Bettina Landgrebe: Beaten With A Hammer at Big Bend Coffee Roasters

[uds-billboard name=”landgrebe”]Marfa, Texas, is a sleepy little art town. It’s a place where children play happily in the streets, people don’t lock their front doors, and neighbors take time to talk about the weather. You might say it’s one of the last vestiges of Norman Rockwell’s vision of America. 200 miles northwest of Marfa is an alternate reality, a place often referred to as the “murder capital of the world.” Juarez, Mexico is a place of constant, demonic violence. The past decade in Juarez has seen thousands upon thousands of people murdered, many victims of an out-of-control drug war. But among those numbers of citizens slain, a percentage of the victims have suffered an even stranger death. Since 1993, hundreds  – possibly thousands – of women have suffered perverse and brutal deaths in Ciudad Juarez. Often called “feminicidios”, Spanish for femicides, these women have suffered horrendous deaths – slayings that go beyond even the most tormented imagination. These feminicidios are the focus of artist Bettina Langrebe’s latest installation BEATEN WITH A HAMMER.

In the past, Langrebe’s work has varied form photography to installation, often with eerie undertones of violence, claustrophobia, and unnatural absence. A photograph entitled Ice Plant (2009) presents shadows through the frost-encrusted glass of an old ice factory- an image seemingly pulled from a Texas-themed horror film. Other works, such as Langrebe’s installation The Girl (2007) – a large vitrine lined with disturbing rose patterned wallpaper, a suspended black dress, and a pair of women’s shoes pinned to a plinth with crude kitchen knives, present an insinuated violence against women. Langrebe returns to this theme in her latest installation BEATEN WITH A HAMMER, except now suggested violence has given way to documented murder.

The installation consists of a mass of plaster-cast hearts suspended from the ceiling with meticulously tied red nylon string. Each heart, hovering like a corpse from a hook, is inscribed with the description of a victim’s demise, the date of the homicide, and the name of the victim when possible. The space is filled with the ambient sound of a woman describing the murder of each victim. On the ground, arranged in a perfect ring, are blank white hearts. Absent of text, their presence suggest the eminent arrival of another atrocity. The visual experience is less of walking into the white cube of a gallery, than it is of stepping into a sterile meat locker adorned with countless corpses.

The suspension of the pristine hearts invokes a haptic – gut – sensation. The reaction is reminiscent of viewing Eva Hesse’s Untitled or Not Yet from 1966, a sculpture of fishnet sacks that sag from crude nails with the weight of fleshy material. Hesse’s work provokes the sense of being a witness to torture; of literally watching parts of an anonymous body arbitrarily left to rot in bondage. The difference in Langrebe’s installation is there is no anonymity: we know the names, we know what has happened. The gut wrenching horror we witness is not of the victims’ bodies, but of the self-reflexive knowledge that our own cultural negligence and indifference have allowed these murders to continue.


Bettina Landgrebe is an artist and conservator currently based in Marfa, Texas. For more information on her work, please visit

Beaten With A Hammer is on view at 510 W. San Antonio St. (Big Bend Coffee Roasters) in Marfa, TX until January 2, 2012.
Images courtesy of the artist.

Mike Bianco, West Texas: regional editor
Mike Bianco is an artist and curator currently based in Marfa, Texas. Bianco earned his MA in Curatorial Practice from the California College of the Arts in 2007, and has been the director and founder of such projects as Queens Nail’s Projects and The Waypoint. Currently he is directing MUD, a ceramics gallery and studio located in Marfa.

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