• were-:Nenetech Forms
  • were-:Nenetech Forms
  • were-:Nenetech Forms
  • were-:Nenetech Forms

were-:Nenetech Forms

October 8, 2021 – March 13, 2022
Great Hall

were-:Nenetech Forms is a group exhibition centered around migration, transformation, and modes of survival in the Sonoran Desert by rafa esparza and Timo Fahler with Karla Ekatherine Canseco, Julio César Morales, Amina Cruz, Chico MacMurtrie, Ana Mendieta, and Ruben Ulises Rodriguez Montoya.

Developed by Los Angeles based artists rafa esparza and Timo Fahler over an extended residency period in Tucson, the exhibition is presented simultaneously at MOCA Tucson and the University of Arizona’s Joseph Gross Gallery. Both projects are centered around the process of creating and building with adobe bricks, a labor intensive practice shared by the artists with peers, students, and participants from Tucson. The bricks will be used to build architectural structures that transform institutional spaces into sites framed by earth and collective labor. At MOCA, a solar observation room, a sun-harness, and stained glass inlaid into rebar bring the adobe structures into relationship with cosmic cycles. These gestures simultaneously nod to the complex astronomical alignments in Indigenous architectures across the Southwest and Mexico, to the violent history of settler colonialism and religious conversion, and to the resourceful adaptivity of migrants and residents existing within the matrix of a highly militarized border.   

The exhibition, whose title is derived from were- a prefix that indicates shapeshifting and nenetech, a Nahuatl term that translates to “close together” and refers to twinning, creates a ground for other artists to show new and existing works that explore biomimicry (the process where organic strategies are used to solve human problems), adaptation, and survival in the Sonoran Desert borderlands. Julio César Morales creates new iterations of his neon sculpture La Linea, while Chico MacMurtrie constellates a painting, drawing, and maquette that chart the movements of his iconic Border Crossers robotic sculptures. Artists Karla Ekatherine Canseco, Amina Cruz, and Ruben Ulises Rodriguez Montoya all join in at different stages of the residency period to create new work for the exhibition, manifesting across the mediums of sculpture, photography, and installation. 

The artists will be in dialogue with students from the University of Arizona, who will collectively intervene in the architecture of the Joseph Gross Gallery by building adobe “support structures.” The Gallery will become a laboratory for discussion and experimentation, with students conceiving of their own artistic contributions to the installation there or supporting the parallel project at MOCA over the course of the fall. Additional contributing artists, writers, scholars, and scientists will be invited into the conversations that shape and enliven the dual exhibitions, weaving together a multivalent conversation about adaptation, bi-nationality, and survival in the Sonoran Desert.  


were-:Nenetech Forms is co-organized by artists rafa esparza, Timo Fahler, and Curator-at-Large Laura Copelin with support from Assistant Curator Alexis Wilkinson.

Generous support for the exhibition is provided by the University of Arizona School of Art and Arizona Arts, The Diane & Bruce Halle Foundation, VIA Art Fund and Wagner Foundation, and Arizona Humanities.

In-kind support provided by Barrio Brewing Company, The Downtown Clifton Hotel, Sonoran Glass School, and Consolidated Rebar Inc.


About the Artists: 

rafa esparza (b. 1981, Los Angeles; based in Los Angeles) is a multidisciplinary artist whose work reveals his interests in history, personal narratives, and kinship, his own relationship to colonization and the disrupted genealogies that it produces. Using live performance as his main form of inquiry, esparza employs site-specificity, materiality, memory, and what he calls (non)documentation as primary tools to investigate and expose ideologies, power structures, and binary forms of identity that establish narratives, history, and social environments. He has exhibited work at internationally recognized museums such as the Whitney, MASS MoCA, and the Hammer Museum. He was the Wanlass Resident at Occidental College and has lectured at UCSD, SAIC, CalArts, and Colombia in 2020 alone. 

Timo Fahler (b. 1978, Tulsa; based in Los Angeles) works with utilitarian mediums and found objects to construct highly visual and culturally significant works. Combining formal elements of sculpture with references to his mixed heritage, Fahler’s work explores ideas of use and reuse through casting and manipulating
found objects and combining them with relics and materials that relate to personal experiences. His restructuring of objects in a manner that indicates both function and meaning invokes a bricoleurian practice evident in his midwestern background, and representative of a multi-cultural aesthetic.

Karla Ekatherine Canseco (b. 1995, San Fernando Valley, California; based in Los Angeles) is an interdisciplinary artist. Her practice explores the nuances of identity through different mediums, particularly clay and performance. She interrogates different aspects of acquired Body Knowledge where repeated choreographies of labor and the inheritance of epigenetics become an access point to investigate the manipulation of a bodily container leaving behind its imprint. This exploration becomes a means to acknowledge how colonialism and capitalism permeate the body, where flesh consumes and holds these systems within. Within the landscape of clay, touch becomes an extension that grasps and holds her family’s ongoing systemic history of a labored body. Canseco graduated from Calarts with a BFA in 2019 and has shown at The Box Gallery, USC Roski Studios, The Reef, Last Projects, Human Resources, Navel, The Coaxial Arts Foundation, Clockshop, and Residency. 

Amina Cruz (based in Los Angeles) was born and raised in Los Angeles, CA and Tampa, FL. Cruz’s work stems from a deep interest in investigating the areas between transformation and identity, personal narratives and how we are shaped by the spaces we inhabit presently or in the past. Using photography as her main form of exploration, she employs surrendering to materials and collaboration as tools to investigate visual representations and forms of identity, which build cultures and narratives. She earned her BFA in Photography from Parsons School of Design. She is currently a 2023 MFA candidate at UCLA. 

Chico MacMurtrie (b. 1961, Deming, New Mexico; based in Brooklyn) has explored the intersection of robotic sculpture, new media installation, and performance since the late 1980s. MacMurtrie is the artistic director and founder of Amorphic Robot Works, dedicated to the study of movement as it is expressed in organic life. MacMurtrie has received numerous awards for his experimental new media artworks, including the Guggenheim Fellowship in Fine Arts in 2016, the Map Fund Grant in 2019, and the NYFA Grant in 2020. MacMurtrie artworks have been presented in major museums and cultural institutions around the world including the National Art Museum of China, Beijing; Hayward Gallery, London; Museo de la Reina Sofia, Madrid; Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie, Paris; Museo Universitario de Arte Contemporaneo, Mexico City; Pioneer Works, Brooklyn, NY; Shanghai Biennale; Muffatwerk, Munich; Ex-Dogana, Rome; and ZHI Art Museum, Chengdu. 

Ana Mendieta Cuban-born artist Ana Mendieta (1948 – 1985) created groundbreaking work in photography, film, video, drawing, sculpture, and site-specific installations. Amongst the major themes in her work are exile, displacement, and a return to the landscape, which remain profoundly relevant today. Her unique hybrid of form and documentation, works that she titled “siluetas,” are fugitive and potent traces of the artist’s inscription of her body in the landscape, often transformed by natural elements such as fire and water. Mendieta’s work has been the subject of six major museum retrospectives, the most recent of which, Ana Mendieta: Traces, was organized by the Hayward Gallery, England, in 2013, and travelled to the Museum der Moderne Salzburg, Austria, and the Galerie Rudolfinum, Czech Republic. Ana Mendieta: Earth Body, Sculpture and Performance 1972–1985 was organized by the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C., in 2005 and travelled to the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Des Moines Art Center, Iowa; and Miami Art Museum, Florida.

Ruben Ulises Rodriguez Montoya (b. 1989, Parral, Chihuahua, Mexico) is an artist making lil beings that are a fantastic becoming that center around anthologies and social issues concerning border culture, abjection, and mestizaje. Aided by magical realism, nahualismo, Sci-Fi, and the labor of his family. His work hybridizes and creates parallels between land, the human, and the animal as a way to investigate the process in which violence eradicates, erases, and erodes communities of color. He has exhibited at Residency Art Gallery, Commonwealth and Council, Virginia MOCA, Company Gallery, Anonymous Gallery, Murmurs, and Sargent’s Daughters. In September 2020, Montoya debuted his first solo show at Sargent’s Daughters, which was reviewed by The New York Times. Montoya graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University with an MFA in Sculpture + Extended Media in 2020.

Julio César Morales (b. 1966, Tijuana, Mexico; based in Tempe, Arizona) investigates issues of migration, underground economies, and labor on the personal and global scales. Morales’ practice explores diverse mediums specific to each project or body of work. He has painted watercolor illustrations that diagram human trafficking methods, employed the DJ turntable, produced video and time-based pieces, reenacted a famous meal–all to elucidate social interactions and political perspectives. Morales’ artwork has been shown at venues internationally including San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, CA; Museo Rufino Tamayo, Mexico City; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA; Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, CA; MUCA Roma, Mexico City; Prospect 3 Biennale, New Orleans, LA; Lyon Biennale, France, and Istanbul Biennale, Turkey.