(Women’s Studio Workshop, 2021)
Andrés Hernández’s pocket-size, risograph printed book we used to move through the city like doves in the wind is difficult to categorize. Hernández, a non-binary artist living in Tijuana, Mexico, describes it as a short story about their experiences during the first few months of the pandemic. The delicate autobiographical drawings make this narrative akin to a graphic novel. The book is organized as a series of vignettes using personal journal entries, text messages, voice notes, and FaceTime conversations as the basis for reflections and intimate exchanges, giving it a zine-like quality. The book was a product of many hands: published (and hand bound) by the Women’s Studio Workshop in New York, it was printed at Oddities Prints in Kansas City, Missouri with digital pre-production performed by illustrator and designer Kelsey Borch.
A flourescent pink perfect-bound spine visible at the top and bottom of the book is the type of detail that is not usually found in a risograph printed book, while the layering of faint pink tints as the background for Hernández’s drawings allows the artist to simultaneously convey a sense of warmth and melancholy. The book’s 5.5 inch-square format complements the intimate nature of its captioned images, as holding the book in one hand and flipping its pages with the other feels like unfolding a note that has been passed in secret.
Hernández’s story begins on March 20, 2020, when the US/Mexico border crossings were closed due to the onset of the pandemic. Like many others belonging to communities that have straddled both sides of the border for generations, the artist’s life is impacted by an imbalance in power that separates borderland residents into distinct social classes based on citizenship: those who are granted mobility (American passport holders) and those who must navigate shifting policies based on the whims of American political and economic interests. This context is central to understanding the intense feelings of isolation and helplessness that they expressed in the book about their forced separation from their partner, Neville, who lives within driving distance in San Diego.
In the first section of the book, for example, drawings of Hernández lying down lost in thought, or of their hands writing in a journal placed on their lap, set the stage for pensive confessions as they refer to themselves and their partner as lovers “separated by the doings of those whose understanding of the world does not fit tenderness,” and later confides that “life now feels like holding your breath for too long.”
The title of the book is taken from a refrain that anchors each vignette, and alludes to the yearning that the lovers have for each other as they recount the comfort and fleeting sense of carefree everyday-ness of being together in their respective cities. In a scene that unfolds across two pages, the artist and their partner are drawn from the waist down, one standing, the other sitting as they text back and forth, their words isolated in speech bubbles that express a mutual and painful longing. The spine of the book divides the scene in two, a simple but effective way of reminding the reader of the physical barrier that keeps them apart.
Although the time frame of their separation is described as the early phase of the pandemic, we used to move through the city like doves in the wind foregrounds the border as both an ongoing lifeline and a curse, as crossing it in either direction can shorten or widen the psychological distance between those whose connections traverse the man-made boundary. Hernández’s reflective excerpts move through various stages of grief, from sadness and longing to coping and affirmation, while their direct messages form a love letter to Neville, who, midway through the book, narrates the experience of being Black in the US.
The artist includes several portraits of their lover, in profile, from the back, and directly staring at the reader, each alongside what appear to be excerpts from conversations they have had through various apps. Neville’s face is rendered from the detailed perspective of someone who has spent hours studying it. This section, which describes the utter exhaustion of bearing witness to and experiencing the relentless attack on one’s community, offers a different view of the story’s backdrop of systemic racism and the violent policies used to sustain it. Neville’s comment that “It feels like mourning a part of yourself that is lost almost every day,” could easily apply to their shared experience of forced separation. Hernández’s ability to zero in on the debilitating emotional burden of navigating these issues through poetic texts and affecting images not only offers a story about love, but also one of survival.