ART AT THE BORDER
Louis Hock, Marcos Ramirez ERRE, Fernando Arias
A site is not only its physical characteristics, but its subjective associations as well. Nowhere within the domain of InSITE are these associations more apparent and troubled than at the U.S. / Mexico border.
Thanks to the attitudes, aesthetics, and resources of the American government, a steel fence now occupies this line. While not quite the Berlin Wall, the tensions it reflects and provokes are not all that different.
With such heavy subjective loading, any artist working at a site on this line will have to deal with these realities.
To the north of this spot, on top of the seaside bluff where the fence gets its first good grip on land, lies Border Field State Park, with its lush green lawns, well kept restrooms, and ever present Border Patrolman.
To the south is Playas de Tijuana, with its bull ring and stucco structures glowing all white in the sun. No equivalent patrolman stands watch here.
Louis Hock’s work at this location consists of the seemingly simple and civic minded act of constructing a fountain. Its water comes from an aquifer 1200 feet below ground and spreading for several hundred feet on either side of the border. In order to serve people on both sides of the border with this water that comes from both sides of the border, he must split the fountain in two; thanks, of course, to the fence.
Sipping from the fountain, from whatever side, one’s eyes become aligned with a small hole the artist has cut into the fence. Through this hole, one sees the identical fountain on the other side.
With the fence and its meanings so close to one’s eyes and psyche, it’s very easy to imagine that anyone drinking from the fountain on the other side must be “the enemy.”
On the other hand, if one recognizes a friend there, it comes as a shock to recognize that it takes nearly an hour’s drive to get around the fence to visit this friend who is otherwise only a foot away. (You could try to swim the short distance out to sea to get around the fence, but you’d get arrested, at least if you were trying it from south to north.)
In this way, by provoking personal experiences and realizations, Hock’s fountain engages all of the troubles of the border situation without specifically referring to any of them.
Marcos Ramirez ERRE’s evocation of the Trojan Horse stands at one of the busiest international crossings in the world. That the work straddles the actual line of demarcation between the United States and Mexico is likely to go unnoticed because the physical and psychological barrier which must be passed is a couple of hundred feet to the north, in the form of the Customs and Immigration building. As a result, the work looks as though it’s fully on the Mexican side
Perhaps attempting to appear even-handed about border matters, Ramirez/ERRE has constructed a two-headed, bi-directional horse. This gesture is misplaced, however, because only the United States perceives itself to be under siege.
The work also suffers from an ailment common to most outdoor art in most locations: it’s dwarfed by its surroundings. (A fact which is disguised by the positioning of the camera which took this picture.)
These complaints aside, “Toy an Horse,” as ERRE calls the work, should be kept in mind for a possible future in which relations between Mexico and the U.S. are as untroubled as those between the U.S. and Canada. In such a future, it would be wonderful to see a work like this constructed at ten times its current size.
At the ReinCarnation Building, in a damp basement space, Fernando Arias combines polished steel panels with the rusted jagged steel of the border fence to construct a huge razor blade. Surrounded by darkness, it hovers like a massive guillotine above a row of mirrors. Atop the mirrors rests a slender line of white powder.
While readable as an evocation of the border’s physical characteristics, the work is far more powerful as a greatly magnified image of a detail universally associated with the use of cocaine.
No judgment seems to be made here concerning such use. Instead, the focus seems to be on the effect that the reaction to drug use, embodied in the War On Drugs, has had on the border experience — making it more secretive, more intense, more heavily armed, and more menacing.
The piece could be in many locations, in many conditions of space and lighting, and still retain its expressive strength