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Art & Social Space
The Collaborative Art of inSITE: Producing the Cultural Economy
by George Yúdice

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to the National Endowment in 1989. This proposal, however, generated a struggle over who "owned" border art; its formulators, mostly white and institutionally accredited, had borrowed freely from texts on border art published in the BAW/TAFí­s journal, The Broken Line and were therefore accused by the largely Chicano workshop membership of extracting cultural capital from this margin of the art world, of "appropriating our ideas, our language, our culture . . . now . . . that it is a fashionable and grantable thing to do."

The struggle over the ownership of the border and bi-nationalism left many unhealed wounds, and the directors of inSITE, who would inherit this hot potato, have managed to negotiate quite skillfully and wisely in order to avoid (although not completely) the impression that they are accumulating the regioní­s cultural capital and on this basis brokering its distribution. For inSITE94, the bi-national partnership with Mexican institutions established a major step in spreading the responsibilities and benefits of the program. The incorporation of "community-engagement" projects in 1997 was an important step toward inclusivity and a means to temper suspicions. Unfortunately, the fifteen "unabashedly participatory and process-oriented projects" were separated from the "exhibition" projects, suggesting a hierarchy according to which the latter belong to a more "artistic" class and the former to a more "communitarian" one. The very attempt to balance the local and international (a necessity for art-world recognition), sponsor satisfaction, and the civic demands of foundations and state arts councils, offset the good intentions, lubricating the slide back into a hierarchical arrangement. To show that its programs are relevant to nontraditional publics, inSITE accommodated to an already existing bureaucratic rhetoric whereby "community" functions as a code word for poor and racialized people.

inSITE is not alone, of course, in having to manage the distribution of cultural capital, an issue that is particularly sticky when it migrates from communities to institutions, whether this involves the "development" of tribal uses of rain forest plants for producing pharmaceuticals, the fusion of indigenous rhythms into world music, or the "processing" of community practices by relatively well-off directors, curators and artists for the biennial and art festival circuit. When it comes to artist-community relations, it really doesní­t matter whether we are dealing with "minority" artists such as those involved in BAW/TAF or the directors and curators of museums and new institutional venues like inSITE. The pursuit of legitimacy for claims to represent a community adequately, that is, to exercise cultural property rights with respect to community experiences and resources, is certain to produce tensions. Native Tijuana residents, for example, have taken exception to the BAW/TAFí­s representations of their experience, protesting that "these . . . people . . . have just arrived and immediately they tell us who we are, they dictate how we should discover ourselves." It is thus clear that neither the artists in BAW/TAF, nor the directors, curators and artists participating in inSITE, are "organic" to these communities. Legitimacy can only be established by discursive strategies and when these lack verisimilitude, it may be best to take another tack.

Perhaps for this reason, it made sense for the directors and curators of inSITE to de-emphasize "border art." Co-curator Sally Yard explained that to impose the border theme would "pose questions that predict their own answers," thus reproducing what local artists had already done. Instead, the curators encouraged the mobilization of cultural practices that transform public space and modes of transit in the "transnational metropolis." Downplaying border art, however, is a veritable impossibility as many of the artists invited from outside the area become enthralled by the border. Indeed, the border can be said to be inSITEí­s prime "natural" resource. This has been noted both by cynical critics as well as by activist artists. In the former category, Thomas McEvilley wrote that inSITE94 artists "cashed in on the fence that runs across the Northern edge of Tijuana and divides it from the U.S. as if it were the new p.c. hot spot—Californiaí­s own Berlin Wall." In Michael Duncaní­s review of inSITE94 ("Welcome to the Berlin Wall"), the graffiti on the fence is not seen as "p.c." but as portentous and "daunting." The comparison with the Berlin Wall is not fortuitous. Long a site of "daunting" conflicts between two geopolitical and cultural world-views and more recently carved up, cynically and profitably, into bric-a-brac, the transformation of the Berlin Wall emblematizes what is taking place at the U.S.-Mexico Border.

However, inSITE does not deserve comparison with these two characterizations. While the border is "in reality" daunting and subject to much commercialization, inSITE attempts, in the best tradition of "sustainable cultural development," to transform it and the local social ecology into an opportunity for reflection that goes beyond cultural and economic capital, which of course are also generated in the process. inSITE shares many of the concerns voiced at the "Summit Meeting of Museums of the Americas on Sustainable Museums and Communities," where it was declared that "sustainable development is a process of bettering the quality of life in the present and for the future, of promoting a balance between environment, economic growth and cultural equity and diversity, requiring the participation and recognition of everyone." The border, like the Berlin Wall, is one of those sites of non-material significance, like concentration camps and other places where disaster has struck or where people have been enslaved and oppressed, that cultural administrators institutionalize as heritage sites for commemoration, ritual and testimony, as well as for cultural tourism and economic development. Such initiatives also "help to develop in the population a ‘pride of place,í­ a knowledge of the history of their region and its value." So long as these sites yield value by their conversion into art, social healing, and tourist attractions, they will remain potent catalysts for cultural projects.

The border, its steel fence in particular, exerts such a potent magnetic force that it is almost impossible for many of the art works sited there to project energetically enough to break away from its pull. Indeed, extending along the border for miles and leading right into the ocean, the fence is a de facto installation that might make Christo envious. Made from corrugated steel landing strip panels left over from the Gulf War, the fence calls attention to the

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