The history of territorial, border conflicts among México and the United States begins with the creation of public art. In 1848, under the Guadalupe Treaty, the erection of 52 obelisks was commissioned in order to set geographical boundaries between the two countries, from California to Texas. UN/Divided tries to transcribe and codify the spatiality of public realms, by constructing meticulous relationships among typography, politics, and architecture. It builds bridges amid nostalgia and memory, creating anti-monuments without changing the natural space, and always recreating new environments for mediatic reflection.
Graffiti is part of the urban art movements and has had several stages from oppression and intolerance to vandalism, but all have unveiled new languages. However, in the last decades, the aesthetics of graffiti has permeated into the academy, achieving acceptance within contemporary art practices considering graffiti a neo-muralist vanguard. The crew Graffiti HEM (Hecho en México) was created in the late ‘80s in the Tijuana/San Diego region, as a puerile act, searching and rescuing urban signs. This graffiti art collective has succeeded in creating a dissimilar cross-border language owning their own local identity and portraying the city aesthetics by impersonating New York urban vanguards of the time.
Now, thirty years since its birth, HEM joins the changing urban art world. Current members Shente and Spell delve into the flagship of visual noise, exposing layers of brownish propaganda glued to the city walls by arbitrary showing past and present memory. Their work captures the neon signs marquees of many pharmacies, restaurants, and bars in Tijuana, also their work tries to capture the memory of illegal graffiti that succumbs walls, corners, floors and public buildings in the city. HEM has a particular interest in the intervention of shutters, and public walls that divide both countries. Simultaneously, they have a personal and poetic affinity that cares about urban embellishment, non-Western typography and picturesque, cultural imagery.
Parallel to the interpretation of public symbols from crew HEM, Guillermo Echeveste’s public and political work, inquiries into the anatomy and symbolism of one of the obelisks built in the 19th century that marks geopolitical boundaries along México and United States territory, which lays a plaque that reads: “Boundary of Human Intelligence”.
Echeveste built this obelisk with materials that mimic sundry objects sold at the San Ysidro gate (it is made out of plaster of Paris, just like the little piggy banks offered at the border by local vendors). The intention of the piece is to reverse the symbol of a public art monument into a ludic, toy-like object that makes reference to a playful cultural practice, instead of a territorial erected construction. This makeover of the symbol displayed in a local space turns simulation into an anti-monument provoking an in-depth analysis of the physical construction of political walls while questioning the “Boundary of Human Intelligence”.
It is with this perspective that UN/Divided takes ownership of the public realm and built signs and anti-monuments subverting the traditional dividing logic.