Documenting the history of art in Tijuana, especially performance, and remembering its history by telling it to each other.
It all started with literature. I don’t remember an exact early art memory, but my approach to the art world was trough literature and writing. In high school, I was in an international program and we had literature classes where we read Nobel prize authors. This exercise of reading carefully, looking for the meaning of the sentences brought me closer to art. I began as a poet in my twenties, I wrote two books and then I left it. It’s still very important for me, writing, not just curatorial writing but looking for other ways such as performative writing, relations between writing and memory etc. because of that moment of my life.
Nowadays, I am researching the art history in Tijuana. And I have to reconstruct my memories. For instance, there was an artwork by Marcos Ramirez Erre in 1997, Troy an Horse, I was 8 or 9, it was set in the lines of traffic at the Port of Entry of San Ysidro. Although we are separated by the border, we used to go very often to San Diego from Tijuana, and there was this Trojan horse piece by Erre. It was huge and had two heads. I remember the horse from when I was a kid. I didn’t know anything about art then, but now I’m researching its history. I’m sure that there is a link between seeing that and my profession as a curator, but it’s not very clear.
Building his own curator course. I don’t remember the precise moment when I decided that I wanted to be a curator. It’s something I keep asking myself, why don’t I remember that moment? I started to write about art when I was in my twenties. I first went to medicine school but then I left and I had this one year dedicated to writing poetry and reading poetry in the streets with a collective named Colectivo Intransigente. We used megaphones to read our poetry in front of a church or in buses—we wanted to bring poetry to the streets and to the people who maybe didn’t have poetry books at home or didn’t go to an institution dedicated to culture. Recently, I started to review that moment of my life because I’m researching performance art, and I think it’s linked to that moment of very performative reading. I started to write reviews, but not like critiques because I didn’t know anything about it yet. I wrote about theater, art exhibitions, and music concerts. Then I assisted an artist in Centro Cultural Tijuana, CECUT, and later the exhibition manager. In Tijuana, there is no art history program, no curating program, the only Bachelor related to art is the BFA. So I studied in that program but I was always thinking of trying to become a curator. When I was a student, I also took additional classes in philosophy, ontology, literary criticism, a series of courses that didn’t exist in the art faculty. I started curating some exhibitions in independent spaces, and I did some workshops and seminars in Mexico City.
“if you didn’t have works related to the border, the curators wouldn’t interview you”. At first, I started curating visual arts with friends and other students. The first show I curated after graduation was a project about archiving, for an international photography festival in Tijuana. I don’t know if my interest in archives started there, but it was a very important point of my career because that exhibition went to another state in Mexico and I began to reflect on the relation between archives, photographs, the image, the body etc. It made me look at performance too because my approach to it is related to the relation to documentation, archive, memory, and bodies. It was very organic, also because the figure of the curator in Tijuana wasn’t very common in 2015 (it was even more rare to find curators from Tijuana working in Tijuana in the nineties and the aughts). Mostly, curators came from another place, another city, or another country. And for example for the INSITE festival, they were always interested in the border theme. Artists, older than me, told me that if you didn’t have works related to the border, the curators wouldn’t interview you. There was a time when the border was very important to the development of the scene. But it was from the outside, even though the works were produced here, the target was the global system.
Mapping Tijuana’s performance art history with the women who were part of it—La performance fronteriza. Additionally, I did an archive management specialization, since I was interested in the memory and the art history of the city. In 2017, I started to research the history of performance art in Tijuana. I started to map it, it spans 40 years, from the eighties to now. I try to reconstruct everything but it’s a lot of work, so I’m still on it. I trace it through the views of women artists because I found that—well, maybe we already all know that—because of the patriarchal system, the past has been written through the point of view of men. Most of the history of performance from those years was written by men, but also men are the main figures of this narrative. But there were many women artists working and sustaining the scene. I found this link between archives and documentation very interesting, since most of the documentation was created by women, because they were carrying the cameras. Yet the women don’t appear on the images, so their bodies don’t appear. There is a systematic invisibilization, their names appear but the bodies don’t, and the credits to the works are attributed to men, even when it was a collective piece. The project is called La performance fronteriza, and it has been made possible thanks to a grant by Patronato de Arte Contemporáneo PAC. I am working with six performers from the eighties, we meet each month to remember that period of time related to performance and so I keep asking them how it was, and intent on filling a gap in our art history.
There are two views of the scene in Tijuana today. One comes from the outside: every time when I go out of the city, I hear Tijuana is so vibrant, there is so much art and art spaces … But the other side is what I know. I am here and I’m worried about it because there aren’t that many art spaces, and working conditions are getting poorer in the art world, it lacks archives, structures, and research. All is in its very beginning. Although, there are young people making things happening, opening art spaces, and making art exhibitions such as Sala de Espera and 206 Arte Contemporáneo, both active these days. Many artists’ projects are interested in the past such Chantal Peñalosa’s Unfinished Garage and her Afterlife series. There is something strange about projects that are revisiting INSITE and the fact that INSITE came back to Tijuana recently, I think it was 2019, after they left it in 2005. The scene is young and diverse but there is a lack of research and of institutions dedicated to memory or history.
Inescapable border condition. I always lived in Tijuana, except for a short period in Mexico city. It’s a conscious decision, I want to live here. I was born here, my life and projects are here, and I want to make this research process from here and present it in Tijuana for the first time. I see what’s lacking in the art scene. I see that I can contribute to developing these structures. Since I graduated and started curating, I had always said ‘no’ to the border theme, as it’s such a cliche. Globalization, extractivism are behind us, and I tried to research other things. But when I study the art history of Tijuana, I cannot do so without this transborder condition, because artists have always been doing work about it. Many artists were born in San Diego but grew up here or vice versa. It’s a fluid region. In the eighties the ‘border art’ category was even created by the San Diego/Tijuana-based Border Art Workshop, Taller de Arte Fronterizo (BAW/TAF). There is this geopolitical limit and its condition gives shape to the space, the bodies, and time. We cannot escape from it, but we can reflect on it in other ways, not just understanding it as a border but as a way of life.
Writing as a constant. There is a link between all the types of writings that I do. As I said before, I started by writing poetry so that part of my writing is more concrete, it’s about creating images. That exercise helps me to write about art—depending on the text—because we often have to describe. Additionally, I am now exploring performative and pedagogical writings. It’s important to write and know that we will be read, that is something my teacher in high school often said—you write to be read.
At the moment I am reading Cristina Rivera Garza’s “Autobiografía del algodón“, it’s research and very close to cultural studies but also literature. Another book, although is not haunting me, but that I use very often, is “Obra Negra, Una aproximación a la construcción de la cultura visual de Tijuana”, you can find it here. It’s the first curatorial project focused on reconstructing the art history of Tijuana, curated by Carlos Ashida and olgaMargarita dávila (this is how she writes her name), published in 2011. It’s a book that I always come back to, to check dates, names, etc.
I don’t really do anything else besides the art world. I go to brunches in downtown or Cacho, with my friends. We love having brunch on Saturdays or Sundays. We also take trips to LA, mostly to art events. We go to each other houses, we are always eating and drinking and talking—all of my friends are in the arts. I don’t have a hobby and I don’t have another extracurricular activity. My guilty pleasure is action movies, heroes and fantasy, but I never mention it in public ha ha. This question makes me feel so unidimensional ha ha.
The power of the voice. How to collect performance is a good question and there are projects that are trying to answer it, pondering about the relation to the remains or the documentation that performance could leave after it happens. I am trying to question this fetishization. I believe more in memories, I talk with artists, and listen to him or her and what she or him felt at the moment. So maybe recording these talks is a way of collecting. I don’t want to create another document that establishes the path of performance though, I believe that performance is something that lives in the memories and therefore, it is always changing. For that reason, I would like to present my research orally just by talking with people interested in it, without creating a book or an archive. I believe that this process of telling is very important, we get closer to feel the past of performance through the voice than through an image. An image or a video doesn’t capture it the same way, we think it may be more accurate but I think both transmissions are equally far away removed from what happened for real. And also I am not interested in what happened for real. I am more interested in memory and what happened in the body.
If I wasn’t a curator I think I would be a writer. I studied medicine and biochemistry but I don’t want to be in a lab. I would be a poetry writer.
Daril Fortis is an art curator from Tijuana (Mexico). He earned a BFA at the Autonomous University of Baja California (2015) and an Archives Management Specialization at the Mexican School of Archives (2021). In 2018 he attended the Curatorial Intensive in Mexico City of the Independent Curators International. In 2014 he co-founded the art organization Periférica and served as Program Coordinator until its dissolution in 2019. During which term, he designed the educational program Monitoreo: Programa de Crítica Contemporánea (2017-2019) and co-curated the guest state section (Baja California) of Salón ACME (2018). He curated the exhibitions Modos del cuerpo, a reading of Baja California’s artistic heritage (Baja California Ministry of Culture, 2019 and 2020); Intuir el azar, the first monographic exhibition by Jaime Ruiz Otis (CECUT, 2017; MACO, Oaxaca, 2018; GAALS, Sinaloa, 2019); Modern Love vol. 3 (Noox-Zona MACO, 2019); and La distancia corta, a group exhibition with artists from Baja California and Chiapas (Tuxtla Gutiérrez City Museum, 2016). He edited the books Ecos y resonancias. Primera panorámica de la pintura en Baja California (2021) and Archivo Vivo. Primer mapeo de artistas mujeres de Baja California (2021), both published by La Rumorosa, the Baja California Ministry of Culture’s editorial. He has been fellow for PECDA BC program (2017), Patronato de Arte Contemporáneo’s grants and international projects programs (2018, 2020 and 2021), and Fundación Jumex Arte Contemporáneo’s grants program (2019). He is curating La performance fronteriza, focused on the collective construction of the memory of Tijuana’s performance art scene between 1984-2004 from women artists’ view. He is currently studying an MSc Sociocultural Studies at the Institute for Cultural Research-Museum of the Autonomous University of Baja California and had granted by the National Grant Program. www.tijuanaperformance.art/daril-fortis