Edgardo Aragón, an artist from Oaxaca, Mexico who had never been north of Toronto or seen a bison before, was in Wood Buffalo National Park last weekend doing both for the first time as part of an art project to film bison in North America.
Aragón was greeted by Parks Canada staff and a blast of cold weather when he touched down in Fort Smith with his camera gear, assistant Alfredo Mora and translator José Teodoro last Friday.
“It was really interesting, cold, wild and dangerous,” the photographer shared about his first thoughts on the subarctic community.
Aragón, who speaks some English, but communicated mainly through the translator, explained that his decision to film bison is because of the parallels he sees between the ancient migratory patterns of the bovines and the history of the US-Mexico border.
“Aboriginal people from Mexico used to be able to move freely through all of their territories. Now because of borders and all the of the politics that come with those borders they can no longer do that, and in the case of Mexicans, often if they do they wind up dead,” he said.
Bison, similarly, would migrate freely across North America in the past, Aragón explained. “Now they are totally domesticated animals that are not allowed to stray from the parks where they are protected. If they do, they can be hunted,” he said.
Aragón has received international attention for his photography and videography that often reflect on the history of violence in his country. His work has been featured in exhibitions in Mexico City, Paris, New York and Los Angeles.
The artist said the inspiration behind this, his latest project, was recent news out of the United States that a US border guard shot and killed a Mexican child.
“There were no consequences. He’s considered a hero in his country,” Aragón said. “That is why we are making this. It’s about that border and the question is, how is it possible that an American can kill a Mexican child and get away with it?”
The video project will take Aragón and his crew all over North America to study bison and the history of the border. His goal is awareness, but as an art project, Aragón said it’s a work in progress and his message is still forming.
“I really don’t know yet and I don’t think about that,” he said. “All the possibilities of the project are different because from the beginning you are thinking different goals, but in the process, everything changes, always.”
Biologists and staff from Parks Canada volunteered to show Aragón and the crew around Wood Buffalo. Mike Keizer, spokesperson for Parks, was tasked with coordinating the efforts to find the elusive ungulate for the film crew.
“It’s an art piece, not a science piece, so that’s a bit unique for us because we tend to work with the scientists,” Keizer said. “It’s an interesting perspective.”
While Aragón’s hope on Friday was to gather some footage of the massive bovines in Wood Buffalo, he said they were prepared to simply shoot the landscape of the vast subarctic environment.
“In a way, the real subject of the video project does not exist,” he said. “It’s an invisible phantom.”
Aragón’s work in Wood Buffalo is funded by a residency grant as a finalist in the AIMIA | AGO photography prize. Other aspects of the film will be shot in New Orleans, Louisiana and El Paso, Texas. He hopes to have the video finished by this summer.
To learn more about Aragón’s art work, visit http://www.aimiaagophotographyprize.com/edgardo-aragon