Tag Archives: mexico

Teddy Cruz at the CCA

Down at the Canadian Centre for Architecture last night, I  attended a lecture by Architect Teddy Cruz, who works between San Diego (USA) and Tijuana (Mexico). He showed these powerful slides of the long long fence that runs between California and Mexico, "holding back the tide" of human movement to the richer northern state. The fence, constructed from the recycled steel landing mats that were used in the first "Gulf War" a decade ago, stretches right into the ocean. I find these images, fencing off the beach itself, to be quite violent, and certainly the graphic nature of the fence itself has been an inspiration and focus for many of the art projects initiated by the Border Art Workshop and others.

Cruz made some fascinating observations about the economies of exchange going on between the two border cities. For instance, humans are "traded" north, whereas discarded construction materials (like old tyres, wooden shipping pallets, and even entire demountable houses, are "traded" south). You can see quite clearly from aerial photos of the border territory, that the settlement of Tijuana is crowding to the border, pushing right up against the limit of the wall…whereas the settlements of San Diego seem to be retreating from the wall. One of the things Cruz seems to be constantly tackling is the issue of zoning. In an interview, he says:

"So many metaphors about this wall.  This city [Tijuana] crashes against this wall.  Its almost like the wall becomes a dam that keeps the intensity of this chaos, supposedly, this density from contaminating the picturesque suburban order of San Diego.  I call it a zero-setback at the border, because it’s a whole country leaning against the other in a zero-setback condition, again speaking of urbanism.  A zero-setback condition that is very much out of the idea of space in the United States."

[I understand the term "setback" to refer to the minimum legal distance between a property's boundary and the building on it. Setback is obviously something of more concern in the "sterile" suburbs of San Diego than in the more ad-hoc construction of Tijuana.]

When working in the United States, often with non-profit housing organisations to provide shelter for immigrants, Cruz often seeks to incorporate the seemingly chaotic land-use patterns from south of the border. For instance, recognising that small "unofficial" economies (like micro veggie markets) are a part of the lifestyle of the residents, he finds ways to make the housing spaces adapt to "mixed use" – such as having fences between properties fold down horizontally to become ad-hoc market-stall benches, or going beyond the density laws by building illegal small apartments which share kitchen and bathrooms (and hence doubling the population density). All these things are an attempt to adapt the land to the way of life of the residents, instead of the other way around.

Surprisingly, Cruz has found that the local councils are responding positively to his agitation – apparently they get hardly any input from architects about the need to change zoning regulations. And this is one of the most sobering points of his lecture – that architects need to push to be able to design not only the boxes that fit into the existing "invisible borders" within a city itself (property boundaries, zoning restrictions) but to also shape and move the borders themselves.

[postscript August 2006: more on teddy cruz here (thanks to Ian Milliss for the link) :

http://resilience.geog.mcgill.ca/blog/index.php/2006/03/15/teddy-cruz-what-adaptive-architecture-can-learn-from-shantytowns/  ]

Arte Reembolso/Art Rebate

Have just been reading about the “Art-Rebate” project that happened in San Diego in 1993.

(John C. Welchman, Bait or Tackle? An Assisted Commentary on Art Rebate/Arte Reembolso, Art and Text 48, May 1994, p31…)

Three artists got a grant of US$5000 to complete a public art piece as part of an exhibition called “La Frontera/The Border” at the Centro Cultural de la Raza and the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego. The artists divided $4500 of the money into ten dollar bills, and handed them out, one at a time, to “undocumented immigrant workers” in the San Diego area. The premise was clear – to provide a “rebate” (more symbolic than financially useful) to some of the many thousands of “illegal” workers in southern California, who “pay considerably more taxes than they consume in public services and welfare. The fact of their labor poses no or little threat the the job security of other local workers. The immigrants take jobs and accept standards that are below the expectation threshold of citizen-workers. They are unjustly scapegoated for the economic fallibility of the state”.

It`s an interesting action, partly because it is deliberately antagonistic – certainly the artists knew that Art Rebate was going to irritate the national funding body which provided the grant, via the Museum. The barrage of negative (and positive) media stimulated by the project`s press releases were very much to be considered an integral part of the project itself. In fact, this symbolic value in Art Rebate somewhat outweighs its potential practical benefits…although one columnist pointed out, some recipients immediately rushed off to buy lunch with their rebate, it has to be said, the $10 is not going to buy much more than that.

Welchman describes Art Rebate as “post-conceptual”…I suppose the reason for this is that it shares some things in common with the kinds of “conceptual” work made in the early 1970s, ie an interest in its own means of production (where does art come from, what are the channels and structures that create and distribute the art?), yet, the “post-” is appropriate, not only because of the two decade time lag, but also because Art Rebate has some characteristics which were very rarely found in the original (capital C) Conceptual Art… namely, a specific, local, interaction with real-world politics (completely separate from the politics of the art-world).

(Art Rebate/Arte Reembolso, July 1993, Louis Hock, Liz Sisco, David Avalos)

[postscript – more San Diego/Tijuana stuff (about architect Teddy Cruz) here.]

[postscript 2:

As Sisco noted in a discussion of the Art Rebate/Arte Reembolso project of 1995, ‘Art is about framing and re-framing things, and [David Avalos, Louis Hock, and I] think that the way that this issue [undocumented immigrant workers in Southern California] has been framed is a problem’ In other words, Sisco and her collaborators bring an aesthetic awareness of the function of framing (in which what is excluded is as important as what is included) to their examination of the ways in which the mass media and politicians in Southern California have worked to construct a particular image of undocumented immigrant workers.

…The above quote is from pp12-13 of an essay “Ongoing Negotiations: Afterimage and the Analysis of Activist Art”, by Kester, Grant H, in a book (edited by him) called Art, Activism and Oppositionality – Essays from Afterimage, 1998, Duke. The Sisco quote originally comes from a panel discussion “Production and Representation in Contemporary Art” at the Cranbrook Academy of Art (Nov 11, 1995).
Kester also refers readers to an article about these artists by Cylena Simonds, called “Public Audit: an Interview with Elizabeth Sisco, Louis Hock and David Avalos” in Afterimage 22, No 1 (Summer 1994) pp 8-11.