InSITE is an art festival that takes place in the San Diego-Tijuana region. Established in 1991, the event features site-specific artwork that is free and easily accessible for the public. The name of the event, ‘InSITE’, derives from its combined qualities that: artists’ installations are ‘in sight’ within the public domain throughout the two cities, as well as having a ‘site-specific’ nature throughout the work itself. In Mexico and the United States, Stacy Lee states that InSITE is “regarded as the most important cultural event on the Mexico-U.S. border”(1). Keeping this in mind, I will explore culture, and the duality of the culture surrounding and stimulated by this event.
To understand InSITE we have to grasp how it functions. InSITE has a positive impact on local communities, which can be recognized through their eager, active participation over the course of each festival. In order for InSITE to run efficiently, it requires a great deal of collaboration between countries, and many institutions and communities in both countries must work together. The realization of bi-national art partnerships is a key objective of the festival (2).
The planning of InSITE is a long-term engagement, requiring a lot of collaboration between non-profit and public institutions in the San Diego-Tijuana region with various artists (2). Large-scale international recurrent exhibitions such as InSITE have become a very important part of the contemporary art world. Organization such as Biennial Foundation, which aid in the execution of InSITE, is one of over one hundred biennial organizations that operate internationally to realize bi-national events (2).
On the Biennial Foundation website it states: “We facilitate links between organizations and practitioners operating with the global biennial community by providing resources and an open platform for exchange, collaboration and research” (2). To orchestrate InSITE, parties undergo a two-year process which relies on the active participation of cultural and educational institutions in the US and Mexico. This collaborative structure is very fluid, and changes to accommodate the changing interests of artists and institutions. This process results in work that facilitates the innovative and enables the integration and collaboration of never before combined venues, promoting “artistic investigation and activation of urban space” (2).
By creating an open exchange of information across bordered areas, InSITE generates a sense of social hybridity. In the context of culture, “hybridity is a concept often employed by those who have faced marginalization or have struggled to find a place for themselves in with society due to various imposed conditions” (6). This facet of InSITE is qualified by Homi K Bhabha in Cultural Diversity and Cultural Differences. Bhabha explains how hybridity acts as a counter-narrative and a critique of the dominant, hegemonic forces in a society (3). Because InSITE as an event is counter-cultural it is an invaluable space for thought and critique. The mobility and transfer of information and ideas across the San Diego-Tijuana region allows for a rich blend of public spaces and cultures.
Space is an important element to establish identity; location, what we identify with or ‘as’ influences how we conduct ourselves, and this is why hybrid space, and furthermore, social hybridity is necessary – it allows individuals to explore and acknowledge our multifaceted, experiential based realities.
Jean Robertson and Craig McDaniel explore ‘place’ (location) as one of seven most important themes in the book Themes of Contemporary Art. They explain that: “Where you hail from and where you now reside are two of the most significant facts about anyone. Place can be a central facet of someone’s identity. The place or places where one has lived, with their attendant physical, historical, and cultural attributes, condition what one knows and how one sees. Certainly an artist’s geographic history affects the appearance and meaning of his or her art. But beyond this, a conscious awareness of place informs the work of a wide range of contemporary artists.” In Hybrid Cultures: Strategies for Entering and Leaving Modernity, Néstor García Canclini reinforces the importance of a transdisciplinary perspective (5). If we attempt to understand InSITE in this connection, we can see how it creates a space that breaks conventional boundaries, and, as Canclini underscores, hybrid spaces enable the fusion of opinions and ideas, which produce new objects that are useful tools for understanding space and objects in their own right, rather than in relation to a power dynamic or preconceived categorization (5).
In addition to the literal exchange of information across borders, the idea of a “virtual” public space is introduced as an adjacent theme at InSITE, reflecting the relationship created between Tijuana and San Diego. During InSITE97, the artist Marcos Ramiros’ piece Trojan Horse was placed on the border of the two countries as a culturally appropriate marker reflecting this (6). The Internet was also a feature of the festival that enabled children, both Mexican, and American, to interact with one another and with art. By involving the public (both local and visitors) through education the exhibition provoked thought about bordered regions (7).
By using technology, we demonstrate how to construct a new space with overarching ‘borders’. In Editorial: Hybrid Space, Seijdel focuses on how space is constructed. Seijdel states that “the configuration of hybrid space is currently experiencing a powerful impetus thanks to wireless and mobile technologies [… ] which are making not only the physical and the virtual but also the private and the public run into each other more and more,” (8). Seijdel introduces the idea that mobile or wireless media is transforming our public space into one that is also mobile — both literally and figuratively (8). Similarly, InSITE enables individuals or groups to interact and engage with each other in new ways. Public space, therefore, is no longer viewed as static and can be created virtually so that it crosses otherwise geographically bordered areas. As the idea of public space changes, artists, and their art become integrated into the social fabric of life. (9).
Communicating technology allows us to mobilize ideas and information across boundaries, and share experiences, “without being defined by those experiences” (6). InSITE is negotiated: within itself (by the parties involved in its execution), within the literal space it occupies in the San Diego-Tijuana region, as well as within the experiences is offered for the public. The InSITE art festival demonstrates the cultural significance of hybrid space.
(1) Lee, Stacy. Mexico and the United States. Marshall Cavendish, 2002. Print.
(2) (2) Biennial Foundation. n.p. November, 2011. http://www.biennialfoundation.org/biennials/insite/
(3) Bhabha, Homi K. “Cultural Diversity and Cultural Differences.” The Post-Colonial Studies Reader. Eds. Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths, Helen Tiffin. New York: Routledge. 1995
(4) Robertson, Jean, and Craig Mc Daniel. “Place.” Themes of Contemporary Art, Second Edition. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc, 2010. 150-189. Print
(5) Robertson, Jean, and Craig Mc Daniel. “Place.” Themes of Contemporary Art, Second Edition. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc, 2010. 150-189. Print
(6) Lee, Stacy. Mexico and the United States. Marshall Cavendish, 2002. Print. Page 426.
(7) Seijdel, Jorinde. “Editorial: Hybrid Space.” Contents Open 11, Hybrid Space (2002). Open. Web. 2011. See also by Seijdel “How Art and Its Institution Reinvent the Public Dimension.” Contents Open 14, Art as a Public Issue (2002). Open. Web. 2011
(8) Zamudio-Taylor, Victor. “Chicano Art.” Latin American Art in the Twentieth Century: 316-329. Print
Bhabha, Homi K. “Cultural Diversity and Cultural Differences.” The Post-Colonial Studies Reader. Eds. Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths, Helen Tiffin. New York: Routledge. 1995
Biennial Foundation. n.p. November, 2011. http://www.biennialfoundation.org/biennials/insite/
Dear, Michael, Gustavo Leclerc and Jo-Anne Berelowitz. Postborder City: Cultural Spaces of Bajalta California. Routledge, 2003. Print.
Lee, Stacy. Mexico and the United States. Marshall Cavendish, 2002. Print.
Néstor García Canclini. Hybrid Cultures: Strategies for Entering and Leaving Modernity. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 2005.
Robertson, Jean, and Craig Mc Daniel. “Place.” Themes of Contemporary Art, Second Edition. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc, 2010. 150-189. Print.
Seijdel, Jorinde. “Editorial: Hybrid Space.” Contents Open 11, Hybrid Space (2002). Open. Web. 2011.
—. “How Art and Its Institution Reinvent the Public Dimension.” Contents Open 14, Art as a Public Issue (2002). Open. Web. 2011.
Zamudio-Taylor, Victor. “Chicano Art.” Latin American Art in the Twentieth Century. Ed. S Sullivan. 2011: 316-329. Print.