Permanence Is an Illusion: A West Wall Project

We’ve all lived these moments in our lives — moments when we’ve heard hard news, earned a job, declared our love, or run for our lives.

Thinking about these powerful moments, Guillermo Galindo created a work for our office’s West Wall. Every 18 to 24 months, we recognize and support one of the talented artists who has received a Creative Work Fund grant by commissioning a West Wall project.

I chose Galindo thinking of the compelling Creative Work Fund-supported project he did with Richard Misrach and the San Jose Museum of Art to create the exhibits and book Border Cantos — work that explored the United States-Mexico border through photography and sound sculptures. And I remembered the images I had seen of pieces he created for documenta 14 — enormous artworks made from the wreckage of boats in which asylum seekers had tried to ferry themselves across the Mediterranean and away from war.

For this West Wall commission, however, Galindo wanted to create a work that was meaningful to him and that stepped away from an explicit focus on immigration, though he remained interested in key moments of change and in reflecting the stories of people whose lives have been disrupted. Those who have inspired Guillermo Galindo’s work have lived through hardships and emergencies.

As he was ruminating on this theme, California was consumed by fires, including major fires in Napa and Sonoma counties, both locales where agricultural production depends on migrant farmworkers. Galindo was drawn to their stories. What happens to these residents when natural disasters occur?

The resulting piece, Permanence Is an Illusion, is a tribute to such individuals as told by the melted and scorched objects they left behind. It is a sound piece that is quiet much of the time; that occasionally emits a long, searing hum; and that shakes, rattles, and bugles on occasion, reminding its audience that periods of apparent calm can be torn, twisted, and broken in a moment.

Each artist who has hung a project on the West Wall has reflected in direct or indirect ways on philanthropy. I interpret Galindo’s message in Permanence Is an Illusion as being concerned with the importance of humility (any of us could be a victim in a moment) and of paying close attention to those who own little and have everything to lose.

When foundations support disaster relief efforts, we must remind ourselves of the stories and needs of those who are overlooked in official headcounts and federal emergency programs. Through a small but influential funding program, the Walter & Elise Haas Fund has emphasized the importance of disaster preparedness — both for individuals and for community-based nonprofits so that they are equipped to assist their constituents in an emergency.

Galindo writes, “This piece is dedicated to the healing of those who lost their possessions and their loved ones in the recent California fires.” Despite this memorializing intent and the fire-scorched materials from which it is made, Permanence Is an Illusion is an optimistic work. After its eruptions, the piece makes a calm shushing, rattling sound, reminding us that new growth and new life can follow destruction.

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