Portable Borders

Portable Borders: Performance Art and Politics on the U.S. Frontera since 1984

Copyright Date: 2015
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  • Book Info
    Portable Borders
    Book Description:

    After World War II, the concept of borders became unsettled, especially after the rise of subaltern and multicultural studies in the 1980s. Art at the U.S.-Mexico border came to a turning point at the beginning of that decade with the election of U.S. President Ronald Reagan. Beginning with a political history of the border, with an emphasis on the Chicano movement and its art production, Ila Sheren explores the forces behind the shift in thinking about the border in the late twentieth century. Particularly in the world of visual art, borders have come to represent a space of performance rather than a geographical boundary, a cultural terrain meant to be negotiated rather than a physical line. From 1980 forward, Sheren argues, the border became portable through performance and conceptual work. This dematerialization of the physical border after the 1980s worked in two opposite directions—the movement of border thinking to the rest of the world, as well as the importation of ideas to the border itself. Beginning with site-specific conceptual artwork of the 1980s, particularly the performances of the Border Art Workshop/Taller de Arte Fronterizo, Sheren shows how these works reconfigured the border as an active site. Sheren moves on to examine artists such as Guillermo Gómez-Peña, Coco Fusco, and Marcos Ramirez "ERRE." Although Sheren places emphasis on the Chicano movement and its art production, this groundbreaking book suggests possibilities for the expansion of the concept of portability to contemporary art projects beyond the region.

    eISBN: 978-1-4773-0227-9
    Subjects: Art & Art History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xi)
    (pp. xii-22)

    I SHOW THIS ICONIC PHOTOGRAPH to students each semester. It is an image brimming with possibility; its formal qualities tell a story that is dramatic, absurd, and politically charged. The scene is a beach, but one wholly unlike a typical beach landscape. A single figure occupies the upper half of the photo. In the lower portion, a crowd is gathered and decorations adorn one side of a fence. This fence appears porous, even haphazard, with posts of different heights jutting out of the sand. Toward the left-hand side of the photograph, the fence protrudes into the water, but to what...

    (pp. 23-58)

    BORDER ART didn’t become a category until the Border Art Workshop/Taller de Arte Fronterizo (BAW/TAF). Starting in 1984, and continuing in several iterations through the early twenty-first century, the binational collective transformed San Diego–Tijuana into a highly charged site for conceptual performance art. The choice of the bilingual and somewhat unwieldy title for the group echoed the nature of the border region, which is often described in terms of linguistic and cultural hybridity.¹ The group consisted of a constantly changing roster of Chicano, Mexican, and Anglo-American artists who collectively defined border art through their practice. Performance became their medium...

    (pp. 59-89)

    AFTER LEAVING the Border Art Workshop/Taller de Arte Fronterizo in 1989, Gómez-Peña published the following words in a 1991 issue of the journalHigh Performance: “I have been seriously wounded in the multicultural wars of America and so have many of my beloved colleagues. The greatest casualty, though, has been the death of border art….”¹ The article, “Death on the Border: A Eulogy to Border Art,” was controversial at the time, especially considering its tone toward the remaining BAW/TAF members. Gómez-Peña lamented the transformation of border art into “a specialized exercise in grant writing and institutional self-promotion.”² He also criticized...

    (pp. 90-119)

    ONLY AFTER UNDERSTANDING the developments of the 1980s and early 1990s can we take a closer look at Javier Téllez’s 2005One Flew over the Void. Recall figure 0.1 from the introduction, which documents a performance grounded in its site, long after Gómez-Peña declared the border to be portable. The site is once again Imperial Beach, the location of the BAW/TAF’sEnd of the Linealmost twenty years earlier. If the border truly had become portable in anticipation of the globalizing events of the early 1990s, why then did Téllez choose to locate his performance directly on the border?


  8. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  9. Chapter 4 POST-BORDER?
    (pp. 120-134)

    AS THIS BOOK HAS ARGUED, border art has initiated a broader dialogue with art about other international borders. This is especially the case with works that address the subjects of migration, cultural mapping, diaspora, and transnationalism. This situation is not limited to the U.S.-Mexico border. Biennial culture has celebrated artists whose work considers these issues. Artists such as Palestinian-born Mona Hatoum extend the terms of border art to other regions around the globe. By taking into account the much earlier developments inaugurated by artists active in the U.S.-Mexico border region, we can understand Hatoum and her work within a larger...

    (pp. 135-136)

    BORDER ART—whether the U.S.-Mexico border, Puerto Rico, or beyond—opens up another means to categorize art and, ultimately, art historical inquiry. There is enormous potential in thinking of art in terms of change rather than as objects. Even when socially motivated artists generate an aesthetic product—such as Allora and Calzadilla’s photographs, the BAW/TAF’s performance videos and installations, or even Téllez’s cannonball—the object is only part of the whole. It is not that the physical product ceases to matter, but that it coexists with the post-autonomous. The challenge this book hopes to pose is to consider the intangible...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 137-160)
    (pp. 161-174)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 175-183)