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critique of border hack report

by coco fusco Monday, Aug. 27, 2001 at 7:04 PM

Performance Artist Coco Fusco takes on border hacker boasts


Subject: borderhack


Date: Thu, 23 Aug 2001 10:19:38 EDT


Dear Fran Ilich,

I realize from the nettime-latino list that you are currently receiving

heated emails from critics about your borderhack event and don't want to

give the impression that I just want to add fuel to the fire. However, for

a long while now, each time I read your postings, I am left wondering why

you present your borderhack endeavors as if there had never been an

organized attempt before yours to develop a critical/artistic approach to

the US-Mexico border. It may just be that you believe that using computers

makes everything different but the content of the work you present and the

content of your own essays read like re-runs of the manifestos of the

Border Arts Workshop in the 1980s.

They too wanted to bring the border down, explore the area as a zone of

intercultural exchange, point to human rights violations, and theorize a

border sensibility using the notion of the deterritorialized undocumented

Mexican as a trope. They brought the hybrid pop cultural forms of the

region into the spotlight, from norteño punk rock to Tijuanense detective

fiction, to Bart Simpson in sombreros and velvet paintings of Elvis. They

didn't work with computers so much, but they used radio, fax machines,

cheap printing processes, and connected with alternative information

distribution networks via the mail art circuit, an important precursor to

the current arena.

They organized cultural events at the border, did performances across the

border fence, and in a metaphorical way, were "hacking" long before you

got there, and before any mainstream museum ever took interest in the

area. Scores of academics in both the US and Mexico started thinking

about the border as the starting point of hybridity because of the work

that BAWTAF has done, and because of the contributions of such writers and

artists as Guillermo Gomez-Peña, Gloria Anzaldua, Alurista and so on. In

addition, from the 1960s onward, Chicano artists were talking about a

territory without borders and making art about the region, laying a

groundwork for the sensibility you now claim as your own.

It is dismissive and even ignorant to describe all these efforts as

"cliched" approaches to the border - I honestly don't see that what you

propose as very different other than that you propose to transpose this

work into a virtual context. The other real difference I see is that you

want to draw a predominantly European and Euro-American crowd from

nettime to TJ and link the US-Mexico border scene to the European art

scene -- now what would that do for the border and the people who live and

work there?

Still, it is historically inaccurate to suggest that artists first got

concerned about borders in Europe first during the last Documenta as you

have written -- artists have been working on the US-Mexico border for much

much longer than that. What does seem terribly odd is that it would appear

that you must erase the history of border culture in order to cast your

own venture as the starting point. Now why would that be necessary? Why

make partake of that violent modernist tradition of having to

demolish everything in order to make one's own creativity seem original?

Why not bring all your peers and colleagues from a variety of disciplines

and histories into dialogue together to share border culture? Why turn

your back on the past and even on other artists working in the present

(BAW TAF still exists, for example) and only pay attention to one digerati

clique that too often mistakes itself for the only politicized avant garde

to have ever emerged in the history of the world?

Sincerely, Coco Fusco

(forwarded by DeeDee)

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