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Sanctus Sonorensis

The artist’s book Sanctus Sonorensis by Philip Zimmermann is straightforward in content yet complex in associational meanings. Through image and text it refers directly to the New Testament, the Sonoran Desert landscape, and illegal immigration, and also to religious pilgrimages and recent Arizona immigration laws. As a book it calls attention to its objectness with mass and weight—a thing with its own set of meanings. The figure/ground relationships are unambiguous in design yet complicated in translation. To fully engage Sanctus Sonorensis, one must re ad the words, the images, and the object, and let the mind travel through implied paths of meaning.

Zimmermann has been making artist’s books for thirty-five years, and publishing under the imprint Spaceheater Editions since 1979. A long-time faculty member at SUNY Purchase, he now teaches at the University of Arizona, Tucson. The book’s origins stem from a yearlong Border Art Residency in La Union, New Mexico, and a later residency at Light Work at Syracuse University. The residencies and eventual relocation to Arizona heightened his attention to the harsh physical and socio-political landscapes of the Mexico/US border.

The Sonoran Desert straddles the 370-mile Arizona/Mexico border and is the busiest gateway for illegal immigration to the United States. Although arid, the Sonoran has relatively mild winters and bi-seasonal rainfall, attracting tourists to its winter resorts. On the other hand, it can be deadly for the thousands of illegal immigrants who make the 50-mile wide desert crossing each year. Ground temperatures reach 130 degrees in the summer; people are forced to leave their belongings at the border to make the trek, do not carry enough water, are assaulted by bandits, and abandoned by smugglers whom they paid for safe crossing. The Arizona border is guarded by Border Patrol agents of the US Bureau of Customs and Border Protection Agency, and is further monitored by the citizen’s activist organization, the Minuteman Project. Hundreds of miles of steel border fence are meant to work in concert with surveillance technology to keep illegal immigrants from crossing the border. [Okay?] There are other teams of people in the Sonoran desert with Good Samaritan intentions. Church groups make frequent trips to provide food, water, or medical help. The Border Action Network leaves emergency cans of water marked by blue flags. Even the Border Patrol has installed rescue beacons: thirty-foot towers whose strobe lights and radio signals are activated by a panic button. Look up Sonora on Dictionary.com and you will find a page sponsored by ads for criminal law resources, tourist hotels, and security fence systems. The contradictions are unavoidable.

Philip Zimmermann, Sanctus Sonorensis. Tucson, AZ: Philip Zimmermann and Spaceheater Editions/Zimmermann Multiples, , 2009. 90 pp. 90 color ills. edition of 10,000. $50.00 (paper, board book) (9780984198016)
Volume 9, 1992