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Exporting Liberty exhibit has gumballs

WILL SEBERGER/Arizona daily wildcat
A gumball-coated Hummer is on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art, 191 E. Toole Ave. Artist Heide Hesse said the piece is a statement about the disparity between the Hummer being an instrument of war and a suburban icon.
By Gabe Joselow
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, February 26, 2004
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Heidi Hesse's show "Exporting Liberty," now on exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art, is anything but subtle. The most powerful piece, which is in a sense the core of the exhibit, is a full-scale model of a humvee made out of gum balls called, "Sugar Coated."

"The show is largely about trying to get people to re-engage with notions of citizenship," said Anne-Marie Russell, curator and executive director of MOCA, 191 E. Toole Ave.

Hesse, a German citizen currently pursuing dual citizenship in the United States, has a vested personal interest in topics of citizenship. But the show is not at all about empty patriotic rhetoric; it is a critique of how America portrays itself to the rest of the world, especially in times of war. The humvee, for example, is a reference to the concept of candy bombing. "The first point of contact between soliders and children of another culture that is about to be overrun often is candy," Hesse said.

The piece is about enticing people toward American culture. But that's not all it's about.

Paco Velez, an intern at MOCA and an art history and studio art senior, thinks people often miss the point of the exhibit.

"They see the gum balls and think its' fun," he said. "But if you think about what a hummer actually is, it's a war vehicle."

The show hits close to home for Velez, who is from Nogales, Mexico, and knows the reality of coming to this country as an outsider. Referring to Hesse's painting of the Statue of Liberty titled, "New World Religion," Valez said, "You see the Statue of Liberty and it's supposed to be so welcoming. But when you look at the reality of immigration, you see armed guards at the borders, arresting people that are coming over."

Hesse is essentially a minimalist artist. There is a simplicity and order to much of the art in this exhibit. She strives to create work that is ideologically interesting, but aesthetically engaging at the same time. She said she looks for the balance between "wanting to make political commentary and yet coming back and wanting to make something that has beauty." Most people will probably find, however, that the show is more ethically engaging than aesthetically, which is typical of minimalist art.

"Sugar Coated" is a piece that is interesting on both aesthetic and ideological levels, but one might be a little more thrown off by a piece like, "Backroom Deal," an installation involving a foosball table and a wall of miniature American flags. Although this installation has the chilling emptiness of good minimalist art, it requires an explanation.

This piece is basically about how decisions, such as the one to go to war, are made in the United States, (represented by the foosball table with players in gray suits) and how we are left to observe. The miniature flags each represent a soldier who has died in the war. Installing the piece was a moving experience for members of MOCA.

"We were trying to set up the show and were stopped dead in our tracks with how traumatizing this was - realizing that each flag represented the loss of a body, and a loved one," Russell said.

It's important to be able to interact and think about this exhibit to appreciate it. Many people have expressed an interest in sharing their personal experiences with immigration and change as a result of the show. MOCA has arranged for an open community forum on April 15.

This is a small exhibit with a big voice. It's a smart way to consider the problems of this country without pretension.

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