Performing Migration: Art and Site-Specificity at the U.S.-Mexico Border

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The U.S.-Mexico border region has been theorized in the writings of Gloria Anzaldua (1987), Nestor García Canclini (1995), Walter D. Mignolo (2000), and others as a liminal space, generating new kinds of hybridity in the minds and actions of so-called “border subjects.” Anzaldua identified with the spiritual, primal, indigenous roots that were hidden by years of Americanization. García Canclini offered up the notion of “hybrid cultures” in which the modern and the traditional not only coexist to create something new. Finally, Mignolo delved into the psychological mindset of the border subject, identifying a kind of “border thinking” that defines not only physical but internal borders. These theorizations were a response to the mixing of art and culture on international borders, at which a distinct society was being formed. In turn, these attempts to understand the border have influenced an artistic response that embraces the notion of site as a performative gesture. It is in this theoretical context that I will contrast two border performances, The Cloud by Alfredo Jaar (2000) and One Flew over the Void by Javier Téllez (2005). Jaar’s piece, a somber act of commemoration, is overshadowed by the significance of site, while Téllez’ performance (which includes a human cannonball shot across the border) initiates a discussion of border mentality and the psychological barriers to migration. These pieces mark points on a trajectory of “border art” from a charged site of mourning and memory to a more fluid representation of the global dynamics at work on the border.


Keywords: Borders, Mexico, United States, Performance Art
Stream: Arts Theory and Criticism
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: , Performing Migration


Dr. Ila Sheren

Doctoral Candidate, History
Theory and Criticism of Architecture and Art, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA

I am a 4th year doctoral candidate at MIT, specializing in the history of performance art at the U.S.-Mexico border (as well as other, related borders). The title of my dissertation, which I expect to complete in 2010, is Portable Borders/Mythical Sites: Performance art and Politics at the U.S. Frontera, 1960 to the Present. The topic is closely related to the abstract I have submitted for this conference. Prior to my involvement with Latin American and U.S. art, my background was primarily European modernism. I completed an undergraduate thesis on the metro stations of Prague, then went on to the PhD program in MIT’s Department of Architecture. I obtained a grant to study for one summer at the Canadian Center for Architecture, where I conducted extensive research on Die Glaserne Kette group of German Expressionists. I began working on border art and theories shortly afterwards.

Ref: A09P0300