On October 20 and 21, the Rubin Center in collaboration with AGENCY Architecture, with participation by Crossway Foundation and Angel Cabrales/University of Texas at El Paso, hosted the Border InSecurities Workshop, which focused on the exploration of borders in their physical, political, cultural, and personal meaning. The Rubin Center, on the UTEP campus, serves the local community as well as the student body on issues about art and design in our border town. AGENCY is the practice of two Texas Tech College of Architecture faculty members — Ersela Kripa and Stephen Mueller — that focuses on emerging contemporary cultural issues through architecture, urbanism, and advocacy. The Crossway Foundation was founded by a group of artists who believe in the power of journeys to inspire better understanding and collaboration across borders. Since its formation, the foundation has supported a series of journeys to over 13 different nations, allowing a select group of emerging artists from Middle Eastern nations to visit and explore the arts in different countries.
To initiate the workshop, AGENCY issued a prompt to the participants from Crossway and UTEP, asking them to curate a selection of three to five objects that they would find essential during a hypothetical border crossing. The objects could include clothes, tools, electronics, keepsakes, etc.; they could be found, bought, or designed; they could be legal or illegal — the important thing was that they be exclusive to the act of crossing the imagined border — nothing from day-to-day life. Kripa and Mueller also asked that the objects “engage with the particular techno-political context” of the chosen border, including considering what methods might be used to detect the object (biometric scanning, facial recognition software, RFID sensing, unmanned aerial photography, x-ray, etc.). Finally, they asked that the objects communicate with a desired audience: a security agent, a contact on the “other side,” other members of the crossing party, or anyone else. The prompt read: “Consider whether your object will render you self-transparent, or whether it may contradict or obfuscate your true nature. Consider whether the trip you imagine would be sanctioned or clandestine.”
On the second day of the workshop, after a series of discussions, collaborative activities, and insightful dialogues, AGENCY curated a mobile performance and pop-up exhibit, asking the artists to travel by bike to the border, each carrying pieces of a custom display table made from plastic fencing — the idea being to assemble a display table near the border fence that was made from fence parts. The group mustered along the main path at the Paso del Norte Bridge between El Paso and Juárez. They assembled the fence/display table — which was designed and pre-cut by AGENCY and snapped together easily with adjustable friction-fit connections, using the rental bikes as table legs. The selected objects were then laid out on the table, drawing hundreds of curious travelers into dialogues about borders.
As I discussed the project with Valeria Mariani and Imogen Ware of the Crossway Foundation, Ersela Krippa of AGENCY, and Kerry Doyle of the Rubin Center, it became apparent that the workshop provided the visiting artist, the students at UTEP, and the various professionals involved with an opportunity to elevate the discussion about borders, transferring knowledge and sharing individual experiences. As part of the dialogue, I learned from the members of the Crossway Foundation that once their individual personal journey ends, they will continue the dialogue through the internet, eliminating the physical boundaries of a border and creating a more universal community.
Nestor Infanzon, FAIA, is principal of Nine Degrees in El Paso.