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Border Patrol
Border Patrol

Border Patrol

Blurring Boundaries To See More Clearly

Border Patrol is a curatorial and creative collective exploring contemporary art as commentary on capitalist aesthetics. Its members include Elizabeth Spavento, Jared Haug, Meg Hahn and Baxter Koziol. The collective is known for staging art in unconventional spaces making the experience accessible beyond traditional boundaries of gallery settings.

Border Patrol’s project in Bakersfield, CA surprises swap-meet shoppers as they come face-to-face with socially engaged art and artists. In a city where the health and well-being of the community are shaped by downstream affects of its major industries—the prison system, oil extraction, and mega agriculture—their curatorial agenda sparks curiosity and dialogue.

We spoke with Border Patrol artists Elizabeth Spavento, Meg Hahn, and Jared Haug about the importance of public engagement and art presented in communal spaces where people live and interact with each other.

Our conversation begins here, edited for clarity.

Could you provide some background on Border Patrol?

Border Patrol: We initiated Border Patrol in 2016, influenced by our move from the West Coast to Maine and our reflections on the nature of borders, boundaries, and their enforcement. Our creative venture was inspired by our desire to explore and critique the mechanisms of control and the aesthetics of power, particularly in the context of contemporary art and its intersection with corporate and governmental strategies.

Border Patrol represents a journey of reclaiming agency and challenging conventional power dynamics through art. We aim to foster critical engagement with themes of control and power while creating spaces for dialogue and reflection.

How do you engage with communities and shift perceptions through art?

Border Patrol: Our approach is straightforward and intentional, aiming to spark curiosity and dialogue by situating art in unconventional spaces. By doing so, we hope to make art accessible and engaging to a broader audience, beyond the traditional gallery-goer. At the heart of Border Patrol's ethos is a commitment to challenging and reimagining the narratives and structures of power that dominate our societal landscape. We’re hoping to leverage art as a tool for critical inquiry and social commentary and blur the conventional boundaries between art, politics, and daily life.

We’re interested in spaces where art isn’t typically expected like swap meets or burrito shops. These common spaces create opportunities for unexpected encounters with art and challenge the perception of what constitutes an art space. Our collective is driven by a belief in the potential of art to foster a deeper understanding of the world around us, encouraging viewers to examine their own positions within these systems of power and control. 

Border Patrol

Why do we need more exposure to art in a place like Bakersfield? 

Border Patrol: Bakersfield’s cultural landscape presents unique challenges and opportunities for our work. With a significant prison population and a focus on oil and agriculture, the city’s cultural fabric is rich yet often overlooked. Our projects aim to directly insert art into the everyday lives of Bakersfield residents—art that is more than civic beautification and tackles difficult but important topics. Through engagements with themes like incarceration and labor, we aim to illuminate the intersecting forces of power that shape life in Kern County and beyond. 

Our exploration of grief through the RIP project seeks to uncover and critique the limited spaces and modes of expression available for collective mourning in American society. By contrasting these observations with practices from other cultures, we aim to highlight the cultural specificities of grief and its expression—the lack of time and space made for grieving in capitalist societies. 

Similarly, our focus on incarceration reflects a critical examination of communication barriers and the broader implications of surveillance and control within the carceral system. These projects and their unique locations offer alternative spaces for reflection, dialogue, and potentially, healing.

“Our projects aim to directly insert art into the everyday lives of Bakersfield residents—art that is more than civic beautification and tackles difficult but important topics.”

How’s your project going so far?

Border Patrol: Our time in the Brundage Swap Meet has expanded our programming approach and enriched our understanding of contemporary art in Bakersfield. Since our first visiting artist exhibition featuring members of El Pueblo San Pablo Tijaltepec, the other vendors in the swap meet have been welcoming and encouraging in their responses to our work. The common ties in the state of Oaxaca shared by the artists and many of the vendors was a point of contact for many and increased viewer participation, with the members of Tijaltepec bringing food, drink, music, and dancing as part of their ofrenda for Dia de los Muertos.

The participatory atmosphere continued with Bakersfield artist Deidre Hathor constructing an immersive installation celebrating icons and idols of the civil rights movement while asking viewers to contribute their own memorials of lost loved ones. This exhibition made personal connections between loss, grief, remembrance, envisioning, and intergenerational justice movements.

In attempting to adapt to the specific needs and opportunities of the swap meet context, our collective has evolved into a sort of after-school arts program for the children of other vendors. Children ages 7-13 come to the space most days after school and are eager for creative activity, which we do our best to accommodate through formal and informal workshops: painting, drawing, collage, book-making, button-making, and tie-dying. We are also organizing, printing, and publishing a coloring book made by these same youths within the swap meet. The increased participation and enthusiasm of young local artists has been an unplanned but welcomed outcome.

Border Patrol
Border Patrol

How do you think about the role of art and artists in society?

Border Patrol: Art and artists possess a unique capacity to envision and enact alternative realities, making them invaluable contributors to the realm of public policy and societal change. By embedding artists within the fabric of public institutions and policy-making processes, we can harness their creative problem-solving abilities and their propensity
for critical thought to address complex social issues. Art and artists can serve as a catalyst for dialogue, reflection, and, ultimately, transformation within both the public consciousness and the structures of governance.

Learn more about Border Patrol here.

18th Street Arts Center lives to amplify the impact of artists on society. Conceived as a radical think tank in the shape of an artist community, 18th Street Arts Center provides the ideal environment for artists and the public to directly engage in creating experiences and partnerships that foster positive social change.

Please join us. Your financial support empowers 18SAC artists to shape a more vibrant, just, and healthy society. In artists we trust.

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