On October 13th cognate collective hosted our first of four Borderblaster: Live Recording Events at Cognate Space/Espacio Cognado located inside of the Mercado de Artesanias de la Linea at the San Ysidro Port of Entry in Tijuana BC. Each Live Recording Event is free and designed to engage with the public, so we decided to begin these events with a discussion on the very topic of public and civic engagement in the city of Tijuana. Rene Castillo and Elizabeth Chaney gave a brief introduction to their practice and chatted with Misael Diaz and I about the challenges and tactics for working with communities on social practice projects. We also spoke to Tijuana-based historian Marco Kouh, who researches the history of the Jewish community in Tijuana, and indigenous peoples and languages in Mexico--particularly, how young indigenous people have begun relearning languages that were nearly lost after centuries of marginalization. Our conversation, which begins the transmission, focused on the challenges of constructing models that respect and maintain cultural difference in collective formations.
Borderblaster: Transmission 3 "Civic Dialogue"
We were interested in discussing this topic because our projects have sought to create dialogue between the different groups that inhabit the space of the crossing, to not only create or reach consensus on any of the number of challenges that the space confronts, but to begin to create a space for reflection and criticality. We have come to view our projects as a series of experiments in public space, that seek to foster a greater level of connectivity or awareness to the site of the crossing itself as a public space that is not just bureaucratic boundary where the limits of two nations are defined, but as a site that has produced and continues to challenge the very logic of those boundaries. Our work tries to achieve this by mapping and examining the different sorts of exchanges that occur across the porous membrane that nation states would have us believe are air-tight, intellect-tight, culture-tight lines--creating works that attempt to move between Mexican and American popular and folk culture, between high art and kitsch traditions. Our conversation with Elizabeth Chaney and Rene Castillo explored these different areas of cultural engagement in Tijuana, and how each of us is using social, or public practice to create dialogue and explore even perhaps expand community.
Elizabeth Chaney's artistic practice brings together issues of food justice, public green space in the city of Tijuana, and transnational exchange in a series of dinners, where dinner guests are invited to discuss these and other topics. After these dinners Chaney, and attendees collaborate on a zine, to continue exploring aspects of the topics discussed. In our conversation Chaney discussed how this dinner format allows for a space to contemplate and unravel subjects that are quite intimidating in the more familiar and comfortable setting of a dinner. For Chaney, these dinners offer a slightly more democratic space for conversation as well. Unlike the talks many of us are accustomed to in the academic context, where many people crowd into a room to listen to one person speak about their work, with a question and answer session concluding the event, Chaney's gatherings which she hosts in her apartment, located just feet from US/Mexico border, include usually no more than 8 people and seem to foster a sort of intimacy between the people attending, the food they are consuming and issues related to food, their bodies, and their communities.
Rene Castillo's work seeks to create a similar kind of closeness and familiarity with the written word. Rene Castillo is owner and coordinator of "El Grafógrafo: Libros y Café" in Tijuana's Pasaje Rodriguez. Over the past two years the space has offered visitors a place to sit and read books, all of which are used and priced affordably often costing as little as a peso or two--between 10-20 cents. The funds raised through the sale of used books, many of which are purchased by students from nearby high schools and colleges who would not have access to them any other way, are dedicated to putting on the Feria del Libro Usado (FELIUS). Castillo has also coordinated public interventions where books are sold out of a cart that he and local writers and literary enthusiasts pull down the iconic Avenida Revolucion. His aim has been to make "El Grafógrafo" function as a space where all citizens feel welcome regardless of socioeconomic status, to create a sustainable community of readers.
Among the topics we considered during our conversation with Elizabeth Chaney and René Castillo were how each of us attempt to make projects intellectually and economically accessible to community members and how we locate and negotiate the transformative potential of our work. And, returning to our conversation with Marco Kouh, we also consider whether civic engagement is about reaching consensus or highlighting difference in the case of Tijuana.
For us, the conversation was truly illuminating, and we are happy that we could share it at the crossing and at the University Art Gallery as well as here on Artbound. Next week's Transmission 4: Poetic Derive, will be based on a live recording event that took place Saturday October 20, in collaboration with Collectivo Intrasigente, and will include readings by Jhonnathan Curiel, Karen Marquez, and Manuel Paul Lopez.
Join cognate collective at Cognate Space/Espacio Cognado, Saturday, October 27th, and Saturday, November 3rd for the final two Borderblaster recording events! For more information visit: Join cog"¢nate collective at Cognate Space/Espacio Cognado, Saturday, October 27th, and Saturday, November 3rd for the final two Borderblaster recording events! For more information visit: http://borderblaster.tumblr.com
Borderblaster is cognate collective's contribution to Living as Form (the Nomadic Version).
Listen to and read about all the Borderblaster transmissions from Tijuana: