Siggraph 1996: Bone-Grass Boy

Art Show Overview:

Welcome to The Bridge

We’re here.
We’ve reached The Bridge.
Now let’s cross.

A bridge is a construction spanning a gap between two points. It is usually built high enough above the ground to allow unobstructed passage beneath. There are various kinds of bridges: girder, arch, suspension, and cantilever bridges to name a few. There are movable bridges: the drawbridge, the swing bridge, and the bascule bridge. Bridge is also the name of a card game played by two sets of partners.  To burn one’s bridges means to end any possible means of retreat. Die Brücke, the German equivalent of The Bridge, refers to a group of German expressionist painters of the early 20th century. There are dental bridges, the bridge of the nose, and bridge passages in literature. There are also literal, social, and, of course, metaphorical bridges. Some fear crossing bridges, others find it exhilarating.

Bridges have come to serve as metaphors for meeting challenges,  moving forward, overcoming obstacles, or adjusting to change. Each person approaches a bridge with a different mindset. Some are indifferent, some approach with hesitation and fear of the unknown, others are attracted to the mystery and meet the challenge head on. Still others prefer not to think about the how or why until the time comes when they must: “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.” So the saying goes.

The Bridge is here, now, at SIGGRAPH 96. We have constructed a bridge between the Contemporary Arts Center and the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans. A T3 line spans the gap of five city blocks between the two sites, allowing free access via the Internet to either side. The T3-line bridge connects one site of the show to its mirror site; it also connects the contributing artists to each other, the Internet, the World Wide Web, and the show’s visitors.

The Bridge, however, is not just electronic. It is also a metaphorical bridge that connects current issues, bringing together art and technology, bridging gaps between international and regional audiences, spanning issues of gender, race, religion, culture, high art, and the general public.

There is no longer a question about the validity of art made with computer technology. We have crossed that bridge. The purpose of this bridge is to raise awareness and to facilitate an understanding of current issues through the use of art and technology. The show may raise more questions than it answers, but it is designed to draw in a wide range of audiences and to initiate discussion. We hope you find it enticing, provocative, and intellectually stimulating.

Go ahead, do it …

steady now, go forward …

cross …

The Bridge.

Jean Ippolito
The Bridge Chair


Artist Statement:


Much of my childhood was spent with my grandparents in the New Mexico and southern Colorado region, so much of my work has been about the struggles and difficulties encountered by Latino and Native peoples. Generally speaking, I create mixed-media installations mimicking the ethnographic museums. Unlike a traditional museum of natural history, my installations attempt to offer positive and complex representations of my culture and beliefs.

Bone-Gross Boy: The Secret Banks of the Conejos River is a literary trope of the frontier novel of the late 19th century. These novels often depicted Native and Latino inhabitants as ridiculous personages encountered on an otherwise naturalized conquest of the West. Bone-Grass Boy is their nemesis.

Begun as a series of stories told to me by my grandfather, Bone-­Grass Boy has evolved from family genealogy, regional his­tories, and some historical material related to the Native American berdache tradition. The berdache (or transgen­dered spirit) dates back to pre­conquest America (North and South) and remains a prob­lematized position within the Latino/Chicano culture.

The Bone-Grass story is set dur­ing the Mexican/American war (1846-48), a period that saw bitter struggles between cul­tures. American industrialism caused the economic collapse of the pre-industrial Southwest. Berdachism, greatly diminished under Spanish Christianity, fared even poorer under U. S. assimilationism. As a project, Bone-Grass Boy parallels the effects of industrialism with the effects of digital technology today, raising questions about cultural preservation and rein­vention, while strategizing a position within technologies of the future.

My work frequently makes use of elaborate tableaux com­prised of painted backdrops, props, and realistic cast figures, and are presented along with digital photographs depicting the characters. The digital pho­tographs, printed as c-prints, also incorporate painted back­drops, props, and historical images.

As for the characters, there is Ramoncita, the Native/Latina berdache (based on a true story) who is forced to kill the rancher to whom she has been sold, and Nepomacento, the New Mexican soldier who fights for Mexico, only to have to sneak back to his homeland, now America.

I play all of the characters in each image, disguised, digitally modified, cast, carved, or paint­ed. The strategy draws in part on Donna Haraway’s essay, “A Cyborg Manifesto,” in which she heralds the coming of a hybrid of organism and machine. For Haraway, the cyborg represents a kind of idealized postgender positionality, but Bone-Grass Boy, with its inherent racial and cultural hybridization, adds a level of complexity to Haraway’s model. This, combined with the trappings of an ethnographic museum, allows us to consider Homi K. Bhabhas’ three-part strategy for the empowerment of the colonial subject, which demands a recoding of aborigi­nal or native cultures and begins to suggest something beyond Haraway’s utopic cyborg vision.

It should be noted that while the work references a specific history, my goal is not simply to find these forgotten histo­ries and present them. It is to make their absence the subject, so that we can begin to look at some of the real issues in the debates surrounding the notion of cultural and racial representation. Like any good storyteller, Bone-Grass Boy raises difficult questions, and if we consider Judith Butler’s notion of a “pure dialectic,” then the tale begins to suggest the recuperative potential of technology, not simply by dis­rupting the status quo (the dark side of Modernism) but by strategically challenging how (and by whom) technology will be used in the future.


source: Siggraph