Home on the Range

Courtesy of Johanna Wawro/The Co-Prosperity Sphere

Friday night’s opening of “Riders,” Co-Prosperity Sphere’s latest installation, felt a little bit like a family reunion for the family you probably never had. The reception featured live Latin music, tortillas, PBR, and a horse–yes, a horse. Hidalgo (the horse) didn’t seem to know the difference between an Indiana pasture and a makeshift paddock in the middle of a Bridgeport art gallery, placidly munching on hay as city slickers pushed eagerly against the fence to get a look.

“I like to create an environment,” said photographer Johanna Wawro. “My idea of a fun show is appealing to the five senses, you know, with the taste of the food, the smell of the horse and obviously, the art.” She is only a part of the artistic input behind “Riders,” which includes work by video artist Andy Resek, a performance by installation artist Juan Angel Chavez, and airbrush art by Angel Cruz.

The exhibition focuses on how the beauty of Mexican ranch life can be simultaneously maintained and reinvented in new spaces–from Mexico to Indiana to the white walls of this Chicago art gallery. Wawro and Resek spent a year withmembers of a Mexican-American family, the Gonzalezes, at their home in Bridgeport and on their ranch in Rensselaer, a small community in northwest Indiana – the Gonzalezes became their muses.

Courtesy of Johanna Wawro/The Co-Prosperity Sphere

The concept of “Riders” was born during a walk around Bridgeport. Wawro and Resek happened to wander into an auto body shop on 32nd and Wallace and strike up a conversation with the owners. “The guys told me anytime you want to come to the ranch in Indiana, feel free to give us a call,” Wawro recounts. Wawro decided to take him up on the offer. And so began a yearlong relationship between Wawro, Resek and the Gonzalez family.

The show conjures up a feeling of intimate, domestic space like a Mexican abuelita’s living room. The artists transplanted items from the Gonzalezes’ actual home, including mounted fish, houseplants, sombreros, and even a futon covered by a woven blanket. Wawro’s photographs of the Gonzalez family and their ranch are thumbtacked in neat rows amongst the objects.

An odd mezcla of cultures is present in Wawro’s photographs. In a picture titled “Carlos,” the sitter’s garb is a hybrid of charro and Chicago. In one photo he wears a camo jacket, a black sweatshirt emblazoned with “Chicago,” and a cowboy hat. Wawro’s portraits create an odd familiarity between viewer and subject–indeed, members of the Gonzalez  clan (including Carlos himself) were congregated at the back of the gallery during the opening, wearing crisp button-downs and boots.

Real-life Carlos, equipped with a horseshoe mustache that would make Hulk Hogan envious, proudly gestured toward a picture of his mechanic shop and pointed to a few images of suped-up cars. Needless to say, the importance of these automotive feats was diminished by an adjacent poster of a topless, round-eyed blonde. Carlos’s mustache twitched with a smirk–“that’s my girlfriend.” After a fifteen-minute discussion concerning custom-paint jobs, Carlos took a swig of his PBR and went to join another conversation near Hidalgo.

On the northern wall of the gallery, Resek’s video installation is segmented into three screens depicting the everyday activities of the Gonzales family in both Bridgeport and Rensselaer. Resek is able to use the very un-Mexican scene–snowy winter skies and a rural Midwestern agriscape–to highlight the vibrancy of the Gonzalez heritage. In an artist statement Resek explains, “My desire is to explore the complex emotional lives of individuals, delving into the drama that is present in everyday life but isn’t necessarily visible on the surface.”

“At first we thought about calling it “Urban Cowboy Show.” I thought that sounded like a gay porno,” Wawro explained. “Then we decided on “Riders” in reference to the first time I visited the Gonzalezes. It’s very Carlos-y,” Wawro added. Whatever “Carlos-y” means. As she spoke, Carlos was busy looking at Hidalgo in the corral.

“I gotta find my little sister,” Wawro said, looking around the gallery. “I think those boys are getting too flirty with her.” She temporarily abandoned her role as artist and disappeared into the crowd as a dutiful sister. After all, family does come first.

Co-Prosperity Sphere, 3219 S Morgan St. Through June 10. Hours by appointment only. (773)562-0739. coprosperity.org