Report for residency program at Outpost Contemporary.
"America love me" project emerged from a series of conversations Grupo Bijari held internally and in numerous dialogues with Outpost's director Julie Deamer along 2010. Both Bijari and Outpost shared a commum intention and desire to foster and create an art project in direct relation to the local context - Highland Park, Los Angels, Southern California - and that it emerged from the concerns and urgencies of its communities.
In the specific case of this residency program, an a priori situation was given: Occidental College, a Private University located at the heart of Highland Park Neighborhood, northeast Los Angeles, would provide the artists not only the host place but also would configure as a potential site specific body to work with or in relation to.
Bijari had been focusing it's interest into the frontier zones of urban realm (public x private, central x peripheral, official x illega) and trying to create an understanding of how the different narratives and conflicts take form and shape social life.
In relation to Outpost's residency project, Bijari had the interest to target the controversial and multi-layered issue of immigration in southern California. U.S present context was challenging and contradictory in relation to that issue: the enforcement of immigration policies in the very beginning of Obama's government was a clear response to the government intentions of revising immigration policies in the sense of being more inclusive in relation to the great undocumented contingency in U.S.
So the overlaying of the immigration theme with the realm of educational system with which we would be in direct contact, led us to envision a project in the frontier of both universes: what would it be to be immigrant and student in the U.S? What would be their perspectives and conflicts ? What would it be to live the "American Dream" not being american? These questionings, not only inspired Bijari greatly, but were also at the very starting point of the project.
Bijari's first proposal was the creation of a situation in which one undocumented high-school student would be granted a full term Occidental College tuition. The process of the selection would be discussed among the artists, the students and the College's board for the establishment of a method and criteria for this specific process.
Despite the idea of the project interested Outpost board, a few days after it's release , Bijari was communicated that the idea couldn't go on of institutional difficulties it would entangle. It was not clear if it was dismissed by Outpost, Occidental or both.
The following proposal, and the one that actually made it through, consisted of inviting a number of undergraduates, documented or not, to reflect upon the immigratory condition and the ways it affected other related issues as education, culture, family, dreams, participation, citizenship, work…This production of content was meant to be expressed through a web platform (blog-like) and through one-to-one workshops. This strategy was adopted for it seemed the reasonable media to provide a minimum level of identity protection for the participants.
Prior to the begining of the 4 week residency term, the "America Love Me" blog was created and was initiated a communication with many social/educational interest organizations with potential to provide participants to the project. The idea was to release the project in advance and when Bijari got to the U.S. visit these organizations and present it personally. The closer the group would get to the different actors/organizations, the more likely to engage young participants connected to then. These would be what we called "hubs"
Hosted by Outpost director - Julie Deamer - Bijari had several meetings ( CSPG, journalist Daniela Gerson, Franklin High School, Mobile Voices, UCLA Labor Center, lawyer Saul Sarabya, educator Shuria…) and class visits at Occidental College ( Bob Gotlieb's Urban and Environmental Studies and to Linda Lyke's Print Workshop) to talk about Bijari's artistic practices and mainly about "America Love Me" project.
Despite the great interest and the attention we got throughout these encounters with notably expert people from various areas, what became evident in that very first week was that having the young people's engagement in the way and in the intensity we needed, accessing the blog and responding to it, wouldn't be feasible in the timeframe Bijari had. The accomplishment of the trust necessary to this kind of exchange would involve a much more complex negotiation with our target young participants (even though the "hubs" were having great attention and interest to our project).
In those very first days it became clear that our mechanics with which we were relying and working for months, was inviable. Rejecting any excuse for a possible cultural/lingual gap, and assuming the misleading strategy, it became urgent to evolve the project in an alternative way, with a different format but regarding the premises that oriented our project from the beginning.
Before getting to the ways in which the project evolved it seems important to reflect upon the reasons for the impossibilities of engagement, understanding and of sharing this proposed space exchange.
b) try to maintain that illegal status as secret as possible to avoid any chance of problems with the law (it is obvious the fragile reality that attitude supports ).
Even though not being able to make the young participants speak themselves through our project in the context of the blog, it is impossible to dismiss their presence in our experience in LA held by the many conversations we had during that time. The possibility of hearing them speak about who they were, what they did, what were their interests, desires and fears informed Bijari in a much more informal way but not less true and sincere.*
Getting back to "America Love Me" mechanics, it became clear by the end of the first week that it would not work as previously outlined and Bijari would have to reconsider some steps it was about to take.
At the same time that first week was very intense: many meetings and conversations were held. Bijari created a solid network and that network had so far informed a lot about the many contexts concerning immigration and education. All that people with whom we have contacted offered different perspectives about the subject. From the more asiatic-based community at Alhambra, to the afro-american community at ... to the Latin community of Highland Park, Bijari could have a brief but close grip to the different but related realities. So we realized that the blog (that would host the individual participants) could host the information Bijari was gathering from this many encounters and collaborators. The blog would function not only as a research base where to assemble information, but also as a channel of communication/provocation in relation to some questionings Bijari was posing to itself and also to the general public.
(luiz, talvez vc possa escrever um paragrafinho aqui sobre sua estratégia de comunicação do blog e do projeto)
Parallel and complementary to that, Bijari began creating schematic maps connecting all the informations related to the subject (social actors, policies, strategies, numbers, etc) and trying to establish an order between them. This map was continuously updated and reassembled to conform to an intelligible visual constellation that could translate the complex context relating Immigration + Education + Work (at a certain point it became inevitable to think about this third axe).
As the map grew more complex, we began to call it "cartography". Even tough the representation departed from an specific geographic space, it evolved and unfolded in many layers of more abstract data, consecutively superposed over the initial ones.
Different schemes were developed trying to set the structural knots and the axes that articulate them in someways complementary or antagonist forces through which flowed different interests, desires and fears.
The model finally adopted resembled a flowchart map that departed from the profile definition - Documented or Undocumented - and evolved to the "tracks" that subject could navigate in relation to education and work possibilities. The design is a clone of the famous New York metrolines map, created by the italian designer Massimo Vignelli based on the Helvetica Neue typefont and Unigrid template. That identity created in the 70´s was applied not only in the metroline visual communication but also in the airport and customs areas. It had the function of establishing rational systems of control of fluxes and navigation.
"America Love Me" cartography also aimed at establishing rational understandings of flux control. But in this case the map is dedicated to unveil all the structures that support and profit from the maintenance of control apparatuses. In the case of immigration policies in the U.S. - driven by internal and external economical demands - the system that it articulates has been clearly defining a lower class citizen with no rights that can hold the under-qualified jobs. With an undocumented population exceeding a quarter of souther californian overall, the presence of this excluded social body represents a great social and economical impact. The pressure for Dream Act approval and anysthy policies have been central to the presidential and governmental campaigns recently. "America Love Me" project comes to offer a new perspective and understanding to this phenomena through the creation of it's "Cartography of the Self through the Immigratory Condition".
The cartography was printed to a canvas in a big format and installed in a flagpole at Outpost Art space. Bijari also created an sculpture with torn out letter-boxes found at a flea market (the same helvetica neue type fonts). The letter boxes probably once used for advertisement or even as signaling of a metroline, were refurbished and reassemble to conform the word "undoc".
100 B/W prints from the cartography were available for the public take out at Outpost.
*. the students Bijari got in touch were from Franklin High School, UCLA Labor Center, Youth Justice Coalition, Avancé Charter School and Occidental College.