In 1997, Marcos Ramírez Erre wheeled a 33-foot-tall, two-headed, wooden "Trojan Horse" sculpture through the traffic lined up at the San Ysidro Port of Entry. Despite the hundreds of international exhibitions and installations that the artist—who goes by Erre—has staged since, it's a memorable act of politically charged border art that's stuck with him. The giant wooden horse has become a strong association that he just can't seem to shake.
"I love it and I hate it," Erre says, sitting at a café across the street from the SDSU Downtown Gallery (725 W. Broadway), where his solo show, Playing
Series Serious, is on view through Jan. 26. "I cannot deny that it, in a way, defines me, but I don't want to be known for doing just one type of work."
The horse, Erre says, has both hindered and helped him. It hoisted him onto an international stage but also pigeonholed him as a border artist.
"My work is about ideas, sometimes about the border but not always," Erre says, pulling out his laptop and clicking through dozens of images of his exhibitions from the last few years. His portfolio demonstrates the huge range of materials, mediums and messages he includes in his work.
Despite his struggle against being stereotyped, Erre, who grew up in Tijuana and continues to live and work in both San Diego and Tijuana, does still regularly turn his attention toward the border. This summer, for instance, he collaborated with David Taylor on an ambitious installation of 47 faux monuments that stretch across more than 2,000 miles and mark the border between Mexico and the U.S as it was in 1821.
"We [recouped] all the states and the property the United States took after the Mexican-American War," Erre laughs.
Erre's current show at the SDSU Downtown Gallery—which opens with a public reception from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 6—shows the breadth of his work. It does include some border-themed art; for instance, at the opening, an interactive chess game will invite the audience to group themselves as Latinos and non-Latinos and compete against one another in a 10-minute match that replaces regular chess pieces with stereotypical "white" and "nonwhite" bottles of booze. Erre says the friendly match is aimed at breaking down cultural barriers.
But, for the most part, the show goes beyond the border and is a much broader investigation of language and text. Erre's Sodoku games, for example, use letters rather than numbers and spell out words describing people—like farmers and alchemists—whom he thinks are close to extinction. One of his large-scale crossword games uses quotes that challenge notions in the art world, and his word-search games play with the idea of political doublespeak. All the work in the show presents text in an interactive way, which Erre says may have a bigger impact on those who take time to play.
"I'm pushing them to read and analyze these things," Erre says. "Maybe it'll leave more of an imprint."