In Saltillo I met with local artists and art students from The University of Coahuila, we visited the train tracks and I held a short workshop where I introduced my working processes. During this workshop I was shown areas of the train tracks that I would not have known about if I had relied on my own research alone. I collected clothes and made some images. It quickly became evident that introductions and meetings with people who have local knowledge of the tracks is vital in ensuring my project is a success and also maintaining my personal safety – at particular times in the day, cartel activity was high in the area of tracks we visited, therefore knowing the times to avoid being there was key.
Following this activity we returned to the University, where I held a professional practice talk to artists, students and members of the public.
In May of this year, after receiving the A-N Travel Bursary, I returned to Mexico to begin my major project as an addition my my Them series.
After a day of acclimatisation, I began the process of visiting the train tracks and collecting items of clothing. The cities/areas I collected clothing from on this visit were Guadalajara, Saltillo and Monterrey.
I must add that this collecting stage would only have been possible with the generosity of both information, transportation and time of certain key people.
In Guadalajara, Pablo Mateos a research anthropologist and also a friend was a huge help in explaining the topography of the area and thereby we were able to effectively locate items of clothing due to the trains being boarded in areas where it had to slow down as it negotiated the bends on the tracks. Pablo also had a great deal of knowledge regarding the transit migrant situation in Mexico, this kind of local and national knowledge was vital for both working efficiently in the extreme heat and in maintaining a sense of safety in these areas which are potentially dangerous. The danger is posed by drug cartel activity, not by the migrants who are attempting to travel through Mexico.
While collecting the clothes, we came across a previously unseen activity in the form of bundles left on the tracks by migrants. The various bundles we found contained items such as money, brightly coloured ribbons, corn, seeds and usually a dead animal (bird or fish). We were unsure of the reasons behind this activity. Pablo summarised that this activity may well indicate that some of the transit migrants come from Caribbean Islands such as Haiti, where religious practices such as Santeria exist. I have personally witnessed a similar activity in Cuba where animal sacrifice occurred in cemeteries. Whatever the origins, this activity became fascinating and relevant to my project as it indicated that the people who travel on these tracks and also that the tracks themselves are in a state of liminality; a place where both meaning and interpretation is unspecified.