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Tanya Aguiñiga, Metabolizing the Border

Video by Art21. The binational artist Tanya Aguiñiga pushes the power of art to transform the United States-Mexico border from a site of trauma to a creative space for personal healing and collective expression. Reflecting the cultural hybridity and community of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands, the artist discusses her upbringing in Tijuana, her training as a furniture and craft designer, and her artistic beginnings with the Border Art Workshop/Taller de Arte Fronterizo collective. From her studio, the artist and her team produce objects like jewelry and housewares to fund their social-justice-based projects, workshops, and performances. Aguiñiga returns to the site of one of these projects, titled "Border Quipu," where she and her team recorded the stories of daily commuters from Tijuana to San Diego. This segment also follows Aguiñiga as she prepares for "Metabolizing the Border," a performance and personal reckoning with the pain caused by the border wall. The work is a demanding physical feat: the artist walks along the border wall in a glass suit that is designed to break, in order to express the effects of the wall as wounds on her body and to symbolize the struggle of the migrant experience. Aguiñiga demonstrates how art can be both a personal “physical and emotional outlet” and a vehicle to help others “empathize and think about how we’re all connected to each other.”

Learn more about the artist at: https://art21.org/artist/tanya-aguiniga/

CREDITS | Executive Producer: Tina Kukielski. Series Producer: Nick Ravich. Directors: Rafael Salazar Moreno and Ava Wiland. Producer: Ava Wiland. Editors: Rafael Salazar Moreno and Russell Yaffe. Director of Photography: Rafael Salazar Moreno.

Production Services: RAVA Films. Assistant Curator: Danielle Brock. Associate Producer: Julia Main. Post-Production Coordinator: Alexandra Lenore Ashworth. Design & Animation: Momentist, Inc. Composer: Joel Pickard. Additional Music: Amalia Mondragón. Advising Producer: Ian Forster. Additional Art21 Staff: Lauren Barnett, Lolita Fierro, Joe Fusaro, Meghan Garven, Jonathan Munar, and Emma Nordin.

Additional Photography: Elan Alexenberg, Robert Biggs / Phoenix Drone Pros, Gina Clyne, Adrian Gutierrez, Nick Kraus, Christoph Lerch, and Alejandro Almanza Pereda. Tijuana Field Producer: Yadira Avila. Location Sound: Ariel Baca, Jacob Bloomfield-Misrach, Nikola Chapelle, Michael Cottrell, Rayell Abad Guangorena, Veronica Lopez, Baili Martin, Nathalie Piché, Chris Tolan, and Ava Wiland. Production Assistants: Ben Derico, Jake Grossman, Jacquelin de Hoyos, Keira Kennedy, Zac Settles, and Jorge Villarreal.

Digital Intermediate: Cut + Measure. Post-Production Producer: Alex Laviola. Colorist: David Gauff and Jerome Thélia. Post-Production Sound Services: Konsonant Post. Re-Recording Mixer & Sound Editor: Gisela Fullà-Silvestre. Online & Conform: David Gauff. Additional Animation: Andy Cahill. Assistant Editor: Jasmine Cannon, Jonah Greenstein, and Mengchen Zhang. Translation: Ava Wiland and Russell Yaffe. Video Quality Control: Jonathan Hansen.

Artwork Courtesy: Tanya Aguiñiga, Guillermo Galindo, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Richard Misrach, Postcommodity / Cristóbal Martínez & Kade L. Twist, Bockley Gallery, Fraenkel Gallery, Pace Gallery, and Volume Gallery.

Archival Materials: AMBOS Project; Antimodular Research; AP Archive; Aperture Artbound / KCET; Isaac Arnstein / Cinewest Archives; Jenna Bascom, Courtesy of Museum of Arts and Design, New York; Border Art Workshop / Taller de Arte Fronterizo; Cecilia Brawley; Critical Past; Cory Doctorow; Sam Wainwright Douglas / Big Beard Films; Benjamin Duffield / Fierce Bad Rabbit Pictures; Filmoteca UNAM; Jason Grubb; John McNeil studios; NASA; Pond5; and Jack Snell.

Public Relations: Cultural Counsel. Station Relations: De Shields Associates, Inc. Legal Counsel: Barbara T. Hoffman, Esq. Interns: Shane Daly, Grace Doyle, Eda Li, Daniela Mayer, Jason Mendoza, Nikhil Oza, Anika Rahman, Ana Sanz, Sara Schwartz, Victoria Xu, and Sadie Yanckello.

Major underwriting for Season 10 of "Art in the Twenty-First Century" is provided by PBS, National Endowment for the Arts, Lambent Foundation, The Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Foundation, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Toby Devan Lewis, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, Henri Lambert, Nion McEvoy & Leslie Berriman, and Sakana Foundation. Series Creators: Susan Dowling and Susan Sollins. ©2020 Art21, Inc.
Created by Smarthistory.

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  • stelly blue style avatar for user Jude 1:24-25 😊📖
    It's sad that families are seperated due to the border. But what these people need to do is get a visa to cross the border if they wish. As a high school daughter of a woman born in Peru who flew over with visa, documents, and determination, my mother made a home here. If they wish to cross, this is what they need to do.
    (1 vote)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user

Video transcript

[music, singing in Spanish] [music continues] - I grew up in Tijuana on the border with San Diego. I would cross the border every day to go to school in the US. As a child, I was constantly marked by my border identity, not belonging to anybody, not belonging to the US or Mexico. - [speaking Spanish] - A lot of my work is about visibility, having more people see themselves or their struggles mirrored. I think the borderlands mean, like, really opposing things to people. Growing up on the Mexican side, I kind of experienced it a lot as a place of death. [stirring music] As a place that divides families. You make a migration north and you end up in this place that is more beautiful than anything you've ever imagined, but for the most part, people kind of get smacked with just the reality of the border wall. And I think that constant influx of new groups of people makes the borderlands a really experimental place for how societies can recreate themselves. [soft music] When I started thinking about a new project, I just kept thinking about the heaviness of bearing witness to these horrible things on the border. I wanted to make a piece to physically expel these things that I had unearthed and this scar that I kept digging open and digging open. The glass pieces make up a suit. The headpiece is inspired by Mesoamerican imagery. The huarache is designed to fail, so it's designed so that as I walk in it, it starts to break. When I was little, I never knew that art was a career path. I never knew that that was something that you could really do. I really wanted to study something artistic that my parents could understand and appreciate. That's how I got into studying furniture design. In the beginning of my furniture career, I was felting folding chairs. It was a way of incorporating my border identity into a design object. Taking a temporary, really cold industrial thing, but transforming it into something that was sensual and colorful and comfortable and warm. Making furniture was this place where I could really control the outcome. You kind of look for places to control the world when your world is uncontrollable. For a long time, I didn't know that art could actually make a really big impact on society. It wasn't until I met my mentor, Michael Schnorr, who was one of the original founders of the Border Art Workshop. Michael had been working to make a stance against Operation Gatekeeper. - We are a nation of immigrants, and we should all be proud of it. But we're also a nation of laws. - Operation Gatekeeper was a strategic reinforcement of the US-Mexico border that forced migrants to cross through the desert rather than jumping across and running through residential areas. The first year that they adapted Operation Gatekeeper, more people died crossing the border than the entire 75 years of Border Patrol history. [somber music] Michael was showing us how people were using art to make political statements to change society, but then also talking about the physical space of the border as like a theater for discussion. I started thinking more about taking back the fence and changing it from being a space of pain and trauma into a generative place that we could reclaim. [soft guitar] After I left San Diego, Tijuana, for a long time I thought about how to help shape the narrative about the border that was currently happening during the 2016 election. So I founded AMBOS, which stands for Art Made Between Opposite Sides. [ding] [ding] [ding] - I wanted to work collaboratively with other people using the border as a starting point for that conversation. We did a project called the Border Quipu. The Andean pre Colombian system of the Quipu were calendars, counting system, language. But I wanted to use it to visualize our connection to each other, recording our, like, daily migrations to the north and also physically represent people that participated in the project. What are your thoughts when you cross this border? Sometimes I think about how much time I spend here or if my son will have to do this too. We ended up having close to 10,000 people participate. That taught me so much about the vastness of our community on the border, but also the many ways that governments have failed to protect people. [quiet music] - If I leave, like at 9:30, 10:00, traffic won't be as bad. - If you get those in time. - Yeah. Years ago, I started making these bracelets for the museum gift shop. It's a nice way for us to make like a little bit of extra money. All of these little efforts help us be able to do all the nonprofit stuff and community based work and more like social justice based work. One of the beautiful parts about craft is that it's usually something that gets passed down. A lot of us whose parents migrated, we don't have lineages, like I know my grandma's name and that's it. So I really gravitated towards exploring the importance of community and of sharing one's knowledge. When you go in, we'll just say one inch. - Got it. Got it. - And so they can learn how to-- how to take care of their friends, just like you learned, verdad? After having a child, I now think about the world you leave to somebody else. [speaking Spanish] You can keep it in there. I have a responsibility now beyond responsibility to myself. Knowing that has really affected work that I do, thinking about how to be more empathetic and thinking about what it means to be part of a community. One project that we've done over and over is this performance piece where people stand in a line and they cover their neighbor's hand and felt while their hand is being felted by their neighbor. It kind of becomes about what it means to touch a stranger or what it means to care for a stranger. That moved into me, having myself felted, to get closer to what it feels like to felt something. How does my body take that experience that I'm usually putting onto an inanimate object? You have the big one, or should we just try with two? My new piece is called Metabolizing the Border. I wanted to make a piece that would force my body to deal with the border through all of the five senses. So you're forced to see through the fence only. You're forced to breathe through the fence only. You're forced to hear through particles of the border fence. - Will that be good? - Yeah. You can't escape the border. I'm going to be walking back and forth along the border on the US side, wearing all of these glass pieces. - I want to see the pictures. - Yeah. - It looks like a really weird ass alien baby señora. Okay. I'm like...anxious. I'm nervous about the, like, physical demand on my body, and I'm nervous about like the emotional demand. But...yeah. - Did you sleep okay? - It's really hard to fall asleep. I don't know if the performance will be something that's cathartic, to put out there what I've been carrying invisibly. Help me pull this part up a little bit more. There is a really crucial need for us to keep talking about the border and to keep exploring what the border is and what the border can do to a person's body. [glass shatters] [mellow guitar] I think art can offer a physical and emotional outlet. [glass scraping] By letting people see all of the pain that I carry, I'm hoping that it'll help people empathize and think a little bit more about how we're all connected to each other. [no audio] In a lot of the work that I do, I engage communities, but this piece, it's a personal piece that I wanted to do for myself. That really helped me process a lot of that pain and try to get to a point of healing. I needed that. [soft guitar] - Look at you! - [laughing] [stirring music]