Occidente Nuevo: Recycled Tijuana

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Occidente Nuevo: Recycled Tijuana

For years, The United States’ architectural waste has been recycled into Tijuana’s neighborhoods, a six decade export business still thriving around the country’s high profiled territorial south border.

Minnesota photographers Laura Migliorino and Anthony Paul Marchetti have partnered together to explore not only the architectural traces of these repurposed structures, but the city and culture that overwhelmingly clash inside the “border” of the city. To date they’ve taken five photo expeditions, and together, their documentation of Tijuana housing has arguably become a definitive collection of the iconic and infamous present-day border city.

In what is more than an architectural project, the collaborative team examines human and universal elements as well as themes of border relationships, commerce, and understated politics.

Both Laura Migliorino and Anthony Paul Marchetti teach photography at Anoka Ramsey, and recently they spoke with MPB about the background, scope, and process of their project.

MPB: How did Tijuana get on your radar screen?

LM: I was in a touring show at the Walker Art Center called Worlds Away. The show was about suburbia. One of the artists in the three museum tour was the architect Teddy Cruz. Teddy and I started chatting at a panel discussion at the Carnegie Museum, and he introduced me to this phenomena of Tijuana houses which had been literally flatbeaded, hoisted off their foundation–flatbeaded in total–and taken over the border.

I thought this was totally fascinating: that you virtually have an entire city built out of the debris–architectural debris–from the United States.

Anthony and I have shared interests and have worked together before. When I told him about this project, he said, . . .

APM: I want in.

(Both laugh.)

APM: I went ahead two times before Laura to get the lay of the land and contacts.

LM: Anthony did a lot of the preliminary reconnaissance; but the last three trips we’ve taken together. It’s a good collaborative project because, for example, I have to find people because I take portraits, and Anthony looks out for me.

APM: Like any photographic project it starts out as an exploration, a learning experience. But for both of our work, it’s the next interesting step because of the use of space and the way it fits in the conversation about suburban and urban housing.

LM: To some extent, we’re interested in architecture: in buildings, dwellings, and urban planning. We both have an interest in how architecture affects one’s life, one’s living environment.

APM: The series also shows the transmigration of waste, and how trash goes to an impoverished country, and the way trash–in this case architecture–influences culture.

LM: Yes! Architecture is made for people. Unfortunately architecture doesn’t always think about the people who are going to use the spaces–and that’s a disconnect.

MPB: There’s a range of housing styles found in Tijuana, correct?

LM: Yes, they puzzle together their housing–whether it’s shipped ranch suburban homes from California, or it’s spontaneous developments.

The history of United States architectural recycling is pretty old. The first flatbeaded pre-manufactured housing shipping began in the 1940s after World War II: a military housing development in San Diego was shipped over the border and planted in Mexico for reuse, and now it’s a Tijuanan housing subdivision. This process of moving American houses continues still in various forms–most of it is suburban housing now; it’s a thriving business, actually.

APM: But the houses sprinkle out, and it gets very undeveloped especially when you go out to the outlaying neighborhoods. It’s there you see the modular living environments. Tijuana grows quickly.

LM: You see houses in the outer neighborhoods that are entirely a squatter’s-ville, houses made from corrugated metal or cardboard. These spontaneous developments are actually hard to get to. There’s now a portion of the city that’s grown to a canyon called Moralez. It’s okay when the river is dry. But when it rains and the river swells, it becomes very problematic.

MPB: Your goal is to show the work at Concordia College in Saint Paul next year. Why show this work in Minnesota?

APM: Even though the content of this series is in Mexico, showing the work here is a noble and important thing to do.

LM: We’re a border state. Exploring the border relationship south of the American border and showing how radically different our border relationship is to north of the border is a strong comparison.

We hope to show our project in tandem at Concordia with two Mexican artists who have similar interests, Ingrid Hernandez and Alejandro Cartagena. We also have a show scheduled in Tijuana in September 2012.

APM: Laura and I feel it’s valuable to immerse the work in the community we’re photographing.

LM: It’s a big deal. It’s a new international, two person show. There’s a lot of work to present. But to go back to the question, three of my Tijuana portraits are being shown for the first time in a show at the MPLS Photo Center. Having the resulting exhibition in our home-state is very much on our radar.

MPB: Do you know of any other artists working on documenting Tijuana at present?

LM: Renee Palmalto’s book Tijuana Now is a rich resource.

MPB: Where in the project are you now?

LM: We’re still collecting examples of this phenomena. There’s maybe a point in the future when we have enough to speak about this, but when we’ve collected enough we need to do with Tijuana, I know I will want to trace the architecture in San Diego or wherever else it came from.

We could photograph Cleveland or Detroit, but the border elements fascinate me.

APM: Me, too.

  1. thought-provoking subject and images – especially from an architect’s perspective. love the diptych format, it propels the story telling within the images. can’t wait to learn more about your project.

  2. CJ Standish said:

    Great ideas! Especially adding the people element in connection with the houses. I’d also like to hear or read a narrative about them also. I know it’s a different media but the videos in which Sebastiao Salgado talked about his subjects – he really got to know them well – added so much to the images.

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