Superunknown (Alive in The), 2010, Xaviera Simmons

xaviera_simmons_super_unknown_oriol_tarridasSuperunknown (Alive in The) installation, a large-scale montage, consisting of forty-two found photographs of migrants traveling by boat in the open sea. Drawn from newspapers, travel magazines, and the websites of organizations like Human Rights Watch, the photographs depict peoplewho have left their lives behind for a journey into the unknown. Like Simmons’s other photographic work, this one engages tactics of appropriation, and like her wall sculpture, Wilderness, it is produced through a process of accumulation. More significantly, however, the condition of being mobile, uprooted, in transit, is—through the repetition and reframing of this subject—posited as a more universal condition than we might otherwise like to imagine. If Simmons’s work often focuses on nationalism and the American landscape, it is worth recalling that many of this nation’s early settlers arrived as “boat people.” The condition of being uprooted, indefinitely situated between departure and arrival, is nonetheless disturbing to nationalist ideals, as it blurs the boundaries that define nation states. It also perforates the lines between “us” and “them.” Ultimately, this seems to be a central aim of Simmons’s work. Her characters invoke a state of being between past and future identities, of being outside the established order—which is to say, a state of possibility.