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At the gates: Steel and barbwire cut a swath between the US and Mexico. The art of Insite97 takes the border as its subject

Tuer, Dot (1998) At the gates: Steel and barbwire cut a swath between the US and Mexico. The art of Insite97 takes the border as its subject. Canadian Art, 15 (1). p. 72. ISSN 0825-3854


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As a site, it resonates with a layering of dislocations and exchanges, a reshaping of languages, ideologies and histories. Occasionally these coalesce into a potent symbol of historical forces and human drama. The Berlin Wall is one example. Another is the fourteen miles of steel and barbwire fence that separates San Diego and Southern California from Tijuana and Northern Mexico. Built on sediments of colonial history (when California was a Spanish possession and Franciscan missionaries sought the conquest of indigenous souls) and nineteenth-century American expansion (gold rushes, Mexican-American wars and Manifest Destiny), San Diego and Tijuana are cities whose stark contrast belies their irrevocably intertwined existence. While Tijuana evokes a cliche Hollywood image as a dusty border town, with shanties, saloons, and vendors hawking wide-brimmed sombreros and colourful ponchos in a steamy noonday sun, it is the fastest growing city in Mexico, with immigrants from every state in the country coming to work in the maquiladores (branch-plant factories) for a dollar an hour or to wait to cross the border. Its stately avenues, lined with art-deco facades, are thronged with people. The Centro Cultural Tijuana, with its vast exterior plaza and cavernous interior antechamber, is a marble showcase for the city's economic and cultural ascendancy. While Thomas Glassford probed the banality of San Diego's leisure industry, Betsabee Romero constructed a hybrid shrine to the cultural distinctiveness of Tijuana. To encounter Glassford's City of Greens, one only needed inquire about the attractions of San Diego at the tourist office. To reach Romero's Jute Car installation required a trek through Tijuana, in which paved roads led to dirt ones and to the ramshackle houses of Colonia Libertad, perched at the edge of the border fence. On a hillside cliff above the shacks, Romero placed an old car decorated with the intricate designs of Mexican folk art and stuffed with dried roses. Made in Mexico City and transported to Colonia Libertad, it reverberated with historical echoes that reached back in time to the appearance, on a hillside outside Mexico City, of the Virgin of Guadalupe in 1531. The first Virgin of the Americas of indigenous origin, Guadalupe became the patron saint of the poor and downtrodden, an icon carried into, the Independence Wars of the eighteen-hundreds by a rabble army led by the priest Hidalgo. In decorating a car in motifs that traditionally bordered Guadalupe's image, Romero imbued a fetish object of power and speed with a centuries-old patina of miracles and spirituality. While many of the Mexican artists drew upon strategies of pastiche and the appropriation of kitsch to politicize and vindicate the cultural differences between San Diego and Tijuana, other artists were less concerned with exposing the cultural mores of the border region than with reflecting the spatial and social disorientation engendered by the border experience. In contrast to the cultural specificity of Romero and Ruben Ortiz Torres's hybrid cars, Kim Adams constructed a nomad vehicle that crossed borders and cultures. Fusing two children's bicycles, so that the front wheels and handlebars were attached to a single middle wheel, Adams left these playful concoctions in various locations in San Diego and Tijuana for children to find and adopt. A tongue-in-cheek metaphor for the border, Adams's intervention pivoted on the process by which the children who stumbled across his bicycles resolved the dilemma of their mutated function. Like the border itself, his vehicles required an inordinate degree of cooperation or, alternatively, an act of severing the bicycles in two.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: Art, Exhibitions
Divisions: Faculty of Liberal Arts & Sciences
Date Deposited: 23 Aug 2016 15:43
Last Modified: 05 Feb 2017 15:48
URI: http://openresearch.ocadu.ca/id/eprint/1146

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