Issue 5: Tijuana, Mexico

Contributors: Miguel Buenrostro, Fernando Careaga, Saulo Cisneros, Paula Flores, Ingrid Hernandez, Marisol Hurtado, Haydeé Jiménez, Carlos Kiki, Corbin LaMont, Tania Valencia and Fio Zenjim.

Editors: Diego Aguirre, Ellen Freeman, Jack Forinash, Joal Stein and Mary Welcome.

10.75" x 16.5" Broadsheet, Cold Offset Press, Full Color.

Printed by Valley Printers.

Invisible Mapping

Written by Miguel Buenrostro

No Cinema Photo:  Miguel Buenrostro

No Cinema
Photo: Miguel Buenrostro

The Invisible Mapping project began as a personal aesthetic experience in the area that I have studied, filmed, and observed the most: Tijuana’s historical district. This is where I encounter the traces of memories, answers, and questions that help me define and decode the border city. 

Fiction, mapping, and video documentation are the mediums I use to analyze the city through architecture, particularly the disputes and tensions between public and private spaces. Many buildings and situations speak directly to me because of their history and the production logic from which they emerge. I approach a space by considering its historical context and the spatial relationship with people that work, live, and make these places. 

Our work is about understanding the geopolitical forces that allow the formal and the informal to exist in parallel as false dichotomies, the layers of memory represented in the physical structures of the city, and the cross-section between the hyperreality of the border and the fictional characters and narratives that emerge from these spatial conditions. Tijuana (or the imagined concept of the city) is based upon two conventional media narratives: one talks about violence, prostitution, cheap tourism, and, of course, the narco world, and other narrative that presents Tijuana as an explosive, hip, and artsy place. Those divergent stories generate a blurry reality of what the city is, thus many people misunderstand the city’s true poetics. I am interested in another version of the city, one that opens up when I walk, when I pay attention to different characters, when I get inside of different spaces and conversate with different people. Having access to that form of the city allows you to have a clearer vision of what the city truly is.

These “ethno fictional” exercises have given me critical tools to read the city as an open book, to observe the gaps between the construction and the destruction of the city, and analyze the determinants of what spaces remain in the process. What is an icon in this misunderstood city? Why are these spaces left behind? In a city so young and so vulnerable due to its geographic condition, what forces produce monuments or anti-monuments? In a city with no pattern of architectural preservation, what buildings become icons? What gestures and strategies can we generate in a city that produces ruins? How can we translate our everyday language to articulate and formulate the broader geopolitical systems that float around our territory?

In using metaphor as method, these systems can be seen as clouds or nebulas that invade the territory, in which we breathe whatever substances they bring along, and they give us the ingredients to produce, create, experiment, and improvise, wherein the city becomes a stage of science-fiction, an urban canvas of imagination and exploration. These nebulas exist above any formal city planning strategies and any institutional or neoliberal impositions in the way we are supposed to live in our city, leaving apocalyptic traces in the borderscape’s spatial condition. What sort of architecture can we speculate on in a city that erases, demolishes, and destroys every artifact of physical memory?

If we think of the city as a battleground that contains a conflict between dystopias and utopias, we have to question who the oppressed and the oppressors are, in which the erasure of memory is wielded as a weapon.

Each of these questions stems from the sites I study and provides me with lessons that I’m able to share with those that join my guided cinematic walks. These walks are a chance to share the intimate moments I experience when walking, which I view as a form of political responses to the conventional city narrative; or when I am behind the camera observing with a lack of judgment and no imposition. Observing and processing images becomes a powerful instrument for reading and encountering the city and allows a contextual comprehension and a spatial vortex of reflection where situations unfold and reveal themselves in front of you. 

Such a situation is the time I bore witness to and filmed a family of Chinese immigrants being displaced from their apartment building as it was being demolished. The developer had bought the building and redeveloped it into a trendy apartment complex, targeted for American commuters that want to live in Tijuana while working in the U.S. This allows these Americans to maintain a certain lifestyle, the only cost being the daily border crossings to move back and forth. 

I once filmed the inside of a historic building during its demolition, observing the destruction of this incredible site for a whole week and documenting every single column collapse and sealing destruction. The city was unable to preserve it so documenting the destruction process was a crucial step in preserving the memory of this place. The beautiful building was destroyed violently, and right when the amazing colored glass ceiling was flying into the air I realized that the disappearance of the building was in itself a very powerful statement. The neoliberal tactic of the “destruction of memory” is a strategy that erases all living evidence of a site that is of great importance to the people and their urban context. This type of neoliberal spatial violence amplifies our vision reimagining the city as a battleground, a battleground in which we need counter-strategies and gestures to fight the impositions we face daily.

Destruction of Memory  Photo:  Miguel Buenrostro

Destruction of Memory
Photo: Miguel Buenrostro

Further clarity was gained about my obsession with buildings and particular situations in the street when I read Michel Foucault’s “Of Other Spaces: Utopias and Heterotopias.” I try to create works dealing with this premise of heterotopia, where there is a layered meaning behind what immediately meets the eye and real and imagined places co-exist and influence one another. Film has a unique ability to portray and dignify spaces and places in such a way that ignites inner reflective processes and “other utopias,” generating unique narrative forms, stories, fictions, maps, psychogeographies, reimaginations, and artistic political gestures that interrupt the real estate developer and the barriers they set up towards an inclusive city. The documentation of changes to the city and what it has been losing in the way of identity generates a platforms for discussions and projects that challenge these practices.

Our Invisible Mapping project started as an artistic research project, but it has turned into a guided cinematic walk. Invisible Mapping concerns the re-imagination of many spaces I have documented, composing a new narrative of the city — stories and aesthetic particularities that are part of the blurry history of the city. I am fascinated in that invisibility, more so than the city that is packaged and sold to us. Nothing of what I experienced as a child is there anymore; so in a cinematic walk, I make the effort to narrate my conclusions and re-articulate the forgotten architectural language that is hidden beneath the absurd facades that dress our city. 

I draw the connection between how the personal experiences of living in the city, the physical design and use of buildings are influenced and shaped by global political decisions on both sides of the border. 

Invisible Mapping takes a wider understanding of the systems that produce decay in our urban environment. It’s an exercise that provides each one of us a personal version and imaginary of the city. For me, I believe that the dual border identity is more tied to the apocalyptic version than to the absurd nationalistic Mexican narrative, and even less to the exotic American imaginary about Tijuana. 

The city is being built within the logics of the global real estate market that prioritizes the price per square meters, rather than the ideals of basic human interaction. As an extension, I am also interested in investigating the logic of destruction, one that tries to erase all semblance of memories tied to a place. I try to portray and articulate the gaps between construction and destruction, contemplating spaces caught in “hauntological phases” as Derrida would describe, a “nostalgia for lost futures.”

Hijacker Photo:  Miguel Buenrostro

Photo: Miguel Buenrostro

Taking the time to do this and narrate the experience becomes a political instrument—an act of rebellion, a counter attack. Articulating and positioning a spatial memory within the layers of the city is counter to any predominant method of real estate development and policy making, ones in which the historical context of the city is rendered invisible. Gentrification processes are inherently violent because they are an erasure, an aggressive neo-colonial tactic to disrupt the right to the city. An act of war towards the people, imposing generic lifestyle trends and homogenizing the city. Invisible mapping narrates the displacement of communities, the destruction of iconic buildings, the importance and poetics of forgotten buildings, the geopolitical condition that produces ruins. 

Ruins that become our monuments, monuments that form our identity or non-identity.

Years ago I developed an experimental method of city observation called “Exploration, Aesthetic, Memoir, Narrative,” and with these elements I am able to understand that the city is a contrast of typologies. These forms of architectural creation have shaped my critical views on the city and inspired me to make an accessible, practical, and non-academic catalog of spaces, accessible to the urban resident. In this catalog we portray:

Ghosts: Retail abandoned buildings. 

The Untouchables: Spaces designed by non-architects that serve an integral function to the city's social networks, such as hidden local markets that are the source of work for Central American deportees. 

Portals: Empty hidden spaces between two different buildings that serve as transitioning points to different streets, “borders within borders” that have erased the original city grid, traces that are somehow discoverable.

The Hijacks: Buildings that hide their original facade leaving a palimpsest of images, signs, and local propaganda attached in its structure. 

Sleeping beauty: A network of more than 60 beauty salons within the public transportation hub. 

No cinema: The last local cinema operating in the city, showing “home videos,” low-budget border narco films, and old pornographic films. Protecting this cinema from the real estate agents is of high importance because it represents a resistance and a commemoration to the other 10 cinemas that have disappeared, been demolished, or turned into department stores parking lots and storage facilities. 

No Cinema Photo:  Miguel Buenrostro

No Cinema
Photo: Miguel Buenrostro

Ghost Photo:  Miguel Buenrostro

Photo: Miguel Buenrostro

Hijacker  Photo:  Miguel Buenrostro

Photo: Miguel Buenrostro

Portal Photo:  Miguel Buenrostro

Photo: Miguel Buenrostro

The purpose of this “invisible tour” is to reveal the city that exists outside the persistent border clichés generated by conventional media. These spaces are unknown to the public eye, and the preservation of the invisible is crucial for an open and inclusive city. The preservation of the invisible and the production of art that responds immediately to urban vulnerability become powerful strategies, perhaps one of the few counter-tactics that can resist the inflicted neo-colonial practices. 

This is my personal version of the city, one that is an alternative reality of the border city. Not the violent one, not the trendy one, but a poetic city stuck between realities and fictions. This allows me to uncover beauty within the dark narratives that Western media has imposed on our border imaginary, and within the failed centralized idea of the modern Latin American city.

If Tijuana is indeed haunted by neo-colonialism, then learning from the imposed tactics, disorder, and poetic invisibilities that surround us become our true weapon of choice.

The city is a battleground and walking disrupts the enemy.