Published: Sept. 23, 2020

Amy: What are you working on for the Co-Terminous exhibition? 

Alejandra: BIOME vs BORDERS is a site-specific art piece at Union Hall, which will focus on the proximity of Union Hall to one of the most polluted zipcodes in the North Denver area, Globeville. The pollution in the area dates back to 1800, when smelting plants left behind hazardous materials. The long history of harsh chemicals that polluted this area, which was home to immigrants and still is a lower income area, is especially tragic in light of the fact that it continues to relate to racial inequities. Many sites within Globeville were deleted from the EPA’s superfund list, and now some of these sites are in reuse after environmental rehabilitation.

Alejandra Abad artwork

Alejandra Abad, "Cuerpos De Agua"

Amy: What inspired this work? 

Alejandra: The work is inspired by several maps and visualizations of the area, such as health equity, heat maps, Denver railroads, and hazard indexes that demonstrate the ongoing impact of contamination.

I found out about Globeville from looking at the maps. I was really interested in how all of the maps below, this area stood out the most. I found out in 2019 that the EPA wanted to delete it from being a Superfund site. There are still lead pipes in the area that are in use. In the 1990s, a smelting company named ASARCO was using chemicals that were seeping into the soil. This is what the EPA is focusing on cleaning. 

I knew I wanted to make something about this polluted area because of its proximity to Union Hall. It was really interesting to talk to Arielle Myers because she had lived in the area. It's an underserved area, so there’s that too. It is still an immigrant area and there are a lot of working class people. It is not like you can erase the history of pollution and that it has no consequence. 

Amy: Can you speak about your material choices within this work?

Alejandra: The material gathered from Globeville is reclaimed and made into new layers of paper. The paper is assembled to reference the dissection of a map of the area, emphasizing features that connect Globeville to other surrounding areas in the Denver area, from train tracks, waterways, highways, and pipe systems (some of which are known to have traces of lead).

Amy: What is the process of gathering material from the Globeville site? 

Alejandra: I would be collecting material from around the Superfund site, documenting the material, and then sending it to the gallery. The gallery will post the materials on Instagram. Then I blend these materials together through cutting and reassembling them. 

There is the history of the materials existing in Globeville, but there is also my body moving through the area collecting material. 

Amy: What is the scale? How will it be installed? 

Alejandra: It is roughly 9’ x 12’ in scale. It will hang from the ceiling. Some parts will be cut by hand; some parts with a laser cutter. 

Amy: Are you thinking about anything in particular while you are cutting the materials? 

Alejandra: The elements that represent the different parts of each map that I have seen: the highways, the railroads, and the waterways. 

I know the Superfund sites are trying to be erased but it will highlight some of those as well.

Amy: The exhibition statement for Co-Terminous notes, “Our shared environmental futures depend upon recognizing the particularities of loss and inequality, while also demanding a constant realignment of vantages, so justice becomes actionable.” Does this statement play a role in the work you are creating for this exhibition?  

Alejandra: This area was basically migrant workers and there was a disregard for their health. The companies and highways came in and did not care about those people. Not much has changed today. We have natural borders that are marked by the fauna and landscape of a place. Then we have these forced, imaginary borders that compress a space: highways and factories. This is really curious to me and I like exploring that. Breaking down a lot of things that are based on weird constructs and boundaries. To me it is all connected. You can start seeing it on the maps too. There is no coincidence that all of these health issues are happening in these areas. 

Amy: Is this work similar to your previous work? 

Alejandra: I think a lot of my work has to do with building relationships and in connection to my values. Either the stories that are in a space, or an exploration of why we see a space that way. This happens a lot whether I am collaborating or exploring my own identity. The thing that is different is that I have never worked with maps before. I think maps tell a story. There has been a long tradition of maps telling stories, such as with maps that have stories, like the Mexica pictorials or toponym glyphs. Once you start creating and assembling parts-fragmentation, transformation, and storytelling are three things that pop up a lot. 

Amy: What role does activism play within your practice? 

Alejandra: I think right now I am in crisis. I can’t ignore it. So every time I am here, every time I wake up, I am reminded of the work that has to be done. I think that fuels me. Whenever I have a conversation it comes up. Eventually, I meet like-minded people who are also working to make it better and fight for this. I am always meeting people that are skillful in different areas. This also keeps my curiosity alive. I think that propels me to find ways to be involved. 

I am very thoughtful about my values. That’s at the core of anything I do. 

Amy: You recently collaborated with Gwendalynn Roebke on an installation in front of CU’s Library that successfully grabbed media attention. The installation involved silhouettes that represented the BIPOC population of CU’s campus that are missing. Can you speak more to this piece?  

Alejandra: I would like to say that friendship for me is really important. I met Gwendalynn at Lupita Montoya’s protest  to demand a review for the denial of her tenure position. We made the signs for that day. This summer we also bumped into each other at the BIPOC rally in Boulder for BLM. They were telling me how they wanted to do some sort of disruptive work to bring attention to the missing BIPOC community at CU. They had tried to work with other organizations to create silhouettes. At the time the project was related to a different issue, prison labor. No one took Gwendolynn's idea seriously because no one had visualized it yet. This summer I got involved with different student organizations and attended meetings relating to antiracist work and the divestment of CU campus police. In one of the meetings the idea came up again and I offered my help to Gwendalynn. I told them that I had access to a laser cutter and that we could make this thing happen. We went to pick up cardboard because people started donating it and we went to pick up some at CU. While talking and skateboarding at the Sundial Plaza in front Norlin Library, I saw all the chairs, and I said, Hey, I know how to make the silhouettes occupy the space; we can make the BIPOC silhouettes sit everywhere. So that is what we did. That idea arose from conversing and being with people that care. We had people contribute with the data for graduation retention rates at CU as well and Anonymous BIPOC stories. 

Amy: I am drawn to your previous work “Cuerpos de Agua.” You state on your website, “Cuerpos de Agua is a reference to how life changes and we move from one place to another, we should all be able to relate to each other, since we are all largely made of water.” This is a beautiful metaphor for connection and understanding, something that is much needed in today’s world. The choice in working with cyanotypes is intriguing, not just for the color cyan which relates to water, but because the process of creating cyanotypes requires sunlight—we all share the same sun. Can you speak more about your process in creating this installation? 

Alejandra: The idea is that my body has water, your body has water, so we are the same, it’s an ocean within. I have always been thinking about how I had to come here with my family to the US. My brother and sister are from Puerto Rico. With the Venezuelan Diaspora a lot of Venezuelans had to go wherever we could. It is the idea that we are all humans and it is f*ed up to see all of the xenophobia. 

Venezuela has the oceans, the mountains, the valleys. Florida is home to many of my best friends and family; it is also surrounded by the ocean but not the mountains. Coming to Boulder was really cool because I got to see the mountains again. It feels fragmented like different parts are everywhere. 

Amy: What do you believe we must focus on to improve our shared environmental future? 

Alejandra: I think listening to the most vulnerable and having the empathy to work towards change. I always think about how I have two hands. I have one to help myself; the other is to help others out. If we want that type of service to be part of all of our lives we would live in a better world. There is a lot of noise that gets in the way of people’s ability to grieve, have introspection, and do something outside of their forceful schedule. I see my mom—she is tired. When she is done with work she is still tired. If people were not that tired, would they join? We must address the toxic capitalism. There are all of these companies that produce so much pollution. This greedy corp-life is destroying our way of life: our human expression. 

I used to work at a book publisher and I remember all of the deadlines. It was tough. I feel like I am at a privileged point in my life where I can actually take control and get into good trouble.