Always Tomorrow (Siempre Mañana) is a migration story.
Over the course of their lives my undocumented parents would each return to Mexico to take care of a terminally ill parent, and re-cross into the U.S after their passing. Both of my parents have been caught crossing the border multiple times and deported only to try again. On my mother’s third and final attempt to cross into the U.S in 2015, her ankle splintered upon landing on the U.S side of the border fence, with several excruciating days left until arriving home in Chicago. She traveled the remainder of the way on her fractured ankle, as acquiring medical care was impossible. As a printmaker, I honor this painful lived experience symbolically by producing tracings and impressions.
Print-based processes such as the printing press — used to crush ink onto paper with enough pressure to break bones. — re-animates the acts of violence endured by my family. Always Tomorrow bears witness to the migration trek as a continuous one, not a single event that solidifies a barrier between before and after, but a persistent collection of experiences that spans over multiple generations. An unwavering condition of returning and re-returning. My American experience is one of continued migration, an extension of the trek that started in Iguala with my parents in 1990. This exhibition is a collection of footprints in the sand at the forefront of my parents’ migration path. By incorporating the ceremony of wounding, found materials, and visual fragmentation I aim to tell the illegible story that has molded my life.
—Jonathan Herrera Soto
Remember me Beautiful (Recuérdame Bonito) series
This work is evidence of memory rooted in fragmented objects, images, and text. The wooden pallet is a signifier of the migrant brown body, flesh bound together molded by capital in service of work and rendered disposable once no longer of use. My parents migrated to the US in the early 90’s and have worked in their respective jobs for three decades. They have worked through financial hardship, cultural displacement, social isolation, fear of state-sanctioned violence, and divorce. I am curious about the pain that goes unresolved, that is only accessible in fragments. As a form of inquiry, I construct these compositions to develop a visual vocabulary grounded in simultaneity. The trauma of lived experience is seldom resolved, and I aim to harbor space for the opacity of lingering memories. —J.H.S.
Always Tomorrow (Siempre Mañana) series
I moved away from my Chicago childhood home to attend college in 2014. The main mode of communication I sustain with my family, specifically my mother with whom I’m closest, is via Amazon’s Alexa app. When she calls me and I do not answer she usually leaves me a message in Spanish, and the Alexa algorithm attempts to transcribe her message into English. Here, I attempt to capture the liminal space harbored within a mistranslation. The distance between my mother and I has always felt vast in both culture and language, but when I read these translated messages, the distance seems to widen. As a materiality of distance, I saturate these drawings with motor oil changed after 7,000 miles of use. Often, the message she intends to leave me should translate to: I’m ok, don’t worry, call me tomorrow.
Untitled (Sin Título)
A collection of artifacts that underwent an extreme degree of change. The volcanic rock in this work was collected at the location of the continental divide in Colorado. The rock was most likely spit out of the mouth of a neighboring volcano long ago, to one day find me. Each piece of charcoal in this work was collected from various bonfires, once limbs of a living tree destined to transform into a dark singularity. Lastly, the dust within the mound is from sweeping my artist studio, where everything transforms via the ceremony of making. —J.H.S.
Four Rooms (Cuatro Cuartos)
My parents have been together since their young teenage years, originally finding each other in their hometown of Iguala, Mexico. They migrated to the US in the yearly 90’s and brought two of my three siblings with them. My undocumented family has lived in the same three story red brick apartment on Monticello Avenue, Chicago since 2003. After an immeasurably long partnership, my parents divorced in 2009. Due to financial scarcity my mother and father continued to live in the same apartment. A year later in 2010 my mother, brother, and I moved upstairs to the third floor of the Monticello apartment. As witnesses, these doors are records to stories that do not have an archive, to an unnamable suffering rooted in heartbreak, heavy in its omnipresence. Over the years, the markings around the doorknobs accumulated into a textured surface—the only daily record that renders a complete story of everything that took place. —J.H.S.
A Story Becoming as Ghosts Parade (Un Cuento se Manifiesta Mientras Fantasmas Desfilan)
The projection on the left is a multi-screen video recording where I facilitate a Facetime call of my grandfather’s funeral in Mexico and my mother as a witness in Chicago. My mother returned to Mexico in 2008 to care for her terminally ill mother but vowed to never return, even for her father’s funeral since the work to cross the border is treacherous and unrelenting. The projection on the right is of me in New Mexico digging a hole for nine hours the day of the burial. —J.H.S.
Ghosts in the Archive: Jonathan Herrera Soto at HAIRandNAILS
by Brooks Turner
For his exhibition Always Tomorrow (Siempre Mañana) at HAIRandNAILS, Jonathan Herrara Soto includes paragraphs of text indexing his work with symbols, metaphors, and family histories. He writes beautifully and poetically, tying his aesthetic decisions to an exhibition-wide conceit of the migrants journey—the specifics of which come from his parents. With so much offered in text and image, Herrera Soto directs my thoughts to what is left out, what is between word and work.
This is perhaps most immediate in the sharp thrust and dry scratch of a shovel entering dirt, an audio installation that permeates the gallery. As I read Herrera Soto’s text and listen to the sound of digging, Remember me Beautiful (Recuérdame Bonito), a series of reliefs composed from wood shipping pallets, car parts, and other found objects, becomes an excavation site. But, the connection to archaeology (whose histories and practices are rank with white supremacy, colonialism, and imperialism) is undercut by a subjective reversal as the artist digs into his own history and offers up pieces of his own life through poetic exposition: shipping pallets and car parts represent migratory journeys, marks burned into pallet surfaces represent the wounding of brown bodies by labor exploitation, a DMV ticket calls to mind the institutional horror of documenting, motor oil saturating paper materializes the distance between Herrera Soto and his mother…. This last description is of a series of graphite drawings that shares the title of the exhibition and furthers the negation of an archaeological archive in refusing its sterilizing force. Excavations are messy, and every grain of dirt removed tells a story.
In the back corner of the basement, a two-channel video pairs footage of Herrara Soto waist deep in a hole (the origin of the audio installation) with a video call in which he and his mother virtually attend his grandfather’s funeral. Seeing the faces of the artist and his mother deepens the intimacy of the exhibition. While these virtual meetings have become commonplace in the Covid era, the text offers a different backstory: “My mother returned to Mexico in 2008 to care for her terminally ill mother but vowed to never return, even for her father’s funeral since the work to cross the border is treacherous and unrelenting.” The distances bridged by video call come to represent the imperialism of borders and the violence the state uses to enforce them, while the ritual of digging a grave for nine hours during his grandfather’s burial enacts a double poetics of the physicality of death and the rooting of filiation. And yet, by putting himself in a grave and leading the viewer underground, Herrera Soto has moved from excavation of objects to the release of ghosts, a narrative reflected in the title of this video installation: A Story Becoming as Ghosts Parade (Un Cuento se Manifiesta Mientras Fantasmas Desfilan).
Elsewhere in this dimly lit basement, four white doors lean against white walls, an installation titled Four Rooms (Cuatro Cuartos) of objects removed from his childhood home. I think of ghosts as a kind of emotional or psychological impression on spacetime, remaining in relief even after physical absence, somewhere between materiality and immateriality. Whatever fragment of a person remains as a ghost after death is a two-dimensional shadow of a multi-dimensional life lived in space and time. Similarly, a door delineates a two-dimensional threshold, implying an outside and an inside, space, skin, and feeling. Herrera Soto’s doors are stained with the touch of bodies, fingerprints accumulated over time, marks that become an index for his family and the pain of divorce, as he writes “the only daily record that renders a complete story of everything that took place.”
Herrera Soto refers to these doors as witnesses to stories that do not have an archive, but it seems to me this is true of the exhibition as a whole. Even the works that feel less like witnesses nonetheless are written with histories. We tend to read archives as the narrators of history, even though so much is not captured, so much is left undocumented, full of holes. Archives institutionalize the stories they preserve; like ghosts, every object interred is an impression of a life, and yet the operating structure of the archive removes the soul through its institutionalization, exorcising the ghost, the heart and mind, from the stories represented, leaving a bodily shell, a molted skin. To be recognized by the archive, to be documented, bestows privileges even as it erases humanity—the wholeness of documentation is also the hole-ness of lives lived in relation to the state, the archive.
Herrera Soto’s text focuses primarily on the pain and trauma that are represented in his exhibition, which is also recorded in the way objects in the exhibition appear (burned, broken rusted, ripped). But the ghosts he conjures find a kind of freedom even through the pain for which the exhibition holds space. By centering family, by abstractly illustrating stories belonging to his mother and father, Herrera Soto puts so much care, so much love into the works. A pallet relief upstairs, part of the Remember me Beautiful (Recuérdame Bonito) series, includes a living plant, which the material list describes as grown from a single leaf given to him by his high school advisor. The plant becomes a material manifestation of the nurturing spirit that floats through the exhibition, one of the ghosts present here. The immaterial connective tissue that ties together the words and works in the exhibition is love; love is what the archive lacks; love is the space between.
Brooks Turner is an artist, writer, and educator. His recent work engages the history of fascism in Minnesota, and has appeared at the Weisman Art Museum, St. Cloud State University, MnArtists, and as an Exhibition-in-Print in the StarTribune. He has taught at the University of California, Los Angeles, St. Cloud State University, Ridgewater College, and is currently Chair of Visual Art at St. Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists. In 2017, he wrote A Guide to Charles Ray Sleeping Mime, published with Paperleaf Press, and continues to write essays for HAIRandNAILS Gallery and Temp/reviews.
Always Tomorrow essay
by Erica N. Cardwell
Jonathan Herrera Soto and I met in the summer of 2019 at the Minneapolis Institute for Art. I was near the end of an extensive tour which ended in the gallery where Jonathan was finishing the installation of his show, In Between/Underneath (Extremedio/ Por Debajo). In his warm familial way, Jonathan immediately welcomed me into the space and began describing the show’s premise. In Between/Underneath was an arresting project – the show contained a series of mud and clay portraits imprints of missing and murdered Mexican journalists. The solemnity of the work captivated me; I quickly decided to document the devoted praxis of this artist.
“I have always felt very conflicted about my complacency in violence, simply by existing.” Investigating Violence: Jonathan Herrera Soto Interviewed – BOMB Magazine
Soto’s current exhibition, Always Tomorrow (Siempre Manana), continues to conceptualize cultural erasure with a similarly personal dedication. For this exhibition, Soto has steered his focus further inward, and has focused on his parents tireless ‘returning and re-returning’ to Iguala, Mexico, to care for their ailing parents. Each of Jonathan’s parents crossed the border to tend to each of their parents before their subsequent death, and travelled back to the US border, risking life and limb, specifically Soto’s mother, who managed her final journey on a fractured ankle. Soto has memorialized her journey as a ‘ceremony of wounding,’ and recreated her persistent pain by way of the printing press. The crushing burnish of pressing an image onto each pallet, scarring the wood, is an active homage to the unimaginable repetition of his mother’s painful journey. In his Always Tomorrow pain becomes visible.
Always Tomorrow is a meditative resistance to life underneath capitalist inequities by studying the legacies of erasure which have infected our concepts of resilience. With this project, Soto has constructed a visual memoir for his mother. The works on paper, burnished from motor oil and graphite, conduct heat, rendering perpetuity. It is his particular interest in scale and velocity of violence enacting by printmaking, the act of – pressing, crushing, cutting, imprinting – that remains a persistent fascination. Always Tomorrowexists to honor maternal sacrifice and a chilling reminder that state violence(s) are inescapable.
Erica Cardwell is a writer and educator based in Brooklyn NY. She’s a 2020-21 Queer Art Fellow and Pushcart nominee. Her work can be found in Hyperallergic, Frieze, BOMB, C Mag, Passages North and elsewhere. Her first book, Wrong Is Not My Name, will be released by The Feminist Press in 2023.