"Where Rivers and Artists Meet," by Janet Kutner, Dallas Morning News, June 1996.

A mystique surrounds the Texas border, but daily life along the Rio Grande is less a series of dramatic events than a routine. Perhaps for this reason people who live there, and people who visit, let their imaginations run wild. That's what Dallas artists Kaleta Doolin and John Hernandez did in their collaborative tribute to the border titled La Junta de Rios: A Fantastic Journey, on view at 5501 Columbia Art Center.

Anchored by a life-size rowboat built by Ms. Doolin, the mixed-media installation takes visitors on an imaginary tour of the region where the Conches feeds into the Rio Grande. The boat is patterned after those used to ferry people between Redford, Texas, and the small Mexican villages of Valley Nuevo and Palomas. Its bright, woven-fabric exterior is reminiscent of Mexican basketry and quilts, its inside coated with a muddy substance resembling the thick river sediment used to make pottery.

But reality ends here. The boat is docked next to an "island" constructed by Mr. Hernandez; across its sandy shore are miniature scenes from past to present, assembled from an odd mix of plastic toys, Mexican folk ceramics, native weeds and plants. The island is surrounded by a huge board game with a serpentine path evoking that of the river. To "play," the viewer spins a clock with an image of Pancho Villa on its face, then moves an oversize pawn shaped like a kernel of corn.

Everything symbolizes some aspect of border life, but the fact that this is a fantasy is reinforced by the wildly divergent size of the components; some are monumental, others Lilliputian. Mr. Hernandez is known for outrageous wall reliefs with science fiction and comic overtones, and his images of a police chase and a satellite dish on top of a mountain occupied by the devil are a perfect foil for Ms. Doolin's allusions to domesticity and native crafts. Like the magical realism of writer Isabel Allende, La Junta de la Rios sweeps us along as much by innuendo as by description. Survival is a predominant theme new populations spring up on top of the corpse of a Spanish conquistador; a trail leads from him to the Jetsons via a covered wagon.

Further references to violence and to the belief that the devil has appeared in the region include game-board stops on pistols or the demon's image. Meanwhile, a filigreed iron , a "crazy quilt" by Ms. Doolin, still another sign of hearth, and home, serves as a backdrop for Mr. Hernandez's sinister little scenes.

Providing a more realistic view of the link between old world and new traditions is a mesmerizing video piece by Dallas folk culturist Alan Govenar, who juxtaposes grainy archival footage" from the Mexican Revolution with views of villagers today. Mr. Govenar describes the installation, which is more like an event than anexhibition, as a "docu-dream." If it seems a bit disjointed at times, this only reminds us that life itself is a series of isolated incidents.

Copyright © 2006 Kaleta Doolin