grew up on the Mexican side of the border in Mexicali, Baja California, crossing frequently to visit relatives in California.

Marrufo has won acclaim for their experimental work focusing on borders, aftermaths and bilingualism. Part documentary filmmaking, part narrative fiction and part performance art, their work is wholly dedicated to transcending traditional boundaries.

Marrufo, who moved to Portland from Mexicali five years ago, recently was recognized with a Hallie Ford Fellowship in the Visual Arts for their art installations featuring original video works. Fellowships are awarded to Oregon visual artists who have demonstrated a depth of sophisticated practice and potential for significant future accomplishment.

The Beginnings

Although they had long been interested in filmmaking, marrufo’s art practice began with what they describe as an inciting event in Mexico. “There was a really big earthquake that hit Mexicali in 2010,” they relate. “Due to the earthquake, the mountains fell a meter, sending all the dirt up into the sky and making it look as if they were evaporating.

“I felt like I was looking at landscape as a way of understanding my inner self. It was a moment of awe. In my practice, I search for encounters and create the condition to encounter this awe.”

They began working with Mexicali Rose Centro de Arte/Medios (Mexicali Rose Art/Media Center), a grassroots community space that hosts art and film making workshops. Their work and connections with the center drew international attention and shows in New York and Los Angeles quickly followed.

The second inciting incident of their art came when marrufo arrived in Portland. “I came here in 2016, partly to escape the relentless heat and partly,” they say, “because I wanted a completely different landscape and climate, to discover other parts of myself I was not able to relate to in the desert.”

In Oregon, marrufo found an artistic home. The Pacific Northwest College of Art, where they earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in 2018, provided an open-ended visual studies program along with a supportive arts community. Marrufo also found a rich culture of dance and performance in Portland, which has influenced the development of their work past traditional filmmaking.

With fellow PNCA colleagues, marrufo recently completed “risexfall,” a project that features multiple video screens with documentary coupled with performance art. The installation is described in the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art catalog as “an audio visual montage of actions necessary to transit the in-between.”

Don Quixotte a Dulcinea Digital Video, sound and Projection Two channel installation, 12min Dimension Variable PNCA, Mediatech Mexico City, Estado de Mexico / Portland Oregon, 2016 PHOTO: Lucas Argento

Marrufo is developing their latest project, “The Last Light of the World,” as a film that can be experienced in a movie theater and as an art exhibition. It tells the story of a world where all forms of electricity has been lost and some people cannot speak or write, communicating solely through movement, through their bodies.

“Foremost, rubén is a storyteller, whose narrative approach is to tell the often fractured nature of what a moving image can be as it operates between time and fixtures inhabiting real and imaginary spaces,” says Peter Simensky, marrufo’s professor and collaborator at PNCA.

The bilingual reality

Language is another important component of their art. Marrufo’s bilingualism allows them access to a lot of materials that aren't available in Spanish, but language also informs their approach to art. “My favorite part of being bilingual and using words and their meanings is that sometimes there are usages in one language that are not in another,” they say. “That also for me is a way of finding different meanings to a thing. In this way, I can show you other ways of thinking about and engaging in a concept.”

Marrufo’s most important piece of advice is this: Feel free to imagine beyond limits that others set for you. “Everything is relational,” they say, “and breaking away from expectations of what or who you need to be is important.

“If someone is trying to define you or trying to tell you what you are, be careful. Borders can apply to everything. You can break free of it, not be defined by this place you are from.”

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