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The MexiCali Biennial is a dynamic platform for creating new channels of communication between diverse publics within the US and Mexico. It is a vehicle to develop and implement creative research practices and resources for facilitating long-term collaborations that traverse physical, disciplinary and geopolitical borders. MexiCali is a merger of the words Mexico and California. It is a reference to the geographical location, as well as a social and political space that is less of a territory than a deterritorialization. The border here is not a clear demarcation between two zones, but rather a liminal and porous space that colors a region defined by its hybridism—part Mexico, part California and neither entirely.
The first MexiCali Biennial took place in 2006 at La Casa de Tia Tina in Mexicali, Mexico and Chavez Studios in East Los Angeles. We chose to add to an art show a term that came with the baggage of art-world prestige and exhaustion, a Biennial at a time when no one could stand the thought of another one. The aim was to provide artists with an opportunity to respond to and transgress the overarching environmental context of the production and display of their work. At play was an engagement with both the heavily funded and institutionalized Biennial framework within the art world, and the less formal and often more innovative process of bi-national exchange that happens between these regions every day. This connection serves to de-temporalize the regularity of these exchanges, placing time and space into the same liminal and porous position that this reconfiguration of territory represents.
The second MexiCali Biennial took place three years after the first, and was held in four different locations spanning two years and two countries: 2009 at La Casa del Tunel: Art Center in Tijuana, Galeria Comunitaria Mexicali Rose and Sale de Arte de la UABC in Mexicali, and 2010 at the Ben Maltz Gallery, OTIS College of Art and Design, in Los Angeles. This project included the work of 28 artists and collectives, and was the culmination of a year-long dialog about the physical and political realities of crossing cultures, languages, and boundaries. In selecting works submitted through an open call, themes that emerged were the normalization of violence and the disorientation that occurs when one enters into the bleed between these locations.
The third Biennial is scheduled for early 2013 and will engage with the subject of cannibalism. According to Romanian philosopher Catalin Avramescu, the cannibal is a scholarly creature, a thought experiment that interrogates identity on the verge of collapse, posits an ethics without morals, and instills anarchy into the social order. In the West, “the cannibal is the messenger of disorder, the proof that moral chaos has descended upon us, human nature at its worst, the unusable atom of an impossible social order.” Cannibalism in the New World, whether real or imagined, was one of the central moral rationales for colonialism, and it is no accident that the etymological and sociological origins of the cannibal coincide with the discovery of the Americas.
Historically, utopic tendencies in Western modernism have had a forward thrust, projecting into an imaginary space of the future and driven by the forces of technology. By contrast, the Latin American avant garde project of the last century frequently looked to the past, with the seeds of utopia located not in the technological future, but in the purity of the pre-Colombian and autochthonous past. However, these locations are equally phantasmic. The dependence on either trajectory for a post-colonial artistic practice fails because of this historical myopia, a short-sightedness that can only superficially resolve the conflicts inherent within the production of international contemporary art in any location other than the West. This MexiCali Biennial proposes cannibalism as a strategy for the production of a Latin and North American avant garde in the present.
There is no need to draw a line between actual and symbolic anthropophagy; they are part of the same system of meaning. Through ingestion, digestion, and subsumation, the cannibal bridges the gap between political science and moral philosophy, nature and civilization, north and south, east and west, the self and the other. Beyond the boundaries of civilization is an inverted world where all laws are challenged, “…the limit beyond which evil nature becomes visible, whence it came and whither it was summoned to return.”
We take as our inspiration the Brazilian Tropicàlia movement and its anthropophagous tendencies, particularly the work of Hélio Oiticica. Developed in the effervescent cultural climate of the late 1950s, and checked by the military regime of 1968 and the “black years” of institutional violence that followed, Oiticica’s practice opened up radical new spaces in art for bodies and their environmental interactions. These methods of individual and collective production pushed against an aesthetic experience produced by hegemonic cultural and artistic systems, and moved towards a transformation of the world itself. This urgency in regards to transforming the system of art was part of a cultural and political strategy of opposition to forms of oppression within Brazilian life. It was more than just a move towards a plural, open subjectivity, and encompassed ideas of violence, appropriation, and a post-colonial Latin American artistic production burdened by the vocabularies of international contemporary art. The transformative possibilities of the experimental in art were predicated on changing our relationship with art and the world itself. These goals are shared by the MexiCali Biennial. Against the reversible world and objectified ideas. Made into cadavers.