I grew up crossing the border between Tijuana, Mexico and San Diego, California. This upbringing created in me a liminal state of being that I embody and inhabit. Line of Breath is a sound installation that manifests this state and attempts to give life to this in-between zone. The installation consists of a series of transducers and custom speakers attached to a 15-meter section of the metal border fence in Tijuana. It plays sound recordings of my breathing, transforming the fence into a single speaker, a single living unit. One hears a single, breathing soundscape coming from the transducers, and when one leans towards the fence to the custom speakers, one hears a second breath sound recording. The work reveals the coexistence of two perceived opposites and, with it, acknowledges and draws attention to this often neglected space overlooked by dualistic or politicized points of view. The research for the piece drew from touch, sound, earth art and socially-engaged art in the context of liminality, boundaries and politics. The project started as an identity exploration and grew to include community involvement. Ultimately, Line of Breath has led me to reflect on the redefinition of boundaries, not only physically, but mentally and emotionally.

My Fence

“Boundaries have a range of significance as limit-objects. Yet a boundary was once a material limit which marked ‘the edge’ beyond which civilization ceased to exist, or beyond which sailing ships did not return, and perhaps even ‘fell off’ the world. The terror of these absolute limit-boundaries persists in the popular imaginary.”[1] When I was a child in Tijuana, I knew the political fence did not mark the end of the world, but it marked the space where I was not welcomed. In order to get in, I needed to smile and accurately respond to any questions from the border guards. There was a certain feeling of inferiority when one is lining up to cross and sees American officers arresting and talking down to people that are coming from the same side. “Boundary drawing is a matter of deciding on what or where is included and what is excluded. It is an aspect of relations, aesthetic reason and a form of judgment and discrimination or distinction.”[2]

Touching the fence through the transducers helped me make peace with these memories. Instead of feeling resentment or anger, I felt inspired and capable of redefining it. I felt I was physically and emotionally connected to it, sharing my breath with it. I enjoyed the process, though this fence is not meant to be enjoyed, touched, interacted with or changed. On the contrary, this fence is designed to stop human flow, natural growth, and connection. During the process of building the barriers, “The Secretary [of Homeland Security] waived a number of mostly environmental and conservation laws.”[3] The urgency to “secure” this border was so great that it did not matter that it was overstepping laws meant to protect nature.

At the same time, I sensed that this fence was welcoming and embracing me and the equipment I was bringing. This fence that “had been built out of recycled portable helicopter landing mats that the United States used in Vietnam”[4] was asking for a change, and with help from the speakers it came alive as something different than it was before. The way I see it, this material was born out of fear, not functionality, and needed redefinition.

I did not think I was going to end up giving thanks to the fence. Our relationship has been changing throughout and it still does constantly. It represents and supports fear, at the same time the fence embodies two opposites, two contradictions that co-exist in the fence. These two are not two anymore, but one, and that is how I end up looking at the fence with more possibility than fear. It points to the potential of two opposites co-existing in one space. How great would it be to be in that space, to touch, hear, smell, taste that space. That is where my mind is on both a personal and artistic level. Since the project’s essence is change itself, my reflections are constantly in flux. That is the beauty of this work and what I seek to point out. How does one point out the beauty in something that is constantly changing and at times scary?

[1]  Shields, Rob. Boundary-Thinking in Theories of the Present. 2003
[2]  Shields, Rob. Boundary-Thinking in Theories of the Present. 2003
[3]  Nuñez-Neto, Blas. Garcia, Michael John. Border Security: The San Diego Fence. 2007
[4] Hattam, Victoria. Imperial Designs: Remembering Vietnam at the US-Mexico Border Wall. 2016.