On Oct. 14, the Multicultural Resource Center (MRC) hosted a lecture with visual artist and filmmaker Rubén García Marrufo. Born in the U.S. but raised in Mexico, Marrufo’s work focuses on borders and bilinguality, and they have produced feature-length, short, and experimental films that have been exhibited in Mexico and the U.S.
MRC Director Ashley Stull Meyers began the night with an informal introduction of Marrufo, explaining that the two had been friends for a couple of years and clarifying that the lecture would not be conducted in a typical format. It would, rather, be more of a performance with a Q&A portion afterwards.
The performance began with Marrufo’s back turned to the camera. They launched into a monologue about the limits of the words “why” and “how.” They then moved on to speak about a pivotal date in their life, April 4, 2010, the day of one of the strongest earthquakes that ever occurred in northwest Mexico, where Marrufo lived at the time. Marrufo switched to sharing their screen to show a home video they took during the earthquake. It was not immediately apparent what was going on; the scene simply looked like a group of people gathered together at someone’s house. People suddenly began to yell, and the camera shakily panned over to a swimming pool that appeared to be overflowing, with the pool water splashing up to an impressive height. The footage then cut to a shot of mountains shrouded in smoke. It was obvious that something monumental was happening. The last scene was of a man singing a corrido, a traditional Mexican ballad with lyrics about a historical event, about the earthquake. The man sang emphatically about the emotions that came with the earthquake as well as the significance of it occurring on Easter Sunday.
After the film, Marrufo recounted how they moved to Portland and felt happy that they were “free of earthquakes.” However, the people they encountered here kept alluding to the massive earthquake that Portland is due for. “Sometimes,” they said, “I feel as if I am being chased by earthquakes.” They talked about blackouts that occurred after the earthquake and the emotions they elicited. “In a silent city,” they said, “you hear the body’s whisper become monumental.”
The rest of the night followed this format, with Marrufo switching between reciting a monologue on camera and sharing their screen to show their films. Through their monologues, Marrufo spoke of the experiences that inform their artwork. They were born in the U.S. but grew up in Mexico, so they felt the sharp divide of the border from a very early age. They also talked about the themes prevalent in their films, recounting how they’ve always been curious about the origin of borders. The answer, they said, can be found in the body: “The body is the first and last border.” Marrufo said their identity is one of in-betweens, and their queerness, transness, and upbringing near the border all informs their work.
These monologues were intercut with a variety of different films depicting a wide range of subjects and styles. One particularly striking film depicted a group of people with red sheets over their heads in a variety of locations. One person sat in the wreckage of an airplane, and another rolled a wheelbarrow on fire through a desert. The final scene of the film exemplified the overarching themes in Marrufo’s work: one of the figures wearing a red sheet walked along a beach towards a towering barbed-wire fence. The camera slowly pulled back to reveal just how large the fence is. The fence dwarfed the person with its gargantuan height, showing how borders are often a large and daunting force.
Before the final film, Marrufo performed their monologue as they mimicked walking on a tightrope while wearing high heels. They said that they often picture themself balancing on the border wall during a sunny day while people on either side cheer them on. They revealed that they became obsessed with retelling people’s stories of crossing the border because, at the moment of retelling, Marrufo resembles the storyteller: they don’t belong anywhere.
The final film took place at a minor league baseball game in Portland. In the film, Marrufo speaks to a man working security at a game about the story of his border crossing. The man looks back at the camera and jumps over the fence in front of him, saying that it was how he crossed the border. He then opened the door and said, “Then I open the door and let everybody in.” The man went on to recount the feeling of anticipation that came with crossing the border with a large group of people. Even though he has crossed the border, the man feels like he is always at some sort of crossing. “Every new project is to cross another border, and that makes me think that the crossing will never end,” the man said. “There’s always something different to cross, but I speak for myself when I say that i’m crossing a barrier all the time, be it economic, personal, emotional, or professional.”
The final scene of the film showed a group of children exiting the stadium through the door the man opened earlier, and the camera lingered on a sign that read “No Re-entry Allowed”.
The screen switched back to Marrufo performing their final monologue. They echoed the man’s sentiment, wondering themself if the crossing will ever end. As they recited the opening lines of their monologue once more, they walked towards a ladder propped up against the wall in the background. They repeated the opening lines again as they ascended, finally concluding by saying that “[Why and how] both deny the infinite.” With that, their camera turned off for a final time.
The presentation ended with a Q&A session with the students in attendance. Marrufo spoke again about themes within their work, focusing especially on borders as both “intensely real and imagined objects”. Their work, they said, is about what it feels like to be subject to a border as well as what borders do to our bodies, opportunities, and sense of the world. In an especially lighthearted answer, Marrufo helped students conceptualize their work through an analogy with the movie Gremlins. The gremlins can’t be fed after midnight, but nobody really knows when “after midnight” begins and ends as the gremlins dismantle the clocks. Ultimately, Marrufo said that their work investigates this ambiguity surrounding borders.
Throughout their whole performance, Marrufo utilized the Zoom platform to their advantage in order to create a truly unique experience for the audience. They deftly used different camera angles and props to make the most of their limited space and camera quality, making for a visually interesting performance despite the limitations of using a webcam. Their performance was a great example of how artists can use Zoom to their advantage as well as what performance art and gallery presentations might look like until we’re able to have them in person again. You can check out more of Marrufo’s work at https://rubengarciamarrufo.com/.