BORDER CULTURES

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Image credit: Ed Pien. Memento, 2009. Installation view in group exhibition Border Cultures: Part One (homes, land), 2013. Curated by Srimoyee Mitra for the Art Gallery of Windsor. Image courtesy of the Art Gallery of Windsor. Photographed by Frank Piccolo.

Group Exhibition
Curated by Srimoyee Mitra
Art Gallery of Windsor, Windsor ON
25 January–31 March 2013

Review by Sasha Opeiko

This FUSE article from issue 36-4 is available full-text online for your reading pleasure. 

Border Cultures: Part One (homes, land), the first in a three-part annual exhibition series, brought together an ambitious combination of ten projects, including works by artists from the local border region of Windsor/Detroit along- side others from Canada, US, Mexico, Ireland and Palestine. Concurrently on exhibit were The Border Bookmobile Public Archive and Reading Room (2009–2013), an ongoing project by Lee Rodney in collaboration with Mike Marcon, and A River That Separates? Imaging the Detroit River, 1804–2001, an AGW collections exhibit curated by Catharine Mastin. Panel discussions and a conference introduced a variety of themes, viewers, speakers, artists and images from regional and global contexts. The conversation revolved around nationhood, migration and the politics of exclusion, with the objective of using the local border culture as a stage for activating new intersections. The exhibition can be thought of as a curatorial experiment, consisting of a modular collection of rhizomes. Like a microcosmic culture of cells, it is contained together not for any useful end but as a kind of means or model.

As an object, a model is externalized, much in the same way that the imposition or intent of a border at the point of conception is already appended with organisms external to the mechanics at play. I borrow the idea of appropriated exteriority from Deleuze and Guattari’s chapter “1227: Treatise on Nomadology: — The War Machine” in A Thousand Plateaus. The war machine refers not so much to mechanical processes of war as it does to formlessness and force as general principles that can be adopted by mechanical means. Defined by Deleuze and Guattari as pure exteriority, the war machine is outside of the state apparatus, or society as we know it, which is made interior, named and given points. The nomad is described as existing between points, reterritorializing on de- territorialization itself. [1]

The Efflorescence (2012) series by Iftikhar and Elizabeth Dadi (US) demonstrates this kind of exteriority. The series consists of neon lights shaped as flowers, referring to na- tional symbols: the magnolia for North Korea, the clover for Ireland, &c. Each is a boxlike unit holding its emblem, but the light infects and spills over like a species. It is difficult to distinguish whether the edge is at the origin of light or at the farthermost periphery of the fade. The outline pollinates the surrounding space in the same way that the interior bulbs pollinate into each other. The light extends rhizomatically, “between things, interbeing, intermezzo,” [2] always resisting its points of origin as well as its destination, but contained and constant.

Walking through the gallery, Efflorescence is always glowing in the margins, reflect- ing off the floor or signalling from across the expanse of the exhibition space. It charges and breaks up the narrow linearity of the other horizontally ar- ranged displays, such as Postcards from the Edge (1990–) by Marcos Ramirez Erre (Mexico/ US) and the Minoru (2012) se- ries by Christopher McNamara (Canada/US), which are placed directly across each other. While one might expect this specific reflective arrangement to be restrictive (like a corridor), these works, along with the other projects in the exhibit, are conceptually autonomous. The space between is filled with perceptual intersections, and the viewer is guided to look in all directions, activating movement while searching for semblance. The curatorial composition is not so much about reciprocity between the works as it is about the modeling of unclaimed space between territories.

The installation Memento (2009) by Ed Pien (Canada), like the Efflorescence series, also integrates light as an agent of structuring ambiguous space. Memento is drawn from research into the precariousness of illegal migrants, whose social legitimacy is as illusive and unmapped as their migratory transgressions. The installation uses video projections that are reflected in hanging round mirrors, which rotate organically and displace the static entity of the images into fluid suspension. In the video, drawings of Pien wading through a torrent of waves are used to metaphorically model the fragility of the human body in the face of boundless exteriority. A network of ropes is hung and tied into a web throughout the room, casting shadows and entangling the viewer in a bifurcation of dark interior and luminous exposure. This creates a spatial effect that entices the viewer to negotiate pathways through the netting, in a confusion of inside and outside space.

The more socially activated projects, which are most effective outside the gallery setting, are appropriated into the exhibition model. Remap- ping the Illegitimate Border (2012–2013) by Dylan Miner (US/Canada), for example, is a mobile serigraphy project that requires the participation of Latino and Indigenous communities on both sides of the US/Canada border. It is here presented as a sculptural installation, a static residue awaiting re-deterritorialization. Similarly, The Border Bookmobile Public Archive and Reading Room brings the bookmobile ndoors. Temporarily immobi- lized, the van-based archive becomes a fully equipped interactive library of books, images, interviews with local residents and other cross-border artifacts. Territorializing on organic flows of storytelling, the Bookmobile devises a linguistic anthology, classifying to internalize while simultaneously renouncing ownership for public accessibility. The Bookmobile is nomadic both inside and out because it is not geographically or socially specific. It is not oriented in either Windsor or Detroit, and contains material relevant to other border regions in the world. The Bookmobile documents the evolution of international border fortification and its influence on cultural and existential exchange.

The School in Exile (2011) project presented by Campus in Camps (Palestine) is likewise translated in the gallery as an open propositional document, represented photographically, textually and as a plastic, three-dimensional, interactive model. School in Exile is an education and architecture experiment in the Shu’fat refugee camp, a deterritorialized in-between area that is neither inside nor outside the boundaries of Jerusalem. Attempting to build on this vulnerability, the architectural design is based on circularity without an authoritarian agenda. An interlocking arrangement of identical hexagon-shaped classrooms gives “a spatial tension between an inside and outside, the camp and the home village, life in exile and the desire of return.” [3] The three-dimensional interactive model of the campscape incites the viewer to manipulate the hexagonal shapes into new configurations of space as they fit into a mapped pattern. Each figure could be set into a static point gridded on the platform, but could potentially fit into anyone of the hexagons. At the moment of placement, then, the forms are already defined by the active potential of being elsewhere and outside them- selves, while they are simultaneously dependent on the limitations of their framework, regardless of situation.

The incongruous effect of Border Cultures lies in assuming a conventional contemporary art gallery method, which is a form of colonial territorialization, as an attempt to decipher a much greater reality that repels classification. This is modulated in an externalized construction that is in turn internalized and reterritorialized, becoming a self-reflexive cluster of mockups that cross compares and cross-pollinates within itself.

“It is in terms not of inde- pendence, but of coexistence and competition in a perpetual field of interaction, that we must conceive of exteriority and interiority, war machines of metamorphosis and State appa- ratuses of identity… The model in question is one of becoming and heterogeneity, as opposed to the stable, the eternal, the identical, the constant. It is a ‘paradox’ to make becoming itself a model, and no longer a secondary characteristic, a copy.” [4]

1] Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Brian Massumi (1987; repr., Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2011), 381.

[2] Ibid., 25.

[3] Alessandro Petti, “Shu’fat School,” Campus in Camps website.

[4] Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 360–361.

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Sasha Opeiko, with her post-Communist Belorussian roots, has never fully adjusted to postmodern Canada and continues to question the etymological function of objects. She received her BFA (Honours) in Visual Arts from the University of Windsor in 2009, followed by an MFA in Visual Arts from the University of Victoria in 2012. She sustains an active artistic practice in Windsor, Ontario, while maintaining an avid interest in critical writing, poetry, academic incoherence, alchemical philosophy, modern psycho- analysis, vital materialism, thing theory, entropy and other mechanics of ephemeral knowledge.

 

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