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Chapter 1 The Conceptual Border 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 AngloAmerican artists who collectively defined border art through their practice . Performance became their medium of choice, but the BAW/TAF often combined these works with multimedia installations. Original members included Chicano artists David Avalos and Victor Ochoa, Anglo-American artist Michael Schnorr, Jewish-American filmmakers Jude Eberhard and Isaac Artenstein, and Mexican-born artist Guillermo Gómez-Peña and his American wife, dancer Sara-Jo Berman. This original slate of artists lasted for only three years, and the BAW/TAF roster continued to change throughout the group’s existence. Schnorr provided core continuity and, together with Japanese-American artist Susan Yamagata, remained the archivist of the group until his death in July 2012. The BAW/TAF artists were to link performance, site-specificity, and the U.S.-Mexico border, as well as the first to export “border art” to other geographic locations and situations. The exportation of the border to other regions paved the way for the concept of the portable border. Although not previously periodized in this manner, the works of the BAW/TAF can be divided roughly into three phases. The early period, from the group’s founding in 1984 through the first border performance in 1986, was a time of dramatic splitting from the Chicano movement in San Diego. From 1986 through 1992, the BAW/TAF experienced a middle period marked by shifts in the group’s composition. The collective proSheren pages.indd 23 4/21/15 3:21 PM 24 | portable borders duced a series of performances and installations that were influenced by European conceptualism. During the third period, after 1992, the BAW/ TAF embarked on a series of engagements at biennials and art festivals around the world, while undertaking a deep engagement with a community located just outside of Tijuana. The BAW/TAF promoted the values of multiculturalism and shared history over militancy and nationalism.Although founded by Chicano artists on the principles of the Chicano movement, the group, by nature of its composition and political outlook, opened border art beyond the limitations of Chicanismo. In the 1970s, Chicano art had been defined in terms of Mexican-American activism, framing the political struggle of MexicanAmericans in the North through the lens of indigenism.2 Emerging from this model, border art had to address the audience and needs of Chicano art but at the same time expand in scope beyond what the movement had originally conceived. This openness was constructed ostensibly in terms of viewing the border from a multitude of perspectives and embracing global conceptualism. Throughout the 1980s, the BAW/TAF struggled to negotiate between a regionally dictated border essentialism and the broad internationalism claimed by its members.3 Along these lines, the BAW/TAF emphasized the backgrounds of its individual members (Anglo-American, Chicano, Mexican, Jewish-American) as contributing to this open perspective. The identity politics of the border complicate the matter, especially in terms of nationality, ethnic background, and regional affiliation. For example, would Gómez-Peña,originally from Mexico City,be able to access the same border identity as San Diego native Schnorr or Chicano activist Avalos? Or was the perspective of a native border dweller somehow more “authentic ”? This very debate was one of the reasons Gómez-Peña, after leaving the BAW/TAF, began to focus on the border as a metaphor rather than a physical site, subsequently laying the foundation for the portable border. Aside from the debates surrounding identity and authenticity, the U.S.Mexico border proved to be the BAW/TAF’s delineating factor. It is important to note that for the group, the physical reality of the U.S.-Mexico border proved dominant, rather than any metaphorical idea of portability espoused by later artists. But if this border was a site for new identities , it was also contentious. The founding members viewed the BAW/ TAF as an antidote to far-fetched conceptions of intercultural dialogue and harmonious...


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