Daniel and David Peña
Daniel Peña was in a rut. The Chula Vista-raised photographer and video artist had moved to Tijuana a year and a half ago, but quickly became depressed. "It's a big adjustment. Your parents won't visit you. I went through a lot of shit," he says.
Enter older brother and illustrator David, who moved down a few months later. Daniel was already living in a multi-unit artist complex called Mariposa Espacio de Arte across from the Casa del Túnel art center. Together the brothers created a ground-floor gallery inside the apartment complex called Out Here, which is located along the border fence, a few blocks from the San Ysidro crossing. There they had their first group show, a mix of San Diego and Tijuana artists, in February. Most recently, they attracted a packed house for a show featuring San Diego artists Celeste Byers and Aaron Glasson.
The Peñas also commissioned Byers and Glasson to paint a mural on the border wall outside the gallery, and are looking to do the same with other artists on the white walls that separate the traffic and the pedestrian walkways along the border.
For them, it's part of a larger mission to get the San Diego and Tijuana art scenes to intermingle. "We want more unity," says Daniel. "We want artists from both scenes to interact and there's been a lot of that at our shows."
When the Tijuana street artist known as PANCA debuted a 45-foot mural of two women cannibalizing another woman in the sometimes stuffy confines of the San Diego Art Institute this past winter, some of the more, um, senior members of SDAI took issue.
Perhaps they didn't appreciate the demented, pop-surrealist-style caricatures that PANCA says are inspired by the "characters wandering around" the Tijuana streets, but they certainly couldn't look away either.
"Tijuana shocked me and I couldn't look away," says PANCA, who grew up Paola Villaseñor, a "regular American kid" from Chula Vista who moved to Tijuana 10 years ago. "I made my life here because it was like a big visual playground just waiting to be discovered."
Her murals can be found throughout the alleys and backstreets of her adopted home. She's preparing for an installation show in September at Low Gallery in Barrio Logan and another in Mexico City in October. She's also created a series of t-shirts and clay figurines, and is working on a claymation series with help from her video-artist husband.
She also gives tours of her murals with help from Tijuana tourism company Turista Libre. Even with all the success, don't expect her to move back to San Diego anytime soon. "I'm more comfortable being in the chaos than looking at it from 'over there.'"
Dominic Paul Miller
To hear Dominic Paul Miller tell it, his current project has been brewing since 1998, when he visited a maquila in Ciudad Juarez, the border city near El Paso, Texas. Often set up by U.S. companies in free-trade zones to take advantage of cheap labor, maquila factories became a topic that continuously fascinated and infuriated the sculptor and mixed-media artist.
Miller says he chose UC San Diego to pursue his MFA so he'd be close to the border. "I hadn't spent time in Tijuana before arriving here," says Miller. "But I knew that my plan was to work in the context of the maquila industry along the frontier."
Granted a Fulbright scholarship, Miller worked hands-on with Tijuana-based labor rights organization Ollin Calli and, in the process, commissioned factory workers to create a piece of art. The result is a 4-foot-by-6-foot work that combines 10 handmade graphical drawings into a single piece entitled, "Diagrama de Dependencia," which Miller will unveil during the MFA Graduate Exhibition 2015 at the UCSD University Art Gallery (opening June 4).
Even with the drawing completed, Miller says he plans to continue working in the labor rights workshops Ollin Calli provides to Baja locals. Back in the U.S., he'll continue to bring attention to labor and border issues via his art. "It's incredible how close it is, but completely invisible to us on the U.S. side."
"Diagrama de Dependencia"
It was hard to miss the work of Collective Magpie when the Art San Diego Contemporary Art Fair opened this past November. While hundreds of artists inside the vast Balboa Park Activity Center politely hung their work in the confines of their respective cubicles, the artistic soul mates that make up Collective Magpie (MR Barnadas and Tae Hwang), were erecting a giant, one-story "Weightless Lounge" made from the colorful striped plastic bags that are prevalent in Tijuana markets. Needless to say, they stole the show.
Together since 1996, Hwang and Barnadas have always presented their interactive art pieces as a unit. That art has increasingly been more border-focused and while there's not an overt agenda, their new project, GLOBOS, is certainly broad in scope. Working with the Museum of Contemporary Art San
Diego and the New Children's Museum, the duo has held youth workshops in San Diego and Tijuana to construct large, gold-tissue-paper balloons that will be part of an NCM exhibition and then culminate in a cross-border, beachside launch of the balloons in 2016.
"This has been one of our most humbling experiences with an art project so far," says Barnadas, when discussing GLOBOS and the kids workshops. "As we construct these balloons together, we share stories, ideas, and thoughts about the border. In this way, perhaps we make new meaning together with each other."