PRINT May 2005

North American News


THIRTEEN YEARS AFTER ITS BALLYHOOED emergence in San Diego and Tijuana, “inSite” is approaching art-world adolescence and, like many confused, hormone-addled young adults, finds itself experiencing both a growth spurt and something of an identity crisis. The binational, collaborative-oriented art exhibition’s first appearance in 1992 occurred in an era of massive political transformations on a global scale: Walls everywhere seemed to be tumbling down. Accordingly, on the academic front, there was a theoretical fascination with “borders,” migration, and hybridities of all sorts and, in art-world discourse, a coterminous confidence in visual art’s ability to engage a public in order to reveal political inequalities and potentialities. This was a moment—one remembers it with a certain fond wistfulness—in which one often heard talk of a megalopolis (re)uniting Tijuana and San Diego, just as one heard the World Wide Web trumpeted as a place where racial, gender, and class “subject positions” could be unshackled.

But in our post-9/11 political epoch of retrenchments and reterritorializations, of Sunni Triangles and Guantanameros, the country of Mexico, largely betrayed by big Clinton/Salinas-era promises, has been at best politely ignored by the US government and at worst accused of tacit subversion. (This spring, the civilian-led “Minuteman Project” assembled more than one thousand armed, vigilant American citizens, including thirty pilots and their private planes, to patrol for an entire month along the US side of the Arizona-Mexico frontier and to report “illegal aliens” to the Border Patrol.) In this changed political climate, academic inquiry has departed from the border area and moved to other, more fashionable quarters (the “biopolitical,” for example), while the art market has giddily returned to the Euro-American zones where it feels most, well, armored.

“InSite_05,” the exhibition’s fifth incarnation, which opens in late August and runs through November, confronts these political and theoretical challenges as an opportunity to rethink the grounds on which its initial presumptions rested. Cuban-born curator Osvaldo Sánchez, formerly director of the Museo de Arte Carrillo Gil and the Museo Tamayo Arte Contemporáneo (both in Mexico City), who worked with a team of co-curators on “inSite_01” before taking the helm three years ago, recognizes that artists’ “interventions” tend to blend into the urban fabric and foster individual art careers or preach to the converted (and well-traveled) art-world insider rather than shake up complacent or intimidated local populations. Seeking to avoid another “mere collection of artistic representations about the border context,” Sánchez aims for “inSite_05”— which this year will encompass some seventy venues in San Diego, Tijuana, and surrounding suburban and agricultural areas (its largest manifestation)—to “stimulate novel experiences of the public domain” and to support “strategies” that “interweave situations of flux, mobility, and experiences of interconnectedness.” In this spirit, the show will also feature an online component and “Ellipsis,” a “live visual and sound image event,” alongside works involving people from various demographics, “from porters to psychiatric patients [and] from military spouses to model airplane enthusiasts.”

At the conceptual core of “inSite” are two- to three-month-long artist residencies that culminate in various location-specific projects. Among the twenty-three artists/groups participating is Dutchman Aernout Mik, whose video Flood, intersperses shots of a Tijuana area dominated by car dumps with concocted scenes featuring a local pharmacy swamped with mud after a rainstorm. The video, which Mik views as metaphorical of the circulation of commodities between Tijuana and San Diego, will be projected on a wall of a La Jolla, Califonia, shopping-mall parking lot. For his piece Fear/Miedo, Antonio Muntadas (from Spain) has conducted a series of interviews of citizens on both sides of the border, asking them to answer the questions “How would you describe fear?” and “How do these perceptions relate to the border?” Meanwhile, Tijuana media collective Bulbo—a coed group of media-savvy artists ranging in age from eighteen to thirty-four who make films and operate a low-frequency radio station—plan to stage a series of events for The Clothes Shop, an ongoing project about customs of dress and movement of textiles in the Tijuana/San Diego area, including a fashion show open to community participants.

The more “static,” museum-based dimension of the exhibition is being headed by talented Brazilian curator Adriano Pedrosa, who will present “Farsites” at the San Diego Museum of Art and Centro Cultural Tijuana. Pedrosa conceives the show as an extension of the frame of the two North American cities/border investigation, having assembled a team of five adjunct curators who in turn each focus on a North or South American metropolis: Buenos Aires, Caracas, Mexico City, New York City, and São Paulo. Not merely curating another documentary-based globalization exhibition, he is at pains to show how recent political and social crises are reflected “on the personal or micro level” in the work of artists such as Guillermo Kuitca, Juan Araujo, Rita McBride, Gabriel Orozco, and Leonilson. Indeed, this mode of curatorial outsourcing seems an apposite way to tackle the question of “Urban Crisis and Domestic Symptoms in Recent Contemporary Art” (the show’s subtitle), as well as to address shifting new political alliances in the Americas.

Nico Israel is a frequent contributor to Artforum.