Camille Hoffman in Art in America

Camille Hoffman:  Las Américas (en el hogar) / Americas (in the hearth) , detail, 2019, at Wave Hill. Photo Stefan Hagen.

Camille Hoffman: Las Américas (en el hogar) / Americas (in the hearth), detail, 2019, at Wave Hill. Photo Stefan Hagen.

Landings and Landscapes: Contested Geographies at Wave Hill

by Lou Cornum

In the nineteenth century, Wave Hill, a twenty-eight–acre estate situated on the bank of the Hudson River in the North Bronx, was home to publishing scion William Henry Appleton, admirer of the famed natural scientists he often invited as guests. Wave Hill was gifted to New York City in 1965 and turned into a public garden, but an aura of affluence still surrounds its grounds, which you reach by taking a shuttle from the last stop on the 1 train past the mansions of Riverdale. Inside the gates there is a mix of well-manicured herb and flower gardens and greenhouses stocked with succulents; beyond that, you’ll find more overgrown woodland areas, winding paths, and grassy nooks for sitting (but not picnicking). This historic estate with a botanic garden is perhaps not a place one expects to view contemporary art addressing the geographies of American empire, but that is what is currently on view at Glyndor Gallery, Wave Hill’s venue for cultural programming. The exhibition Here We Land,” on view through July 14, takes up three rooms, each one with an installation offering a small portal to three distinct but interconnected colonial spaces that are violently affixed to the United States. In works commissioned for the show, Camille Hoffman, Sara Jimenez, and Maria Hupfield invoke in turn the US-Mexico border, the Philippines, and Indigenous territories of the Anishinaabe, while also incorporating in some way aspects of the land of Wave Hill itself. There are separate entrances to each room, and no directions given for how to move between them. Like the gardens, the gallery is not organized in a linear fashion, prompting visitors to wander through while making associative connections between histories and places.

Hoffman uses the root systems of the North American aspen tree as a metaphor for the separation of families at the southern border. It is perhaps a misnomer to use the singular in saying “tree,” as such individuality is not natural to the aspen. In Utah’s Fishlake Forest lives Pando, the world’s largest organism. It appears to be 47,000 individual aspen trees, but each one is a genetically identical clone sprouted from a single root system that extends for miles.

Hoffman’s Las Americas (en el hogar)/ Americas (in the hearth) is a set of photographic prints of aspen trees on vinyl. Vibrant like stock photos, the prints have been cut into silhouettes taken from images of families held in detention or crossing the US-Mexico border, as well as from snapshots of the artist’s own family. Hoffman brings the boundary-busting ways of the aspen into the carefully proportioned and ornamented interior of the Glyndor house: these families spill over the moldings, out of the window frames, and across the fireplace. In the defunct fireplace, the artist has stuffed both aspen logs and thick noodle-like bundles of root material, making the hearth the center from which these diffuse family collectives grow. Outside the windows of this house that nobody lives in, grow trees with yellow leaves that echo the ones in Hoffman’s piece. The installation finds the openings where the boundary between inside and outside breaks down, marking in its crossings the exclusions enforced by such borders.

Art in America - June 10, 2019