Borderland Reporters: An Investigation and Book Publication with Actual Hot Air Balloon Construction - CLOSED

Department: Visual Arts

Instructors: Melina Barnadas and Tae Hwang
Instructors' Emails:;
Prerequisites: None

Course Description

What defines our notion of 'border' and what dissolves it? How are borders acknowledged, ignored or understood? How does one negotiate and transcend national and territorial boundaries? How can spaces for dialogue be opened in the liminal spaces that comprise a 'border?'

Informed by Mexican traditions of hot air balloon making, Studs Terkel's interviews of ordinary Americans and a curated series of film and audio, visual artists of Collective Magpie will take students on a 3-week ethnographic journey through the U.S./Mexico border. The class will conduct a series of research informed conversations that will culminate in the collective publication of a book of interviews.

Students will be invited to participate in the Globos Hot Air Balloon construction workshop as part of a U.S./Mexico transnational public art project.

Through intentional engagement with research into research methodologies from Ethnography, Sociology, Oral History and Art, students will learn to be artistic-ethnographers and also active initiators, participants, presenters, leaders and followers in the milieux of communities they encounter. Anchoring this inquiry will be a series of text, film and audio selections from ethnographers, architects, visual artists, writers, poets and politicians. The class discussion will primarily be generated by encounters with fine art, media material, theoretical writings and oral history projects.

Course Goals / Learning Objectives

Engage in a 3-week cumulative and collaborative process through shared discussion, curated narratives, film and art, supported by ethnography and oral history text.

Learn to conduct, record and transcribe interviews. Students will also be introduced to the layout to binding process and students will take home the final publication.

Investigate the relationship between art, culture and public & private space and invite dialogue of creative ideas of critical issues affecting the present day.

Examine written dialog as a method of producing a documentary.

Utilize the format of the published interview to construct and archive stories of the present day borderlands residents and class participants that reflect local values and interests.

Text, Film, and Audio (selections from)


  • Studs Terkel, American Dream
  • Studs Terkel, Working
  • Alexander C. Diener and Joshua Hagen, Borders: A Very Short Introduction
  • Tom Finkelpearl, Dialogues in Public Art
  • Emerson, Fretz & Shaw, Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes
  • Rebecca Solnit, Storming the Gates of Paradise: Landscape for Politics
  • Soyini Madison, Critical Ethnography
  • Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed


  • Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control, Errol Morris
  • Performing the Border, Ursula Biemann
  • Mixed Feelings, Phillip Rodriguez
  • First Person, Errol Morris
  • Cities on speed: Bogota Change/The Inspiring Story Antanas Mockus,Andreas Dalsgaard
  • Requiem for the American Dream, Peter Hutchison, Kelly Nyks, Jared Scott


  • Story Corps
  • Zora Neale Hurston and audio interview in Florida for the WPA
  • Studes Terkey Audio Archive

Topical Outline

Week 1 - Introduction to Self & Peer Interview, Selfborder Definition

  • Brief history of border through the lens of the politics, culture, technology and art.
  • Definition of your border and border narrative: Critical thinking through creative writing process and research.
  • Border conversations and border exploration in our environment: self, peers and community. How do we consider "our" border?
  • Create and design your interview
  • Introduction to collaborative peer and outside interview: How do we bridge our ideas to others? How do we communicate to others?

Week 2 - Interview Others

  • Record and Transcribe Oral Stories: Community fieldwork on and off the UC San Diego campus
  • Introduction to ethnographic, oral historian and journalist methods
  • Ethnofiction: Exploring the lens of the documentary

Week 3 - Publication: Layout, Edit and Print

  • Designing Content and Construction of the Publication
  • Documentation and Critical Discussion

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