Guest Contributors: Sarah Haemisegger, Anna Kern, and Taylor Zakarin
Chilean-born artist Iván Navarro employs neon, light, and mirrors
to generate powerful social discourse.
Iván Navarro utilizes a diverse arsenal of tools to engage the viewer with his artwork. The artist draws from his own personal history to inform his work. Navarro came of age in Chile under the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet before immigrating to New York in 1997. The Pinochet regime of the 1970s and 1980s was notorious for the cruel tactics it used to maintain social order. Electricity would frequently be shut off as a method of disruption and chaos. Profoundly impacted by this experience, Navarro later decided as an artist to take back control, working with light freely and consistently to harness the power derived from the medium.
On display at NorthPark Center, Navarro’s This Land is Your Land (2014), From Beginning to End (2014), and Nothing Will Come of Nothing (2015) incorporate neon, LED light, mirrors, text, and symbols as communicative tools. His use of industrially produced materials aesthetically connects his work to Minimalist artists, such as Dan Flavin and Bruce Nauman. However, Navarro’s work is an intentional departure from Minimalism in that he utilizes these tools to imbue his work with allusion and reference. NorthPark owner Nancy Nasher explains, “Navarro’s installations can be enjoyed and his intentions understood by all—even by those who may not be familiar with Minimalist art or Chilean political history.”
This Land is Your Land—named after Woody Guthrie’s beloved 1945 folksong—consists of three large wooden water tower structures. Navarro’s use of the water tower is a powerful metaphor for civilized society. When he first arrived in New York City as an immigrant, Navarro was struck by the sight of countless water towers filling the city’s skyline. For him, the tower is also a symbol of the pioneering of the American frontier, where it served as a beacon to settlers and migrants searching for water, work, and a place to call home.
When NorthPark visitors encounter the three tall structures and gaze up at their luminous reflections, they become fully immersed in the work. Navarro explains, “The important moment in experiencing the water towers is when you stand underneath and look up to the light reflection. The content of this work is an optimistic feeling of hope, both social and spiritual, much like [Guthrie’s] song.”
At NorthPark, the three water towers are positioned in a row, each displaying unique neon reflections of an image or text, symbolizing a different aspect of an immigrant’s journey to a foreign land. The first tower reveals the illuminated word “BED,” representing a basic unit of property—an object for rest, comfort, and dreams—as well as the antithesis of a transient life in search of a place or home. In the second tower, a ladder soars infinitely upward as a symbol of progress, suggesting the climb out of one’s present condition toward a better life. In the final tower, the words “ME/WE” endlessly alternate, oscillating between the individual and the collective. Simultaneously, they also portray one’s transition from isolation to acceptance within a community. When contemplating Navarro’s powerful message regarding immigration in this piece, Guthrie’s words ring true: “This land was made for you and me.”
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