Corridos is an interactive video game created by Anne-Marie Schleiner and Luis Hernandez-Galvan as an arcade installation to make a statement about the US-Mexican border and drug trafficking. This piece was commissioned by InSite in 2005 and also was supported by CRCA, the Center for Research in Computing and the Arts at University of California, San Diego. Mark Tribe curated this work, which was a part of the artists’ larger project, Tijuana Calling.
Corridos was apart of the exhibition Covert Operations: Investigating the Known Unknowns, which took place at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. The full exhibit comments on how much the world has changed post 9/11, even gaming and art have transformed.
When explaining the exhibition, Kristin Bauer says,
“They use legal procedures as well as traditional research methods and resources such as the Freedom of Information Act, government archives, field research and insider connections. The thirty-seven artworks included in Covert Operations employ the tools of democracy to bear witness to attacks on liberty and to embrace democratic ideals, open government and civil rights…The artworks in Covert Operations explore the complicated relationship between freedom and security, individuals and the state, fundamental extremism and democracy. Covert Operations demonstrates how visual art can be a platform for questioning and understanding the complex state of our post-9/11 world. These artists have each undertaken a weighty responsibility: make the invisible visible” Bauer, Kristin. (October 21, 2014). Government, Conspiracy and Art Coverage at SMoCA in COVER OPERATIONS.
During the Covert Operations exhibition, people who came to play Corridos would sit down in a racecar arcade seat and play the art game as if they were in your old school arcade. Today, those who wish to play Corridos can install Blender and play the game via download. Blender is open source software, which has allowed the artists to distribute the computer game, Corridos, for free across the Internet. While the game experience still allows the player to be put into the Mexican drug trafficking culture, the way in which the game is operated can really change the experience. Being in a racecar seat and controlling the game through arcade controls immerses the player deeper into the games society than playing on a computer. However, the content of the game does not change, just user experience.
Luis Hernandez-Galvan explains some of the background of the work here:
“Corrido: Oral form of communication, deeply rooted in mexican culture, perfected during the revolution (1910), when the media was co-opted by the government, as an opensource, peer to peer efficient way of disseminating news from afar, mainly great battles and heroic gestures. In recent decades, this form has been retaken to sing about famous narcotraffickers and big trafficking operations. Narco-corrido songs tell the sometimes sad, cynical andromanticed adventures of narco traffikers who take great risks to deliver drugs across the mexican/us frontera, over a polka or waltz beat in the background. In keeping with the folklore of illegality of the norteño frontera, in older narco-corridos, words for drugs and weapons were codefied --heroin is a chiva (goat), marijuana is gallo (rooster), cocaine is perico (parrot), unlike the more obvious and crude terminology ofrecent corridos. Corridos are usually commissioned to norteño musicians by the traffikers themselves, who like to hear songs about their exploits, beginning at 500 USD and going up” Hernandez-Galvan, Luis. (2005). Corridos.
When actually playing Corridos you will work to cross the US-Mexican border from a section of downtown Tijuana and a mall inside the town of San Ysidro in San Diego, USA. Below, you can see a screen capture of Google Maps showing the driving directions between the two cities. Anne-Marie Schleiner and Luis Hernandez Galvan actually modeled these neighborhoods in the game by looking at real maps and photographs.
Anne-Marie Schleiner and Luis Hernandez-Galvan picked this particular path across the border because it represents a major point of entry for drugs into the US throughout history. The artists play on the historical context of these neighborhoods quite well and teach the players a lot about the American side of the drug cartel. After World War II this became the largest market for drugs in the world. In Sinaloa, Mexico, Chinese-American citizens were paid to teach Mexican farmers how to harvest poppy seeds to produce morphine. During this time in history, the US had an incredibly high demand for morphine because so many soldiers who had returned from the war had become addicted. Therefore, after World War II a drug route was created through Tijuana and the infrastructure is still there, making it the best route for drug trafficking.
In order to understand the situation of Tijuana and neighboring areas, Anne-Marie Schleiner and Luis Hernandez-Galvan moved to Tijuana and discovered a lot about the culture. In the first two months of 2005, when they first arrived, there were 60 violent murders in Tijuana, one being the chief of police. Schleiner and Hernandez-Galvan quickly learned that the law in Mexico, especially Tijuana, was flexible. For example, there is a bar down the street from the local police station where people can buy marijuana from the bartender and snort lines of cocaine at their table. During their time in Tijuana, the artists also learned about a tunnel formed between a middle class neighborhood in Calexico, USA and a Mexican mansion. It is important to note “since 2003, 8 narco tunnels have been discovered in California and 15 in Arizona, according to the DEA. Some of them are quite high tech with electricity, ventilation and rail systems” Hernandez-Galvan. (2005). Corridos.
The computer game, Corridos, is centralized around the idea of driving drugs across the border while listening to Corridos music, which is really making a statement about the culture of drug trafficking between the US-Mexican border. The game takes players through secret tunnels where they can drive across (under) the border at fast speeds or sit for hours at border controls. However, the game is so much more than fast cars and cool music. It focuses on the illegal exchanges that take place across our borders and how that affects our society.
While Anne-Marie Schleiner and Luis Hernandez-Galvan have made a comment on the US-Mexican border and the exchanges that take place across it through an art game, lots of artists are making a more obvious political statement about the border by painting on border fences. Ana Teresa Fernández paints the Sonora border fence ski blue to symbolize that it should be invisible, and by painting it, it almost looks like she tried to erase it. The purpose of this piece is to raise awareness of migrant rights. While both of these art pieces highlight important issues affecting the US-Mexican border, this makes a statement about transporting people across borders, whereas Corridos makes a statement more specifically about drug trafficking.
Another piece that that comments on the US-Mexico border is by Chico MacMurtie. MacMurtie’s piece, Border Crossers, is a series of robotic sculptures that act as a physical and symbolic bridge across the border. The artist plans on installing these sculptures at specific locations along both sides of the border. Anne-Marie Schleiner and Luis Hernandez-Galvan work, Corridos, documents the journey across the border in a hypothetical situation based on extensive research. MacMurtie’s piece, Border Crossers seeks to document the exchanges taking place along the border as well. However, this piece will actual show real activity along the border. The bridges used in this piece actually have sensors and surveillance technology, which will document border activity.