The San Ysidro Port of Entry is one of the busiest land crossings in the world with an average of 75,000 pedestrians and vehicles crossing it each day. Long lines of bodies and cars snake down from the point of crossing into Mexico, making it common practice to wait between one and three hours to cross the border. During these long periods of waiting most of the engagement between individuals is limited to economic transactions, buying a soda, fruit cup or a scoop of ice cream from a food vendor, or perhaps purchasing a small souvenir along the way. In 2010, Amy Sanchez and I formed cog•nate collective a binational arts collective whose goal became to alter the passive engagement with the experience of crossing, to take advantage of the opportunity inhabiting the space provides to engage in dialogue with others, and to imagine new forms of social, civic and cultural engagement in transit.
Our most recent project Borderblaster (SD/TJ) is in some ways a culmination of the last two year of research about the site, and collaborations with the various groups and communities at the crossing: the pedestrians waiting in line to cross, street performers entertaining them, informal vendors (a majority of which are indigenous women), formal ambulant vendors selling to those waiting in their cars, the individuals inside of the approximately 50,000 cars that pass through the crossing, and the formal vendors who are a part of the Mercado de Artesanías de La Línea, a souvenir and curios market that sits between north-bound traffic at the crossing.
Borderblaster is conceived as a way to connect these various communities and continue exploring the possibility of new forms of public dialogue and exchange at the crossing. The project consists of a hyper-localized short-range radio transmission from the Mercado de Artesanías de La Línea that can be heard inside of the market and by cars waiting in line alongside the market, which is flanked by northbound traffic. To reach the pedestrian line, we have designed a mobile-listening station, a wagon filled with wooden crates enclosing speakers and radios that will play the transmissions for people in line crossing on foot.
The project takes its title from the name given to radio stations that transmit their signals at very high power from Mexico to the United States--like San Diego radio stations that broadcast from Tijuana. Unlike traditional border blasters, our project localizes the transmission to the crossing to reflect on the particular site and the experience of juncture/disjuncture that characterizes the crossing and the border as a whole.
The programming will consist of interviews, readings, performances and conversations with local artists, artisans, activists, vendors and individuals waiting in line. Beginning October 13, we will be hosting a series of "Live Recording Events" on Saturdays at the Mercado de Artesanías de La Línea, that will include philosophical conversations, poetry readings, performances by street performers, Son Jarocho, and an invitational to create a "mixtape" for the crossing.
Borderblaster is cog"¢nate collective's contribution to the exhibition Living as Form (the Nomadic Version) at the University Art Gallery (UAG), on the UCSD campus. This exhibition is the mobile iteration of New York arts non-profit Creative Time's Living as Form, which took place in New York in 2011. Curated by Nato Thompson, the exhibition highlighted 20 years of socially engaged art from around the globe and brought 100 artists and 25 curatorial advisors together to create an impressive archive documenting some of the most thoughtful, creative and innovative projects dealing with community engagement around social and political issues. One of the most important components of the exhibition was the commissioning of 9 artists to create site-specific projects in conjunction with the show. In this way, the exhibition served not solely as an important arena to preserve and showcase the legacy of past and ongoing projects, but also generated new projects for on the ground engagement with the community.
With this goal in mind, Living As Form became a nomadic archive containing documents from the 2011 exhibition that would travel on a hard-drive to institutions and spaces around the world. Curators at those institutions select works from the archive to show in a gallery exhibition, and also commission local artists and groups working in surrounding communities and regions to develop site-specific projects. Those projects are then added to the hard-drive and continue to snow ball into an ever-growing and ever-generating archive of socially engaged art. Living as Form (the nomadic version) has now traveled to Hong Kong, Israel, Youngstown, Ohio, San Francisco, California, and will soon be in Moscow, Greenville Indiana, and the Western Sahara. The Current Show at the UAG will feature works by Suzanne Lacy, Vik Muniz, Rick Lowe and Wikileaks, with five community commissions featuring new works by the Periscope Project, Agitprop, Torolab, There Goes the Neighborhood and cog"¢nate collective.
In the gallery Borderblaster (SD/TJ) will manifest as a mobile-listening station placed in the UAG that will play the broadcasts aired at the crossing simultaneously, creating an audible connection between site and gallery.
Broadcasts will be aired at 3pm on Fridays from October 5 to November 9. The first transmission titled "About crossing", will feature stories based on migrant testimonies, read by individuals waiting in line at the crossing. "About crossing" juxtaposes the arduous journey of migrants who crossed through the desert illegally with the less treacherous but at times daunting experience of crossing through the San Ysidro Port of Entry.
Listen to and read about all the Borderblaster transmissions from Tijuana