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A Vision Both Near and Far Sited

With works on both sides of the border, inSITE has gained complexity, recognition in its fourth outing.

October 15, 2000|LEAH OLLMAN | Leah Ollman is a regular contributor to Calendar

This weekend marks the launching of the fourth incarnation of inSITE, an event whose look, feel and description have changed--at least slightly, but sometimes dramatically--each time it's been staged. Since its inception in 1992, the constants have been these: InSITE showcases installation and site-specific art; it takes place at multiple venues throughout San Diego and Tijuana; and it is as much a model of binational cooperation as it is of communal and individual ambition.

The current edition, inSITE2000, features new projects by 35 artists from Mexico, the U.S., Canada, Brazil and a smattering of Latin American countries. About half of the projects went on view this weekend and will remain accessible until inSITE concludes in February. Several won't be viewable for at least another month, and others consist of performances or events staged at specific times during the run of the program.

This year's inSITE has fewer total projects than inSITE94 or '97, but, according to Carmen Cuenca, inSITE's executive director in Mexico, and Michael Krichman, her counterpart in the U.S., the projects are more complex, they use more resources, and the permissions for siting the works were much more complicated to obtain.

As in the past, inSITE defies the mall mentality of the one-stop shopper. Artists' projects will be sited in residential neighborhoods of Tijuana, in downtown San Diego office buildings, Tijuana's wax museum, the Tijuana River Estuary Reserve on the U.S. side of the border, and numerous other publicly accessible spots.

Many of the projects require ambition and effort to reach. A video installation by the Swiss- and Brazilian-based team of Mauricio Dias and Walter Riedweg, for instance, can only be seen when passing through a pedestrian border-crossing into Mexico.

"You could say it's difficult to get to," Krichman says, "but it's brilliantly sited. Forty thousand people a day walk past that piece," which, he explains, is about U.S. Customs officers who work with dogs to sniff out drugs and people being smuggled across the border. "It's not a documentary, but a more psychological consideration of this type of work."

New Yorker Jordan Crandall's project will screen sporadically on a huge electronic billboard in a commercial area of downtown Tijuana. The film, called "Heat-Seeking," was made using the same high-tech imaging systems that border police employ for surveillance purposes. It will also be viewable on hand-held cellular devices that can be checked out from the inSITE information centers, where wide-ranging documentation of other projects will also be on view.

The range of locations, says Krichman, invites "multiple audiences. There's an incredible variety of experiences, with audiences built into many of them, like the 'Lucha Libre' fight program in Tijuana where Carlos Amorales' project will intervene [in a regularly scheduled wrestling match]."

The diffusion of projects over time and space makes it a daunting challenge to catch everything, but seeing it all isn't required, says Krichman. "It's not any different than a chamber music series. People will pick what they're going to do from what's offered."

Encouraging audiences to venture beyond familiar territory has been one of the fundamental goals of inSITE since it was conceived in early 1992 by Installation Gallery. The gallery, a dynamic alternative space in downtown San Diego throughout the '80s, had hit upon hard times. It no longer had a director, an exhibition space or much of a budget, but it still had momentum, and an arts advisory board that wanted to continue programming.

"San Diego has a lot of rich talent and venues spread all across the county," artist and advisory board member Ernie Silva remembers thinking. "Since Installation didn't have a space of its own, we thought, wouldn't it be interesting if it worked with these venues to harness all these separate energies, to create an event where the audiences of all these separate venues would move around and visit the others, and to focus in on the talent that's here."

The committee, spearheaded by Silva and contemporary art dealer Mark Quint, started contacting directors of college galleries, museums, commercial spaces and cultural centers throughout San Diego and Tijuana to coordinate a unified schedule of exhibitions featuring installation art.

For its part, Installation--by then an organizing entity rather than a gallery per se--rented some empty office space that it turned over to local artists, and printed a guide to what was widely considered to be a wonderfully varied, vigorous display of regional talent.

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