Art for the Market: Cog•nate Collective explores buying, selling and celestial calendars at ICA North

The appropriateness of meeting the Cog•nate Collective at the Eighth Street Market in National City has not escaped my notice. Yes, they live in the area, but given the themes they have explored in their work, it seems all the more appropriate to be able to speak to them in the midst of the hustle and bustle of a neighborhood market.

“Markets are these really great places where, in addition to social gatherings, there’s also cultural exchange and financial transactions as well,” says Amy Sánchez Arteaga, who along with partner Misael Díaz form the “key initiators” of the Cog•nate Collective. “Some people just go there to do their shopping, to get their basic needs met, but we also have this really nice social dimension.”

In the more than ten years they have been creating art together, Díaz and Sánchez Arteaga have explored multiple dimensions in their work, but with a focus on, as they put it, “the communities in the border region between the United States and Mexico.” Her work is conceptual, interventionist and site-specific in nature. Always research-based and often immersive, it uses multiple mediums to convey broad concepts of frontier living.

However, one of the other core elements of this type of inquiry-based practice was immersion. From their earlier works, in which they spent days and weeks at the San Ysidro border crossing, to their most recent project, Tianquiztli: Portraits of the Market as a Portal, both say it is paramount that they have a thorough, almost scientifically method-based approach to their practice.

“We were trained more in art history than art production, so I think we always had a hunch that everything we did was going to be heavily research-based,” says Díaz. “This opened up an interesting proposition to find spaces and communities that struggle with border issues that are specific to them but are part of the everyday experience of living there. We wanted to do the research and actually spend time in these communities and maybe even develop together what would result from this work.”

Hence the nickname “collective”. That is, Díaz and Sánchez Arteaga do not see themselves as the Cog•nate Collective per se, but rather are something of a reactive, catalytic channel in which a frontier narrative can be studied and presented. They are of course an integral part of all work products, but they are also the first to point out that there is no work without the community itself.

“We had this shared ethos that we developed early on to let the locations and communities that we engaged in dialogue with dictate what we would do,” Díaz continues. “That’s probably why we ended up creating such radically different work.”

“Ideas are more interesting than individuals, than personalities,” adds Sánchez Arteaga. “I’d rather remember the ideas we work with than me or us.”

Amy Sánchez Arteaga and Misael Díaz are the “main initiators” of Cog•nate Collective.

(Related Collective)

The two first met while majoring in Art History at tUC Los Angeles. They shared the common experience that Díaz grew up in Tijuana but attended school in San Diego, while Sánchez Arteaga grew up in the Imperial Valley but often traveled to Mexicali to visit family. The two bonded and say that even in classrooms filled with other Latinx students, they were still attracted to one another because of their “shared experience of growing up along the frontier,” as Diaz puts it.

“I began to realize that the narratives about the border that I heard in my classes were different from our own personal experience of growing up here,” says Díaz. “I think there was a lot of emphasis placed on the border as that place of trauma, that place of violence. That’s one of the components, but there were also stories about where we lived, creativity and resourcefulness that we grew up with.”

Since 2010, the two have worked on over a dozen art projects. However, if there is one idea that could run like a thread through her work, it would be the concept of exchange. Yes, this includes the typical barter deals that come to mind, like swapping money and goods, but also culture swaps and, in the case of the marketplaces and mercados you explore in “Tianquiztli”, exchanging goods ideas.

The idea for the exhibition came to them during the pandemic. With most common spaces either restricted or closed, Díaz and Sánchez Arteaga had to adjust their approach. Additionally, they began to better understand the importance of neighborhood marketplaces and how they serve both a functional purpose (shopping for groceries or household items) and as the social center of a community where people gather, hang out and Meet friends.

Another parameter they wanted to examine was the historical, pre-colonial origin of these markets. The name of the exhibition is a Mexican/Aztec word meaning “meeting place”. The word also referred to the constellation of the Pleiades (“The Seven Sisters”). Some of Cog•nate Collective’s earlier work was organized around the intersections of the celestial and terrestrial, so they began to see metaphors worth exploring for “Tianquiztli”.

“We kept coming back to this idea of ​​this connection between the market and the sky, the celestial, and really started thinking about the deep, ancient connection,” says Sánchez Arteaga, joking that the two “are very fond of space think about it”, but wanted to connect it with “questions around the colonial violence that the border manifests”.

“En todas partes y en ninguna a la vez … (El Cielo del Sobreruedas)”

(Photo courtesy of Marc Walker)

The two visited several markets in Southern California and San Diego, as well as mercados in Tijuana and even one in Mexico City that has pre-Columbian roots. With these ideas in mind, they decided on an art location for the National City Swap Meet. They set up a booth at the swap meet, where they pointed a camera at the Tianquitzli constellation, and where people could enter and experience the origins of these types of markets, however abstract.

The resulting exhibit will have a replica of a booth the duo set up at the swap meet, along with a monitor showing video of some of the interactions that took place in National City. There will also be documentation of other installations where the pair sourced specific objects from various markets and swap meets in San Diego County and Tijuana (items like mirrors) and assembled them at their booth, thereby re-contextualizing them. They will also have their mobile art trailer, the Mobile Institute of Citizenship & Art, outside of the ICA, where there will be an archive of previous projects they have worked on in public marketplaces.

Both Díaz and Sánchez Arteaga say they’re happy with “Tianquiztli,” considering the project started during the pandemic.

Earlier this year, they were also honored with the San Diego Art Prize, an annual award that recognizes established regional artists. They see the award not only as a recognition of their unconventional approach to so-called “frontier art,” but also as evidence of how they’ve persevered over the years, creating symbiotic and symbolic works that they could never have produced on their own.

“Not to oversimplify things, but I think it helps that there are two of us,” says Díaz. “I think part of the reason we work so well together is that we’re interested in the same things, but we look at it from different angles. Sometimes I tend to participate in these projects with a more abstract perspective but with specific ideas, while Amy is much more committed to being involved with the site and the communities.”

“We fight well,” says Sánchez Arteaga, and they both laugh.

‘Cog•nate Collective, Tianquiztli: Portraits of the Market as Portal’

When: Opens November 11th and runs through January 29th. Opening hours: noon to 5 p.m., Thursday to Sunday. Opening reception, 5:30-8:30 p.m., 19 November

Where: Institute of Contemporary Art North, 1550 S. El Camino Real, Encinitas

entry: Pay as you wish

phone: (760) 436-6611


Combs is a freelance writer.

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