The political aesthetics of boundaries and crossings

This interdisciplinary volume explores the role of images and representation in different borderscapes. It provides fresh insight into the ways in which borders, borderscapes and migration are imagined and narrated by offering new ways to approach the political aesthetics of the border. The case studies in the volume contribute to the methodological renewal of border studies and present ways of discussing cultural representations of borders and related processes. The case studies address the role of borders in narrative and images in literary texts, political and popular imagery, surveillance data, video art and survivor testimonies in a highly comparative range of geographical contexts ranging from northern Europe, via Mediterranean and Mexican–US borderlands to Chinese borderlands. The disciplinary approaches include critical theory, literary studies, social anthropology, media studies and political geography. The volume argues that borderlands and border-crossings (such as those by migrants) are present in public discourse and more private, everyday experience. This volume addresses their mediation through various stories, photographs, films and other forms. It suggests that narratives and images are part of the borderscapes in which border-crossings and bordering processes take place, contributing to the negotiation of borders in the public sphere. As the case studies show, narratives and images enable identifying various top-down and bottom-up discourses to be heard and make visible different minority groups and constituencies.

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The topos of/for a post-politics of images?
Anne-Laure Amilhat Szary

The chapter addresses the recent proliferation of border-related visual art and the problem of resisting political power in particular. Border art is a medium that is both aesthetic and political, addressing through images the processes of de/bordering and borderscapes, as well as its potential for making visible and even subverting experiences and expectations related to the border. The chapter reviews critically several instances of border art from Europe to the United States and Canada (e.g., by Adrien Missika and Dennis Oppenheim), showing that in contemporary border art borders are a topos, that is, the anchor point of a multidimensional message. In so doing, it also highlights the links between the different aesthetic productions at the borders at the global level. The chapter claims that there is a new need to reflect on the relationship between aesthetics and politics, should an understanding of border art as a form of ‘alternative spatiality’ offering potential for subversion and critique be aimed at. What are shown as powerful ways of promoting non-consensual understandings of borders in the visual arts are works that critique the medium, not only border politics, or are non-representational.

in Border images, border narratives
Images of the ‘Jungle’ in Breach by Olumide Popoola and Annie Holmes
Jopi Nyman

This chapter examines the representation of forced migration in the recent short story collection Breach (2016) by the Nigerian German writer Olumide Popoola and the Southern African author Annie Holmes. Focusing on fictional narratives telling of forced migrants travelling towards and inhabiting the originally temporary and notorious refugee camp known as the ‘Jungle’ on the outskirts of Calais, France, the collection addresses migration to Europe and Britain as part of contemporary global mobility. In addition to charactering the fictional space as a borderscape where identities are formed and negotiated, the chapter goes beyond a thematic analysis to suggest that the form of the collection, the short story composite, is a way of narrating the borderscape since it both unites the stories, functioning as the site where cultural encounters charactering its various migrant–host encounters take place, but also underlines the characters’ diverse affiliations and transforming identities, their belongings and becomings, unique to each story and individual. By challenging acts of bordering and refusing to fix the identities of the subjects narrated, Breach shows that the borderscape is full of ambiguity and precariousness, but it may also offer glimpses of a better future and a sense of community.

in Border images, border narratives
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Imagin(in)g the materiality of digital networks
Holger Pötzsch

This chapter examines the problem of territoriality and borders in the digital age through an investigation of the materiality of data clouds as well as their artistic representation by the US artist and activist Trevor Paglen. Starting from the ambiguity of the idea of capturing clouds, the chapter addresses social and political implications of the increasingly ubiquitous technology of cloud computing. What and how do data clouds capture? Are these clouds themselves captured both in physical infrastructure, ownership, state conduct and through artistic responses to their inherent dynamics? Following Amoore’s distinction between two different geographies of data clouds, the chapter addresses issues of territoriality, power and digital borders by asking where the capturing clouds behind the US National Security Agency (NSA) bulk surveillance materialise, and where such clouds fundamentally challenge spatial notions of state sovereignty and borders. Through an analysis of the artworks of the US photographer and activist Trevor Paglen that visualise the materiality of NSA surveillance, the chapter shows that Paglen reconnects the apparently fluid and ephemeral nature of digital technology and surveillance with its often classified material and institutional basis.

in Border images, border narratives
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Border images and narratives: paradoxes, spheres, aesthetics
Johan Schimanski and Jopi Nyman

This chapter written by the editors examines how the individual contributions to this volume answer the book’s three basic questions about different aesthetic strategies, how they enable crossings from private experience into the public sphere, and the various paradoxes they involve. The ways in which they answer these questions connect the different chapters with each other. Here the editors also suggest possible ways forward for future research, or themes that need a closer focus. It is argued that, in addition to the need to broaden the focus to other forms of aesthetic experience than those prototypically characterised as ‘images’ and ‘narratives’, it is crucial to examine in more detail how border images and narratives act in the world, focus on the temporalities of such images and narratives, and also explore their emotional dimensions.

in Border images, border narratives
Ethnic minorities and localities in China’s border encounters with Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam
Victor Konrad and Zhiding Hu

This chapter focuses on China’s encounters and negotiations across its borders with Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam where cross-border interaction and enhanced mobility play an increasingly more important role. It shows how narratives and imaginaries of border crossings and processes contribute to border negotiation in the public sphere, and, particularly, how these aesthetic forms deliver a range of top-down and bottom-up discourses among national interests and a richly intertwined tapestry of minorities in the region. On the basis of field research in the localities of Ruili, Kokang and Dalou/Mongla along the China–Myanmar border, the China–Laos border at Mohan/Boten and the China–Myanmar border at Hekou, it is shown how images and narratives of borders and borderlands function differently at different levels of discourse in the public sphere, but also that border space allows these diverse discourses to co-exist, particularly if the border space accommodates plural cultural memories. Making visible and giving voice through border images and narratives empowers minority constituencies, as long as the local images and narratives do not eclipse the national discourse. The border functions as a catalyst for mediating and merging of various border narratives as well as negotiations in the border space.

in Border images, border narratives
The invisibility of border-related trauma narratives in the Finnish–Russian borderlands
Tuulikki Kurki

This chapter addresses the concept of in/visibility in border-related trauma narratives through a discussion of the representation and reception of border crossers’ traumas in literature dealing with Finnish–Russian borderlands in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries by writers including Boris Cederholm, Kirsti Huurre, Arvi Perttu (Finland), Nikolai Jaakkola and Antti Timonen (Karelia, Soviet Union). The chapter reveals how historical and political discourses related to border crossers and their experiences have influenced the discourses on migrants and their traumatic experiences up to the current day. The public reception of these narratives both in Finland and the Soviet Union/Russia has tended to evaluate them according to their truth-value and documentary value, and ignored the affective and emotional aspects of the narratives, i.e., their role as trauma literature. More recent trauma narratives by border-crossers apply elements of fictional genres, such as Russian postmodernism and grotesque, and are increasingly intertextual and layered. Since affects, personal experiences and inner reflections play a central role in these texts, aesthetic strategies play an important role in mediating the trauma of the border. The chapter shows that the marginalised experience of the border trauma gains gradual visibility, and the public perception of the past is gradually transforming.

in Border images, border narratives
Border figures of the fantastic
Patricia García

This chapter examines the aesthetics of the border by focusing on spatial border figures in situations where the sense of borders as constructs that articulate spatial frames and generate an impression of realism fails to provide this function. By analysing a set of twentieth-century fantastic narratives written in Spanish, French and English that mediate between realities and imaginaries in their treatment of borders, it examines their discourse of boundaries ontologically, narratologically and thematically. What is of particular interest is the function of two specific tropes that transgress the ‘realistic’ system of boundaries, operating according to the physics and logics of our extratextual world: horizontal vertigo – the loss of the border that puts an end to a physical space – and spatial psychasthenia – fusion of the body in space. Through analyses of fantastic texts by J.G. Ballard, Rosa Chacel and the TV episode ‘El asfalto’ from the classic Spanish series Historias para no dormir, the chapter shows the relevance of the fantastic for understanding of these border figures as well as border narratives and the configuration of human spatiality more generally.

in Border images, border narratives
Young people, subjectivity and revolutionary border imaginations in the Mediterranean borderscape
Chiara Brambilla

The chapter examines the spectacularisation of Mediterranean borderscapes evident in the dramatic staging of refugee crises and migrant deaths in the Mediterranean in the media in particular. On the basis of the work of the philosopher Hannah Arendt, this spectacularisation is understood as a part of a ‘politics of in/visibility’ that frames political subjects as either relevant or negligible through processes of making in/visible at the shifting threshold between what is worthy of being seen and what is not, which is evidenced in the limited public visibility and agency of migrants and refugees, as well as of civil society, groups and individuals inhabiting Mediterranean borderscapes. On the basis of collaborative ethnographic research with young people in the Italian/Tunisian borderland addressing their images and narratives of borders, the chapter presents a borderscaping approach aiming to de-spectacularise images and narratives of Mediterranean borderscapes. It shows how mixed collaborative visual methods enable possible ‘tactics’ for negotiating regimes of in/visibility to restore public visibility agency that will allow for new forms of political participation and subjectivity. In this way, Mediterranean borderscapes emerge as a space of political becoming where new forms of performative political participation can be developed.

in Border images, border narratives
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Images and narratives on the border
Jopi Nyman and Johan Schimanski

This introduction addresses the role of the aesthetic forms such as narratives and images for politics of the border on the basis of the work of the philosopher Jacques Rancière. It also suggests that stories of the border are means for negotiating identity in the borderscape, the site where border-crossings and bordering processes take place, generating new belongings and becomings, as the border theorist Chiara Brambilla argues. Providing a shared basis for the interdisciplinary volume, the introduction asks three key questions that concern (1) the role of the form, medium, aesthetical strategies in (trans)forming the borderscape, (2) their entry into the public sphere and diverse functions in border discourses and (3) their role in making visible and giving voice to diverse experiences of the borderscape, including those of migrants and other minorities. The introduction also reviews the case studies collected in the volume.

in Border images, border narratives