Out Here Death is No Big Deal

Artist Statement

VISIT THE PROJECT WEBSITE// NEW SUITE OF 10 PHOTOGRAPHS AND TEXTS ARE ON EXHIBIT AT RONALD FELDMAN GALLERY IN NYC, SPRING 2015 // Beginning fieldwork in Winter 2014, OUT HERE DEATH IS NO BIG DEAL addresses the lives of women navigating the tangle of institutional and personal violence in the desert borderlands between Northern Mexico, the Tohono O’Odham Nation, and the southwest United States: a vital and volatile terrain of sex trafficking and femicide, organized crime and paramilitary mercenaries, vigilantes and fugitives and gender crime refugees, military bases and government research installations, missile sites and drone airfields, deep-space observatories, utopian separatist religious conclaves, archeoastronomical telescopes and prehistoric temples, turquoise mines and collapsing coal shafts, weapons proving grounds and clandestine Manhattan Project facilities, indigenous resistance strongholds and genocide grounds, Uranium contaminated Navajo Nation Superfund sites…and networks of safe houses, crisis centers, shelters, and treatment facilities for the women, children, and soldiers who are casualties of various kinds of combat, in various kinds of deserts.

In the midst, an underground railroad, a renegade network of liminal identity queerness – especially between female bodies often spiderwebbed with the battle-scars of gender violence and an un-mappable ancestral DNA.

The completed project will comprise an interdisciplinary, interconnected suite of the artist’s photographs, films, prose poems, performance texts, short stories, essays, installations, and solo and collaborative live performance works.


OUT HERE DEATH IS NO BIG DEAL investigates the dichotomy between the bodies of women in the earth (contemporary femicide grave sites), and the bodies of women in the cosmos (archeo-astronomical observatory sites). It questions the human mythologies that have defined women’s bodies as either sacred or profane, and instead offers a third, near-future reality in which women’s existences are self-defined, equal, and liberated:

(1) Ancient mythos and culture saw many of the constellations, planets, and astronomical phenomena as sacred, all-poweful female cosmic bodies. Ancient astronomical observatories were set up as temple sites to placate and worship the primal power of these female bodies.

(2) Contemporary mythos and culture sees the bodies, minds and psyches of women as sites designed to passively receive violence, domination, and control. Individual and mass graves have been established as erasure, terror and control sites to restrict women’s existence.

(3) A third imminent future culture envisions the female gendered body/mind/psyche as a location of fluid autonomous self-definition, of liberation and exploration of self-expression, under its own jurisdiction, governance, and control.


Like me, most people who live/d along the U.S.-Mexico border discover themselves caught up in a peculiar intersection of geopolitical violence, existential explorations, and the intimate personal consequences of both. Starting in my adolescence and continuing for subsequent decades, I began navigating my own experience of these intersections in Northern Mexico, South Texas, New Mexico, Southern Arizona, the desert borderlands of Southern California, and several native/tribal Nations. While living in a progression of utopian – and dystopian – borderland subcultures, I became a small part of various efforts to address the repercussions of violent conflict in the deserts of the Southwest (and the deserts of the Middle East, since many soldiers returned from combat to inhabit the military bases and training sites, GI-Billed state universities, and Veterans Administration hospitals that are so plentiful throughout the border region).

OUT HERE is deeply invested in these lives and experiences, in particular those I lived and lived amidst during many different iterations of my life. For a time, I helped set up shelters and safe houses for a group of people who should be called gender crimes refugees, but were often just called women, wives, daughters, mothers, queers, prostitutes. At the safe houses, our youngest survivors were newborns. Behind the secret walls, stories and wounds revealed human cruelty on a level of complexity and barbarity that I found devastating to comprehend even while I bore witness, and experienced impacts and echoes and ricochets of that violence in my own life.

Over time, the differences between the lives of the “helpers” and the “helped” merged into a continuum of female and gendered and sexual experience that I had not – previously – entirely conceptualized.  The constant level of secrecy, confidentiality, high security, and omnipresent fear of retaliative violence underscored the degree of power that men and male perpetrators maintained at all levels of society. The messianic, exploitative zeal of whiteness, straightness, wealth, power, and colonial imperialism further influence, escalate, and exacerbate the volatility. And likewise, the nearly always wrongly-placed authority and control of law enforcement.

Several years later, I am beginning to excavate the lives we have led there, one story at a time.


Please see the Credits section below for information on PUBLIC EVENTS, the PROJECT TEAM, the BOARD OF ADVISORS, the PROJECT VISIONARIES, and the PROJECT SUPPORTERS.



OUT HERE DEATH IS NO BIG DEAL is developing in conversation with generations of humans who have sought to shepherd in an era of equity and emancipation. These humans – artists, activists, scientists – will be invoked in the project as time travellers: visionaries who have envisioned a better future and have come back to tell us what they see.

OUT HERE is deeply conversant with the legacies of borderlands artists who have explored the nexus of gender, sexuality, and the geo-socio-political construction of racial and ethnic identity, including Gloria Anzaldúa, Ana Mendieta, Monique Wittig, Octavia Butler, Octavio Paz, Alejandro Jodorowsky, and many, many ferocious and tenacious female artists who revolutionized the art world (and other worlds) for women throughout the 1960s and 1970s.

In addition, the project exists in relationship with those who have led the way in queer civil- and psyche- disobedience, the creation of heroic comic book superhero(ines), Cihuacóatl, the Cihuātēteoh and female vigilante justice, desert surrealism, the acid western, Brujería and border shamanism, oppositional resistance, and the dismantling of American genocidal manifest destiny.

Creative Capital, The Theo Westenberger Estate, Apache Point Observatory, The Millay Colony, Fieldshift Further, Flashpoint/NYC, the Colorado University Diversity & Excellence Grant and  President’s Fund for the Humanities, High Desert Journal, the Music Program of the Visual and Performing Arts Department (VAPA) at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, Peak FreQuency, California State University at Fullerton’s School of the Arts (Music, Film, and Visual Art/Photography).


Mia Andersson (Designer, Fabricator) lives in Stockholm. She is collaborating with Quintan to design and fabricate apparatus for the project. She has worked on both Swedish and international productions with acclaimed directors such as Lars Von Trier, Jan Troell, Marius Holst, and Mikael Marcimain, including Melancholia and King of Devil’s Island. Following a major exhibition of her collaborative work in Melbourne in 2013, Mia is presently working on Marcimain’s Gentlemen & Gangster, the biggest film shooting in Sweden at the moment.

Eric Grush (Photography, Film & Video Production and Post-Production)

Arthur Kell (Composer, Bassist) lives in Brooklyn. For over twenty-five years, he has created, performed and recorded with a cross section of the most influential jazz musicians in New York City and around the world. He is also an environmental activist, a faculty member at Swarnbhoomie Academy of Music in Tamil Nadu, India, and has worked extensively in Kyrgyzstan, India, and Africa, where he traveled alone by local transportation from Senegal to the Indian Ocean, including 900 miles by camel through the Sahara desert in Niger and Chad.

Marc Lempert (Film & Video Production)

Alexandra Shilling (Choreographer, Performer) the original choreography and experimental films of Alexx Shilling have been presented in New York, Los Angeles, Munich, Chicago, at the American Dance Festival, on MTV’s 9/11 Video Postcards, and at Dixon Place. Alexandra performed with Richard Rivera/PHYSUAL from 2002-2010. Since arriving in Los Angeles, she has performed with Victoria Marks, Hana van der Kolk, Sarah Leddy and Rebecca Bryant and is currently working with Alison D’Amato, Sarah Leddy and Laurel Tentindo. She remains influenced by her long-term studies with Bill Hastings, Maureen Fleming and all of her artistic idols.


Jeanette Acosta (Human Rights, Fieldwork, Mythos & Culture) Jeanette serves The Land & The Peoples with her participation in numerous committees and groups, including a growing emphasis on building collaboration among Indigenous nations to uphold The United Nations’ Declaration Rights of Indigenous Peoples, with particular emphasis in the protection of sacred burial and ceremonial sites. Acosta lives on Orcas Island, but was raised in southern California in a Chumash household visited by traditional indigenous healers who imbued in her the respect of their sacred traditions, which involved sustainability. Jeanette is a certified Kundalini teacher/teacher trainer and designer of permaculture principles, and specializes in herbalism, ethnobotany and biodynamic principles. In her work, she emphasizes humankind’s symbiotic relationship between earth and sky.

Alessandra Castellanos (Literature, Fieldwork, Mythos & Culture) Alessandra writes poetry, fiction and nonfiction that draw upon her vibrant and tenacious ancestral heritage in Guatemala and Southern California, feral spirits, otherworldly legends, and the disconcerting realities of domestic workers in Hollywood celebrity homes. Her work has appeared in Chaparral, Drunken Boat, Prick of the Spindle, as well as on the radio show Nuestra Palabra on 90.1 KPFT-FM.

Sarah Clark 

Sarah Dohrmann (Literature, Human Rights, Gender) Sarah has received a New York Foundation for the Arts Award in Nonfiction Literature, a Jerome Foundation Travel and Study Grant, a Fulbright Fellowship of the Arts for Creative Writing in Morocco, and is a current Workspace writer-in-residence at the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. With photographer Tiana Markova-Gold, Sarah received the 2010 Dorothea Lange-Paul Taylor Prize from the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University. Work from their photography/writing collaboration on female prostitution in Morocco has been featured in the British Journal of Photography, excerpted in TIME Magazine‘s LightBox, and is forthcoming in Harper’s Magazine. Sarah has written for Harper’sGlamourPoets & Writers MagazineTeachers & Writers Magazine, Joyland, Lumina, Bad Idea (England), and The Iowa Review, among others. Sarah also serves as an advisory committee member representing Nonfiction Literature for the New York Foundation for the Arts.

Bailey Grey (Fieldwork, Human Rights, Gender) Bailey began field organizing with Quintan on the Texas-Mexico border field in the late 1980s. She is a London-based human rights activist grounded in international human rights law who has worked on a wide range of human rights issues, including refugees, death penalty, women’s rights, indigenous peoples’ rights, children’s rights, disability, migrants’ rights, and racial discrimination with agencies including ActionAid International, Amnesty International, Amnesty International Ireland, the Global Campaign for Education, Human Rights Watch, and others.

Jennifer Tame Holland (Fieldwork, Human Rights, Gender, Mythos & Culture)

Keivan Stassun (Fieldwork, Human Rights, Astronomy & Physics) An astrophysicist at Vanderbilt University, Keivan was born in Los Angeles and relates strongly to his family’s heritage and origins in Mexico and their journey towards El Norte. His research on the birth of stars and planetary systems has appeared in Nature, been featured on NPR’s Earth & Sky, published in more than 60 peer-reviewed journal articles, and earned  awards from the NSF and the Research Corporation. He serves as the founding director of the Vanderbilt Initiative in Data-intensive Astrophysics (VIDA), and is the chair of the exoplanet team at the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. Keivan served as a member of the National Research Council’s 2010 Decadal Survey of Astronomy and Astrophysics, as a member of the congressionally mandated Astronomy & Astrophysics Advisory Committee, and for eight years served as chair of the American Astronomical Society’s Committee on the Status of Minorities. He currently serves as General Councilor of the American Physical Society. Keivan is Adjunct Professor of Physics at Fisk University, a Historically Black University, and serves as Co-Director of the Fisk-Vanderbilt Masters-to-PhD Bridge Program, helping Fisk become the top producer of Black U.S. recipients of the master’s degree in physics. Click here to visit Keivan’s website.

Samantha Stiers (Fieldwork, Literature, Gender, Mythos & Culture) Samantha is a poet and fiction writer whose work explores how trauma and extreme states can alter our perceptions in dark and fantastical ways. Her work has appeared in Conjunctions, DIAGRAM, Black Warrior Review, Puerto del Sol, and other magazines.

Stacey Steers (Fieldwork, Film, Myth & Culture) Stacey’s hand-animations have screened at the Sundance Film Festival, Telluride Film Festival, New Directors New Films in NYC and the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., along with numerous other screenings worldwide, winning national and international awards. Her work has been installed at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C., the Denver Art Museum, and the Hamburger Kunsthalle in Hamburg, Germany among others. Stacey is a recipient of major grants from Creative Capital and AFI/the American Film Institute. She has been an artist fellow at Harvard University, the MacDowell Colony, the Sacatar Foundation, Ucross Foundation, the Liguria Study Center and Yaddo. She lives and works in Boulder, Colorado. Click here to visit Stacey’s website.

Mona Washington (Human Rights, Literature, Gender, Mythos & Culture) Mona is currently a member of the Harlem Arts Alliance Dramatic Writing Academy Workshops and a Resident Underground Artist of the Freedom Train Theater Company of Harlem and Brooklyn (NY). Ms. Washington received a Bachelor of Science in Foreign Service from Georgetown University and a Juris Doctor degree from Harvard Law School. Her plays have been performed and read in New York, Philadelphia, Rome, and Paris. She has been a Brown Fellow at The Dora Maar House (Provence, France), and has received fellowships at The Ucross Foundation, The Jack Kerouac House, Ragdale, the Vermont Studio Center, and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, amongst many others. She currently writes a series of short plays on politics, civil rights, race, religion, and culture for The Huffington Post.  Click here to read.