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Dead Letter Office
by Allan Sekula

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Ensenada, 1997

Republican Convention, San Diego, 1996

Ensenada, 1997

Camp Pendleton, San Diego, 1996

Fox Studios, Popotla, 1997

Coffin Factory, Tijuana, 1997

Those who identify, consciously or not, with the white adventurers who seized the northern part of California from Mexican cattle ranchers in the 1840s continue to regard the long peninsula of Baja California as a kind of vestigial organ, a primeval, reptilian tail. Here, in the place of escape, drunkenness and dreams, it is permissible to vomit without shame.

The dream-work performed by the "white system" imagines "Baja," a lower space, as a utopia of childhood freedoms, a space in which lobsters can be devoured ravenously, vehicles driven with reckless abandon. The fugitives in Hollywood films invariably seek the border, as if no laws held beyond.

And now Hollywood itself is fugitive, crossing the triple fence to stage its own expensive retelling of the story of modernity's encounter with the primordial abyss.

Extras float and shiver among the dummy corpses, flailing about and gagging on command, a veritable reserve army of the drowned. Eighty miles north, hapless immigrants stumble upon another narrative, a dress rehearsal for an amphibious landing. A California congressman, the architect of the triple fence, worries about Chinese nuclear weapons smuggled across the border in cargo containers. A former secretary of defense writes an illiterate scenario for an invasion of Mexico. The United States Marines investigate having their tank transporters built in Tijuana by a Korean conglomerate. A North American actor, reading the voice-over to a promotional film for the same Korean conglomerate, slips and speaks of the "artesian" traditions of Mexican labor.

A paranoid truth at the end of the twentieth century may be closer to this: the industrialized northern border of Mexico is the prototype of a grim Taylorist future. The re-floated Titanic is the belated harbinger of the runaway assembly line. A reservoir of cheap labor is contained and channeled by the hydraulic action of an apartheid machine. The machine is increasingly indifferent to democracy on either side of the line, but not indifferent to culture, to the pouring of oil upon troubled waters.

* This text was printed with permission by the Christopher Grimes Gallery, Santa Monica, California, USA. It was also created for inSITE97, a binational art event across the San Diego/Tijuana border.

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