Mary Mihelic at the structure she and David Gleeson built in response to Donald J. Trump’s call for a border wall. Credit Sandy Huffaker for The New York Times
Ever since Donald J. Trump announced his plans to build a wall at the border, pundits and voters have been debating how it would work. Now a pair of artists have offered an example: They have built a wall — or the start of one, anyway — near the edge of Jacumba Hot Springs, Calif., a border town about 70 miles southeast of San Diego.
“It took about 52 cinder blocks,” David Gleeson, one of the artists, said by phone on Wednesday afternoon, shortly after he and his partner, Mary Mihelic, erected their version of Mr. Trump’s wall. It stands 20 yards from the actual United States-Mexico border, which already has a fence. Covered on one side by a large campaign ad for Mr. Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, and studded with wilting fruit, flowers, cleaning items and hardware, their wall was meant to symbolize, Mr. Gleeson said, the economic effects that curtailing immigration and closing borders would have on agriculture, industry and domestic life.
The structure is abbreviated and remote; Ms. Mihelic hopes that other artists will add to it. “Art has to be present more in these disruptive and contentious moments,” Mr. Gleeson said.
Given Mr. Trump’s promise that he would get Mexico to the pay for the wall, Mr. Gleeson and Ms. Mihelic sent an itemized bill to Enrique Peña Nieto, the president of Mexico: $14,635.42 for their materials and labor. (They had some fun with the accounting, they said, in homage to Mr. Trump.) The receiving address for payment is Trump Tower.
Ms. Mihelic, 51, and Mr. Gleeson, 53, who work as the art collective t. Rutt, have long been inspired by Mr. Trump: Since last fall, they have crisscrossed the country in his former campaign bus, bought off Craigslist, attending Trump rallies. The slogan on the vehicle, “Make America Great Again,” has been replaced, surreally, with “Make Fruit Punch Great Again.” Yet most Trump supporters they encounter, Ms. Mihelic said, like the bus.
The wall project was done on the fly, but legally: They got permission to use vacant property owned by David Landman, a prominent real estate holder in Jacumba Hot Springs. The town, with a population of about 560, used to be called Jacumba. Then Mr. Landman and his wife, Helen, bought the dilapidated Hot Springs Spa & Resort there a few years ago and petitioned to change the name. The couple own about 1,200 acres there, including most of the commercial strip.
Asked why he agreed to have the anti-Trump wall built there, Mr. Landman, 69, laughed and said: “I don’t know, it just sounds like the right thing to do at the time. I’m kind of a spur-of-the-moment kind of a person, or I wouldn’t own a town, you know?”
Mr. Landman is also a nudist — he and his wife live in a nearby nudist colony, which they also own — and a registered Republican who supports an immigration overhaul.
But, he said: “I’m not a fan of Donald Trump. I think he’s rude and crass and a lot of the other things that people are saying.” Still, he added, “I probably will vote for him.”
The artists knew none of this when Helen Landman helped them scout locations. And Mr. Landman was unaware of their travails with the bus, which they’d parked elsewhere. Lately, it’s been taken as the real deal and vandalized, spray-painted and keyed. “We’ve been egged; we got ketchupped,” Mr. Gleeson said.
Now they camouflage the Trump signage nightly. They drive for a week or two at a time, then park the bus and return to what they described as their real lives.
Mr. Gleeson, who lives in Philadelphia, where he helps run a gallery, and Ms. Mihelic, a real estate broker in New York, estimate they have spent $30,000 of their own money on their Trump project.
“Never did we think we’d be doing this until November, never,” Ms. Mihelic said. But now they are committed: “As long as he’s in, we’re in,” she said.
She has taken to embroidering American flags with Trump quotes; one is currently on view at Smack Mellon gallery in Brooklyn. Another is on the wall in Jacumba Hot Springs.
Ms. Mihelic and Mr. Gleeson are now heading to Cleveland for the Republican National Convention. They have no plans to dismantle their wall, unless their host asks them to.
Not likely. “I’m very opportunistic,” Mr. Landman said. “If it’ll draw a few people in to spend a night at the hotel, I’ll leave it there forever.”