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Chapter 2 The Portable Border After leaving the Border Art Workshop/Taller de Arte Fronterizo in 1989, Gómez-Peña published the following words in a 1991 issue of the journal High 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 border art’s newfound global focus, claiming that “instead of turning the margins into the center, it [border art] was bringing the center to the margins.”3 This binary view of the world failed to consider that in defining the borderlands as a locus for artistic production, artists could have bypassed the entire center/periphery model in favor of a rhizomatic , multi-nodal construct. According to Gómez-Peña, border art as it had been practiced was dead, no longer capable of generating new ideas about borders and international relations. This statement is both uncannily accurate, depicting the end of a programmatic approach to border performance developed during the 1980s, and misleading. Border art did not die in 1991; at the time, it was undergoing deep changes that affected the very definition of the category. Border artists, including Gómez-Peña, had broadened their outlook in anticipation of North American economic integration. Gómez-Peña departed the BAW/TAF following a series of internal conflicts . Members D. Emily Hicks, David Avalos, Isaac Artenstein, Richard Lou, and Victor Ochoa also either resigned or were voted out of the collective , leaving Michael Schnorr and Susan Yamagata to recruit a new generation of BAW/TAF artists. The BAW/TAF was entering its third phase, marked by the movement of border ideas to other regions, and the gloSheren pages.indd 59 4/21/15 3:21 PM 60 | portable borders balization of ethnic identity was in full force. Rather than rehashing the internal politics of the Border Art Workshop, a task that extends beyond the confines of this study, I mention this conflict because of its relevance to the changing dynamics of border art at the start of the 1990s. Without the dissolution of the original BAW/TAF, it is very possible that border art would have developed along altogether different lines. Border art, as defined by the BAW/TAF, had been confined to the U.S.Mexico border region during the 1980s. With site-specific performances such as Border Realities (1984), End of the Line (1986), and Border Realities III (1987), the BAW/TAF came to represent politically motivated art based on the physical border and dedicated to addressing the social conditions of the region. In the early 1990s, two major events led to the expansion of border art: the 1992 Columbus Quincentennial and the resulting commodification of conquest and the enactment of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) two years later. These events brought intense focus on the contact zone of the border while epistemic shifts contributed to border art on a broader scale. Artists concerned with border issues traveled to regions experiencing similar issues of cultural contact. Rather than retreating to the physicality of the border and reasserting the primacy of the region, artists insisted upon expanding the concept, bringing their art and the issues it addressed to the attention of those outside the art world. European nations such as Germany and France, as well as Canada, Australia, and the U.S. interior were among the first places to embrace border art. This portable border art would concern itself not only with regional politics and the immigration debate, but also with large-scale international conflict, ethnic and cultural difference, and the social changes brought by late-twentieth-century globalization. Given a powerful impetus by the economics of NAFTA and the politics of Columbus Day, U.S.-Mexico border art and its constituent ideas became portable through a shift in thinking about international borders and their place in the postcolonial world. Rather than being grounded in the specifics of regional politics or concerned with enacting incremental change, as were the BAW/TAF and even the Chicano movement before it, this portable border addressed a broader audience. In doing so, border artists considered...


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