If the "transnational corridor" of North America's West Coast is terra cognita to anyone, it's Generation X author Douglas Coupland... oh, and any of the thousands of artists who call the cities between Vancouver in Canada and Tijuana in Baja California home.
"The Vancouver [art] scene is just legendary," says Toby Kamp, curator at the La Jolla branch of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, and one of five curators involved with Baja to Vancouver: The West Coast and Contemporary Art. "But what was very interesting was how the Tijuana scene is of interest to artists and people all over the world now. It's come to represent something much more than the sort of insular [Vancouver art scene.]"
The new exhibit-which combines those five curators from four institutions choosing and commissioning work from 33 artists in Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego and Tijuana-questions the idea of "regionalism" in postmodern art. Kamp says that not only do the usual isolationist ideas about art and local artists not apply anymore, they don't even work for how curators build their exhibits-and so they made Baja to Vancouver a truly collaborative effort.
"Too often we work on our own, so it was great to be collaborative and share information this time," Kamp says. "We had to make all decisions unanimously. It was really good to expose others to the Tijuana scene and see how they react, given what their own artists are doing. We really tried to cover as much ground as possible."
That "ground" was as much psychic as topographic and social, Kamp says.
"We think "regionalism' doesn't hold anymore. Everyone is hyper-connected these days, electronically and physically. But there are themes in common. So we tried to focus on this basic idea of "social landscapes'-that's sort of the world and its people. It's kinda broad.
"But even so, right away, that theme cut out a lot of the more abstract art that didn't fit."
Many of the patterns in the work the curatorial team of B2V came up with, however, were revealing. Immigration, utopian and dystopian visions of the "good life," part-urban, part-suburban, part-rural landscapes-all are common to the western rim of North America, as are multimedia and entertainment-based mediums.
"In the East, you used to get art from the studio and gallery-based industry," explains Kamp. "But in the West, you often get artists working within and through the entertainment and film industry. Here, you have artists out and about, driving around in their cars, interacting in very physical and professional ways with their art. Maybe it's on a soundstage or in a movie before you see it in a gallery."
B2V also commissioned work from several artists, not the least of which was "Crossroads" by Marcos Ramirez, which places a signpost full of art-based quotes by Duchamp and Picasso in the middle of bustling Tijuana.
In his opening essay to the exhibits' companion book, Coupland writes: "San Diego, close to the border, is undergoing demographic alchemy. Explain the myth of the surfer's perfect wave to a family of five smuggled into the harbor...."
Baja to Vancouver, with its dialogue about the friction between what our visions were and what they are becoming, tries to explain just such a psycho-social paradox. ©
Baja to Vancouver runs Jan. 23 to May 16 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, La Jolla. $2-$6. 858-454-3541.