From Baja to Beijing: TJ in China's Intercontinental Connection

In Partnership with Mexicali Rose Media/Arts Center: Mexicali Rose is a grass roots communitarian organization dedicated to providing free access to artistic media for the community youth of Mexicali, Baja California.

Daniel Ruanova and Mely Barragán have infused the downtown Tijuana contemporary art scene with an ultramodern, communal, experimented and organized vitality via their new space proposal entitled TJ in China Project Space. Having opened its doors in February 2014, the TJ in China Project Space has already developed a reputation and relationship with Baja artists looking to become more connected with the international profile its founders have generated with and prior to this inventive space. An influential couple in the Tijuana art realm, Daniel Ruanova and Mely Barragán have forged engrossing careers by completing passages in Baja California's recent art history through experimentation, determination, and the trials and errors inherent to any relationship with the international art world limelight. TJ in China Project Space seeks to host multicultural exchange between Tijuana and global art discourse by providing a current set of creative and ideological resources smack-dab in the center of Tijuana's (in)famous Avenida Revolución.

Daniel Ruanova's irreverent and involved style of border art-making rose to prominence in the later half of the 1990's; his eye-popping statements further cementing his hard-earned reputation as a mischievous, politically-minded experimentalist during Tijuana's exposure boom in the 2000's. "We were not artists supported by any institution, the Tijuana art scene at one point was a sort of utopia, a beautiful local grassroots search for identity, until it became a commodity which was even taught in certain universities, an intellectual property for a chosen few. Tijuana had become an official case study, while we thought art was going to change this city. That exposure boom, along with the city's rise in insecurity, created a cultural apathy were artists were waiting for money to be handed down to them by institutions or impresarios, and prompted many of us to search for new spaces and horizons," states Ruanova. His pop culture and consumerism critiques spawned hectic hybrid artworks to inform spectators that the world Ruanova inhabits is half destruction/half construction, symphony and feedback, advertisement and cautionary tale. His sculptural work brings the battles and insecurity of Tijuana's unsafe habitat into -- and outside -- the gallery setting, echoing childhoods in industrialized settings, greed and violence, unwelcome statistics and pleasant abandon. Ruanova persists on his exploratory path, his most recent collaborative incursion, punkformance outfit Ghost Magnet Roach Motel, having landed in the latest installment of Tijuana's All My Friends Music Festival to astound its audience.

Ghost Magnet Roach Motel at All My Friends 2014

Mely Barragán has been exploring the role of identity in contemporary society through her composite musings since the mid-1990's, utilizing assemblage, collage, painting and various other media forms to comment on social and behavioral norms. Barragán's is a personal correspondence with entitlement, resonance and composition, making effective use of ingénue properties to satisfy a relationship with independence. "I utilize the appropriation of images to resignify their use, upon finding myself in a by-product world where we are inundated by concepts of identity based on consumption, I become empowered by this imagery without playing its game. I search for more honest visual formulas that question imposed visual formulas (industry, society, tradition, etc). I describe my process as reflections on the absurd, obsessive, fateful, grotesque, beautiful and fragmented," affirms Barragán. Dichotomy becomes autonomy in a homesick, knife-wielding life abroad, a muscular reflection on the notion of imagery and archetypes. Barragán's wordplay transcribes indiscretion over windows of pinched symbolisms, producing palettes affected by human relationship and time, her philosophy surfacing over found idealisms and broken models. "I learned how to speak in two languages at the same time, my identity is constructed by thousands of copy-pastes. Juxtaposition is natural for border people," she states.

In 2012, Daniel Ruanova and Mely Barragán settled in Beijing's Caochangdi art village to create and promote multidisciplinary efforts from the borderlands by setting up TJ in China Project Room, an independent arts space interested in generating a mutual admiration for the arts and discourse of both Mexican and Chinese contemporary cultures. Adherent to the principles and customs of displacement, TJ in China Project Room boldly pioneered a crossover between two impassioned and intricate cultures. "Daniel and I were searching for a space outside Tijuana to produce work. When he called me after creating a work on site in Beijing and proposed we should move there, I couldn't believe it. I didn't think about it twice and we moved there for a residency," states Barragán. "Caochangdi had an incredible energy, a community of migrants and industry turned into an art village with more tolerance and openness than the rest of China, due to the artistic discourse there. We were there initially for our own work and cultural exchange, not to open up a space, but there was an incredible movement of people socially and a dynamic that was very similar to the border's, so we decided to spend our energies constructing something, not a commodity," affirms Ruanova. Mexican artists such as Jaime Ruiz Otis, Pablo Castañeda, Maribel Portela and Jorge Ramirez, alongside Asian visual artists Zhu Yu, Dai Hua and Shinpei Takeda, as well as TJ in China Project Room's founders, conducted expressive showcases of visions without boundaries.

TJ in China Project Room would later relocate to Tijuana and morph into TJ in China Project Space, further fortifying the generated bond between artists in search of new dimensions. TJ in China Project Space is perfectly suited for and born out of the eagerness in advocating local artwork production alongside international propositions in Tijuana. Artist residency is key in relation to the expansion and encouragement of an informed and collective language by means of artists producing the works to be displayed in house, in conspiration, thus assembling a devoted group of creators per exhibition, aided by knowledgeable local assistants. "We look for skill and honesty in work, we cannot have a single formula as a space, so we look for elements and artists that will make something bloom. There's plenty of talent, but we are looking for pragmatism, and providing the necessary conditions for artistic production where the artists are entirely free and responsible. That is very important to us, context makes a piece," affirms Ruanova. "It's very important to us for the artists to learn how to work and create a dialogue with other artists. We want that creative intimacy and process to be present to all of the artists and audience. We ask for work that changes life and rotates from beginning to end of run of show," states Barragán. TJ in China Project Space is unlocked, unbiased and available to acquired and exhilarating schemes and storylines. Not defining themselves as a gallery, but rather as an independent space, TJ in China is enthusiastically intending to generate a new public, dematerializing borders by way of not only bilingual, but global demonstration and notions in Baja California.


For TJ in China Project Space's latest news, visit here.

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