Contribiution by Christina Ruppert Marcos Ramirez Erre, director and founder of the artist-run space Estación, Tijuana, and the architect he invited, Sebastian Mariscal, stood up to provocative questioning within the frame of the first artists’ talk of the subvision academy. The artists’ collectives Barbur and Darom presented their approaches and gave an account of the difficulties involved in producing contemporary art in Israel. Both talks revolved around the question related to what extent the category “off” is important for the artistic practice of these artist-run spaces.
Villas reminiscent of Tuscany next to Swiss chalets and improvised fairy-tale castles – the introductory words of Marcos Ramirez Erre do not refer to Disneyland in California, however, but to the city of Tijuana on the American-Mexican border. Yet the reference to Disneyland is not by chance – the urban structure is indeed characterised by an apparently Americanised and idealised definition of Mexicanitá, shaped by colourful sombreros in all conceivable sizes, huge monuments, Mexican flags, and burrito fast-food chains. With its bizarre combination of heteronomous identitarian attributions, which simultaneously shapes national self-understanding, Tijuana stands in contrast to neighbouring San Diego, which is characterised by its uniform and well composed town houses.
What determines the programme of the artist-run space Estación Tijuana founded by Marcos Ramirez ERRE is its location in an area defined by opposites. From the most various perspectives, Erre explores the living conditions of his homeland – and prefers shedding light on the region taking interdisciplinary approaches. In line with these initial conditions, the containers with works by three artists comprise a history of exploration, of drawing borders and deconstructing the attributions of the region.
Architect Sebastian Mariscal, who lives in San Diego, views the two cities as dependent on each other, despite their contrasts. From his architectural perspective, Mariscal compares the dualism of the two cities with Siamese twins: one couldn’t exist without the existence of the other. He terms this interdependency (dis)comfort (im)materiality.
The comfort materiality that he encounters in his everyday life in the United States – e.g. in the form of permanently air-conditioned interior spaces or serially produced town houses – stands in an almost absurd contrast to the improvised, untidy and in all places incomplete architecture of Tijuana. By using worn tyres on the subvision grounds, Mariscal cites the often employed material that, stemming from American garbage dumps, is reused in Mexican households as wall constructions, for example. But on the claim, the tyres simultaneously form an inconvenient obstacle. Only in a slow and difficult way can one reach the exhibits inside the containers. Conditions meant to remind one of the difficult and often fatal border-crossings of Mexicans willing to migrate.
Luis Sánchez Ramírez – personally not present on this evening – is one of the Mexicans who, like thousands of others, set off on this gruelling border-crossing. Years later, he again visited the individual stations and photographed them. The individual stations of his odyssey unfold like dream sequences. In his photographic triptych, Javier Ramirez Limón remains on Mexican terrain and addresses drug trafficking along the “Christal Frontier”.
Asked whether the interdisciplinary works of the invited artists are meant as an emancipation from the clichéd view of his homeland implemented from the outside, Erre answered with a strong “no”. “Tijuana is a whore,” he said, “but this whore is my mother.” Tijuana sells itself and its clichéd image, thus fulfilling what one expects of the city. Yet it is still a “whore” that must be educated. There are no spaces for contemporary art in Tijuana. Erre’s intention is to offer a platform and a voice to contemporary art under the difficult conditions in Tijuana.
A question from the audience as to how the artistic practice is grasped as “off” here, brought the polemic currently heatedly debated in Hamburg to the subvision academy for the first time within the frame of a talk. This question was probably posed against the background of the obviously well-established architect Sebastian Mariscal. During the presentation, he showed an impressive list of commissioned works.
Erre himself does not see a contradiction here: neither to his artistic practice nor to the overall approach of Estación Tijuana. Just because an artist earns money with his work by no means implies betraying his artistic integrity. Erre views identifying with an “off” as a gesture of deliberate marginalisation. With Estación Tijuana he attempts to overcome precisely this marginalisation by visualising contemporary art.
The term “off” contains far more identificatory and substantial levels than were addressed within the frame of this talk. Yet it became clear that it is indeed a problematic term if it is to subsume all forms of artistic practices that are “in some way anti-commercial and self-organised”.
This also became evident in the following presentation of the two Israeli artist-run spaces Barbur and Darom. Barbur was founded in 2005 by five graduates of the Bezalel academy of fine art and design in Jerusalem. As opposed to the usual practice of most graduates, who leave the country or at least move to culturally much more lively Tel Aviv, the five decided to remain in Jerusalem. As the capital city, Jerusalem is home to the seat of government and above all political institutions. Avi Sabah of Barbur stated that there is hardly a lively, diverse cultural scene there – despite the academy.
With the help of a social worker, the artists’ collective Barbur found and renovated an empty kindergarten in the Nachlaot neighbourhood for their first show. After working in a self-organised way for a year, Barbur now receives financial support from the city. Decidedly intended as a cultural centre for the surrounding community, Barbur, whose five members are all painters, pursues an interdisciplinary programme ranging from film screenings and exhibitions all the way to painting courses. The aim is to offer the heterogeneous neighbourhood a social platform. Barbur deliberately places a focus on areas that distinguish themselves in terms of content from the usual programme of contemporary art galleries, which in their view tend to cater to the taste of an educated middle-class and aloof audience.
They must accept that, for the time being, the contents of the exhibitions or film screenings must be agreed upon with the municipal committees. They answered the question whether this poses a risk to their artistic practice as follows: “We want to make art accessible to a broadest possible audience. Our audience is for the most part comprised of people from the neighbourhood: students, workers, old, young, secular and orthodox people. If they feel insulted and their sense of shame is hurt by the frontal nudity of a man, we respect that. It is not about provocation but about being a part of the society we live in.”