January 14, 2018

Photo Essay: A Day on the Other Side of the Wall

Isn't it funny that the thing that's brought me to Tijuana all three times now has been art, cuisine, and culture?

Because that's not what most people think of when you tell them you're going to TJ.

Yet four and a half years after my first visit through the border crossing with A+D Museum and Steve Turner Contemporary gallery, I found myself back on a bus to Baja California—this time with the Oceanside Museum of Art.

I wasn't actually planning on writing about the day trip. I just wanted to experience it without worrying about getting good photos or taking notes or memorizing details.

But what I experienced was so interesting that I just decided I had to share it. People have to know what's happening just on the other side of the wall.

Like my first whirlwind trip to Tijuana, we started our day at CECUT, the cultural center of Tijuana that opened in 1982 and has hosted a number of intriguing rotating exhibits, IMAX movie screenings, and even a Beatles laser light show.

I just love the giant sphere that's been plopped down in the middle of the Zona Centro, currently guarded by iron figures courtesy of Spanish sculptor Xavier Mascaró.

Inside the museum, we got a guided tour of the Jaime Ruiz Otis exhibit Inauguración: Intuir el azar, a 19-year survey of the Bajacalifornio's work in mixed media, found object sculpture, and industrial dumpster-diving.

Just as important as the art to me was the opportunity to drink some local wine at lunch, this time a chardonnay from Valle de Guadalupe—two full glasses of it, which cost just over $7 USD.

Uncharacteristically, I felt no time crunch in Tijuana, though we only had one day in town and several stops to make on our tour. I didn't mind that our lunch took two hours when it was only scheduled for one.

As we were still waiting for our spinach and roquefort salads, I told the woman to my left that I refused to worry about it. We would surely get our food... eventually.

I didn't even mind when my filet mignon never came—because as I waited for my entree, I'd been eyeing the atún that had arrived at so many of the placesettings around me. I'd like to think that I'd made the wrong choice from the set menu, and the Universe intervened to set me straight.

Some folks on our tour thought we should leave early and skip dessert to make the next appointment, but since I'm a completionist, I can't even imagine ending our lunch without the plantain tart and vanilla ice cream.

And it all worked out in the end anyway. Our visit to studio we were supposed to be at while we were still waiting for our salads got bumped to later, and we arrived right on time to the subsequent stop, at Calle Hermenegildo Galeana and Avenida Melchor Ocampo.

That's where we met Alida Cervantes, a Saatchi-affiliated border artist with an MFA from UC San Diego. Born in San Diego but raised in Tijuana, she now paints in her Tijuana studio and lives in San Diego—as she says, crossing the border every night to go to bed.

Alida's studio was, in contrast to our next destination, decidedly "inner city."

We later visited partners in life and art Daniel Ruanova and Mely Barragan way up in the winding roads of the hills above Central Tijuana the gated community in Lomasdoctores, past at least two security guard shacks and surely under the watchful eye of more.

If you're going to live in your studio where you paint, collage, and sculpt fabric, this is the place to do it.

Although their home currently acts as a gallery space for their work (all of which is "available," as they say), I found it far more interesting to head downstairs and examine their materials...

...their tools and instruments...

...and their equipment.

For me, the art is very much in the process.

Of course, by this time, we were running about two hours behind schedule—and it was already dark when we arrived at La Caja Galleria for what was promised to be a "sensory experience."

Certainly our eyes were dazzled upon our arrival by a mix of murals jumping out at us from the walls facing out on De Las Moras.

And we both smelled and tasted what we found wrapped inside a customized greeting that clarified that a burro painted with black stripes is not a zebra, but a donkey, and that our burrito contained no actual tiny donkeys, but a mixture of seafood (including dungeness crab). We washed it down with sips of mezcal and sake served inside a cored-out pepper.

I'm a fan of neither mezcal nor sake, but when in Mexico...

The finale of our night featured what I would describe as an immersive theatrical experience, followed by glasses of red wine and bowls of soup made from beans out of the gallery's own garden, fertilized by the gallery's own compost, both located in a converted parking lot.

It was a new experience to me, though perhaps Tijuana's art scene may seem derivative or even outdated to someone better-versed in the evolution of contemporary or modern art. But while Mexico has a lot of catching up to do, it's catching up pretty fast—something that's particularly impressive considering the fact that there is, in fact, no art "scene" in Tijuana, despite the multitude of talented and creative artists that may live and work there.

But they haven't figured out how to form a community yet. As Mely Barragan put it, "We don't talk to each other."

They most certainly will figure that out sooner rather than later. And when they do, the "scene" that emerges may seem as though it's exploded into the sky like the fireworks that sent us on our way, proclaiming into the sky and celebrating the victory of Tijuana's first soccer team, the Xolos.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Bussing It to Baja
Photo Essay: A Culinary Tour of Tijuana
Photo Essay: The Terroir of Baja Wine Country
Photo Essay: Baja for Foodies
Crossing the Border (Cruzando la Frontera)

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