By the time Iván Navarro's "This Land is Your Land" was installed in NorthPark Mall, he'd already discussed the piece's themes of immigration and industrialism. The piece, originally commissioned for placement in Madison Square Park, is a series of three small water towers, which viewers stand underneath to see neon lights that mirrors reflect into infinity. The neon spells out "BED," "ME/WE" and the third is a never-ending ladder. But when we chat by phone last week, Navarro doesn't want to talk about them anymore.
"I've told reporters all I have to say about that already, it grows tiresome to repeat myself. Did you see the pieces? What did you think of them?" he asks.
What did I think of them, I wondered. For most artists, interviews are an opportunity to put words into the mouth of a journalist, every quotation in the article promulgating an intention or specific idea. But I should've already read the previous coverage, he notes, now what do I think of his art in Dallas?
The relocation of the water towers from New York City to a North Texas mall would seem to entirely change the narrative of immigration. To stand underneath a water tower and gaze up at the infinite ladder in a public park just miles from the Statue of Liberty - the country's symbol of migration - the implied narrative is one of opportunity, struggle and perseverance. It's about the history and about hope. To see them in a shopping mall, between Gucci and Versace stores is to see the top of the ladder. You travel to find work, you struggle for promotion, and here is the wealth and the bounty at the top.
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Then again, there's nothing extravagant about these water towers. Externally they are small and simplistic and even the bright neons within are not in fancy script, but in straight lines with small curves to make full words. To see the word "bed" in its original context, it's connected to the viewer's goals for life, or maybe just for the day. In NorthPark, it's in direct contrast to the impetus for spending an afternoon in the mall. Perhaps the alternating "we/me" sculpture is more in situ. After all, there is both a selfishness and a sense of community at the shopping mall. Certainly, these are different versions of the intended concept in its first iteration.
"The idea of immigration is not the point for it now," Navarro interjects. "You can still try to keep the context, but it becomes something relative. Now the idea, the content, is more about the perception and the visual."
Rather than a stand-alone piece in a park, next to the original Shake Shack location, "This Land is Your Land" is now a temporary part of the large collection of art at NorthPark Center, which includes work by world-class artists like Jonathan Borofsky, Henry Moore, and Frank Stella. The collection introduces young people to art, in between hanging out in the food court, seeing a movie or browsing the racks at Forever21. You don't even have to step foot into a museum to see your first Andy Warhol. And there's something aptly fitting about having this Navarro piece amongst the fine collection, because Raymond Nasher was the son of a garment maker who emigrated to America from Russia. When he built NorthPark Center, he wanted it to not only be a place of commerce, but also a place where art could be enjoyed and discussed by everyone - not just artists and curators.
Perhaps Navarro is onto something after all. He's already spoken his piece and now it's the viewer's turn to take over the conversations about "This Land Is Your Land," maybe over a plate of Orange Chicken from Panda Express or a margarita at La Duni, or maybe after buying the Louis Vuitton purse you've worked six months for.