Tanya Aguiniga and Teddy Cruz at MACLA

By Megan Bailey

Step off the bustling, downtown urban dynamics of First Street and into MACLA before October 16th, and you may find yourself in the color-soaked, design-privy imaginations of artists Tanya Aguiniga and Teddy Cruz. Not only do these visionaries present everything from housing interiors to urban design maps that are simply beautiful, but they challenge the contemporary notions of acceptable labor practices in construction of home furnishings, meaningful border policy and intercultural collaboration, land use practices, and more.

Figurines from Chiapas natives at MACLA. Photo courtesy of Jim Dewrance.

 Tanya, a native of Tijuana who crossed the Mexican-American border every day for 14 years to attend school in the U.S., is intimately familiar with the lifestyles and politics of the border neighborhoods. The work she displays in Lineas showcases the powerful potential of cross-border dialogue: it is all the result of her residency in Chiapas, Mexico. When she asked the traditional artisans of the area to teach her their crafts, such as spinning wool or weaving the fabric that now covers the many colorful stools that populate MACLA’s floor, the question ignited a craft revival, raising interest within the local residents about their very own traditions. Empowered with the renewed knowledge and practice of these skills as well as financial support from Tanya, the value of the artisans’ handicraft has been included in the mainstream, “high art” market instead of marginalized by it.

 From the materials to the final product: Giant rolls of yarn and swatches of felt are presented abstractly and beautifully, behind stools covered with fabric from the Chiapas. Photo courtesy of Jim Dewrance.

At MACLA, the traditional figurines created by the Chiapas weavers are displayed intermingled with the furniture and draping wall pieces Tanya completed with the weavers’ fabrics, intermingled with Tanya’s fusion of Modernism and traditional aesthetics. Thus, the show pays tribute to the beauty and quality of the traditional craftsmanship of the Chiapas natives not by giving their products the stamp of approval from a Eurocentric, gallery-dominated art world, but by allowing a pure, fair cultural exchange between two people groups and an artistic production that is an outgrowth of that exchange. Tanya’s exhibition offers an alternative not only to the production processes but also the sense of design  dictated by current outsourcing practices, allowing for these traditional crafts to be part of the livelihoods of Chiapas natives and introduced to the US. In fact, Tanya is offering workshops at MACLA throughout the duration of the show for those interested in learning the craft skills handed to her.

Teddy Cruz’s ‘Compendium of Voids: A Chronology of an Invasion and Levittown Retrofitted: Non-Conforming Buddha’, a series of maps and stories that offer a fresh perspective on land use. Photo courtesy of Jim Dewrance.

As an architect and Associate Professor of public culture and urbanism at UC San Diego, Teddy Cruz has a unique perspective to offer fellow onlookers of the Mexican-U.S. border trends. His portion of Lineas, entitled Mapping Non-Conformity: From the Global Border to the Border Neighborhood, offers videos, maps, photos, and small-scale sculpture. Through these works, Teddy provides viewers with an overview of cross-border migration and labor dynamics: vast numbers of people are moving from the global south to global north to evade poverty, yet much labor from the global north is being outsourced to the south.

On a smaller scale, Teddy has mapped the vastly different landscapes in terms of land use and zoning requirements on either side of the Mexican-U.S. border in Compendium of Voids: A Chronology of an Invasion. Land use practices common in Tijuana have been seeping into San Diego. Documenting the stories of an in-neighborhood Buddist temple and a group of teens who challenged the city to convert abandoned space under a freeway overpass into a skate park, Teddy implies that San Diego and other U.S. cities could successfully change existing zoning laws to create more sustainable neighborhoods. He even provides a model of how a large family home could be retrofitted to become part home and part workspace. At Teddy’s artist talk on Saturday, a woman who worked for the city of San Jose noted how much his work challenged Americans’ current values of privacy. Teddy responded that he is not proposing any radicalization of current laws; he just wants people to see our current building laws and habits as just one approach of formatting society–and it may not be the most environmentally sustainable, financially efficient, and socially inclusive.

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