In January 2017, when Donald Trump became the President of the United States, his execution of some campaign promises began to take place. One of them was the construction of a wall across the whole border between the US and Mexico. During 2018 and 2019, eight wall prototypes were built for this project. Montalvo Gray photographed each one of these prototypes that were built in San Diego City -Tijuana’s symbolic neighbor-. The result is a series of 16 photographs, conceived as diptychs.
The first common element among the photographed prototypes is their function. The artist shows us how on San Diego’s side the prototypes not only function as walls, but also comply with a certain degree of aesthetics. While on the side to be seen from Tijuana’s side, the construction focuses on the isolating function of the prototypes, making them look exclusively as part of a border, something that the “others” should stay away from. In this sense, Prototypes shows a double perspective, as if the buildings were made by a Janus-faced god: smiling and disguising its real meaning on one side, while grunting and accentuating its hostility on the other.
Montalvo Gray also signals this extreme-right project as the archetype of a series of governments and policies that are growing in popularity at a global scale. These photos have been shot so that the wall prototypes asume a monolithic weight, resembling totems, caricaturing the trumpist model -caricature understood here as the exaltation of the essential features of an object or subject- with the purpose of revealing a darker side. Definitely, these images are presented as an iconography of anti-globalism, and as the repudiation of immigrants for being considered dangerous individuals.
But Prototipos doesn’t stop at denouncing the wall itself, it poses a structural questioning of the democratic principles that seemed to have crystalized at the close of the 20th century, the same ones that have lead to a universal problem roughly defined as or called “the migrant crisis”. By “roughly defined”, we imply that those who view it as a “crisis” are the residents of the countries receiving the immigrants, and not the peoples from the countries where emigration IS the problem. From this point of view, the harsh immigration policies are exposed as mere elements of an anachronic, xenophobic and endogamic political discourse that aims at denying the cultural and economic growth that comes with cosmopolitanism -a fact proven by history- in order to achieve greater control and isolation of society. In fact, since 2007 the migration of Mexican citizens into the US dropped considerably, from 7 to 5 million, as shown in a study made by the BBC in 2019.
Prototypes introduces the question of “what is a border?” or rather, what have we turned it into and at what point the discourses we adhere to as individuals coincide with the ones we enact as a global society. Sebastián Montalvo Gray extends these questions towards the materiality of the borders; to the condition of these territories understood as the mere desire -that is, the non materiality- of a border which is introduced in the collective subconscious. The artist’s questions also address the symbolic character of borders, dependending on which side the people are standing, being in a space between the US and Mexico; and the marks -physical and intangible- that they leave in the cultural identity and, obviously, in the architecture that is used as an instrument of power and geopolitical domination.
From these photographs emerge the interests of the private sector, which became visible with this anti- immigration republican project. The title of each diptych gives away the name of the contending company and the cost of their version of the wall. The subtle gesture in Sebastian Montalvo Gray’s photos, renders the wall prototypes as pieces of an imagery -given the fact that they were demolished after their presentation- of a dystopic future urban border, one that appears as utopic for the people standing on US soil, as it acquires the aesthetics proposed by the company that wins the tender. These aesthetics will ultimately bear a symbolic and historic weight, at a continental and global level, being a black mirror of the majority of utopian architecture projects in the 20th century, an image of involution and xenophobia.