Monthly Archives: 07/2019

Cataloging Connection: Building the Borderlands Archive with Monument Lab

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Filed under: Mexico

The work of Global Urban Humanities (GUH) research studios often continues well after the end of the semester.  In Spring 2018, GUH graduate students explored the US-Mexico borderlands with Professor of Architecture Ronald Rael and Assistant Professor of Art Practice Stephanie Syjuco. One of the students in the class, Cheyenne Concepcion, continued her research as a 2019 Monument Lab National Fellow. Monument Lab is an independent public art and history studio based in Philadelphia. Its co-founder Paul Farber spoke at the Global Urban Humanities symposium Techniques of Memory in April 2019. She describes her project here:

Territorial boundaries and borders are not passive, they are productive. My explorations and experiences at the border began in 2014 when I began working on cross-border environmental issues for Alter Terra, a bi-national environmental nonprofit. And for the past year, I have been exploring the spatial productivity of borders by compiling a physical and digital archive of materials from and about the US-Mexico border. In April 2019, supported by a fellowship from the urban art and history organization Monument Lab, I presented The Borderlands Archive as an interactive installation for the first time at Wurster Hall to exhibit research I conducted in the last year. 

The Borderlands Archive traces connection across territorial divide by collecting photographs, artifacts, artworks, histories, data and publications about the borderlands. It is a research project, an experiment in representation and an artistic gesture towards a collective knowledge about a contested space between two countries, the US and Mexico. This ongoing project traces a non-linear history across an ancestral landscape and explores ideas about place, territory, and border as urbanism in a bi-national context. 

The work employs the archive as a tool for capturing moving relationships in this complex built and natural environment, and invites others to contribute to the narrative. The objective of this research is to trump existing notions about fixed borders by reconceptualizing borders as a vast space in constant flux: the borderlands. Conceptualizing borders in this way prioritizes the spatiality of borders, which, for a designer like me, is a profoundly important means for understanding the complex productivity of borders and further defining edge conditions. 

The ideas behind this project were explored in GUH’s Borderwall Urbanism course taught by Stephanie Syjuco and Ron Rael. It then became my Master’s thesis and luckily, with the help of Monument Lab, I get to bring this research project to life outside the walls of Wurster Hall. 

My fellowship with Monument Lab was the first of its kind for the organization.  Supported by the Slought Foundation, my fellowship began in January 2019 and lasts for the entirety of 2019.  I joined ten other recipients representing eight different projects from around the country. Some are artists, some are organizers and all of us are interested in how monuments re-organize the spaces and minds they encounter. It’s been an honor to be recognized among these fellows who do amazing work in their communities.

Monument Lab is an independent public art and history studio based in Philadelphia. Founded by Paul Farber and Ken Lum, Monument Lab works with artists, students, activists, municipal agencies, and cultural institutions on exploratory approaches to public engagement and collective memory. The fellowship has offered me guidance from an experienced and supportive team that helps us on our individual goals. The Borderlands Archive Project is a new project, and I used the fellowship to begin building the digital and physical infrastructure of the archive. I created a web catalogue and formatted the physical archive as an exhibition--and sought advice and support from Monument Lab along the way. After a year’s worth of research, I presented this project for the first time in April as an exhibition and continue to build the virtual archive online. The immediate next step for this project is to reach a wider audience because the beauty in this work  is built on peoples’ stories in the form of artifacts. This November, the Borderlands Archive will be part of a group show at the Museum of Capitalism in New York City. None of this would be possible without the support and exposure from Monument Lab, GUH’s Borderwall Urbanism course  and the mentors who have guided and challenged my thinking.

Video of the Borderlands Archive installation in Wurster Hall lobby. Credit: Cheyenne Concepcion and the Borderlands Archive.

About the contributor: Cheyenne Concepcion is an artist and recent graduate of UC Berkeley’s Master in Landscape Architecture program. Her work addresses the politics of space and spans image-making, temporary installations, site-design, cartography and writing.