Born and raised in Cuba, Abreu currently works as a graphic designer, an academic and an artist. Nineteen years ago, Abreu was invited to do a poster exhibition in Mexico City at the age of twenty-six. At the end of the exhibit, he stayed. He has lived in Mexico City ever since.
Art curator Illya Hiro recently invited him to depict the border between San Diego and Tijuana through abstract multi-media art.
Curator Illya Haro
Haro invited Abreu precisely because he was not an artist from Tijuana or San Diego. Instead, she wanted an artist who represented translocation, who knew something about migration, identity and mobility all at once. Haro worked as Exhibition Manager for five years in CECUT’s Centro Cultural de Tijuana. Having studied art history in Rome, she made connections internationally and knew Abreu from other projects.
Deeply involved in the project herself, Haro first took many photographs atop the hills of Tijuana that overlook the border. Starting in the posh areas of Tijuana and making her way to the Otay Mountains and the Tijuana International Airport, Haro sent the photographs to Abreu in Mexico City, who then generated more than 500 photographs on the computer.
For Haro, the exhibit was personal. Born in Tijuana, Haro grew up as a transnational, moving back and forth from San Diego and Tijuana regularly. For her, the border was a normal condition. Due to economic possibility and the fact that she stemmed from a family that had roots in Tijuana for generations, Haro always had the visa and was able to go back and forth between San Diego and Tijuana at all times.
Given the opportunity to create an exhibit for The Front in San Ysidro, she realized the importance of this border town. Admittedly, Haro had only passed through San Ysidro for three reasons: the Casa de Cambio, the bank and the gas station. When considering an at exhibit about mobility, it was only appropriate to have the exhibit open in San Ysidro.
What’s more, Haro didn’t want to talk about migration, mobility and the border in a literal way. In particular, she didn’t want to depict the border in its usual negative terms. Instead, she and Abreu wanted to think about mobility and migration in a poetic way.
They choose to analyze the conditions of when you are in TJ looking toward San Diego and how everything is effects your point of view: the weather, your position, the time, the day, the moment.
Looming, The Atmospheric Landscape
Abreu combined his interest in atmospheric pictures of landscape with what was really going on at the border. He first wrote a computer program that could read the daily changes in climate. Some of the data that was produced in these climate reports included atmospheric visibility. Abreu then tried to imagine what the landscape would look like using the information he was receiving. For approximately three months, Abreu overlayed the daily weather logarithm to the photographs.
The result was a running movie consisting of 500 photographs of the border panorama with the changing atmosphere. Alongside the movie, the exhibit displayed 17 still photographs of the atmospheric panorama on the walls.
In the center of the space, small watchtowers stood like chess pieces on top of a smooth white surface. Abreu modeled each watchtower a little differently and wanted to create a sense of distance. “They are watchtowers. They are stairs. People that are on vigil, they always go up the stairs to look even farther.”
Every few minutes a camera photographed the watchtowers and the image was projected onto a wall. The watchtowers appeared life-size against the background of the Tijuana atmospheric panorama. The work of art brought both watchtowers and atmospheric visibility together in a constantly changing piece.
Abreu explained that the watchtowers represent residents climbing up to see what is in the beyond. “When you are at the border, you are always very attentive to what is going on on the other side, to what’s on the horizon.”
When asked if Abreu could relate to this from having lived in isolated Communist Cuba, always looking towards the United States and wondering about life on the horizon, he responded quickly: Yes.
Abreu said, “The border is the third country. It’s another way of thinking. The thinking is more global…”
Thanks to Lisa Hoffman for helping translate Ivan Abreu’s explanation of his exhibit!