The physical barrier that divides the United States from Mexico at its westernmost end looks radically different on both sides of the fence. To the north, Border Field State Park – an undeveloped beach and coastal habitat that acts as a buffer between the city of Imperial Beach and Tijuana. To the south, the Plaza Monumental de Tijuana, also known as the Bullring by the Sea that still hosts bull fights as well as concerts and boxing matches. The fence that bisects the land jets out into the surf some 20 yards – a sad excuse for a physical barrier as it wouldn’t take much of a swimmer to go around it. Still, the looming presence of border security forces keeps people in line. On both sides. Still, if the surf’s pumping just north of the fence, it’s pumping just south, too.
These similarities and differences that charge conversations about borders, and more importantly the physical space surrounding the western beaches of the US/Mexico border are ultimately what inspired artist and surfer Diego Palacios to organize a project that invites surfers to be in the space and experience it.
We caught up with Palacios to get a better sense of the origins of the project happening this Saturday on both sides of the border.
I hesitate to use the word “demonstration,” but explain to me what this project is, and where the idea came from.
This is art from a social practice approach. The structure is a social gathering. It is meant to be non partisan. I didn’t make the political environment that surrounds the border but I use the space as one of the elements in a simple gesture. The other main element is surf culture. I was struck by the opposing sides of the border when attending a wedding of some friends that live in Playas Tijuana. On the Mexican side of the border is a park dedicated to friendship. This park is marked by a light house and was historically used as place where people could hug each other through the fence. On the US side of the border the primary markers are surveillance and a state beach that sees very little recreational use. The intention is to simply bring people to this space by providing surfboards to socially engage with the space.
For those who may not have heard of Machine Project, who are they and how did they get involved?
Machine Project is a leading nonprofit art space in Los Angeles that provides institutional support to artists. They have had much recognition including an invasion of LACMA. They hold workshops ranging from technology to yodeling. I approached them with this idea and they liked it.
What’s your background both personally and as an artist, and how do they relate to this project?
I am a surfer that was born in East Los Angeles. It took a lot of effort for me to make it to the beach as a kid. I have alway been between Mexico and America. Despite being between these two worlds it is where I am most comfortable and happy. Perhaps this project is a way for me to reconcile this in-betweenness. Like a kid who’s parents love each other but are always fighting.
Anyway, I just graduated from cal state Long Beach and will be attending a graduate program in sculpture at Yale University.
The border’s been a place for similar exposés of the absurdity of manmade divisions in the past, do you think it has a more potent quality now in this sociopolitical climate in both the US and Mexico?
Yes I do. While I don’t mean for this to be a scathing critique of American border policy I do hope people can come experience this for themselves and draw their own conclusions. Interactions here are cheerful and exciting. It is a public space where we can reconsider what it is that we are saying with our actions. The insertion of surfing here is a natural fit. We come to Mexico for surf and food and a freedom we lack in the United States. It’s not less free, it has different freedoms.
To go off of that, “the border” in American politics can be a divisive subject among citizens. Not only does the border physically separate people, but even within the same country as a rhetorical tool it divides. How does the project address the border as both an idea and a physical barrier.
It is a divisive subject. The border is a complex conglomerate of needs and wants. Perhaps the most damaging is racist ideology. There will surely be those that block immigration reform based on these ideas. I do not believe that it is an outside hatred that should be guarded against as much as it is an internal one. That being said, it is a complex situation where contradictions exist. There are absurdist realities to the border and practical realities to the border as well. They exist together. What are the contradictions? How can those contradictions be resolved? Can they be resolved?
The event is free and will take place both at Border Field State Park and Playas Tijuana from 10:30 am to 5 pm. More info on Machine Project’s website.