American Boys in Tijuana
Last month, while at the New York Art Book Fair, Los Angeles-native Michael Ray-Von was asked to help build and curate a modest, contemporary gallery in Tijuana, Mexico. Without a second thought, he told Todd Patrick (who offered him the position), he would do it and within a week had dropped everything to move across the boarder. The first exhibit was set to premiere during two of Tijuana’s most interesting musical festivals Notre Sonoro and All My Friends Festival. Patrick and Ray-Von had a month to rebuild an old hair salon into a gallery and get an exhibit happening.
Ray-Von and Patrick called upon the work of New York-artist Jesse Hlebo to team up with Mexican City artist Joaquín Segura to create a collaborative exhibit. Hlebo runs his own record and print label, Swill Children, and his work has been displayed at MoMA Library, MoMA PS1, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Museum of Arts and Design, Printed Matter, Inc., Clocktower Gallery, and The Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts in NYC, the Khyber Center for Contemporary Art and NSCAD in Halifax, Nova Scotia, among others. Hlebo was recently named one of “The Best of Young Brooklyn” by L Magazine. Needless to say, the guy is around.
I went down for the opening of Hlebo and Segura’s exhibit, To Preserve Disorder. It was cold, interesting, perceptive and the after-party was super fun.
I decided to follow-up up with my two friends about their gallery in Tijuana, and why they crossed the boarder in the first place.
VICE: You’ve been living in Tijuana for a while now. Can you talk about your adjustment?
Michael Ray-Von: Tijuana is a density of ideas. And they’re all pronouncing themselves at once. Because this is a very busy border town, you have a complex of translations and exchanges occurring everywhere, all the time — totally dynamic. Translation and exchange, representation and value systems, are areas that interest me very much, so I’m really turned on by this place. Plus, the space is located in Centro (downtown), where a substantial part of the economy is focused on bars and nightclubs (facilitating wildness). So I’m occasionally confronted by a new version of “the craziest shit I’ve ever seen”.
Are you bilingual or was language an issue?
I spoke very little Spanish prior to coming here, so that’s been a substantial hurdle for me initially. Fortunately 60 percent of Tijuanenses speak English. Everyone has been very generous and patient in the language area. There is also a good deal of customs or cultural paradigms that were completely unexpected and will occasionally turn my world upside down. I would tell you about it, but I wouldn’t want to spoil the fun for foreigners who might visit.
How did you manage to re-make an entire gallery in less than a month?
We’ve been really lucky to have the support of a number of artists and musicians in the area early on. I’m also super stoked to have had three talented people join our team in the last few weeks, You Schaffner (who plays music as Dani Shivers), Luisito Noctámbulo (who studies art at ESAV), and Andrea Noel, (who posts photos atVinyl Revolver), all living in TJ. They’ve been instrumental to facilitating this endeavor.
Why set up in Tijuana?
Tijuana is in segue, socioeconomically speaking. Through a concerted effort stemming from the youth and the universities (as far as I can tell), the hegemonies of Tijuana, which have consisted since its inception are beginning to splinter. These being the things you’ve likely heard about the place. It’s actually a surprisingly unique and exciting time to be here!