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Although Mexico gained independence in 1821, there followed decades of military coups, occupations, and the loss of more than half of its territory to the United States. Conflicting cultures, bigotry, and immigration have added to the ongoing narrative. Codex Espangliensis seems to address all of these topics and, in addition, pays homage to the sprawling history and magnificent culture of Mexico.

The exuberantly colorful and expressive Mexican Gothic by Karen Kunc is a folded accordion book that, when fully opened, is nearly seven feet high by a mere four inches wide. With such dramatic verticality, its vibrant patterns congregate and percolate within the narrow space to make a festive concentration of imagery. Kunc has paired her multi-color reduction woodcut with a vivid narrative poem by Vinni Marie D’Ambrosio.

The multitude of abstracted motifs – hands, skulls and bones, radiating concentric circles, and checkerboards – forms an elongated, jaunty calavera (skeleton), that specifically refers to the Mexican celebration El Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. Inspired by the playfully decorated cobalt blue Mexico City home of Mexican artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, Mexican Gothic depicts the Mexicans’ fabled embrace of death as part of the cycle of life through an array of hybrid biomorphic shapes and symbolic representations, including what might be a stack of vertebrae and perhaps a womb. These are provocative visual cues, especially for those who know Frida’s tragic story. At the age of 18 she was in a disastrous bus accident that left her with lifelong disabilities and the inability to carry a child to full term. Kunc’s intertwining of these symbols and the expressive, raw effect of the gouged wood may lead the viewer to see the whole skeletal ensemble as symbolic of Frida herself.

Take one glance at Laura Russell’s straightforward photographs and the questions start to flow: What happened here? Who are these people? Why are these homes being demolished? Bless This House tells the story of three adjoining mobile home parks that were bulldozed to make way for a strip mall, and the 250 families whose lives were uprooted in the process.

The front side of the accordion book shows pictures of the park and the families who lived there before their homes became victims of re-development. Depicted on the cover is set of front steps, severed from the home it once led to. A pile of rubble and a light standard with a broken globe sit nearby in a patch of overgrown grass. The trailer is gone. The back of the book unfolds to tell the progression of the demolition. From left to right, we “read” the tale of this desolation: in one, a damaged velour-covered recliner sits abandoned next to disembodied dishwasher racks, still holding a variety of plastic ware and dishes; in another, the road, now devoid of residents, is populated with large yellow dumpsters. Russell’s documentary images are uninflected, with no emotional interjection from the photographer. The visual facts make their powerful case without resorting to embellishment. The cumulative effect of seeing the demolition as it evolved is inherently heartbreaking.

At this point another, perhaps discomfiting, question comes to mind: what assumptions do we make about the people who live in trailer parks? Are they people who intentionally choose to live on the edges of society, or are their options limited by economic or social straits?

Russell has coupled her images with a poem she has written about the individuals whose lives have been razed along with their homes. Written in the form of a prayer, the poem becomes an elliptical narrative of displacement and despair. The melancholy and tender poem adds detail to the lives of the people and completes this emotionally gripping chronicle.

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