Craft. It's always tough to look at a handmade object and get a sense of the maker. Does the object come from a stay-at-home hipster mom in Williamsburg, or was it created by a sweatshop slave who was forced to amputate her hands and replace them with prosthetic glue guns. When I started checking out Margarita Cabrera's work online, I kept running into the same words over and over (so they were culled from her press release by lazy writers). Chief among these was "labor-intensive". Cabrera creates oversized soft-sculptured objects out of vinyl. Of course we've seen this before--Cabrera admits her debt to Claes Oldenberg, but she has staked out a territory where the objects make sense as a part of her worldview.
Cabrera was born in Mexico, but attended school in the United States. She currently lives in El Paso, Texas, and her work is intimately tangled with border politics. Her most recent show, at Sarah Meltzer Gallery in New York, featured a landscape dotted with cacti made out of khaki uniforms from border guards, a beatdown vinyl Volkswagen, and a life-sized soft-sculpture Humvee that sports a real Humvee grille. Ancillary objects included a pyramid created from smaller humvee sculptures, and most intriguingly, a set of backpacks made of vinyl. These packs contained other sculptural vinyl objects that made them appropriate for each member of a border-crossing family. Objects like garlic (to ward off rattlesnakes) and pocketknives were displayed with the appropriate bags.
All of Cabrera's objects are painstakingly (second-most common word besides labor-intensive) crafted in a way that amplifies their handmade qualities. Stitches and seams have threads hanging from them, revealing their ingenious construction and individual attention. The Humvee in particular, exhibits a grandiosity of scale which only makes the flaccidity of the vinyl starker. Cabrera obviously feels an affinity for workers South-of-the Border, and her objects serve to remind us that every act of making is in some way, political. If you're in the Dallas area, she has a two-person show at the University of Texas at Arlington Gallery.