By Charles Linder
Recently, I was invited to travel to Tijuana, MX during Dia de Los Muertos for a solo show at the legendary art space La Casa del Tunel. My host, Luis Ituarte, had helped me lay the groundwork for the project in the months leading up to the two-day event, which was held on November first and second. Gallery 16 Editions produced a new full color catalog for the show, also called MUDSLINGER. The catalog features a poem by Linda Ravenswood Montano which was written especially for the images contained inside. It also contains a CD recording and QR code link to an audio voiceover of me talking about the pictures in the book.
Abstractly, the title refers back to some of my earlier action-based work that I was known for in the 90’s – specifically, my mud-splattered T-shirts – that I came home with after long mountain bike rides on rainy days. On a more metaphoric level, the title also refers to the wheel of overlapping relations, experiences and events that have defined my life. What I tried to do with the catalog was create a non-linear narrative about myself that visually read like a story, but lingered conceptually, like a myth.
In the days leading up to my departure I found myself suddenly the unwitting subject of a documentary film crew, which had been assembled by John Rocker to follow me around for five days. As Americans going to Tijuana, we had all heard about the mythical images lurking just south of the border; some, no doubt, very real and potentially quite dangerous. Which scenes would prove to be true and real? Which were figments of the imagination of the other? Clearly, the real challenge of being in any new and unfamiliar place is to let down one’s guard enough to be open to witnessing authentic culture. Simply put, none of us wanted to be seen as tourists and yet none of us were going to Tijuana necessarily looking for trouble. We were all quite sure that if we left the door open trouble would very likely find us. This never happened.
The goal was to try to engage in my practice directly with the community at La Casa and to offer my wares – ephemeral event work – just as I would in any other city or country. Each time I do my shows, I learn something new about myself, the city I’m doing the work in and also about the process of reaching my audience. In Tijuana, I felt a strong affinity with my host, whose own work as an artist went far beyond simply making fine objects for sale and struck deep into the heart of his community. This idea informed my approach to making the work and helped me decide what to leave in and what to take out. I kept saying to my friend how much Tijuana reminded me of Berlin and now vie started thinking of Tijuana AS the new Berlin of California. Specifically, it is very reasonable to live there and the artist’s scene is vibrant and full of dialogue. My show felt like a sort of mini retrospective – a metrospective, to quote Graham Gillmore – featuring work from way back at the outset of my career and stretching through to include brand new work. I felt like there was an invisible thread holding the show together which, when pulled, should allow the viewer passage into my oeuvre, sort of like that proverbial trap door at the end of the bar in gold rush era watering holes where you get “shanghai-ed” and sent out to sea. The two-night opening was a first for me and we went hard on it both nights. Robert Edwards made the pilgrimage from Oakland to serve up wild boar tacos and home made sausage to the delight of all assembled. The Los Angeles band The Ravenswood Jones performed two stunner sets on the rooftop of La Casa. We also got to see El Juli perform on Dia de Los Muertos, no doubt a once in a lifetime experience. When in Rome…
When I told people up North that I was going to Tijuana for a solo show, I got responses like: “Aren’t you worried that you might be abducted and killed by Los Zetas?” or “A show in Tijuana? Is this an all time career low?” I found that most people’s comments reflected a very limited and fearful perception of the town, which were largely unfounded. I was not there to embrace clichés nor was I there on a colonialist mission to extract cultural amulets for export home. I was there to learn something. With that stance, we crossed the border open-eyed, looking to embrace the authenticity that Tijuana radiated from afar. As a consequence, I have returned to San Francisco with an emboldened sense of purpose and a feeling that the project was in fact, an all time career high for me.
The following video is one of my favorite moments in Tijuana. Watch video HERE.
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