The Culture of Migration: Politics, Aesthetics and Histories 9780755620166, 9781784533106

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The Culture of Migration: Politics, Aesthetics and Histories
 9780755620166, 9781784533106

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Mads Anders Baggesgaard is a postdoc in Comparative Literature at Aarhus University, Denmark. His research focuses on the relationship between globalisation and contemporary film and literature especially in relation to contemporary French and Francophone film and literature. Baggesgaard has published a number of books and articles on these topics and a book is forthcoming (2015) on Francophone cinema after post-colonialism. Mieke Bal, a cultural theorist and critic, is based at the Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis (ASCA), University of Amsterdam. Her areas of interest range from biblical and classical antiquity to seventeenth-century and contemporary art and modern literature, feminism and migratory culture. Her many books include A Mieke Bal Reader (2006), Travelling Concepts in the Humanities (2002) and Narratology (3rd edn, 2009). Bal is also a video artist. Her current project, Madame B: Explorations in Emotional Capitalism, with Michelle Gamaker, is exhibited worldwide. Occasionally she acts as an independent curator. Her co-curated exhibition 2MOVE visited four countries. Roger Bromley is Visiting Professor at Lancaster University, Emeritus Professor in Cultural Studies and Honorary Professor of Sociology at the University of Nottingham, and Associate Fellow at Rhodes University, South Africa. He is the author of Lost Narratives: Popular Fictions and Politics (1988), Narratives for a New Belonging: Diasporic Cultural Fictions (2000), From Alice to Buena Vista: the Cinema of Wim Wenders (2001) and other titles. Bromley’s current research interests also include migration, diaspora and cinematic representations of refugees and asylum seekers. His current project is Giving Memory a Future: Narratives of Conflict, Displacement and Reconciliation. Edward S. Casey is Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the State University of New York, Stony Brook. His books include Getting Back


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into Place (2nd edn, 2009) and The World at a Glance (2007). He is the co-author with Mary Watkins of Up Against the Wall: Re-Imagining the U.S.–Mexico Border (2014). The current essay reflects an ongoing inquiry into the character of edges in many contexts (perceptual, social, political, racial). This research will culminate in a new book, The World on Edge (forthcoming, 2016). Chu YinHua is Assistant Professor in Fine Arts at TungHai University, Taiwan. YinHua has completed her practice-based PhD at the Centre for Research and Education in Arts and Media, University of Westminster, London. Her work has been published in magazines and exhibited internationally. Chu’s research and art practice focus on the idea of ‘Mapping the Urban Imaginary’, and her experiments have introduced new variables into some of the standard operations of both photography and urban geography. Burcu Dogramaci is Professor of Twentieth Century and Contemporary Art in the Department of Art History at the University of Munich. Her research focuses on twentieth-century and contemporary art. Her recent publications on migration and exile include Migration und künstlerische Produktion: Aktuelle Perspektiven (2013, ed.) and Fotografieren und Forschen. Wissenschaftliche Expeditionen mit der Kamera im türkischen Exil nach 1933 (2013). A forthcoming publication is Heimat: Künstlerische Perspektiven (2015). Nanna Heidenreich is Lecturer in Media Studies at the University of the Arts in Braunschweig, Germany, and co-curator of Forum Expanded at the Berlinale. She focuses on the political potential of the aesthetic experience and other intersections of politics and art, particularly on migration, image wars, experimentations in cinema, and anti-racist strategies. Her books include V/Erkennungsdienste, Kino und die Perspektive der Migration (2015) and total. Universalismus und Partikularismus in post-kolonialer Medientheorie (co-edited with U. Bergermann, 2015). Eureka Henrich is the 2014 Rydon Fellow in Australian Politics and Political History at the Menzies Centre for Australian Studies, King’s College London. Her research is concerned with the ways that migration is experienced and represented, and how those representations have been historically mobilised to serve personal, political and community agendas. Henrich is currently completing a monograph tracing the history of

Contributors ix

migration exhibitions in Australia as well as editing a collection of papers on the public history of immigration. Eva Jørholt is Associate Professor of Film and Media Studies at the University of Copenhagen. Her research interests include African cinema (primarily from francophone West Africa and Nollywood), Indian cinema and European minority cinema. She is currently working on two projects: one which investigates the ‘revival’ of the war in Algeria (1954–62) in recent French films, and another about cinematic representations of clandestine African emigration to Europe, seen from African and European points of view. Tabish Khair is Associate Professor at Aarhus University, Denmark, and the author and editor of several books, including Babu Fictions: Alienation in Contemporary Indian English Novels (2001), Other Routes: 1500 Years of African and Asian Travel Writing (2005), The Gothic, Postcolonialism and Otherness (2010) and Transnational and Postcolonial Vampires (2012). He is currently working on a study of xenophobia. Sten Pultz Moslund is Associate Professor in Comparative Literature at the University of Southern Denmark. His research focuses on postcolonial literature, migration literature and, most recently, on the relation between place, literature and aesthetics. Among other works, Moslund has published Migration Literature and Hybridity (2010). Literature’s Sensuous Geographies is forthcoming (2015). Nikos Papastergiadis is Professor at the School of Culture and Communi-cation at the University of Melbourne. His current research focuses on the investigation of the historical transformation of contemporary art and cultural institutions by digital technology. His numerous publications include Modernity as Exile (1993), The Turbulence of Migration (2000) and Cosmopolitanism and Culture (2012). Anne Ring Petersen is Associate Professor in the Department of Arts and Cultural Studies at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. Her research focuses on cross-cultural studies in art, particularly the impact of migration on contemporary art. Petersen was the leader of the interdisciplinary research network, ‘Network for Migration and Culture’, from 2010 to 2014 and has published widely on modern and contemporary art. Recent publications include the anthology Contemporary Painting in Context (2013), and


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a monograph on installation art, Installation Art between Image and Stage, is forthcoming (2015). Moritz Schramm is Associate Professor in German Studies at the University of Southern Denmark. His research focuses on post-migrant literature, film and theatre, on theories of recognition, and on critical theory and political philosophy. Schramm has published a wide range of articles on contemporary cultural developments, particularly in Germany and Denmark, and among others on Fathi Akın, Feridun Zaimoglu and Ilija Trojanow. He is currently finishing a book on the struggle for recognition in Franz Kafka’s works. Azadeh Sharifi is an independent researcher in cultural studies and theatre. Her research focuses on post-migrant theatre, post-migrant aesthetics, theatre and racism, and post-colonialism. Her PhD thesis (2011) analysed representation and participation of second-generation immigrants in German theatre. Scharifi has published several articles on post-migrant theatre, theatre and migration, and theatre and racism. Her recent research is on artists of colour in Europe and post-migrant aesthetics. Alexandra Stara is Associate Professor and Reader in the History and Theory of Architecture at Kingston University, London. She has been publishing on the hermeneutics of architecture, photography and the museum for the past 20 years. Her books include The Edges of Trauma: Explorations in Visual Art and Literature (2014, ed.), The Museum of French Monuments in Paris: Killing Art To Make History (2013) and Curating Architecture and the City (2009, ed.). Mark Terkessdis is a freelance author and researcher on the topics of (popular) culture, migration and racism. His latest book publications in German include Die Banalität des Rassismus. Migranten zweiter Generation entwickeln einen neue Perspektive (2004), Fliehkraft. Gesellschaft in Bewegung – Von Migranten und Touristen (with Tom Holert, 2006) and Interkultur (2010). His latest publications in English include ‘A Crises of Cousins’ (The Guardian, 30 November 2012) and National Turbulences. Unromantic Reflections on Post-migrant Urbanity and Art Production (2013). Currently he is working on a new book on collaboration in politics, education and arts (forthcoming, 2015). Mary Watkins is a liberation psychologist and professor at Pacifica Graduate Institute, Santa Barbara, California, and is co-founder of its

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specialisation in Community Psychology, Liberation Psychology, and Ecopsychology. She is co-author of Up Against the Wall: Re-Imagining the U.S.–Mexico Border (2014) and Toward Psychologies of Liberation (2008). Watkins was a member of an oral history project (In the Shadows of Paradise: Testimonies from the Undocumented Immigrant Community in Santa Barbara), collecting the testimonios of immigrants without documents. She is the author of Waking Dreams (1976) and Invisible Guests (1986).

List of Illustrations

2.1. The excluded refugee. From La Forteresse, 2008, directed by Fernand Melgar. 2.2. Spaces for the victim, the vulnerable and the powerless. From La Forteresse, 2008, directed by Fernand Melgar. 2.3. Conditional freedom and surveillance. From La Forteresse, 2008, directed by Fernand Melgar. 2.4. The Fortress. From La Forteresse, 2008, directed by Fernand Melgar. 5.1. Verrücktes Blut, Nurkan Erpulat and Jens Hillje, premiered 2011 at Ballhaus Naunynstraße. Photograph by Ute Langkafel. 5.2. Verrücktes Blut, Nurkan Erpulat and Jens Hillje, premiered 2011 at Ballhaus Naunynstraße. Photograph by Ute Langkafel. 6.1. Kanak Attak, The Walking Cube, drawing from the eponymous performance in the frame of the exhibition Crossing Munich (2009), Rathausgalerie Munich. Marker on several foils, layered, drawings based on photos taken during the no-border protests against the detention centre in Pagani, Lesvos, Greece, September 2009. 6.2. Petja Dimitrova, Staatsbügerschaft?/Nationality?, 2003, video still. Video, DVD Pal, 8 min, German/English. 8.1. Mieke Bal, Nothing is Missing, 2006–11. Installation in the Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen. Photograph: Astrid van Weijenberg. 8.2. Mieke Bal, Nothing is Missing, 2006–11, Elena, video still. 8.3. Mieke Bal, Nothing is Missing, 2006–11, Massaouda, video still. 8.4. Mieke Bal, Nothing is Missing, 2006–11, Ilhem, Massaouda’s daughter-in-law and interlocutor; video still.

46 48 50 53 96 98 112

116 149 155 160 161


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9.1. The MGP Mission: Streetwise Sawsan (Malika Sia Graff) with Turkish roots and Karl (Sylvester Byder) who has just migrated to multicultural Copenhagen from a provincial fishing village (The MGP Mission, dir. Martin Miehe-Renard, Denmark 2013). © ASA Film Production. Frame grab. 9.2. Bend it Like Beckham: Parminder Nagra and Keira Knightley as the two football-crazy girls in Bend It Like Beckham (dir. Gurinder Chadha, UK/Germany/USA 2002). © Kintop Pictures. Frame grab. 9.3. Outside the Law: French police massacre of Algerians in a Parisian metro station on 17 October 1961, at the height of the Algerian war of independence. Hors la loi (Outside the Law, dir. Rachid Bouchareb, France/Algeria/Belgium/ Tunisia/Italy 2010). © Tessalit Productions. Frame grab. 9.4. Soul Kitchen: Togetherness in difference (dir. Fatih Akın, Germany 2009). © Corazón International. Frame grab. 10.1. Alejandro Santiago, 2501 Migrantes, 2006, Museo de Arte Contemporáneo, Oaxaca, Mexico. Photography: Mary Watkins. 10.2. Giant Milagros by Alfred Quiroz; Parade of Humanity/ Paseo de Humanidad by Alfred Quiroz, Guadalupe Serrano and Alfred Morackis, US border wall, Calle Internacional, Nogales, Mexico, 2004–10. Photography: Mary Watkins. 10.3. Parade of Humanity/Paseo de Humanidad by Alfred Quiroz, Guadalupe Serrano and Alfred Morackis, US border wall, Calle Internacional, Nogales, Mexico, 2004. Photography: Mary Watkins. 10.4. Alfred Morackis and Guadalupe Serrano, Border Dynamics, 2007, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona. Originally designed for the US border wall. Photography: Mary Watkins. 10.5. The Life and Dreams of the Perla Ravine/Vida y Sueños de la Cañada Perla, replica of mural painted in Taniperla, Mexico, by Sergio Valdez, Calle Internacional, Nogales, Mexico, 2005 (removed in 2011). Photography: Mary Watkins. 11.1 Isaac Julien, Western Union Series no. 9 (Shipwreck – Sculpture for the New Millennium), 2007. Duratrans image in lightbox, 120 x 300 cm. Edition of 6 plus 1 AP. Courtesy of the Artist, Metro Pictures, New York, and Victoria Miro, London. © Isaac Julien. Photography: Christopher Burke Studio.




182 195 197


199 201


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11.2. Isaac Julien, Western Union: Small Boats, 2007. 210 Three-screen projection. 35 mm colour film, DVD/HD transfer. 5.1 SR sound. Total running time: 18 mins 22 secs. Installation, Metro Pictures, New York 2007. Courtesy of the Artist, Metro Pictures, New York, and Victoria Miro, London. © Isaac Julien. Photography: Christopher Burke Studio. 11.3. Isaac Julien, Western Union Series no. 11 (Leopard/Afterlife), 214 2007. Duratrans image in lightbox, 120 x 120 cm. Edition of 6 plus 1 AP. Courtesy of the Artist, Metro Pictures, New York, and Victoria Miro, London. © Isaac Julien. Photography: Christopher Burke Studio. 13.1. Elisabeth Blonzen, Schwarz tragen, premiered 2013 247 at Ballhaus Naunynstraße. Photograph: Ute Langkafel. 13.2. Nurkan Erpulat and Jens Hillje, Verrücktes Blut, premiered 250 2011 at Ballhaus Naunynstraße. Photograph: Ute Langkafel. 14.1. Ori Gersht, When Tom Comes, from Liquidation, 2005. 260 Courtesy of the artist and Mummery and Schnelle Gallery. 14.2. Ori Gerscht, Drapes 3, from Hide and Seek, 2008–9. 262 Courtesy of the artist and Mummery and Schnelle Gallery. 14.3. Ori Gerscht, still from Evaders, 2009. Courtesy of the 263 artist and Mummery and Schnelle Gallery. 14.4. Ori Gerscht, Far Off Mountains and Rivers, Evaders, 2009. 265 Courtesy of the artist and Mummery and Schnelle Gallery. 14.5 Ori Gerscht, still from Will You Dance For Me, 2011. 266–7 Courtesy of the artist and Mummery and Schnelle Gallery. 16.1. Candida Höfer, from the slide projection Türken in 296 Deutschland, 1979. © Candida Höfer/ 16.2. Candida Höfer, from the slide projection Türken in 298 Deutschland, 1979. © Candida Höfer/ 16.3. Candida Höfer, from the slide projection Türken in 300 Deutschland, 1979. © Candida Höfer/ 16.4. Mischa Kuball, New Pott, Family Saeed, Irak. 302 Photograph: Egbert Trogemann, Düsseldorf. © Mischa Kuball/ 16.5. Mischa Kuball, New Pott, Family Turmes, Luxemburg. 303 Photograph: Egbert Trogemann, Düsseldorf. © Mischa Kuball/ 17.1. Frame grab from Chronique d’une catastrophe annoncée, 310 ou, Haïti: Apocalypse Now. Directed by Arnold Antonin, Haiti, 2004. © Fokal Films.


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17.2. Frame grab from Assistance mortelle. Directed by Raoul Peck, France/Haiti/USA/Belgium, 2013. © Velvet Films. 18.1. The original Wall of Honor at Ellis Island, 1990. Reproduced courtesy of Ellis Island Immigration Museum. 18.2. The current Wall of Honor at Ellis Island, first unveiled in 1993. Reproduced courtesy of Ellis Island Immigration Museum. 18.3. The Welcome Wall at the Australian National Maritime Museum, Darling Harbour. Reproduced courtesy of the Australian National Maritime Museum. 18.4. A Welcome Wall unveiling ceremony in 2002. Reproduced courtesy of the Australian National Maritime Museum.

310 332 333 337 341

Artist’s Insert YinHua Chu, Mise-en-Scène, diagram. YinHua Chu, Paralleling Memories, Fuji polaroids, 5.5 x 8.5 cm, 2009. YinHua Chu, Tracing Memories, mixed media, 150 x 150 cm, 2010. YinHua Chu, Tracing Memories, mixed media, 150 x 150 cm, 2010. YinHua Chu, Travelling Home, mixed media, size varies, 2010. YinHua Chu, Travelling Home, mixed media, size varies, 2010. YinHua Chu, Travelling Home, mixed media, size varies, 2010.

Introduction Sten Pultz Moslund, Anne Ring Petersen and Moritz Schramm

Migration and Culture: Politics, Aesthetics and History Migration, in its endless motion, surrounds and pervades almost all aspects of contemporary society. As has often been noted, the modern world is in a state of flux and turbulence. It is a system in which the circulation of people, resources and information follows multiple paths. (Papastergiadis 2000: 1)

The opening lines of Nikos Papastergiadis’ book The Turbulence of Migration emphasise some of the most central elements of modern migration: it involves not only the movement of people, but also of information and resources in the shape of goods, media products, art, and so on. The increase of world migration and the accompanying movement of information, traditions and cultures draw attention to how migration acts as a catalyst not only of social encounters and change but also for the generation of new aesthetic and cultural phenomena and structures. This book focuses on some of the ways in which culture and the arts have been transformed by migration in recent decades and how these cultural and aesthetic transformations have contributed to shaping identities, politics and societies differently. Migration is a historical as well as a trans-historical concept; transhistorical in the sense that people and cultural forms have always migrated; historical in the sense that the character of migration has changed in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. While the term migration refers to population movements either within nation states or across their borders, modern migration movements are more complex and diverse. Especially since the mid-1970s the number of migrants has increased significantly due to the interaction and effects of multiple economic, social, technological and cultural processes, which are usually


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expressed in one word: globalisation. According to the United Nation’s estimations, the number of long-term migrants living and working in a country different from their home country has increased from 155 to 214 million between 1990 and 2010, that is, in only two decades.1 Stephen Castles and Mark Miller noted a new ‘age of migration’ already in the beginning of the 1990s (Castles and Miller 2003: 1), and a ‘new era of mobility’ was announced by Kofi Annan and the United Nations a considerable number of years ago (UN 2006: 5). In the early twentyfirst century, cultural policies have become more and more attentive to migration as a societal factor that already shapes and will continue to affect the futures, cultures and identities of nation states in radical ways, also in Europe.2 The historical changes we are dealing with here become apparent, for example, in the way historians distinguish between two different phases of emigration to Europe in the second half of the twentieth century. The first one starts in the 1950s. In this phase we are, on the one hand, dealing with the consequences of the decolonalisation process. As Kevin Robins puts it, this phase ‘was generally characterised by migrations of colonial and post-colonial populations to the imperial “mother countries” – for example, migrations from West Africa and the Maghreb into France, from Indonesia into the Netherlands, or from the Caribbean and South Asia into Britain’ (Robins 2007: 153). On the other hand, we see a significant volume of labour-migration especially from the South of Europe to Northern and Western Europe: during the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s, several million people moved to countries like Germany, Denmark and Sweden (Berghahn and Sternberg 2010: 13). The second phase of migration started in the early 1990s, after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Here we see huge migrations from Eastern Europe to the countries of Western Europe, and, at the same time, economic and forced migrations from countries from outside Europe to Europe: political refugees, economic migrants, asylum seekers, victims of trafficking and people desperately crossing the Mediterranean from Northern Africa. This second and ongoing phase of migration relates to recent forms of intensified globalisation. According to Robins, it is a more global kind of migration in the sense that Europe has become an attractive destination for people from diverse parts of the world. At the same time these movements have substantially changed European societies both concerning social and cultural structures. What Robins points out concerning the development in Europe has obvious counterparts around the world: the contemporary movements of people affect countless regions in the world and include, for example, intra-state migration in China, labour migration from the Far

Introduction 3

East to the Middle East and economic migration from South and Central America to the United States and Canada. Accordingly, it is not surprising that the effects of migration on society have led to a worldwide preoccupation in anthropological, social and political research focused on the questions and challenges of migration. Concurrently, the arts and humanities have taken an increasing interest in the interrelations between migration, culture and aesthetics. It is now widely accepted that the various transhistorical and historical migration movements have had a remarkable and ongoing impact on cultural forms like literature, the visual arts, music, dance, film, media, the internet, and so on. Yet, cultural institutions have often been rather slow to recognise this as a fact and to accept that it must come to bear in powerful ways upon institutional policies. It would have been unthinkable 15 years ago that the London home of British art, Tate Britain, would venture to fundamentally redraw the parameters for the larger question of what British culture is by mounting a large thematic exhibition with works from the museum’s own collection – ‘national heritage’ of Britain – under the title Migrations. This 2012 exhibition aimed to shed light on the story of how migration has shaped British art for five centuries, as often as not following the pattern of foreign innovation and importation succeeded by native reappropriations (Carey-Thomas 2012). Especially in recent years, the growing interest in ‘migratory aesthetics’ (Bal 2007; Durrant and Lord 2007) among cultural institutions and scholars alike has been followed by a revitalisation of the discussions about the theoretical questions arising from these transformations in the cultural field. We are witnesses to ongoing attempts to develop new terms and concepts to aid scholars in the difficult task of bringing into representation the cultures, subjectivities and special angles of vision of migrant groups and artists, in a way that is attentive to their multiple belonging or ‘situated laterality’ (Ang 2011: 92). However, the new concepts are often contested. They are up against persistent ‘difficulties of description’, that is, problems of defining or describing the ‘polymorphic phenomenon’ (Schmitz 2009: 7) we are dealing with. As a result, multiple and sometimes even rivalling terms are circulating in the discourses on migration and culture. Among the most widely used terms we find, for instance, ‘alterity’, ‘interculturality’ and, of course, ‘hybridity’ and ‘diaspora’ (Braziel and Mannur 2003; Cohen 2008; Huyssen 2003). But other terms prevail, for example, in recent film studies. Here scholars not only talk about ‘diasporic cinema’ (Moorti 2003; Berghahn and Sternberg 2010), but also the cinema of ‘transvergence’ (Higbee 2007), ‘accented’ cinema (Naficy 2001), ‘transnational’ and ‘intercultural’ cinema, or ‘post-


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colonial’ cinema (Ezra and Rowden 2006). Precise definitions are given in most of the cases, and all of the concepts can be useful in describing recent developments. Yet, as all of the concepts are exclusive in one way or another, they are bound to be contested by other parties. Let us take ‘hybridity’ as an example of a term that has been widely circulated, not only in film studies but also in studies of a plurality of other artistic and cultural forms. This concept has often been criticised for being founded on an underlying counter-concept of homogeneity, and for its origin in Eurocentric genetics and race-discourses. Furthermore it is argued that the description of a culture or a cultural phenomenon as ‘hybrid’ is vague insofar as all cultures are pluralistic and hybrid by definition. If anything which is based on ‘a blending of traditions’ or ‘an assembly of different discourses and technologies’ or has come about by ‘techniques of collage, sampling or concinnity’ is called ‘hybrid’ then, Elisabeth Bronfen and Benjamin Marius argue (Bronfen and Marius 2007: 14), in a time of ‘mass migration, and in a time of the global circulation of signs, goods and information’, hybridity would no longer mark any ‘distinctive characteristic or anything dangerous that has to be avoided’; rather, it would be ‘but the essential characteristic of all cultures’ (Bronfen and Marius 2007: 17–18; Dörr 2009: 61–2). If all cultures and all cultural products are essentially hybrid, one could argue that the term is not suitable as a tool for designating or distinguishing between the multiple intercultural, migrant and post-migrant situations of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. At least the terminology of ‘hybridity’ should be more precise or differentiated. It seems that the term only makes sense when used in a more specific way or with a modifier that enables the user to distinguish between different levels and types of hybridity or between different speeds of cultural change and hybridisation processes affected by migration (Moslund 2010). Surely, the dispute over ‘hybridity’ is not yet over. The concept of diaspora poses similar difficulties. Its widespread use in studies of migration and culture has prompted Monika Fludernik to talk about an ‘inflationary use of the term “diaspora” to cover just about any type of existence away from the homeland’ (Fludernik 2003: xiii). ‘Diaspora’ is often understood as a ‘circumscribed, bordered form of placelessness’ (Dörr 2009: 67). The term usually refers to a community of people who share some common memory of a lost homeland. Often the members of diasporic communities have no personal experience of migration themselves, but they are ‘connected to their family’s migration and history of relocation or dispersal through kinship networks, family narratives, cultural practice, language, artefacts, etc.’ (Berghahn and

Introduction 5

Sternberg 2010: 16). Concepts of ‘diasporic space’ (Brah 1996) and ‘diasporic public spheres’ (Appadurai 2000) have also been disseminated. It has been hotly debated whether the concept of diaspora is actually able to represent and to articulate the diversity of this particular form of migrant and ‘post-migrant’ condition (the latter a term that will be defined and reflected on in several of the chapters in this book). One problem lies in the suggestion of the term that the social and cultural cohesion of the diaspora community is ensured by historical roots in a foreign ‘homeland’, a common origin that every member of the diasporic community is supposed to belong to. There is only a small step from the idea of a ‘lost’ homeland to the utopian or eschatological longing for a return, which would obviously link the concept of diaspora to the problematic impression that migrants and their descendants do not really belong to their (new) places, but are only waiting for some moment in history to return to their origins in different countries and places. The wrongdoing of early migration politics is echoed in this use of the term as well, that is, the insinuation, especially in some European countries, that migrants and their descendants are temporary ‘guests’ rather than unmitigated members of society. This does not mean that the terms diaspora and diasporic culture cannot adequately describe specific migrant communities, but it can be argued that the terms have to be used with careful consideration and that the actual scope of the concept is probably more limited than its wide dissemination seems to indicate. Moreover, one could argue that the exclusive focus on ethnic and social groups in most uses of the concept of diaspora makes it unsuitable for the task of describing the variations and individual divergences inherent in every social group. To recap, all the terms and concepts introduced above have been subject to heated discussion, which sets a high standard of critique and theoretical self-reflection for forthcoming research in the interrelations of migration and culture. Thus, this volume deliberately avoids focusing exclusively on a few selected key concepts. Instead of getting caught up in and constrained by a selective terminology, we try to go back to some of the basic issues. The aim is to address the underlying thematics and discourses of recent studies in migration and culture which cut across disciplinary and terminological borders and create convergence on a more fundamental level: that is, the anthology is based on the presumption that it is possible to identify a number of thematics and discourses that make the wide range of diverse approaches to studies of migration and culture converge and emerge as an interdisciplinary ‘field’. In other words, what constitutes this field is neither that it is delimited as a ‘discipline’ in the traditional sense of


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the word, nor that scholars agree on a certain terminology and theoretical framework to configure the field, but rather that interests seem to centre on a certain set of issues which are characteristically seen from a plurality of perspectives: across the different disciplines and approaches there is, for instance, a sustained interest particularly in political circumstances and consequences of recent historical developments; including the increase (and changing nature) of xenophobia, the securitisation of borders and the rise of racist right-wing nationalism in, for example, Europe; questions of deterritorialisation, reterritorialisation and mixed belonging; political participation, institutional barriers, visibility and the social recognition of migrants, post-migrants and migrant communities; the significance of history, memory and remembrance to migrant cultures and identities; and last, but not least, considerations of cross-cultural issues and the creative, aesthetic and artistic phenomena conceived in the interfaces between cultures. Obviously, these overall interests are all interlinked. And they are all, to some degree, connected to the experience of migration or the contemporary consequences of earlier migrations. As the effects of migration are so difficult to delimit, and the circumstances of specific migrations vary greatly, we understand the term migration in a broad sense: as an umbrella term that includes a series of related terms referring to different types of migratory circumstances such as exile, diaspora, refugees and forced migrations, migrant workers and migration related to colonisation and decolonisation. Experiences of migration and experiences of the post-migrant condition for those who have never migrated themselves (which is not to be misunderstood as a reference to the children of migrants only) are equally addressed in this book. As a starting point we wish to delimit the vast field of ‘studies in migration and culture’ by highlighting three – mutually interrelated – categories that are nevertheless broad enough to encompass and connect different disciplines and approaches: politics, aesthetics and history. Our purpose here is not to rehearse or supplement existing definitions, but to explore how the categories of politics, aesthetics and history may intertwine in studies of migration and culture, and how they may productively intersect with some important tropes in the academic discourses on migration and culture, such as ‘memory’, ‘place’, ‘displacement’, ‘belonging’, ‘hybridity’, ‘creolisation’, ‘translation’, ‘diversity’, ‘racism’, ‘recognition’, ‘representation’, ‘participation’, ‘post-coloniality’, ‘diaspora’, ‘interculturalism’, ‘multiculturalism’, ‘cosmopolitanism’, ‘universalism’, and so forth.

Introduction 7

Changing Politics: The Political Dimensions of Migration and Culture Politics, as we see it, is an inherent part of the studies in migration and culture. Regardless of whether a researcher is interested in aesthetic developments, in historical perspectives or just in the reading of a specific cultural form or document, such readings will always include a substantial political dimension: the very attempt to highlight experiences or consequences of migration, and to focus on the various influences of migration on texts, films or products of art, is in itself – deliberately or not – part of a political negotiation about the present society, its selfconception, its composition, its past and heritage. However, there are obvious differences in approaches to the matter. While the political dimension of some research exists mainly as a hidden subtext, there are other contributions to the studies of migration and culture in which the political dimension is clearly highlighted as the main objective. For example, political discussions of the possibilities and limits of recognition and the questions of barriers and limitations for the participation of migrants or their descendants in the institutions and networks for contemporary art, film and literature are widespread in studies in migration and culture (Terkessidis 2010; Araeen 2001, 1991). The description of exclusion, xenophobia and racism in contemporary societies, the cultural discourses on the ‘other’, and the need for the creation of a new, and more suitable, cultural politics are also debated. The main focus of the contributions in this section of the anthology lies on the political and discursive constructions of exclusion and ‘otherness’ as they appear in public and cultural spheres. Thus, the chapters in this first section are bound together not only by the fact that they all overtly focus on political implications in the relation between culture and migration, but also, and even more so, by the fact that they are all in one way or another concerned with the construction and deconstruction of borders, limitations and distinctions. The borders that are discussed may exist concretely in the political sphere, for example in connection to border control and law enforcement, to the treatment of what is perceived as ‘illegal’ immigrants, asylum seekers or refugees; but they may also appear in discursive transformations – in the transformation from old to new xenophobia, for instance, as Tabish Khair examines in his contribution – or they may persist as informal and partly invisible limitations in the cultural sphere, established by specific concepts and notions of culture, art and ‘quality’. The description of limitations, barriers and borders in the chapters naturally goes hand in hand with the attempt to develop strategies


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to overcome them: ideals of equal participation, universal access to institutions and the hope of creating equal opportunities in all parts of society play a fundamental part in several of the contributions. The attempts to overcome visible and invisible borders, at least symbolically or metaphorically, through cultural practices must therefore ultimately, as Nanna Heidenreich suggests, include a serious rethinking of how art can be meaningfully and productively linked to political activism in the context of migration. In the first chapter in this section, ‘A Matter of Edge: Border vs. Boundary at La Frontera’, Edward Casey discusses the complex and evolving situation at La Frontera, the US–Mexico border, with regard to issues of mapping the border, its history, the nature of the ‘borderline’, and especially the presence of the massive wall that has been constructed along critical locations of La Frontera. At its core the chapter philosophically meditates on the ‘being’ of a border and challenges common assumptions of borders with the perspective of the ‘being’ of boundaries. On the premise that a border is not concrete reality but only an idea that has assumed a concrete expression, the article reflects on the ‘[b]ivalency of the ideal and real’ in the making of a wall – ideologically, politically, militarily and in terms of its physical construction. Although the wall itself has been designed to be impervious by the law, it is unable to perform the very task for which it has been constructed: it is constantly transgressed in the spaces above, under, through and around it. The wall in this way becomes as porous as boundaries and shows itself to have limited reality in space and time. Refugees and asylum seekers play a pivotal role in national(ist) constructions of national communities and ‘shared’ identities by virtue of their dual status as both excluded and included in the forged notion of the ‘people’. In ‘Displacement, Asylum and Narratives of Nation: Giving Voice to Refugees in the Film La Forteresse’, Roger Bromley unpacks how the resurgence of nationalisms in Europe is intimately linked to a concurrent tightening of the legislation on asylum and a persistent preoccupation with borders and security, which stigmatises refugees and asylum seekers as unwanted others, if not criminals. By analysing Fernand Melgar’s 2008 documentary La Forteresse, about asylum claimants in a Swiss asylum centre, Bromley demonstrates how a filmmaker can work like a critical historian, initiating a critique of power by admitting what is excluded from the archive. La Forteresse not only questions European asylum policies and procedures but also the infantilising regime of surveillance and suspicion to which the authorities of asylum centres throughout Europe subject the inmates. In a larger political perspective, it is ‘identity

Introduction 9

investment’ that engenders the nationalist need to exclude and the politics of securitisation. Tabish Khair offers a different, but closely connected take on the current developments in the political approach towards immigrants, foreigners and refugees. In ‘Old and New Xenophobia’ he argues that a historical change is taking place in the xenophobic perception of strangers which is visible in anti-immigration laws. The chapter defines old xenophobia as depending on the targeting of visible, physical differences (for example, racial and ethnic differences). New xenophobia draws upon and overlaps with old xenophobia, but it operates with a different discourse and is increasingly driven by a different perception of the threat of strangers that is governed by the powers of abstraction of finance capitalism. In new xenophobia, it is argued, the visible difference of the stranger is effaced and threat is abstracted to questions of the subject’s insertion into, resistance to, or lack of sufficient access to the abstract power of capital. The fourth chapter, ‘Four Theses for an “Audit of Culture”’ by Mark Terkessidis, provides an introspection of the self-understanding – and hence the limitations – of the current cultural spheres in Europe. Terkessidis’ four theses on the contemporary situation include profound recommendations of how to develop the cultural spheres in Europe. He argues, first, for the need to move from the ‘nation’ as frame of reference to the ‘urban parapolis’, which is in accordance with the new multiplicity of European societies. Second, and inspired by, for example, sociologist Erol Yildiz, he then deepens the understanding of this new multiplicity by focusing on the diversity of the so-called ‘post-migrant’ urbanity, which includes a variety of different life-stories and backgrounds, before he, third, argues for a need to shift from notions like emancipation, autonomy, progress to concepts of conversation, participation, disposal and affect in the cultural sphere. In a fourth thesis he then introduces the ‘Program Interculture’ which includes a new understanding of the inner structure of the cultural sphere: instead of the logic of ‘integration’, he argues for a complete re-examination of the cultural institutions and their self-conception. The demand for participation is also highlighted in the next contribution. In ‘“Home is Where the Struggle is”: Migration, Form and Politics’, Moritz Schramm focuses on the relation between form, democracy and authenticity in literary texts by Abbas Khider and dramatic works by Nurkan Erpulat. Following recent debates in political theory, he argues that the playful distance between the concept of the self and the other has to be seen as a precondition for participation in


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a democratic community, rather than the concept of authenticity that is often imposed on immigrants and their descendants. Contemporary developments in the so-called post-migrant theatre are read as attempts to highlight the distance not only to the self, but also the distance between the actors and the audience. Overcoming borders and limitations thus requires an acceptance of the inauthenticity of every identity, according to Schramm, in conjunction with an acceptance of the impermanence of every political community. In the last contribution of this section: ‘Mapping / Assuming / Exhibiting / Activating the Perspective of Migration’, Nanna Heidenreich re-examines the relation between migration, art and activism. Following up on theories of, for example, Rancière, Rauning, Balibar and Boutang, she sees migration as a fundamental challenge to existing concepts of politics and citizenship: the ‘art of migration’ does not primarily have the function to represent or depict migration movements or experiences of migration, but rather has the potential to put into question the borders of every political community or the constitution of every ‘political body’. Migration thus appears as a social and political movement that ‘fundamentally reconfigures the political’. It is, according to Heidenreich, especially the perspective of migration, its ‘narrative and metaphorical ways of speaking’, that opens the possibility to rethink the political and to challenge existing images and perspectives. Shifting Aesthetics: Toward a ‘Migratory Aesthetics’ As mentioned above, we consider all aesthetic readings to include some kind of political dimension. However, the main focus and the fields of interest in the readings in the second section are different from the contributions in the political category, which are primarily concerned with migration, art and culture in relation to socio-political circumstances and issues. The chapters in this section highlight the creative function of art and the potentialities and consequences of approaching art and migration from a variety of aesthetic frames of thought and modes of experience that interact with, challenge, contribute to or expand the perspectives on migration provided by sociological, political or historical discourses and analyses. The focus on the links between migration and aesthetic creativity is partially indebted to post-colonial studies. It is not least thanks to postcolonial studies that ‘cultural encounters’ and the cultural impact of globalisation and migration have become such important issues in the

Introduction 11

arts and humanities since the 1990s. In recent years the turn towards migration, diaspora and exile in post-colonial studies has led to eager academic discussion on migration as a theme and motif in the arts. Still, the contemporary debate in post-colonial studies shows how aesthetics continue to be problematic in fields that are centrally concerned with questions of oppression, exclusion and the politics of representation. As Elleke Boehmer points out, the persistent unease with aesthetics in postcolonial studies goes back to notions of the aesthetic as a disinterested withdrawal from the world: the work in and for itself, devoid of any instrumentality or political ends, which involves ideas of detachment and impartiality that long kept the study of art from discovering the alignment of art to ideology (Boehmer 2010). In the field of migration studies (with its many overlaps with postcolonial studies) we find ourselves in a situation similar to that of postcolonial scholars who, as Boehmer rightly points out, are ‘up against the irrefutable fact that the post-colonial entails a definition drawn not from the work but the world; that it first and foremost denotes history, not aesthetic form’ (Boehmer 2010: 176). Migration also entails a definition ‘drawn not from the work but the world’ and it ‘denotes history’ rather than ‘aesthetic form’. Yet, the majority of the objects of study we are dealing with in the humanities remain works of art or cultural artefacts, media, events or activities, and just as post-colonial studies continue to search for ways of expanding the aesthetic approach to post-colonial works of art, we obviously need more research on the specificity and crucial importance of the aesthetic dimensions of art and culture in relation to migration studies. It is a rather telling fact that it is quite common in various fields of research to wed the term ‘migration’ with the term ‘culture’, or ‘literature’, whereas the terms ‘migration’ and ‘aesthetics’ are rarely coupled. One exception to this is the term ‘migratory aesthetics’. It was coined by cultural theorist and video artist Mieke Bal in connection with a collaborative research project on the interrelations of migration and aesthetics. Bal’s intention was to introduce a concept that could function both as a common point of reference and as a heuristic tool for the participants. She deliberately kept the concept open to interpretation in order for others to participate in the process of defining its meaning and testing the range of its use. In one of her own contributions she referred to it as: a non-concept, a ground for experimentation that opens up possible relations with ‘the migratory’, rather than pinpointing such relations. As a provisional circumscription of the modifier, let me call it a feature, or a quality of the world in which mobility is not the exception but on its way


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to becoming the standard, the means rather than the minority. (Bal 2007a: 23. Italics added)

Thus, Bal’s notion of a migratory aesthetic openly invites the search for further methodological and theoretical frameworks for the exploration of aesthetic dimensions of cultural products and works of art created by artists who explore themes like migration, transculturation and cultural translation (regardless of whether the artists and cultural producers themselves have a migrant background or not). The chapters that we have included in this section all operate in the juncture between migration and aesthetics in this way – some of them with direct reference to Bal’s term, and Bal herself expands on the term in her own chapter by coupling it with the idea of strategic universalism. Exploring the interrelations between migration and aesthetics, the chapters delve into the dimensions of the artwork that are not overtly social or political and do not easily translate into discursive or conceptual meaning – such as beauty, sensuality, affect, formal qualities and strategies and different types of imaginary and perceptual experiences of the world. Although these are qualities of the work that may not invite the judgement of opinion or discursive signification as modes of analysis, the chapters engage aesthetic qualities, or aesthetic dimensions of the work, in ways that never cease to pose a challenge to ideology. What seems to be a fundamentally shared feature in all six chapters is that they tap into the epistemic shifts caused by migration (now ‘the means rather than the minority’, as Bal puts it) as these shifts are reflected in and performed by the respective works that are dealt with. All six chapters illustrate how aesthetic practices produce images, beliefs and affects that can influence and change perceptions of migration, but, in one way or another, they also produce a sense of the aesthetic as a dimension of the artwork or a mode of experience or space of human interrelation that tends to be far more open and much wider in its scope of envisioning transcultural contact and recognition when compared with many sociopolitical co-ordinates of interaction. The artworks are seen in this light as producing aesthetic (sensuous, affective, imaginative, formal) rather than, or along with, political and discursive forms of deterritorialisation (or reorganisations of the sensible), in which, for instance, a complexity of spaces and modes of rendering reality is amassed. The authors, in various ways, show how the aesthetic dimensions of the migratory work of art generate a fluid, complex and ongoing process of re-cognition of the world, how the aesthetic qualities of art transgress and reconfigure reality as it has been handed to us by discourses of limitation, division and

Introduction 13

categorisation. Aesthetics in this way are shown to play a crucial role in the production of a critical or ‘cosmopolitan’ (Papastergiadis) consciousness that never rests at ease with whatever may be offered as ‘the given’. With these last words, we have already embarked on our introduction to the respective chapters in this section, beginning with Papastergiadis’ ‘Art from Asia: Aesthetic Cosmopolitanism and the World in Art’. In this chapter, Papastergiadis offers a reflection on the emergence of a new kind of cosmopolitanism through aesthetic practices. He proposes that the process of world-making through artistic imagination involves a radical enactment of a ‘cosmopolitan imaginary’. Cosmopolitan imagination, he argues, is defined by an ‘aesthetic of openness’ that brings about a ‘global sense of inter-connectedness’. Papastergiadis focuses on specific elements of this cosmopolitan imaginary by discussing various examples of artistic practices from Asia which are dealing with issues of belonging, hospitality and cosmopolitanism. This leads him to examine the function of the imagination within aesthetics and politics. Drawing on theories of among others Rancière, Raunig, Meskimmon and Castoriadis, he highlights the central role of the creative imaginary and thus accentuates an aesthetic mode of cosmopolitanism that radically extends the conventional debates on normative or deliberative cosmopolitanism. The aesthetic capacity for openness is also of central concern in Bal’s contribution. ‘In Your Face: Migratory Aesthetics’ is in effect an ‘articlecum-installation’ which gives a unique insight into how Bal develops cultural theories by working across the institutionally defined and often jealously guarded borders between scholarly research and artistic expression. Using her own video installation Nothing is Missing (2006–11), which is based on interviews with mothers of emigrants from different countries, she suggests that motherhood be considered universally – for strategic reasons. The intention underlying Bal’s strategic universalism is not to diminish cultural differences but to avoid the problems caused by the essentialisation of such differences. To approach this problem, she performs a triple act of ‘facing’, which also happens to be the aesthetic principle of Nothing is Missing (the mothers’ faces are shown in close-ups while they speak). ‘Facing’ thus becomes an intersubjective performance of contact across divisions between individuals. Analysing how ‘facing’ operates visually, socially and metaphorically, Bal eventually proposes dialogic ‘interfacing’ to be the basic principle of intercultural contact as well as a universal foundation of identity and subjectivity. In Bal’s own words, ‘instead of “to be is to be perceived” and “I think, therefore I am”, facing proposes, “I face (you), hence, we are.”’ Echoing Bal’s wish to avoid the essentialisation of differences, Eva


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Jørholt, in ‘Taking the Strangeness out of Strangers’, focuses on new developments in contemporary European cinema, where attention is drawn to similarity and resemblance instead of ethnical difference and cultural divides. According to Jørholt, films by, for example, Fatih Akın, Gurinder Chadha and Abdellatif Kechiche are using new aesthetic strategies to emphasise ‘sameness over difference’. These films, often using commercial mainstream formats and thus being remarkably successful at the box-office, are aesthetically laying distance, she argues, to both the ‘social realist style of the cinema of duty’ and to the ‘“interstitial” production mode’, that often characterises the so-called ‘accented cinema’ (Hamid Naficy). More specifically, Jørholt points to five aesthetic strategies as being paradigmatic for the contemporary development: reversal, parallel structure, shared heritage, living hybridity and beyond ethnicity. The films, using those strategies, can thus be read as an ‘antidote to the official alterity discourse’ as they open towards a different and inclusive view on people and deconstruct the ‘discursive boundaries separating ethnic minorities from the majority population’. From aesthetic strategies in European cinema, Mary Watkins’ ‘The Un-Doing of Hard Borders: Art at the US Wall Against Mexico’ directs the reader’s attention to aesthetic strategies in wall art on the US–Mexican border (with perspectives to other walls around the world). Watkins observes how the increase in world migration has produced a multiplication of highly militarised walls. She then proceeds to look at the creative challenges to such concrete measures to control border crossings on the very site of their effectuation. The chapter, which may be read in conjunction with Casey’s contribution, explores the creativity of wall art as an activity that counters the officially intended function of the wall to create false and militarised social, cultural, ethnic and economic divides (and to inscribe national rights above human rights). Whereas the wall signals ‘the given’ as a limit situation where possibilities end, Watkins argues that wall art crosses over ‘the given’ and reconfigures the wall as a limit situation from which possibilities begin. Watkins reflects on how wall art facilitates psychological and cultural healing, how it ignites a critical consciousness and awakens a ‘prophetic imagination’ of creative and peaceful relationships. Anne Ring Petersen’s chapter, ‘Migratory Aesthetics and the Politics of Irregular Migration’, looks at the aestheticisation of African refugees’ often fatal crossing of the Mediterranean in British filmmaker Isaac Julien’s partly documentary, partly fictive video installation Western Union: Small Boats (2007). As such, Petersen’s chapter also engages with art produced in response to real-life tragedies unfolding in fortified border zones,

Introduction 15

but, unlike Watkins, Petersen’s concerns relate to problems that arise in cases when aesthetic representations are produced by artists who are not themselves victims of the tragedies they represent. Analysing Julien’s installation as an instance of Bal’s concept of a ‘migratory aesthetics’, Petersen offers theoretical reflections on the political and ethical force of Julien’s ‘cross-border method’ of weaving together dance, music, poetry, painting, film, documentary and fiction, which is a method, or formal dynamic, that hybridises complex spaces of representation, temporalities, movements and expanded geographical sites. With reference to Rancière, among others, Petersen reflects on relations between ethics and aestheticisation in a way that critically engages the political urgency of the subject matter with the sheer beauty of Julien’s cinematic representation of real-life migrant tragedies, which altogether brings the audience to resee the European world from a diversity of perspectives. Finally, Sten Pultz Moslund’s chapter, ‘A Migrant Aesthetics through the Phenomenality of Place’, foregrounds the category of aesthetics by turning to the sensuous experience of place in literature. With inspiration from Edward Casey’s theory of place, the chapter not only calls attention to place as an element that is commonly overlooked in migration studies (overshadowed by a preoccupation with movement), but also develops a phenomenological approach to literary analysis, which engages with the sensuous effects of words as opening towards other than discursive forms of deterritorialisation in the work. By way of a comparative analysis of airport scenes in V. S. Naipaul and Salman Rushdie, Moslund demonstrates how, at one and the same time, sense-aesthetic qualities of migration art can challenge both old, sedentary conceptualisations of identity as naturally rooted in places and the somewhat programmatic counter-discourses of nomadic migrants as having become unstuck from places. Pluralising History: Transcultural Histories, Memories and Temporalities The proliferation of migration histories, and stories, in the recent decades coincides with a significant change in the ways in which ‘history’ is constructed, represented and transmitted. Since the 1980s, ‘memory’ has to some extent substituted ‘history’ as the favoured category or medium used to make the connections between the past and the present intelligible. This general shift in focus has been brought about by critical revisions of the criteria that determine what counts as historical remembrance and heritage. Scholars have contested the official versions of history and


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brought previously suppressed chapters of history to light. Concurrently, a ‘democratisation’ of history has taken place since the 1980s as various minority groups have sought to rehabilitate their past and their culture to pave the way for the recognition of their – ethnic, religious, gendered, and so on – identity and particularism. This upsurge of minority memories has profoundly altered the reciprocal relationship between ‘memory’ and ‘history’ and highlighted the very notion of ‘collective memory’, hitherto little used (Nora 2002). Previous ideals of history written as one coherent narrative by public authorities, by scholars and specialised peer groups, have been displaced by notions of the coexistence of multiple collective memories pertaining to different groups. The gradual transformation of the self-conception of many nation states has undoubtedly been a stimulus to this change of perspective on the past, also in national cultural institutions and their representation of national heritage and history. Institutional evidence of this change may be found in the worldwide proliferation of museums in the past two decades dedicated specifically to migration history (Ang 2011: 88). The ideal of a seamless national unity has thus increasingly given way to a more inclusive understanding of society as characterised by cultural mixture and diversity, spurred not least by immigration and the identity politics of minorities. As French historian Pierre Nora has put it, the ‘explosion of minority memories’ has come to resemble ‘a popular protest movement … the revenge of the underdog or injured party, the outcast, the history of those denied the right to History’ (Nora 2002). There is, however, still a need to find new ways of writing about contemporary and historical testimonies of migration in specifically transnational, transcultural and multi-local ways. The challenge includes developing innovative approaches to the lieux de mémoire (Nora), that is, the sites or repositories where memory crystallises itself (Nora 1989), relevant to the histories of migration. It also entails incorporating migrant stories, cultural expressions and memorialisations of migration into ‘national heritage’ in ways in which they are not domesticated or framed as belonging solely to the national histories of either the country of residence or the country of origin. Moreover, it involves a closer examination of the significance of history and memory to migrant identities and communities as well as a grappling with issues such as hybridity, the historical transformation of localities due to immigration and emigration, and the profound changes in people’s sense of belonging to particular places that migration and acculturation invariably provoke. As Ien Ang has observed, ‘diasporic subjects do not and cannot live outside particular, nations-framed spaces and places: they are uprooted

Introduction 17

but cannot remain completely rootless, they are dis-placed but always face the task of re-placing themselves’ (Ang 2011: 86). Ang’s observation leads us to a series of questions about the active role and reconfiguration of history, memory and ‘roots’ in migration: what kind of light do histories and memories of local places, cultures and artworks as produced by migration and cultural intermixture shed on our understanding of contemporary migrations and the processes of gettingback-into place involved in migration? What can we learn from such retellings or recreations of the past in the present – be they ‘documentary’ or ‘imaginative’ – about the ambiguous processes of deterritorialisation and reterritorialisation, memory and forgetting, exclusion and inclusion? And how can explorations of migration in a historical perspective deepen our understanding of the historical formation of collective identities, cultural sameness and cultural difference inside as well as across different nation-framed spaces? The chapters in this section are all concerned with passages between the historical past and the living present, and they explore how individual and collective memory can be actualised in the present by way of cultural and artistic representations. Some contributors focus on the dialectics between imagination and memory while others examine tensions and connections between a distant or recent historical past and contemporary attempts to work through this, sometimes difficult or even traumatic, past or heritage. For Azadeh Sharifi and Burcu Dogramaci, grappling with the past also necessitates, first, addressing the question of omissions and exclusions of ‘racialised bodies’ (Sharifi) and migrant workers (Dogramaci) from ‘white’ European history and European cultural institutions; and second, facing the challenge of finding other ways of writing or ‘doing’ histories that can provoke new perceptions of the past and inspire a new kind of openness to and recognition of cultural differences in institutions and cultural politics. The artist’s insert in this section is in tune with the previously mentioned shift of emphasis from ‘history’ to ‘memory’. In her partly visual, partly textual contribution to this anthology, ‘Staging Memories’, the Taiwanese artist Chu YinHua reflects on her own relationship to the Asian and European cities in which she has lived and worked over the years. Through the medium of photography she examines how a migrant individual like herself can satisfy her ‘homing desire’ (Brah 1996: 180– 2, 193) and develop a sense of belonging when moving between the Western and the Eastern hemispheres. By using staged photography as her instrument to explore the migrant’s variable attachments to different urban geographies and cultures, she seeks to uncover some of the basic


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mechanisms and structures of orientation in relation to other cultures. Chu has designed each of the double-page spreads in her contribution to be read as a totality of texts and images. The first one presents the method underlying her artistic projects; the following spreads unfold three projects. Paralleling Memories reflects on her position in relation to Asian and European urban cultures respectively; Tracing Memories explores how memories of well-known cities can function as ‘guiding templates’ for the encounter with foreign cities, whereas Travelling Home moves from public space into the private space of the home to explore how the migrant’s experience of intimate places can be internalised as personal memories. Travelling Home thus reflects a shared interest with many other contemporary migrant artists: the penchant for channelling their own experience of migration into a concern with domesticity (Meskimmon 2011: 2, 14–15). This trend also surfaces in Burcu Dogramaci’s chapter, ‘My Home Away From Home: Artistic Reflections on Immigration to Germany’, which concerns artistic representations of the changes of everyday life that came into being with the immigration of the so-called guest-workers to Germany since the 1960s. Dogramaci focuses particularly on the artists’ approaches to ‘homeland’ and ‘home’. She identifies two recurrent but different perspectives on these two notions: on the one hand, the artists approach home and homeland as ‘a microcosm of immigrants in Germany’, while on the other hand, they represent the home as ‘a space of memory or projection’ for the immigrants. According to Dogramaci, both perspectives can be found in the photographic works of, for example, Barbara Klemm, Nevin Aladağ, Candida Höfer and Mischa Kuball, who all reflect on how new hybrid and non-essential spaces of belonging materialise in the course of time, often based on the mingling of memory and recent experiences in the new homeland. Like Dogramaci, Azadeh Sharifi extracts general points from debates and developments originating in Germany. In her chapter, ‘Moments of Significance: Artists of Colour in European Theatre’, Sharifi critically analyses the ongoing exclusion of artists of colour in European theatre – and points at ‘strategies of resistance’ against it. Inspired by postcolonial theory, among other things, Sharifi examines the discursive and institutional barriers that artists of colour are facing in European theatre. As European theatre revolves around a predominant ‘white space’, non-white artists are constantly perceived as ‘racialised bodies’, Sharifi argues. Consequently, they can ‘only speak from their allocated position’. To overcome this situation, Sharifi highlights the need to change the institutions and the narratives about the history of European

Introduction 19

theatre. Influenced by Bal’s ‘migratory aesthetics’, she advocates a ‘postmigrant aesthetic’ that can help to transform the exclusive self-conception of European theatre towards a more inclusive and manifold consistency. Like Chu, Alexandra Stara’s point of departure is the observation that migratory experience cuts across and connects that which is usually considered to be separate entities. While Chu focuses on how nationframed spaces are interlinked in migratory experience, Stara reads Israeli artist Ori Gersht’s concern with uprootings and enforced journeys in relation to Nazi Germany and the Holocaust (in a range of his works from 1999 to 2011) as poetic meditations on the phenomenon of migration that transcend historicity and become a fundamental address to the human condition. Stara focuses on how Gersht explores loss as an affective presence and, from that perspective, how he wrestles with the paradoxical quest for identity at the sites of its uprooting. Looking at the dialectic between imagination and memory in Gersht, Stara notes how the past and its traumas of violence and displacement appears from an oblique angle, shrouded in ambiguity, which suggests the impossibility of a total recall, but offers instead a tentative piecing together, a remembering, closer to the metaphoric function of a ritual re-enactment. The question of how cameras can capture the traumatic experience and devastating effects of a catastrophe also comes to the fore in Mads Anders Baggesgaard’s contribution. ‘The Migrating Earth – Cinematic Images of Haiti after the 2010 Earthquake’ engages with two Haitian documentaries portraying the earthquake in 2010 and its consequences: Arnold Antonin’s short documentary from 2010, Chronique d’une catastrophe annoncée, ou Haïti: Apocalypse Now, and Raoul Peck’s 2013 production, Assistance mortelle. The chapter explores Antonin’s and Peck’s different configurations of the Haitian political space that they give expression to, in the light of two central questions. First, how the earthquake and its political prehistory and aftermath highlight the instability of the relationship between state and people in a state born within the context of several successive diasporas, as the African diaspora created by the transatlantic slave trade was succeeded by several waves of politically motivated migration over the last decades, which eventually led to the establishment of a politically and culturally influential Haitian diaspora and diasporic intelligentsia. And, second, how the reflection on the earthquake through the medium of documentary film exposes the differences in the perceptions of the nation of Haiti originating among the inhabitants of Haiti and in the Haitian diaspora respectively. The migrant’s relationship to the nation state is also a central concern in Eureka Henrich’s contribution, but while Baggesgaard


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discusses a diaspora’s relation to the country of origin, Henrich examines how the diasporic individual relates to the adopted home country and, conversely, how the new home country relates to them as citizens with a migrant background. In the chapter ‘Paying Tribute: Migrant Memorial Walls and the “Nation of Immigrants”’, Henrich addresses the issue of memorialisation of migration by analysing two famous ‘migrant memorial walls’: the Welcome Wall at the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney, and the Wall of Honor at Ellis Island Immigration Museum in New York. She explores what these monuments can tell us about the ways in which people understand migration as part of their family histories, personal identities and their place in the nation. Henrich also broadens the perspective to trace a major shift in the way countries throughout the world increasingly seek an answer to the nation-building question of ‘who we are’, not solely within the nation’s borders but also without them, thereby shifting the focus to ‘where we came from’ and placing immigration centrally in the historical understanding of how the ‘nation’ came into being as an imagined community. Notes 1 United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2009). Trends in International Migrant Stock: The 2008 Revision (United Nations database, POP/DB/MIG/Stock/Rev.2008). See: (accessed 7 February 2012). 2 To date, a whole swarm of governmental and institutional reports have been published, which testify to the growing political pressure on cultural institutions to develop more culturally diverse profiles. Among them we find sociologist Gérard Bouchard and philosopher Charles Taylor’s report on Canadian interculturalism, which has set new standards for European cultural policies: Gérard Bouchard and Charles Taylor, Building the Future: A Time for Reconciliation. Abridged Report. Qubec City: Gouvernement du Québec, Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec, 2008. In a Scandinavian context one of the most thorough reports has been published by the Norwegian Det kongelige kulturdepartementet, Meld. St.10 (2011–2012) Melding til Stortinget: Kultur, inkludering og deltakning. Oslo: 2011–12. See: (accessed 22 May 2014). Other noteworthy reports bearing witness to the development of new cultural politics produced by the impact of migration include the recommendations for implementation in Germany of the UNESCO Convention on the Diversity of Cultural Expressions (2005) in: German Commision for UNESCO, Shaping Cultural Diversity:

Introduction 21

White Paper. 2010. See: (accessed 7 February 2012), and the report Mixedness and The Arts, commissioned by the Arts Council England and the UK’s leading independent thinktank on race relations and equality, Runnymede: Chamion Caballero, Mixedness and The Arts. London: Runnymede Thinkpiece, Runnymede and Arts Council England, 2010. See: http://lsbu. (accessed 22 May 2014).

Bibliography Acheraïou, Amar, Questioning Hybridity, Postcolonialism and Globalization. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010. Ang, Ien, ‘Unsettling the National: Heritage and Diaspora’, in Helmut Anheier and Yudhishthir Raj Isar (eds), Heritage, Memory and Identity. London, Thousand Oaks and Singapore: Sage, 2011, pp. 82–94. Appadurai, Arjun, Modernity at Large. Cultural Dimensions of Globalisation. Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2000. Araeen, Rasheed, ‘The Other Immigrant: The Experience and Achievements of AfroAsian Artists in the Metropolis’, Third Text 15 (Summer 1991): 17–28. —— ‘Re-thinking History and Some Other Things’, Third Text 15:54 (2001): 93– 100. Bal, Mieke, ‘Lost in Space, Lost in the Library’, in Sam Durrant and Catherine M. Lord (eds), Essays in Migratory Aesthetics: Cultural Practices Between Migration and Art-making. Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi, 2007, pp. 23–36. Berghahn, Daniela and Claudia Sternberg (eds), European Cinema in Motion: Migrant Diasporic Film in Contemporary Europe. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan, 2010. Boehmer, Elleke, ‘A Postcolonial Aesthetic. Repeating Upon the Present’, in Janet Wilson, Christina Sandru and Sarah Lawson Welsh, Rerouting the Postcolonial. Oxford and New York: Routledge, 2010, pp. 170–81. Bouchard, Gérard and Charles Taylor, Building the Future: A Time for Reconciliation. Abridged Report. Quebec City: Gouvernement du Québec, Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec, 2008. Brah, A., Cartographies of Diaspora: Contesting Identities. London and New York: Routledge, 1996. Braziel, Jana Evans and Anita Mannur (eds), Theorizing Diaspora: A Reader. Malden, MA, and Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2003. Bronfen, Elisabeth and Benjamin Marius, ‘Hybride Kulturen. Einleitung zur angloamerikanischen Multikulturalismusdebatte’, in Elisabeth Bronfen, Benjamin


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Marius and Therese Steffen (eds), Hybride Kulturen. Beiträge zur angloamerikanischen Multikulturalismusdebatte. Tübingen: Stauffenburg Verlag, 2007, pp. 1–30. Caballero, Chamion, Mixedness and The Arts. London: Runnymede Thinkpiece, Runnymede and Arts Council England, 2010. Online: http://lsbu.academia. edu/ChamionCaballero/Papers/1069329/Mixedness_and_the_Arts (accessed 22 May 2014). Carey-Thomas, Lizzie (ed.), Migrations: Journeys into British Art. London: Tate Publishing, 2012. Castles, Stephen and Mark Miller, The Age of Migration: International Population Movements in the Modern World. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. Cohen, R., Global Diasporas: An Introduction. 2nd edn. London and New York: Routledge, 2008. Dörr, Volker, ‘“Third Space” vs. Diaspora. Topologien transkultureller Literatur’, in Helmut Schmitz (ed.), Von der nationalen zur internationalen Literatur. Transkulturelle deutschsprachige Literatur und Kultur im Zeitalter globaler Migration. Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi, 2009, pp. 59–76. Durrant, Sam and Catherine M. Lord (eds), Essays in Migratory Aesthetics: Cultural Practices Between Migration and Art-making. Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi, 2007. Ezra, Elisabeth and Terry Rowden (eds), Transnational Cinema: The Film Reader. London and New York: Routledge, 2006. Fludernik, Monika (ed.), Diaspora and Multiculturalism: Common Traditions and New Developments. Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi, 2003. Higbee, W., ‘Beyond the (Trans)national: Towards a Cinema of Transvergence in Postcolonial and Diasporic Francophone Cinema(s)’, Studies in French Cinema 7:2 (2007): 79–91. Huyssen, Andreas, ‘Diaspora and Nation: Migrations into other Pasts’, New German Critique 88 (2003): 147–64. Meskimmon, Marsha, Contemporary Art and the Cosmopolitan Imagination. London and New York: Routledge, 2011. Moorti, Sujata, ‘Desperately Seeking an Identity: Diasporic Cinema and the Articulation of Transnational Kinship’, International Journal of Cultural Studies 6:3 (2003): 355–76. Moslund, Sten Pultz, Migration Literature and Hybridity: The Different Speeds of Transcultural Change. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010. Naficy, Hamid, An Accented Cinema: Exilic and Diasporic Filmmaking. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001. Nora, Pierre, ‘Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de Mémoire’, Representation 26, Special Issue: Memory and Counter-Memory (1989): 7–24.

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—— ‘The Reasons for the Current Upsurge in Memory’, Tr@nsit 22 (2002). Online: (accessed 22 May 2014). Norwegian Det kongelige kulturdepartementet, Meld.St.10 (2011–2012) Melding til Stortinget: Kultur, inkludering og deltakning. Oslo: 2011–12. Online: http://–20112012.html?id=666017 (accessed 22 May 2014). Papastergiadis, Nikos, The Turbulence of Migration: Globalization, Deterritorialization and Hybridity. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2000. Robins, Kevin, ‘Transnational Cultural Policy and European Cosmopolitism’, Cultural Politics 3:2 (2007): 147–74. Schmitz, Helmut, ‘Einleitung: Von der nationalen zur internationalen Literatur’, in Helmut Schmitz (ed.), Von der nationalen zur internationalen Literatur. Transkulturelle deutschsprachige Literatur und Kultur im Zeitalter globaler Migration. Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi, 2009, pp. 7–15. Terkessidis, Mark, Interkultur. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 2010. UN, International Migration and Development. Report of the Secretary-General. 18 May, 2006, A/60/871. Online:| 44ca2d934.html (accessed 22 May 2014). UNESCO, German Commision for, Shaping Cultural Diversity: White Paper. Online: (accessed 22 May 2014).

1 A Matter of Edge Border vs. Boundary at La Frontera Edward S. Casey

The situation that will provide focus in this chapter is that found at La Frontera, the Spanish word for ‘border’ and a word commonly used to refer to the entirety of the US–Mexico border – a border that was established in 1848 at the conclusion of the war between Mexico and the United States.1 This war consisted of a series of bitterly fought battles over territory and national sovereignty; its outcome was the annexation of vast tracts of land formerly belonging to Mexico (and still earlier, to Spain). The borderline that was agreed upon at the conclusion of the war was almost 2,000 miles in length and traversed extremely arid and rugged territory from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean. Over the last 150 years, this borderline has been delineated in various ways – by marker stones and barbed wire fence and, most recently, by a massive wall that now stretches more than 750 miles in length – a full third of the total distance, with the Río Grande river marking most of the rest of this length. My reflections in this chapter have been occasioned by the construction of this wall, its effects on those who attempt to traverse it, and by my own experiences in its proximity. But first of all I want to discuss the kind of edge that is at stake in international borders and, in particular, the US–Mexico border. Edges as Borders and Boundaries Edges make a decisive difference in how we distinguish one thing from another, one place from the next, one woman from her sister, one man from his son. The fact is that edges make it clear where one thing, place or person begins and another ends. They can be considered the primary


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means by which differences between things and places, events and persons get established and expressed – sorted out. Edges so understood come in a number of major forms, among them: brinks, rims, margins, thresholds, frames – and the list goes on.2 Borders and boundaries, however, constitute a class of their own. Both act to demarcate a given place or region: to set it off from other places or regions. In this capacity, each is decidedly two-sided: we talk of being ‘on this side’ or ‘on the other side’ of a boundary or a border: indeed, we must do so, since straddling a border or boundary is to take up a precarious perch; eventually, one must go one way or another. Despite this similarity, borders diverge from boundaries in certain basic ways. A border is a clearly and crisply delineated entity, and is established by conventional agreements such as treaties or laws; even if it has parallels in animal populations (such as territorial markings), it is a product of human history and its vicissitudes. A boundary, too, can have cultural and historical parameters; but it is paradigmatically natural in status, as with the boundary of a forest, its outer edge. It is rarely demarcated with exacting precision, varying in contour and extent depending on environmental or historical circumstances. Most importantly, it is porous in character, like the human skin, admitting the passage of various substances through it, whereas a border is most often designed to be impervious. Also, while a boundary lacks exact positioning (hence is difficult to map), a border is located just here and nowhere else: somewhere in particular. It is at once securely fixed in place and unyielding (thereby facilitating its cartographic representation as well as its designation in terms of such precise parameters as miles and metres). Whatever the confusion between the usage of ‘borders’ and ‘boundaries’ in ordinary English, I shall take them to be quite different in kind. Border and Boundary at La Frontera What do edges so arrayed, and borders and boundaries in particular, have to do with La Frontera? In my view, just about everything … The border aspect of La Frontera is massively evident: hence the common appellation ‘US–Mexico BORDER’. The original creation of the border as specified by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 was the conjoint product of people of very different job descriptions: opposed armies, politicians, commissioners, surveyors and cartographers, astronomers and artists. This is not to mention the stone masons (who laid down the marker stones that designated it), fence builders and (150 years still later) construction

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workers who built the wall that was initiated after 1993 with Operation Blockade and Operation Gatekeeper; and, more recently, a new army of border guards (all too aptly called Border Patrol), special interrogators, those who work at the checkpoints, and those who are employed in the 24/7 surveillance operation that overlooks large stretches of the wall.3 In short, it has taken a veritable phalanx of specialists and workers of diverse descriptions to lay down, build and maintain the border between Mexico and the US. It is as if the very nature of La Frontera, in living up to its designation as a major international border, has called for strenuous effort and special vigilance at every point of its centuryand-a-half lifetime. At the same time, this entire enterprise has been an expression of state power on the part of the US, which dictated the terms of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. This treaty was an unvarnished articulation of sovereign power that sought territorial expansion – and claimed the right to determine the exact extent and shape of the new territory. What Foucault held to obtain in circumstances of nationalist imperial power was true for La Frontera from the start: here ‘sovereignty is exercised within the borders of a territory’ (Foucault 2004: 12; my italics ).4 Nevertheless, despite its origins in the naked assertion of national sovereignty in the flush of a military victory, during the first century of its existence, La Frontera was a relatively relaxed circumstance. There are early photographs of the towns that straddled the border on either side with only a milestone or commemorative marker in the town square to remind people that this was indeed a ‘border town’ as the phrase went. Citizens of both nationalities could wander back and forth freely and with nonchalance. La Frontera after NAFTA and 9/11 All this changed drastically after the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the attacks of 9/11: the former highlighting issues of immigration control, the latter emphasising questions of national security because of the fear of ‘foreign terrorists’ that was so rampant in the immediate wake of the al-Qaeda attacks. After NAFTA went into effect in 1994, increasing numbers of Mexican farmers were forced off their lands, where they could not produce corn at prices competitive with the subsidised grain from the US that flooded Mexican markets at the time. The wall at La Frontera was a direct response to the forced migration caused by the first of these two developments; but its extent and associated reinforcements were modest compared to the considerable extensions that



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have been instituted since 9/11. At this point in history, the wall is found at every major, and many middle-sized and even small, towns along the border – and at many points in between. All the personnel employed at or near the wall on the US side are expected to pursue certain goals in common, each of which bears directly on the reliability and strength of the wall as a safeguard for vested interests of the US – interests that are commercial or military or (most especially) concerned with the flow of migrants (as I prefer to call those who attempt to enter the US to find work, without ‘proper papers’). These goals include accuracy in the demarcation of the border; the policing and surveillance of the entire border region in the pursuit of tightening national security; preventing illegal drug importation and human trafficking; and controlling the flow of migrants without documents. All of these fiercely held goals converge in making the border itself ever more definite and known as something that is objectively and unquestionably there – and presented as such. In all this concerted activity, it is as if La Frontera has been fetishised as an object in itself – converting it, paradoxically, into an ideal object, an asymptote or regulative ideal, a sheer limit. Even if the wall itself is brutally material, the border itself is something untouchable and invisible. Viewed in this light, a border is a constructed ideal entity. It is as if certain state interests were somehow legitimated by this very act of idealisation. Precisely because of the border’s ideal status, concrete things like walls and fences are required to put the border on the ground and in everyone’s sight. The boundary aspect of La Frontera is less conspicuous than its border-like character – especially since the mid-1990s – yet it cannot be overlooked in any full assessment. To begin with, despite its pretension to imperviousness in recent times, La Frontera has proven to be chockfull of holes and openings: not only at the official checkpoints (much more easily passable if one drives from North to South rather than in the reverse direction) but also in the wide spaces between parts of the constructed wall, where the only obstacles are easy-to-climb fences and natural obstacles such as gulleys, precipitous hills and desert areas. Many migrants opt to pass through these desert areas, with great peril to themselves and their families because of the intense heat and lack of water. Only birds fly free over the wall: an action mimicked by protesters at Tijuana a few years ago when they shot a human being from a canon over the wall, as if to say that this is as close to being a bird as humans can come in the circumstance. However fiercely defended or surveilled this border may be, in the end many assorted creatures, human and nonhuman, find their way over the border; they make their way across it

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– often with considerable effort and ingenuity and always with definite danger. These various traversals allow the border to breathe. At the very least, some things do move here: they move under, over and through an enclosure designed to be impenetrable. If it is true that any adequate description of La Frontera requires us to consider it in its boundary as well as its border aspects, then a first consequence is that we cannot think of it as a single, simple kind of edge, for it is both at once, thus literally ambiguous. This minimal realisation is important if we are to fend off the inveterate tendency to reduce what is in fact a very complex situation to an oversimplified image of it. An earlier but parallel reductive error was to regard the US–Mexico border as consisting literally of the set of marker stones and the fencing that marked its trajectory from the middle of the nineteenth century onward. Both the present ‘security fence’ (as the wall is sometimes referred to) along with the surviving marker stones and stretches of wire fence stake out and shore up La Frontera, but they do not constitute it as a border. At the most, they give material support or physical expression to the border while neglecting (indeed, actively denying) its being as a boundary. At the same time, they are not to be confused with the borderline that is another aspect of La Frontera: the borderline is a cartographic entity: a linear representation of an ideal limit.5 Paradoxes of Being a Border The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo speaks of ‘the US–Mexico border’ as if it were something altogether definite: at least definite enough to be counted on in future political discussions, historical accounts, land surveys and maps. And necessarily so: each of these four activities requires a constant point of determinate reference to be effective on its own terms. This suggests that the very notion and term ‘border’ is closer to being a discursive entity (a matter of words and their meanings), thus something ideal, rather than something materially ‘real’: that is, something one can see or touch or walk over. If this is so, it helps to explain the paradox that, powerful as is the idea of an international border – not just La Frontera, of course, but comparable cases such as the border between East and West Berlin, that between Palestinian occupied territories and Israel at the current moment, indeed between any two or more states or territories – it is never a visible phenomenon. Has anyone ever seen any of these borders? Of course not!6 Their real force is ‘the force of law’: which is to say, something set up by



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international treaties, continually reinforced by border guards and border patrol, and given material reality by the building of high walls. Such walls entail a factor of physicality that is lacking in the very notion of border itself. This helps to explain the strong temptation to construct them whenever the political will and the funding exist to do so. Quite apart from issues of national security and the enforcement of treaties, much less of so-called ‘illegal immigration’, it seems as if something like a wall or its equivalent is called for by the immateriality of borders. Borders then are rather strange hybrid entities: they are irreal as discursively projected but they can be materialised as real things like walls. In contrast with boundaries and borderlands, borders are ideal and eidetic; they are constituted by words (as in written treaties, though these are often based on prior negotiations conducted orally), or by images (as with borderlines considered as drawn features in the maps that depict them).7 Such images and words serve to mediate the very idea of being a border into a discursive or figural status that, even short of being physically built, has its own force. At the same time, borders are conventional and historical – and just as much, economic and political, social and ethnic – and in all these various respects, reflective of human beliefs and actions. For this very reason, they could well have turned out differently. As with the discourse that set them up in the first place or with the images that represent them, their meaning is something intentional, the expression of human needs, desires and resolutions. This meaning is a product not just of words and images but of impinging factors like economic forces, political struggles, class differences and racist attitudes. Such meaning is something that is made or posited or agreed upon (however tacitly) rather than discovered or found in material reality. Yet in their very immateriality, borders are powerfully determinative forces in regional and international history: they shape many things that belong properly to the realm of concrete action and material construction. The Mutability of Borders What does the bivalency of ideal and real, meaning and matter, image and thing, portend for understanding the situation at La Frontera (and by extension, at any comparable border circumstance)? One straightforward thing it portends is that borders, despite their discursive and geographical ideality, evolve and are subject to birth and decay. It is important to underline such contingency, given the purport of

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those political discussions which all too often assume that a particular border such as that at La Frontera is here to stay, that it is somehow ‘natural’ or ‘right’ in its current avatar, and that its continued existence provides a stable anchor for addressing issues of homeland security and immigration and drug control – that it is something we can count on into the indefinite future. Yet this is simply not so: as we can see so clearly with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. In the case of La Frontera, the factor of drug-war violence has come to the fore in the last several years, altering the public perception of the fact and function of the border at La Frontera. The walls built near border towns like Juarez and Tijuana have shown themselves to be woefully inadequate for coping with the illicit drug (and associated arms) traffic that manages to get through: if not by way of ruses and bribes at the checkpoints, then by extensive underground tunnels that have been built by the drug cartels under the existing wall.8 Not entirely unlike the overwhelming of the Great Wall of China by the Mongols, a supposedly secure wall that was built quite recently is proving so porous that it will soon not count as protecting a border – if ‘border’ entails a strict enclosure that is effective in preventing unchecked entry into what lies on the other side of it. With respect to the drug traffic, the US–Mexico border is ironically more like a boundary – a highly permeable edge that offers little resistance to its being crossed in one direction or the other. What was intended to be a tight container in the erection of a daunting metallic wall with a thick and deep concrete base at a cost upward of seven billion dollars has become a leaking vessel.9 The situation is in effect returning to the state of affairs before the wall began to be built in the mid-1990s, exhibiting a vulnerability not unlike the string of fences that then stretched out between the original marker stones – fences which were never a serious deterrence to the movements of humans; only cattle were held back. The fences and marker stones constituted what has been termed a ‘soft border’ that resembled nothing more than … a boundary – the differences between the two sorts of edge here becoming ever more diminutive in practice.10 The effort to produce a rigid edge in the form of a wall made of reinforced steel set in a firm concrete foundation is foundering. The supposed tightness of the US– Mexico border – based on the all too tempting belief that border walls can achieve genuine security for the homeland – has gone aground, and probably always will. This suggests that borders are always in the process of becoming boundaries. My point here is not simply about the physical frailty of constructed things such as fences and walls; it bears on the striking way that such



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limitative and protective entities end by being ineffective at the very thing they were designed to do. They are subject not just to penetration and eventual ruination in historical time, but to a process of self-undermining by which they render themselves unable to perform the tasks for which they were constructed in the first place. To this exact extent, they lose their being as strict borders and approximate to open-ended boundaries, their supposed opposite. Boundaries, though not permanent either, are in fact much more perduring than borders. This is so despite the fact that their detailed configuration changes continually, often more rapidly and easily than with borders. Yet their underlying contour or profile, being more closely attuned to the layout of their landscape setting, is comparatively stable, being reflective of an environmental circumambience that is slow to change. Boundaries are often integral members of entire life-worlds, cultural as well as natural, rather than being artificial intrusions into it as so many borders manifestly are. Moreover, their perduringness occurs not despite their fluidity and porosity but because of it. The basic resilience and resourcefulness of boundaries allow them to retain a fundamental Gestalt over long periods of human history and even through considerable climatological and geological changes. Borders, in contrast, are at once more contingent in origin (La Frontera would have been a very different reality had the US–Mexico War turned out in Mexico’s favour) and more needful of material support once established. On the one hand, they can be altered at any moment – if, for example, the international balance of power shifts or a new technology of constructing walls arises. On the other hand, in between these moments of major political or technological change, borders such as La Frontera have to be controlled and policed and supervised intensively, day and night, and with many people hired for just these tasks (the number of border patrol officers at the wall has more than tripled in the past decade). Ultimately, once it has outlived its political or economic or symbolic usefulness, every border is destined to become a boundary and to return to an abiding state of nature through a process of gradual ruination. This is just what happened in the case of the Great Wall – which, many centuries after its military significance had ceased, rejoined the open landscape of western China, crumbling into the earth that underlies and surrounds it. Animals and humans now move over it at their whim. This will be the fate of La Frontera as well – even if, from today’s perspective, such an outcome seems a long way off.

A Matter of Edge

The Dialectic of Border and Boundary at La Frontera Borders and boundaries not only arise together in various changing ratios but in the end they are indissociable from each other. They can be seen as two aspects of one situation – aspects that are not only compatible and complementary with each other but that require one another. This corequisite status is especially evident when the edges of two nations (indeed, of any two polities: states, counties, cities, boroughs) are contiguous. In this circumstance, border and boundary features are both ingredient, and any adequate analysis must acknowledge their commixture as a base-line from which further specification and understanding can emerge. In the case of La Frontera (and doubtless other comparable circumstances) we witness an intimate interweaving of border and boundary aspects even as these aspects retain their own integrity. On the one hand, the border aspects express the historical and institutional character of this literally inter-national edge, concerned as it is with issues of permissible entry to a given part of one of the contiguous nations: issues of immigration and security, but also a host of other considerations, including efforts to control the spread of transmissible diseases, or to regulate the flow of agricultural goods, or to limit the overall population of the ‘host’ country: all such factors, and still more, bear on La Frontera regarded as a border in my sense of the term.11 On the other hand, the boundary aspects reflect the fact that accords between nations, however sternly posited or fiercely imposed, require more than words alone to be enacted and effective: something has to happen on the ground, something has to be put in place. This is to say that more than cartographic inscriptions or verbal pronouncements are at stake; something must be constructed quite concretely – if only a gate or a fence or a wall – and this must happen on the earth. And what happens on the earth is very likely to take the form of a boundary, or can give rise to one: permeability is at stake, directly or indirectly. When border and boundary coexist, they function as concomitant attributes of one and the same edge situation. The edges that separate nations (and thus peoples and cultures) from each other present both border-like and boundary-like features – even if the exact form of each differs from case to case, as does their relationship. The same analysis obtains for any edge situation that we are tempted to call an ‘international border’ in the usual geo-political sense of the term: not just that between the US and Mexico, but that between the US and Canada, Ecuador and Peru, Germany and Poland, India and Pakistan.



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The Co-Habitation of Border and Boundary Borders and boundaries are co-essential in still another sense: they are at once cultural and natural. Merleau-Ponty wrote in a working note of 1960 that ‘the distinction between the two planes (natural and cultural) is abstract: everything is cultural in us (our Lebenswelt is “subjective” and our perception is cultural-historical) and everything is natural in us (even the cultural rests on the polymorphism of the wild Being)’ (Merleau-Ponty 1968: 253; working note of May 1960). I take this compenetration of the natural and the cultural to obtain for borders and boundaries when they are both active as aspects of a given circumstance like La Frontera. Despite their contingency of origin and mode of construction, borders form part of a naturalistic setting with its own landform and local climate. Only a borderline is entirely artifactual: that is why we put it at one extreme end of the series of border terms discussed earlier. Similarly, no part of a boundary in this same circumstance is without conventional or historical roots and social-political implications, despite its affinity with many natural phenomena. The Merleau-Pontian model of full compenetration obtains not only for the natural and cultural dimensions of borders and boundaries – every border and each boundary having both dimensions – but it also obtains for the relationship between borders and boundaries themselves in a circumstance like that of La Frontera. Even as they retain their distinctive differences, they reach into and through each other. Certain border aspects bear intimately on certain boundary features and vice versa. The fact that these aspects and features may be subtle or unusual in no way disqualifies them. When the original surveying team for La Frontera decided to locate the US–Mexico border between two hills rather than going up over a single steep hill, they effected a makeshift liaison between local topography and an international treaty – that is, between a landscape composed of boundaries and a treaty constructed to create a border. In this single action of practical convenience, they demonstrated the internal influence of topography and treaty, boundary and border, on each other. In the evolution and current circumstance of La Frontera, we witness place and geography in interactions that are at once intimate and fateful. We see the close imbrication of landscape and history, political force and the technology of a given era: all of this and much more. This imbrication is so dense that it calls for finding a point of purchase on it, a ‘lever of intervention’ in Derrida’s phrase. I have suggested that one such lever is provided by edge in two of its primary avatars, border and boundary.

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*** The task that confronts any thinking on immigration issues at this historical moment – in Europe as in North America – can be straightforwardly stated: it is to re-think borders as emergent boundaries. It is a matter of imagining otherwise the deep-seated tendency to have exclusive recourse to the building-up of borders as zones of stoppage, of arrest in every sense of this word, and of the judging of certain human beings as not qualified to cross because of race, national identity, ethnic affiliation, language, economic position or immigration status. All these modalities of borderthink are so many forms of inhospitality, of slamming the door in the face of the Other – thus of refusing any boundary dimension, any unscheduled traversal to happen at the border. But borders can be reconceived as zones of passage and transition – places where people meet rather than sites where people are kept apart. What began as a strict border, and continues as a supervised border circumstance, can metamorphose into a boundary. Such a transformation does not involve a confusion of categories but a creative conjoining of traits of each category in one altogether concrete circumstance. This can occur at La Frontera and doubtless at many comparable or parallel circumstances (for example, the separation barrier between Israel and Palestine). Thinking this way, we can say with Derrida that ‘everything will flower at the edge’ (Derrida, 1987: 81). At least this is so if borders can be re-envisioned as boundary situations in which porosity becomes a positive virtue and not a defect, no mere leak in a supposedly impermeable structure. All need not be uninhibited flow in such situations, but their primary feature is two-way movement, over and back across. When this occurs, we witness an opening to hospitality, a genuine metamorphosis of one way of being in the world into another.12 Notes 1

This chapter is based on material from the book Up Against the Wall: Re-Imagining the U.S.–Mexico Border by Edward S. Casey and Mary Watkins, 2014, courtesy of the University of Texas Press. 2 For further discussion, see Casey 2014, Part One. 3 Operation Blockade was undertaken on 19 September 1993 for a two-week period in the El Paso/Juarez area; 400 border patrol guards were mobilised to block ‘illegal immigration’. It was succeeded by Operation Hold the Line in the same region. Operation Gatekeeper was instituted on 1 October 1994 in the San Diego/Tijuana



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region for the same purpose; it was supplemented by Operation Disruption in May 1995. The names of these operations speak for themselves. This is from Foucault’s lecture held on 11 January 1978. Foucault adds that sovereign power is exercised not just upon land but upon the ‘multiplicities’ that make up its people and history: ‘Sovereignty and discipline, as well as security, can only be concerned with multiplicities’ (Foucault 2004: 12). Another pertinent term is ‘borderlands’, made famous by the writings of Gloria Anzaldúa but having an extensive history of its own. A borderland is the area that flanks a recognised international border – often on both sides. It is an area, a region, in the form of a band or strip that cannot be measured in so many metres or miles but only in cultural intensity or history (see Anzaldúa 2012). A telling instance of this fact is at play in the last scene of Jean Renoir’s film The Grand Illusion when the German soldiers stop shooting at the French soldiers who flee to safety over the Swiss border even though they could easily have killed them and even though the border is hidden under the snow. Here the border’s literal invisibility stands metaphorically for its actual invisibility (I owe this example to John Protevi). To clarify my usage of terms, ‘irreal’ signifies the status of what is meant in an intentional act of mind; the term comes from Husserl’s characterisation of the meaning (Sinn) of an intentional act as irreell, a neologism in German: every intentional act aims at a meaning that is not to be reduced to psychologistic projection but forms the content of what is intended. In contrast, ‘ideal’ is of Platonic derivation and refers to what exists on its own, independently of any intention. ‘Eidetic’, also of Platonic origin, refers to the status enjoyed by essences or forms. All three adjectives refer to aspects of borders in contrast with boundaries, which do not exist apart from geographical/cultural/mental reality. Borders have a life of their own but are not timeless in the manner of Platonic Forms; as cultural constructs, they are subject to confirmation or disconfirmation, for example by modifications of treaties in which they are first established. Such tunnels are discovered every few months, but this has in no way prevented their continuing construction, often at considerable expense and effort: some of the more elaborate tunnels are air-conditioned. As for bribing, this has reached the point where a number of customs officials are known to be working incognito for the drug cartels (see Archibold 2009). Regarding the many ways by which cash comes across La Frontera, see McKinley, Jr. and Lacey 2009. Some $3.7 billion has been allocated since 2005 alone to build up the current wall and its surveillance. It is estimated that another $6.5 billion will be required to maintain it over the next 20 years (Emmott 2009). Jessica Sims points out that the leaking to which I here refer is not only the effect of the existing wall but also serves as the justification for the construction of something like a wall as designed to plug up existing ‘holes’ in matters of immigration or drugs: ‘It is a

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matter of making the need for the wall appear self-evident, while simultaneously covering over the fact that the problems at the border are themselves the result of the artificial construct [i.e. the wall] that has been put in place to protect certain vested interests’ (email communication of 15 March 2012). 10 I take the term ‘soft border’ from Mostow 2008, esp. 56, 123–4, 131, 141, 145–6. ‘Soft borders’ are in effect what I am calling ‘boundaries’. 11 These instances point to the fact that nations (and regions) are not only divided by borders but meet there, converging in the very place where they are also subject to acute divergence. (This point was suggested by Sims in an email communication of 15 March 2012.) 12 Alluded to here is Aristotle’s phrase ‘metabasis eis allo genos’, ‘change into another kind of thing’ (Aristotle: 76 a 22).

Bibliography Anzaldúa, Gloria, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestizo, 4th edn. San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books, 2012. Archibold, Randall C., ‘Hired by Customs, but Working for the Cartels’, in The New York Times, 18 December 2009. Aristotle, Posterior Analytics. Translated by Jonathan Barnes. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002, p. 215. Casey, Edward S., The World on Edge (forthcoming). Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2015. —— and Mary Watkins, Up Against the Wall: Re-imagining the US Mexico Border. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2014. Derrida, Jacques, ‘Parergon’, in Truth in Painting. Translated by G. Bennington and I. McLeod. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987. Emmott, Robin, ‘A Costly U.S.–Mexico Border Wall, in Both Dollars and Deaths’, Reuters, 2 October 2009. Online: global/2009/10/02/borderwallcosts (accessed 14 February 2012). Foucault, Michel, Security, Territory, Population: Lectures at the Collège de France 1977–78 Translated by G. Burchell. Edited by A. I. Davidson. New York: Palgrave, 2004. McKinley, Jr., James C. and Marc Lacey, ‘Torrent of Illicit Cash Flows Where U.S. and Mexico Meet’, The New York Times, 26 December 2009. Merleau-Ponty, Maurice, The Visible and the Invisible. Translated by A. Lingis. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1968. Mostow, Julie, Soft Borders: Rethinking Sovereignty and Democracy. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2008.


2 Displacement, Asylum and Narratives of Nation Giving Voice to Refugees in the Film La Forteresse Roger Bromley

In Europe there is a war on immigration. It is a war fuelled by the territorial imagination and carried out by extremely vulnerable sovereign nations. Some 25,000 Africans have lost their lives over the past 20 years in attempting to reach the borders of Europe (World Socialist website 2013); in 2000, 58 Chinese men and women were found suffocated to death in a container lorry on arrival at Dover; in 2004, 23 Chinese men and women were drowned in Morecambe Bay, Lancashire, while searching for cockles at night. In the first four months of 2011, 1,500 migrants from North Africa, in the wake of the ‘Arab Spring’, drowned trying to reach European coasts. In October 2013 more than 360 men, women and children drowned in the Mediterranean off the coast of Lampedusa. Many hundreds of other instances could be added to these, but the point that I am making is that each one was killed by the territorial imagination.1 The territorial imagination is produced by ideologies of nation or, more precisely, the quartet of birth, territoriality, nation and state upon which concepts of national sovereignty and citizenship are constructed: The doctrine of nationalism which crystallised in 1848 gives a geographic imperative to the concept of culture itself: habit, faith, pleasure, ritual – all depend upon enactment in a particular territory. More, the place which nourishes rituals is a place composed of people like oneself, people with whom one can share without explaining. Territory thus becomes synonymous with identity. (Sennett 2011: 58)


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Out of this was born ‘the territorial imagination’, the concept of an authentic national identity with the outsider as ‘inauthentic’. Authenticity is a crucial part of border rhetoric and imagery. In the formulation ‘the British people’, for example, the ‘people’ are not explained or defined because, as Sennett argues, ‘they just are’. The nation – ‘our way of life’ – simply reflects this, rather than being seen as the construction that it is. It is a powerful fantasy or fiction – a fiction of power – which impacts upon the asylum seeker, always conscious of being out of place, displaced from his or her territory but also seeking an alternative belonging. The asylum seeker not only exposes the fiction of sovereignty but also the fiction – the fixed, but arbitrary, notion – of belonging. The asylum seeker is a figure of time and movement, but not of place until granted refugee status. On this basis, citizenship and identity become categories of and for inclusion/belonging. For example, British politicians frequently refer to ‘our island story’. The island is only notionally territorial in this usage; it is more a cultural and ideological narrative: it is a code for heritage and a ‘white’ heritage at that. At a time when the ‘British’ narrative is ceasing to make sense, cohere, motivate, or hold people together at the economic, social, or political level, it is being reassembled symbolically/ discursively on a negative construction of immigration. This is true also for a number of other countries in Europe where far right parties are gaining prominence on the basis of opposition to immigration, Switzerland included, which I shall focus on in my discussion of a film about asylum. The explicitly neo-Nazi, ethnocratic party in Greece, Golden Dawn, is (literally) violently opposed to immigration and, what its statutes call, the ‘demographic alteration’; the party gained 18 seats in the June 2012 Greek elections. Geert Wilders, the head of the Dutch Freedom Party (PVV) and Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s Front National (FN) agreed to take part together in the 2014 European elections as the Alliance of Freedom, with five other right-wing parties likely to sign up to the Alliance. Their opposition to the EU was their main platform but another central tenet of their programme was against immigration. The refugee, the asylum seeker, is mapped against an already existing, fixed and (so the story goes) socially cohesive national culture. The symbols, stories and legends of the deeper normative notions and images that underlie the ‘social imaginary’ are essential to this notion of national culture, those once-common understandings and a widely-shared sense of legitimacy produced by the conversion and transformation processes brought about by nineteenth- and twentieth-century hegemony – a partly conscious, partly unconscious repertoire.

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Crisis at the Border In Günter Grass’s wonderful formulation, refugees become ‘irritants to the rigid orders of the self’ (in Soguk 1999: 15), and as Soguk claims, ‘In this way, refugees help remake the conventional language in which the narratives of the so-called citizenry, national community, and territorial state are told’ (Soguk: 15). They help to sublimate internal anxiety, fragmentation and fragility at a time when governments lack the prescriptive power to inscribe what is an increasingly empty and obsolescent national imaginary as the social state has yielded to the globalised, market-state. The post-Cold War period has seen the ‘dismantling of ideological, political, social and identification reference points’ (Laïdi 1998: 2), readily available dichotomous symbolic forms, and, as a consequence, the nation has come up against the limits of its being and meaningfulness, its representational currencies; what in psychoanalysis would be called its ‘narcissistic self-enclosure’, hence the preoccupation with borders and security. There is a crisis at the boundary of articulation as there is no longer a national narrative or symbolic vocabulary available that can produce discursive solidarity. Is national identity only now possible in a continuous state of emergency (levels of alert) where a threat has to be constantly imagined by its citizens so that a form of self-enclosure can be validated? In short, we are witnessing a renewing of the cultural script of nationalisms (core values): a restoring/a restorying which is also an act of narrative foreclosure as far as the unbelonging are concerned. Hence the frequent reference to borders and border security. Borders here mean literally the limits of a nation’s sovereignty but they also refer to those borders which help to construct the cultural, social and national imaginary. Immigration control has come to occupy a central position in discourse about the identity of the country, as well as other issues relating to security and citizenship. What the asylum seeker challenges is the dominant vocabularies and image resources circulated and referenced by the state, and its mediating agencies, to anchor its, perhaps limited, power in a culture of entitlement and identity. An anxious state is strategically displacing its insecurities onto the ‘always already’ displaced and seeking to renew and replenish the weakened territorial imagination of its increasingly alienated citizens. Thus, in Agamben’s terms, the asylum seeker is subject to the ‘forceof-law’ in the state of exception but actually exists outside the sovereign law. Value, meaning, worth and dignity (distinction) are all distributed within the field of sovereignty whereas the asylum seeker is subject to



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humiliation, abuse and detention (in some cases) in a ‘zone of indistinction’ (referred to as ‘subhuman’ by the Golden Dawn party), what Bauman calls ‘social homelessness’ (Bauman 2003). (S)he is included only by means of exclusion, the withdrawal of the law. European governments talk up the nation and the national through a rhetoric of ‘core values’ but also, and more importantly, use the concept of sovereignty to re-seal and control their borders while, at the same time, exercising the prerogative of determining who to exempt and who to include in their territory. As Dalal has shown, ‘Differences between groups of people turn into ethnic boundaries only when heated into significance by the identity investment of the other side’ (Dalal 2002: 24). Identity investment, I shall argue, is at the root of the need to exclude and the politics of securitisation and is made even more urgent by the loss of meaningful symbols. As Mirzhoeff argues, ‘the current moment of globalisation is … based upon a reactionary redefinition of identity that, from the point of view of government, requires new modes of surveillance and internment’ (Mirzhoeff 2004: 137). Dalal goes on to define the issue in this fashion: The fact that there is the constant danger of the imaginary ‘us’ dissolving into the ‘them’ resulting in another kind of ‘us’ and ‘them’ sets off two interlinked anxieties. The first is a profound existential anxiety that comes about as one starts to feel the sense of self dissolving, and so is resisted. The second anxiety is evoked by the potential loss, dilution or disruption of access to the vortices of power and status. (Dalal 2002: 24)

The Liberal Dilemma Switzerland, the location of the film under discussion, has long been regarded as a haven for refugees, the site of the Geneva Convention of 1951, the base of the International Red Cross, a space of peace. Until recently, it embodied the essence of a liberal democracy, outlined by Benhabib: ‘Not only politically, but theoretically as well, the incorporation and acceptance of immigrants, aliens and foreigners into liberal democracies touch upon fundamental normative and philosophical problems concerning the modern nation-state system’ (Benhabib 2002: 160). For some time now, it has been clear that closing borders has assumed primacy over the claims of those who seek asylum in Europe, mainly because to continue to

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behave in accordance with the precepts of liberalism leaves governments in danger of losing their constituencies of power. For example, following a referendum in 2009, the Swiss government, under pressure from the right, has not only banned the building of any further minarets (seen by the Swiss People’s Party as symbolic of Islamic power) but has also introduced a stringent set of immigration rules which are distinctly illiberal. On 9 February 2014, Swiss voters narrowly approved (by 50.3 per cent) a right-wing proposal to curb immigration by imposing limits on foreigners coming into the country. The liberal dilemma referred to is at the core of much current political discourse: ‘Defining the identity of the sovereign nation is itself a process of fluid, open, and contentious public debate: the lines separating “we” and “you”, “us” and “them”, more often than not rest on unexamined prejudices, ancient battles, historical injustices, and sheer administrative fiat’ (Benhabib 2002: 177). By allowing asylum seekers to be used as a means of reinforcing unexamined prejudices, the lines of separation referred to by Benhabib are very firmly reinscribed with the result that public debate ceases to be fluid and open but is subject to authoritarian closure. She argues that the rights of refugees and asylum seekers mark the threshold and boundary ‘at the site of which the identity of “we, the people” is defined and renegotiated …’ (Benhabib 2002: 177). To sum up thus far, in Soguk’s words, ‘Regime practices, while purportedly concentrating on the problem of the refugee/asylum seeker, thus work not so much to “solve” the “refugee problem” as to utilise those bodies marked as refugees in order to stabilize various territorialized relations, institutions, and identities that afford the state its reason for being’ (Soguk 1999: 52). The asylum seeker is ‘a challenge to the boundedness of territory’. Displacement helps us to think place and belonging, to complexify these concepts so as to articulate the conditions of new possibilities, lived spaces of mutuality and reciprocity, hospitality which overcome borders. Arguably, the displaced offer the greatest challenge today to traditional concepts of sovereignty. Mapping Separation Maps inscribe and demarcate borders because, as de Certeau argues, ‘the map wants to remain alone on the stage, central to modern imagination’, whereas the displaced interrupt the performance of the map and claim space on the stage – what the maps cut up, ‘stories cut across’ (de Certeau



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2.1. The excluded refugee. From La Forteresse, 2008, directed by Fernand Melgar.

1984: 129). The displaced embodies the movement of exile away from symbolic structure, the national fiction (Canning 2000: 351), which is why the national(ist) narrative is designed to stop the ‘native’ from meeting the displaced, literally and metaphorically speaking: ‘When we meet another being, we begin to experiment with our relations and create possibilities together. This creation of possibility is an aesthetic act, an experiment in vibration, resonance, composition of affects …’ (Canning 2000: 352). Hence sovereignty puts in place a range of symbolic/cultural barriers to prevent that encounter so that the displaced is represented as danger and chaos because s/he seeks, demands, claims opportunity, the advantageousness of site or position at the expense, it is argued, of the indigenous. The camp, of course, is the physical embodiment of this separation. As Shapiro argues, ‘the selves that nationalists seek to separate are all ambiguously mixed rather than ethnically pure selves. The desire to partition and abjection constitutes a denial of a history of intermingling and acculturation’ (Shapiro 2004: 68). It is this denial, materialised in the barbed wire, surveillance cameras and security guards in the 2008 film, La Forteresse, directed by Fernand Melgar, which shores up asymmetry and inequality, the sovereign conditions of ‘Fortress Europe’. The refugee, juxtaposed to the name of the national subject, is signified as the figure of lack, indicating an absence and an aberration, an incompleteness and limit vis-à-vis the citizen subject. By excluding the refugee, the nation asserts its own boundedness, plenitude, completeness:

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it is foundational. In order to be reconstituted as a whole, as a subject of value and meaning (like ‘us’), of ontological security, the refugee must return to their nation/home/community (the circumstances of their flight are overlooked in this ideological, and contradictory, narrative). As Soguk argues, ‘the refugee is incorporated into [the discourse of] the national life only to be distanced from the possibilities in it – they are both legally and popularly marginalized’ (Soguk 1999: 53). So, however insecure, limited and arbitrary the possibilities in the national life are for the subject, these are enhanced and magnified by the presence (always already an absence) of the refugee. By contrast, and by default, the subject becomes a privileged site of identity and the ideological narrative achieves closure. The governance of refugees is a surrogate for the governance and circumscription of the ‘nation-people’. As Cynthia Weber says, the modern state must control how its people are ‘written’ and how their meaning is fixed – a forever incomplete project but one which has to be tackled if the state is to retain its claim to legitimacy and representative agency (Weber 1995). So the policing of immigration helps to restore hierarchies of identities and meanings, and the refugee is used as a means of restoring an axiomatic centrality to the state and its sovereignty. My argument throughout has been that ‘immigration control’ is a displacement activity, a fabulation, which incites, by an oblique or subliminal racism, and also transfers attention from real doubts by the repetition of manufactured anxieties, ambiguities and indeterminacies. It is a generative project that is activated by the repeated circulation of links between asylum seekers and crime, disease, prostitution, gang masters, terrorism and welfare dependency. Displacement, in all senses of the word, dominates the experience of the asylum seeker as they journey from country to country, crossing borders in search of refuge. Although they are moving in time, in a sense they are out of time as well as out of place, in a state of arrested development, being temporarily arrested in time in the waiting zone, whether it be airport, accommodation centre or detention centre. When the journeying stops and they find themselves in the waiting zone, they will be infantilised, static and inert, subject to curfews and a behavioural regime of containment that strips them of agency, voice and adulthood, sleeping in bunk beds, barred from alcohol, regulated and reduced to passive dependency and submission. They are perceived as a threat to be controlled. In the film La Forteresse, the guards are employed by a firm called Securitas, a term which points to the role of asylum seekers in, what Nira Yuval-Davis calls, ‘the securitization of migration’ (YuvalDavis 2005: 41). The detention, or containment, centres are spaces for the victim, the vulnerable and the powerless (in order to fit with the decision-



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2.2. Spaces for the victim, the vulnerable and the powerless. From La Forteresse, 2008, directed by Fernand Melgar.

making regime) where signs of agency, autonomy and independence are treated with suspicion. The experience of displacement is that of interruption and discontinuity, the loss of ‘the power to impose a shape upon oneself’ and the attempt to construct continuity and shape against ‘arrest’, literal or metaphorical. The asylum seeker is not only a figure in transition but a figure of transitional identity, changed profoundly by dislocation, with the need to compose a story in order to move beyond im/de-mobilisation imposed by the ‘claim’ – a claim which is simultaneously a demand for something which is due (protection) and a bid for recognition at a time when Europe has created structures to minimise access to asylum and also criminalised those seeking it. As Arthur Helton has shown (Helton 2002), in the Cold War period asylum seekers had an ideological value, a trophy-like status, whereas today this currency is devalued and each asylum claimant has to negotiate the nationalist scripts of insecure and hostile countries within what Balibar calls a ‘European apartheid’, marked by the ‘socially discriminating function of borders’ (Balibar 2004: 113). In Rancière’s terms: The new racism of advanced societies thus owes its singularity to being the point of intersection for all forms of the community’s identity with itself that go to define the consensus model … So it is only normal that the law should now round off this coherence … turns its unity into the mode of reflection of a community separating itself from its other. (Rancière 1999: 174)

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The extensive asylum legislation in the UK since the early 1990s testifies to the role of law in attempting to formulate a coherence and unity predicated upon separation from its ‘others’ and materialised in ‘detention zones and filtering systems’ (Balibar: 111; italics in original). Storying the Stranger Governments resort to ideological manipulation in attempts to establish ‘legitimacy’ through appeals to ‘core values’, ‘shared identity’ and ‘our way of life’, and it is this ideological work, and its impact upon public attitudes which I wish to address now with reference to particular asylum narratives. This ideology manifests itself in, what Michel Agier calls, ‘frozen otherness’ (Agier 2008: viii), which, he argues, ‘is the basis of all rejection – racial, cultural and xenophobic’ (ibid.). The film under discussion demonstrates this ‘frozen otherness’ but also reveals the complexity of lives and, rather than pointing to irreducible differences, reduces ‘their alterity’. To a certain extent, it reduces the alterity of the asylum seekers by making them the focal point of the narrative, by bringing the ‘stranger’ in from the margins of silence and invisibility, breaking down the representative category of ‘refugee’, and making them the subjects of vision and speech: ‘Those who have escaped and survived the threats facing them find a meaning in their experience from the moment that their story is recognised as a voice … and not only as suffering’ (Agier: 110); the film helps to produce a narrative anchorage, forms of subjectification and recognition, however circumscribed by their conditions; the ending of ‘liminal drift’ and denial. The film I have selected to focus upon was produced in Switzerland and is also set there. It has been chosen specifically because it was made after the September 2006 national referendum on the new asylum and foreigners’ laws, endorsed by 68 per cent of the vote and all 26 cantons, which made Swiss legislation on asylum the most restrictive in Europe. An initiative of the right-wing People’s Party, the law signalled a major shift in the country’s humanitarian tradition, although some have claimed that this is a veil that has covered a ‘xenophobic heritage’. Under this law, asylum seekers who do not produce an identification document within 48 hours of arrival in Switzerland will be excluded from the asylum procedure. For many of those fleeing persecution or war this is an impossible requirement and can only be seen as a cynical move to severely limit asylum claims. The Swiss Federal Office for Migration (FOM) in outlining its ‘Basic Principles of asylum legislation’ spends quite a lot of



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2.3. Conditional freedom and surveillance. From La Forteresse, 2008, directed by Fernand Melgar.

time justifying the restrictions on the grounds that asylum proceedings are routinely abused, many asylum seekers are simply in search of a better place to live, and ‘many of them invent a dramatic story of persecution for the hearing by the authorities. With such tactics they hope to be granted refugee status’ (FOM 17.06.2010). It is undoubtedly true that some asylum seekers come into this category but it is not acknowledged that increasing barriers to legitimate points of entry into Europe has helped to bring this situation about. Unsubstantiated claims about many people making up stories to say they are asylum seekers are common and repeated enough times become a popular ‘truth’, part of ‘what everybody knows’. On the contrary, it is what Hans Lucht, in his compelling study of migrants in southern Italy, Darkness Before Daybreak, calls the ‘global disconnect’ which makes the dangerous journey to Europe almost the only strategy left to those in Africa, and elsewhere, in search of improving their life chances (Lucht 2012: xi). In other words, globalisation has brought about the free movement of goods, capital and services but has left the people in the developing world, upon whom this movement has impacted most, profoundly disconnected from this mobility unless they are prepared to imperil their lives. Isin and Rygiel refer to, what they term, ‘abject spaces’ as places where ‘those who are constituted through them are rendered as neither subjects nor objects but inexistent insofar as they become inaudible and invisible’ (Isin and Rygiel 2006: 183). They speak of frontiers, zones and camps as such abject spaces and, in the context of the film, the asylum seekers are contained in zones, present but without presence – dehumanised

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and depoliticised, separated from the resident community – unseen and unheard. These zones are ‘spaces nestled within state and city territories’ where the asylum claimants are under ‘conditional freedom and surveillance’ (Isin and Rygiel 2006: 193), with military style security guards, CCTV cameras and curfews. In La Forteresse there are frequent shots of the zone in its picturesque, Swiss setting but rarely any sign of any claimant presence beyond its perimeter fences. The zones are processing spaces for screening and filtering the ‘abjects’. In using film to discuss displacement, I am seeing the filmmaker as someone analogous to what Ricoeur calls the ‘critical historian’, whose role is to reinforce the ‘truth-claim’ of memory against falsifiability and to reverse, or refute, dominant history. By memory, in this sense, I am thinking of the myth of a unitary national identity, of hierarchical and exclusionary subjectivities. For Ricoeur, the critical historian initiates a critique of power and this, I consider, is similar to the function of the ‘critical’ filmmaker: In admitting what was originally excluded from the archive the historian initiates a critique of power. He gives expression to the voices of those who have been abused, the victims of intentional exclusion. The historian opposes the manipulation of narratives by telling the story differently and by providing a space for the confrontation between opposing testimonies. (Ricoeur 1999: 16)

The ‘voices of those who have been abused’ I refer to later as ‘the always already narrated’ and it is the task of the critical filmmaker to ‘tell the story differently’, to produce an alternative legibility. Telling the Story Differently It took the director of the film, Fernand Melgar, six months of negotiations to secure access to film in the Centre for Registration and Procedure in Vallorbe (one of five such centres), on the Swiss–French border, the first director to be granted such permission. He filmed over three months from December 2007 to February 2008 and produced over 150 hours of footage, edited down to 100 minutes for the final version which won the Leopard D’Or at the Locarno Film Festival in 2008 and several other nominations. Although doubtless motivated by the September 2006 and 2009 referendum outcomes, the film is studiously impartial and nonpolemical. Its basic technique is observational and avoids voice-overs or



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captions to direct the viewer’s responses. Working with multiple points of view, both individual and ensemble, it produces a series of complex perspectives by using certain ‘focalisers’ to present information so much so that, lacking any extraneous detail, the viewer occupies a kind of interior frame, metaphorically shared with claimants, the officials, the interviewers and the chaplains. No one point of view is privileged except that we are constantly reminded – by the frequent shots of doors being locked and unlocked – of the overall relations of power. The approach is immersive and mediative, with the camera an absent presence. The editing gives a semblance of detachment and there is no sense of ‘fly on the wall’ intrusiveness or of voyeurism. For instance, during interviews to establish their claim to asylum, people often are overcome with emotion and the interview is momentarily suspended but the camera does not close up on the face of the distressed person nor linger on their tears; nor are there any manipulative face-to-face interviews. The objective of the film is compassionate understanding not sentimental pity. The film constructs an interesting aesthetic contradiction because, on the one hand, there is never any doubt that the location is a prison-like space with impersonal guards but, on the other, the claimants are rendered visible and audible, with no presumption on behalf of the filmic narrative of their credibility or otherwise. Nor do we ever know who is or is not successful in gaining asylum but are left at the end with information that, out of 10,387 requests filed in Switzerland in 2007, 1,561 were offered asylum and 2,749 given provisional admission (for 12 months). In the course of the film we become aware of incidences of insomnia, depression and a sense of separation and loss. Almost 50 per cent of the Centre personnel agreed to be filmed and they are shown in a mostly positive light, with the Centre Manager emerging as enlightened and compassionate, although from the body language at a staff meeting not all his colleagues perhaps shared his position. However benign the regime (it has to be remembered that the staff were fully conscious of being on camera), the perimeter fencing, the curfews, surveillance cameras, the body searches each time someone arrives, or returns, from the outside and the omnipresent locked door remind us of the criminalisation of the asylum seeker who is seen ‘as a threat, a trouble maker and a profiteer that one should be wary of’ (Melgar 2008: DVD notes, 9). After just two interviews, carried out by civil servants, the asylum process is determined; for some, registration is not even accepted and they are given 24 hours to ‘leave the territory’. The 2006 vote was most probably not really about asylum seekers as such, but any non-European foreigners, Muslims in particular. The

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2.4. The Fortress. From La Forteresse, 2008, directed by Fernand Melgar.

‘fortress’ – a converted luxury hotel but with no residual traces of luxury – becomes a metaphor of Switzerland as a whole – headquarters of the UNHCR – and, ultimately of course, ‘Fortress Europe’ itself, cheering on democracy in other people’s backyards while hastily barring all entrances to its own, particularly in the past five years or so. Heard and seen the claimants may be, but they are also infantilised by the regime of curfew (gates close at 5.30 pm), the dormitory existence, the fact that Securitas (the company employing the guards) had confiscated musical instruments, and the prohibition on alcohol. They also need permission to leave each day and have to register on return. The interviewers betray no sense of irony when they speak of the need to form a ‘contract of trust’ against lies and deception. Although it is not overstressed, there is an unspoken context of, not so much seeking out probability, but detecting fabrication and deceit, as though these are part of a common presumption. Credibility – a convincing narrative – is at the core of the asylum application process which is still dominated by a culture of suspicion and refusal. As Robert Thomas argues, ‘In some cases, but by no means all, the issue of credibility may be the fulcrum of the decision as to whether the claim succeeds or fails’ (Thomas 2006: 79). Credibility, and the model of the ‘plausible’ client, is based upon a Western European concept of the individual and society, not necessarily appropriate for many refugees. In the film, the asylum procedure seems to be predicated upon a negative



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presumption based upon suspicion and the likelihood of deceit and abuse, in line with the FOM comments referred to earlier. Michel Agier’s comments on testimony are applicable to this credibility narrative: The context, issues and shaping of testimony create an event – an act of speech, writing, even theatre – that is distinct from what it refers to. Furthermore, the relationship between the testimony given in the camp and the events experienced in war and exodus may be inverted. For these past events continue to exist in the long run – and in memory – as soon as they take a narrative form, thanks to the words … of the author of the testimony. (Agier 2011: 172)

Matthews and Chung amplify this by arguing that ‘credible witnesses are presented as products of our own witnessing regimes which demand that refugees and asylum seekers represent themselves with authentically intact ethnic histories, clearly enunciated accounts of violence and trauma, and precise legal documentation’ (Matthews and Chung 2008: 2; my italics). It is these ‘witnessing regimes’ with their Western-eyed stereotypes and class-based ideologies of the ‘authentically intact’ which help to determine refugee status. Thomas’s summary of the main conditions of article 4(5) of the EU Qualifications Directive shows how close the balance of probability (the level of proof required in the asylum determination process) and proof is to the trajectory of a realist narrative (in European terms, the common sense understanding of what a convincing narrative is) with its roots in positivism: ‘the applicant must have made a genuine effort; provided a satisfactory explanation; their statements must be coherent and plausible; and have established their general credibility’ (Thomas 2006: 92). In other words, the model of credibility needs to be a knowing narrative (which is itself culturally specific); and ‘genuine’, ‘satisfactory’, ‘coherent and plausible’ and ‘general credibility’ are all taken as self-evident, as if they have some basis in objectivity. In discussing the play The Bogus Woman, Agnes Woolley speaks of the way in which narratives of traumatic experience, such as those of asylum seekers, are marked by fracture and incoherence and thus render virtually impossible ‘a verifiable and historically accurate version of events leading to an asylum claim’ (Woolley 2012: 32). She cites the work of Roger Luckhurst who describes trauma as ‘anti-narrative’ and ‘a challenge to the capacities of narrative knowledge’ (Luckhurst 2008: 79). The following case of the

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young Somali man exemplifies this contradiction between trauma and the ‘convincing narrative’. One particular segment (the film is composed of 20) highlights the previous point and marks the contrast between the chaplain and the civilservant interviewer. The claimant in question is a young Somalian who tells the chaplain about his escape from Somalia across the desert over a journey of 30 days, terminating in a boat trip with 50 people crammed in an 8-metre-long craft. Without food, they were forced to eat the body of a young child who had died en route. The chaplain is horrified by the story and deeply moved by, and convinced of, the man’s experience. This moment is immediately juxtaposed with a conversation between two interviewers, one of whom has granted a ‘negative provisional admission’ indicating that she doubts the man’s claims. This takes us back to the credible witness issue discussed earlier, as the interviewer feels that the story is too stereotypical and second-hand, a borrowed narrative from a stock of possible scenarios that he had heard from others. It is the credibility of the journey itself that is in question but she makes no comment on the bullet wounds and scars which we have observed in the previous scene which, details of the journey notwithstanding, indicate that a return to Somalia might be life threatening. Her colleague, Olivier (seen earlier talking to claimants about the ‘contract of trust’ and the need to co-operate) is convinced by the story but it is her negative determination which prevails, although she does acknowledge that his poor physical condition will mean that if the provisional admission is lifted, he will need a health check. The Iraqi claimant, Fahad Khamas, seen in interview speaking of how, as a translator for the US forces in Baghdad, he was targeted by the militias as a traitor, became a cause célèbre in 2009, as he was deported twice to Sweden from where he was likely to be sent back to Iraq. His presence in the film helped to generate extensive public support for his case. This film only presents a handful of claimants – from Armenia, Iraq, Kurdistan, Columbia, Bosnia, Somalia, Nigeria and Togo – some in official interviews, others in informal conversations with one of the four assigned chaplains. It is in the latter that some of the more horrific experiences are relayed. Despite the fact that many of the claimants are Muslim, only Christian chaplains are available, something which is not commented upon but which, like so much of the film, the viewer is left to deduce. Similarly, the celebration of Christmas seems a little incongruous, although the children of all faiths (who give the film much of its animation and energy) are happy to receive gifts, not surprisingly. Given the adaptability, playfulness and mobility of the children it is easy to forget momentarily that they are effectively criminalised in this



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‘waiting zone’. It is against this momentary ‘forgetfulness’ that a number of exterior shots of the ‘camp’ are designed to act as a reminder – the shots of an isolated guard, torch in hand, patrolling the inner perimeter, checking locks and lights, the aerial view of the segregated spaces of the centre, and the Hopperesque, underlit frames – the latter accentuated when the dawn transfer of claimants is produced on ‘deteriorated’ film stock, as shot on CCTV, sharpening the sense of prison and the ghost-like quality of the inmates. The latter scene is characterised by an extraordinary moment when the Bosnian Roma family, seen in an earlier interview, is part of the transfer cohort and is chased by a security guard who confiscates the wheelchair used by the paralysed teenage daughter, forcing her older brother to carry her up a steep hill. One of the last shots of the film, this reinforces the power/powerless undercurrent throughout the narrative. The final shots are of graffiti on the walls and pillars of the camp – names, dates, signatures, a poem: residual inscriptions of presence, legibility in the face of absence. The film tells stories of the ‘displaced’. But each of the figures in this text – undesirable and placeless – is also a carrier of stories, their own interleaved with others; stories which unfold and add layers in the context of the narrative process, to a point where they become identifiable, subjects of value, rather than subject to market price. All experience the loss of identity, memory and relationship, but the very fact of their being storied is an act of witness itself. The film is, in all senses, about finding a language other than that which already forms the basis of existing representations: the always already narrated. By now the term ‘Fortress Europe’ is already overused but the post-2008 recession and the subsequent politics of austerity have given it renewed salience. An increasingly anti-immigrant discourse has emerged which conflates refugees with economic migrants, advocates an exclusionist and ethnocratic politics and devalues the lives of ‘others’ as subhuman. Far right parties, including the Swiss People’s Party, the explicitly violent Golden Dawn in Greece and the populist, libertarian UKIP party in the UK, have emerged from years of relative anonymity to electoral and media prominence in the past few years. In varying degrees, these parties share deep opposition to the EU, espouse forms of cultural and biological nationalism, are based upon inward-looking and non-reflexive identities and claim ethnic homogeneity and belonging. A fear of loss of sovereignty, a feeling of being unrepresented by an untrustworthy political class (many of whom are taking up negative positions on immigration) and the depredations of neoliberalism and globalisation have produced a sense of abandonment and loss. This sense of abandonment and powerlessness

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has given rise to a xenophobic polemical space, heated into significance by popular media amplification, in which the immigrant (especially the Muslim immigrant) has become the scapegoat for what are undoubtedly real anxieties and the disappearance of an imagined, unified, national space and time. Myths of national belonging are part of a defensive territorial selffashioning and develop in relation to concepts of not belonging – the foreigner, the other, the stranger. These others are configured through a set of fixed stereotypes which form the basis of wished-for political, social and cultural exclusions. The asylum seeker is often used to consolidate the ideology of shared identity and national sovereignty. What La Forteresse does is break into these stereotypes and fragment them by introducing a range of complex and contradictory figures, a multiplicity of voices, whose presence in, but not of, the national space constitutes a claim or entitlement to inclusion which goes against long-standing constructions of the alien and points up the provisional and arbitrary nature of identity. Note 1 An earlier version of this chapter appeared in ‘Asylum Accounts’, in Moving Worlds: A Journal of Transcultural Writings 12:2 (2012): 105–18.

Bibliography Agier, Michel, On the Margins of the World: the Refugee Experience Today. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2008. —— Managing the Undesirables: Refugee Camps and Humanitarian Government. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2011. Balibar, Etienne, We, the People of Europe: Reflections on Transnational Citizenship. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004. Benhabib, Seyla, The Claims of Culture: Equality and Diversity in the Global Era. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002. Canning, Peter, ‘The Imagination of Immanence’, in Gregory Flaxman (ed.), The Brain is the Screen: Deleuze and the Philosophy of Cinema. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000, pp. 327–62. Dalal, F., Race, Colour and the Process of Racialization: New Perspectives from Group Analysis, Psychoanalysis and Sociology. London: Brunner-Routledge, 2002. de Certeau, Michel, The Practice of Everyday Life. Translated by Steven F. Rendall. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1984.



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Helton, Arthur, ‘Terrorism’s New Victims and Possible Recruits; Refugees Suffer as the West Focuses on its War Efforts’, Los Angeles Times, 12 July 2002. Isin, Engin F. and Kim Rygiel, ‘Abject Spaces: Frontiers, Zones, Camps’, in E. Dauphinee and C. Masters (eds), Logics of Biopower and the War on Terror. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006, pp. 181–203. La Forteresse. Directed by Fernand Melgar. Switzerland: Climage, 2008. Laïdi, Zaki, A World without Meaning: The Crisis of Meaning in International Politics. London: Routledge, 1998. Lucht, Hans, Darkness before Daybreak: African Migrants Living on the Margins in Southern Italy Today. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012. Luckhurst, Roger, The Trauma Question. Abingdon: Routledge, 2008. Matthews, Julie and Kwangsook Chung, ‘Credible Witness: Identity, Refuge and Hospitality’, Borderlands 7:3 (2008): 1–15. Melgar, Fernand, La Forteresse. DVD notes, 2008. Mirzhoeff, Nicholas, Watching Babylon: The War in Iraq and Global Visual Culture. New York: Routledge, 2004. Rancière, Jacques, Disagreement: Politics and Philosophy. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999. Ricoeur, Paul, ‘Memory and Forgetting’, in M. Dooley and R. Kearney (eds), Questioning Ethics: Contemporary Debates. London: Routledge, 1999, pp. 5–11. Sennett, Richard, The Foreigner: Two Essays on Exile. London: Notting Hill Editions, 2011. Shapiro, Michael, Methods and Nations: Cultural Governance and the Indigenous Subject. London: Taylor and Francis, 2004. Soguk, Nevzat, States and Strangers: Refugees and Displacements of Statecraft. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999. Swiss Federal Office for Migration (FOM), latest modification, 17 June 2010. Thomas, Robert, ‘Assessing the Credibility of Asylum Claims: EU and UK Approaches Examined’, European Journal of Migration and Law 8 (2006): 79–96. Weber, Cynthia, Simulating Sovereignty: Intervention, the State, and Symbolic Exchange. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995. Woolley, Agnes, ‘Questioning Narrative Authenticity in Kay Adshead’s The Bogus Woman’, Moving Worlds 12:2 (2012): 30–41. World Socialist website, ‘Lampedusa Migrant Deaths: The Real face of the European Union’, 2013. Online: html (accessed 21 January 2014). Yuval-Davis, Nira, ‘Human Security and Asylum-seeking’, Mediactive 4 (2005): 38–55.

3 Old and New Xenophobia Tabish Khair

One of the most common discussions around xenophobia today relates to its changing character. It is not that old forms of xenophobia – skinheads beating up immigrants, for instance – no longer exist. But it is also true that a number of new rightist parties, especially in Europe, are not xenophobic along those lines: some of these parties even officially define themselves as against anti-semitism, homophobia and racism, despite what their individual members might practise or believe. Are such parties, and their members, xenophobic at all? In its annual report for 2005, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) – the official European xenophobia watchdog – identified cultural racism as ‘increasingly worrying’ and noted that ‘[t]oday, the idea “culture” appears to increasingly replace the idea of “race”’ (Taras 2009: 84). A number of scholars, like Arun Kundnani, have also noted how the ‘new xenophobic right’ of Europe today differs, and sometimes tries to distinguish itself, from the older fascism-tinged xenophobic right of Europe. I argue here, and in a forthcoming book (in far greater detail), that this change has not been properly studied. We have reason to talk of a ‘new’ xenophobia today. While this ‘new xenophobia’ draws upon or overlaps with older forms of both racist and cultural xenophobia, it will be a mistake to conflate the older forms of xenophobia with the new. Moreover, the distinction between ‘old’ and ‘new’ xenophobia also helps us understand why some commentators talk of the ‘spurious’ difference between a Western ‘civic’ xenophobia and an Eastern ‘ethnic’ xenophobia (Taras 2009: 97). Xenophobia is, obviously, not just a Western phobia, and yet, in recent years, there has been a feeling that it operates in different ways in the West and the East. This feeling is a simplification, but it contains a grain of perception: it does appear that in affluent First World countries – mostly conceptualised in terms of the ‘West’ in ordinary talk – xenophobia is unlikely to take the shape


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of the sort of ethnic cleansing that one witnessed in ex-Yugoslavia, on the borders of this mythical ‘West’, or that one sees during Hindu– Muslim riots in India or Sinhalese (Buddhist)–Tamil (Hindu) tensions in Sri Lanka or ‘ethnic’ conflicts in Rwanda. And yet, a number of scholars have increasingly noted the different – seemingly non-ethnic, evidently civic – forms in which xenophobia does exist in rich, First World countries too. I apply old xenophobia, as a term of convenience, only to the prevalent forms of xenophobia in recent centuries, especially the eighteenth, nineteenth and predominantly the first half of the twentieth century. If my analysis depends excessively (but not exclusively) on European examples, this is not because Europeans were or are more xenophobic than other peoples but because the earliest structures of old xenophobia (as well as new xenophobia, as we shall see) become visible in the very countries which ‘lead the world’ in terms of capitalism and related ‘modernities’. Scholars like Ferguson have insisted on the ‘benefits’ that British and European empires (mostly, the structures of colonial capitalism and colonial modernity) are supposed to have brought to the rest of the world; if so, such countries also offer the best early examples of all the negative consequences. I argue that the stranger is defined by old xenophobia as a dangerous difference, a thing out of place like ‘dirt’, a monster with physical characteristics which are identifiable – and in this the stranger or the ‘out-group’ (a bunch of largely stereotyped strangers) presents a simplified and distorted aspect of the other to the self, as well as a recognition of the difference that is, by definition, essential to the relationship of the self and the other (a matter we still have to examine in detail). Old xenophobia, I argue, is based on theories of physical and material difference, which is in keeping with the way power operates in a society with limited or no money. As Adam Smith has noted, ‘[l]abor was the first price, the original purchase-money that was paid for all things. It was not by gold or by silver, but by labor, that all wealth of the world was originally purchased’ (Smith 2010: 20). Labour, in other words the human body, with all its physical and material aspects, is not something that could be avoided in the early and even the classical (production-based) phases of capitalism. But with the rise of highly monetarised cultures and, especially, capital, the nature and application of power gets progressively abstract, impacting on the construction and reception of strangers. The stranger follows a trajectory, defined by ‘racism’, ‘nationalism’ and other such abstract reformulations (supposedly ‘given’ or ‘natural’ identities) determined by capitalism: a trajectory also reflected in the way the vampire changes from

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a physical difference to, largely, an abstract – moral/ethical and so on – difference even in the short span of twentieth- and early twenty-firstcentury films, and the monster, as McNally demonstrates, gets gradually abstract too from the early Renaissance onwards. Hence, old xenophobia was basically based on an assumption of physical difference, borrowed from earlier times, even when, under the impact of capitalism, these differences increasingly had abstract underpinnings in the nineteenth century, as mediated by ideologies such as racism, Nazism and, more complicatedly, nationalism. Perhaps the ‘iconic’ event of old xenophobia, inscribed in our memories and often recurring today in the ‘far corners’ of the world, is genocide, by which a physically segregated population of ‘strangers’ (often created in the recent past, as is the case with nationalist upheavals) is physically eliminated with the help of physical violence. O’Neill and Hinton note that in the course of the twentieth century alone, 65,000 Hereros, 1 million Armenians, 6 million Ukrainians, 6 million Jews, 3 million Bangladeshis, 1 million Indonesians, 100,000 Hutus, 2 million Cambodians, 200,000 East Timorese, 200,000 Guatemalans, 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus, and millions of indigenous peoples have been annihilated, and ‘this is a partial list’ (O’Neill and Hinton 2009: 1). This kind of physical elimination with the help of physical violence connects old xenophobia to a longer and even older history of xenophobia, but I have always refrained from conflating the two. The stranger does not just exist ahistorically;1 the stranger is brought into being within a certain historical structure of power in any society. Hence, old xenophobia is not the xenophobia of pre-monetary societies; it is the xenophobia of monetarised societies where labour – and hence the physical and material moorings of the power of money and even capital – cannot be largely evaded. Both the ξένος (xenos) and φόβος (phobos) are always constructed under certain structures of power. One can go back to the earlier, parenthetic, definition of xenophobia as ‘a groundless or unreasonable fear of foreigners or strangers or of that which is strange’ and refine it: xenophobia entails the construction of a stranger or a strangeness to be detested or feared in ways that enable or sustain an institutionally uneven power relationship between the self and the other, the in-group and the out-group. Power, as Emmanuel Levinas often suggests, can either bring one face to face with one’s responsibility to the other,2 or be used to efface the other. In highly monetarised societies based on labour and production, this xenophobia inevitably comes to combine abstract avenues of power with physical modes of identification, differentiation and discrimination. It is



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this old xenophobia that we have in mind when we think of xenophobia, and hence we talk of it in terms of racism and so on and often fail to comprehend how it may operate in a high capitalist world, a world in which the working classes seem to have disappeared in rich nations and where finance capital goes round the world in 80 seconds. This is a step of abstraction that is far beyond ‘paper money’. Even the imaginative effort required to believe in paper money – even as late as the twentieth century – still had a physical and material location. What paper money signified was not so much a break from the older system of monies as a further substantiation of money’s inclination towards capitalisation. Capital, then, is the abstract logic of money, expressed in a language of numbers. It comes into being, initially, in every transaction where money is used to breed more money. This could and did happen under commodity capitalism, where goods became commodities that were and are used by money to breed more money. For instance, it is easy to see how this impacted on slavery in the eighteenth century and racism/anti-semitism in the early twentieth. However, it assumed its full dimensions only with the rise of finance (‘high’) capitalism, where money itself becomes redundant for banks and capitalists and all such ‘real players’: Goods and services transactions [of world GDP] represented 3 per cent of the monetary and financial transactions conducted in 2002; transactions concerning international trade amounted to hardly 2 per cent of the foreign exchange transactions; settlements of purchase and sale of shares and bonds in organized markets (operations considered as being constituents by excellence to capital markets) amounted to only 3.4 per cent of all monetary settlements! … The ratio between hedging operations and production and international trading was 28:1 in 2002 – a disproportion that has been constantly growing for about the last twenty years and which has never been witnessed in the entire history of capitalism. (Amin 2010: 97–8)

One can also put this from another angle: for instance, with reference to the so-called ‘financialisation thesis’, which refers to a rapid evolution of the sphere of finance, insurance and real estate during the last four decades, which ‘in [the] USA implied a drastic increase in the sphere of corporate profits of the financial sector in relation to the non-financial corporate profits from 25.7 percent in 1973 to 49.7 percent in 2000’ –

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along with greater socio-economic disparities and relative economic stagnation (Liodakis 2010: 40). Or, to put it in yet other words, more than $1.9 trillion changes hands (mostly as numbers and not as old-fashioned hand-passed ‘money’) every day on the global currency markets:3 this is 50 times greater than the total value of all goods and services traded globally each year, and most of this $1.9 trillion ‘has virtually nothing to do with producing real goods or services for real people’ (Ellwood 2009: 83). What all of this indicates is simple: just a small fraction of the capital in transaction today exists as ‘money’ or is embodied in actual production. This major shift in capitalism from the late 1970s or 1980s onwards has been noted in various other ways too – McNally, for instance, puts it crisply when he states that until recently ‘money has typically had some connection to a tangible commodity’ and points out that the overnight melt-down of corporations such as Enron, which collapsed in December 2001 (when a year before it had generated $100 billion in revenues), is connected to this dematerialisation of money (McNally 2011: 156–7). The relative but pronounced disappearance of physical/material money – money as medium and embedded social relations – marks the coming into full being of capital qua capital; and it has a major impact on our relations with one another. This is the impact I have tried to document by talking of new xenophobia, which, it must be noted, can exist along with old xenophobia and also use, at the same time, opposition to forms of old xenophobia as justification for its own existence. This can be seen in the ways in which, for instance, homosexuality is negotiated and constructed in some debates, where a valid objection to homophobia is turned into a weapon with which to brand and marginalise a particular set of strangers. Karl Polanyi has noted in The Great Transformation that the ‘international gold standard’ was one of the distinctive and crucial (four) pillars of world organisation in the nineteenth century, which ‘collapsed’ only in the twentieth century (Polanyi 1994: 3). Old xenophobia, in other words, was still shaped not just by the pre-capitalist power of the body but also by the quasi-capitalist power of money – as a medium and embedded social relation. When this changed, significantly, from the 1980s onwards, what came into being was a new kind of xenophobia. While versions of old xenophobia continued4 – for various reasons, including the fact that only a few sections of any society are deeply inserted in high capitalism and only highly developed countries have states that substantially share and promote its ethos – a new kind of xenophobia arose by its side, sometimes in collaboration with it and sometimes in direct opposition to it. This new xenophobia is based on a greater abstraction of the stranger, and at times it operates with aspects of old xenophobia and at times



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against it. If in old xenophobia, the stranger had to be tagged (as Jews were by Nazis) as physically identifiable even when s/he was not so, in new xenophobia the stranger is at times expected to downplay any political index of physical difference, so that efforts to dress in a certain way or construct a certain kind of building can evoke xenophobic sentiments in the ‘host’ population. If Jews were supposed to wear the Star of David in certain old xenophobic traditions of policing the stranger, and only appear to be brought across by and with faceless high capital: in other words, a good Muslim downplays his cultural traits and appears as simply an economic immigrant, whether this is seen positively (‘We need immigrant workers to sustain our standards’) or negatively (‘They take our jobs’, ‘They live off our welfare state’). Hence, new xenophobia works with abstract legislation that targets the ‘stranger’ but under abstract terms – not in the physicality of a different (imagined or real) body. Various recent European legislation, such as the Danish marriage laws, can be adduced as an example. Let us take for instance just two rules: 1. The 24-Year Rule: ‘In order to qualify for family reunification, both the spouse living in Denmark and the foreign spouse, must normally be older than 24. However, an application for family reunification can be submitted when the younger spouse is 23½ years old.’ 5 2. The self-support requirement: ‘Normally, it is a requirement that your spouse/partner in Denmark is able to support him/herself. This means that your spouse/partner in Denmark may not have received public assistance under the terms of the Active Social Policy Act [lov om aktiv socialpolitik] or the Integration Act [integrationsloven] for the past three years prior to your application for family reunification being processed by the Immigration Service. It makes no difference how long a person has received public assistance if it was received in the past three years. Even short periods on  social benefits [kontanthjælp] may result in your application for family reunification being turned down.’6

Such ‘new’ legislation presents a number of fascinating aspects which underline my argument about new xenophobia. They are worded in an abstract manner – ‘universal’ – though they have more particular implementations than the wording or theory suggests. Rule A obviously discriminates between nationals and foreigners: obviously, you do not need to wait until you are 24 if both of you are Danish. This is in keeping with a return of certain old xenophobic sentiments in abstract forms: for

Old and New Xenophobia

instance, the belief that somehow that citizen is entitled to preferential treatment despite the rhetoric of human rights, either in the name of entitlement or protection. It is a belief that was, once, very common. Given the fact that only a small percentage of marriages to foreigners run the risk of being forced or even arranged marriages, this discriminatory law reminds one, at a diluted level, of the logic behind Nazi concentration camps: ‘Better to put ten innocents behind barbed wire than to let one real enemy escape’ (Kogon 1950/2006: 20). Similarly, the privileging of one’s own citizens in matters of human rights is reminiscent of a similar, though stronger, claim of ingrained privilege made for various races, nationalities and ‘Volk’ in the early twentieth century. But these are matters that relate Rule A to the history of what I have termed old xenophobia: they are based on an obvious difference being made between nationals and foreigners (though, bear in mind, that these are highly abstract terms). Where this rule develops into an illustration of new xenophobia is when you look at what is not being said: given the fact that EU legislation, as well as dual agreements with (and the economic status of) First World countries like the USA, Canada, Australia and even Japan, allow their citizens to move, work and settle with relative freedom in Denmark, Rule A is basically applicable to Third World countries, whose citizens have often less of a chance to enter Denmark or work there. Of course, these targets overlap with the past targets of old xenophobia: people from Africa, Asia or South America, who were referred to as ‘coloureds’. But not only has this been put in highly abstract terms, some avenues are relatively open to highly trained people from the globalised minorities of these debarred labouring spaces, such as doctors from India or Brazil. That we have moved into a new realm of abstract xenophobia is illustrated by Rule B, where impoverished Danes are discriminated against. There is something ‘endearingly genuine’ about the double-speak on race and colour in the laws of new xenophobia: this is a genuine dislike of those who do not belong or contribute to the realms of high capital, even when they share one’s own ‘race’ or ‘nationality’. Interestingly, the new right, such as the Danish People’s Party, despite its pseudo-socialist discourse of championing marginalised Danes, is not concerned about such discrimination. That such rules (common to almost all First World countries and particularly European ones)7 are xenophobic is illustrated not just by the fact that very often they are a superimposition over some extant (but now made invisible) prejudices/victims of old xenophobia – for instance, such rules would automatically affect and forbid marriage with Asians and



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Africans more than marriage with Europeans – but also by the fact that, implicitly, they create two classes of human beings. A Dane, for instance, can marry another Dane even if both of them are under 24 years old and neither of them passes the ‘self-support’ requirement. Such rules allow effective ways out to citizens of First World (mostly, but not only, white) nations: this is explicitly laid down in the ‘immigration test’ rule in Denmark, for instance, but it is even more effective in an implicit manner, for instance the fact the EU citizens or even American ones can move and stay and work more freely, by virtue of mutual visa and other understandings, than Indian or Nigerian citizens can in Denmark. So, in effect, two classes of human beings are created – as they were by racism – and to some extent these classes overlap with the old demarcations of racism, except that now this has been made almost invisible. Finally, the empowerment of high capital – which is basically what these rules buttress and protect – is totally obscured. Any attempt to highlight that such occlusion has xenophobic aspects becomes an exercise in, say, differentialist politics, and is then seen as closer to the racism of old xenophobia, so that at times it is the victim who comes across as xenophobic and even racist, as almost all right-leaning European politicians stress these days. For instance, it has become easier to posit minorities as indulging in a kind of reverse xenophobia against host populations – all new rightist European parties have done so. If an immigrant does not accept certain ‘given’ definitions of, say, Danishness, the immigrant is termed as prejudiced against (all) ‘Danes’. No space is allowed for the enactment of a valid difference in this case, and it is not the demands of the spokesperson of the majority that can be questioned any longer; instead, the complaint – justified or not – of the minority group being impacted upon by such demands becomes an exercise in ‘differentialist’ and xenophobic politics! This is not to say that versions of xenophobia do not exist among, say, coloured immigrants; but this remains a matter different from the structure of new xenophobia which is not faced up to and which is even privileged as the correct and fair state of political being. Hidden behind all of this, it need hardly be said, lies the unfaced problem of the free circulation of high capital, and its role in sustaining wealth and social standards in rich countries, and the progressively constrained circulation of labour in a system in which, in theory, capital, labour and goods are equally ‘free’ to circulate. New xenophobia, unlike old xenophobia, does not act against its strangers on solely material and physical terms of difference, because these terms no longer suffice to indicate the dominant power structures. The facelessness of capital, as well as the fact that it is no

Old and New Xenophobia

longer limited by physical and material borders, is recognised in the ways in which new xenophobia accepts, changes or reformulates old xenophobic prejudices. It allows space, so to say, for some strangers to come in if they are cloaked by the abstract power structures of high capitalism; it objects to other strangers who bring along, or try to (re-)establish, contesting structures of inevitably body-impacted power, whether it is of Maoism, Islamism or Roman Catholicism. It is not possible to distinguish totally between old and new xenophobia: evidently there is, as indicated in this chapter, some overlap. But less evidently there are significant differences, not just in the construction of strangers by new xenophobia but also in the ways in which new xenophobia can define itself (at least in theory) against such common manifestations of old xenophobia as racism and homophobia. Hence, any engagement with xenophobia in the present time will have to keep both the overlap and the differences in mind. Without such a dialectical strategy, one runs the risk of reducing xenophobia to only its older components and, hence, not being able to conceptualise its new manifestations, or one runs the risk of conflating different kinds of xenophobia and in the process making the concept unwieldy and redundant. Notes 1 In this sense, the stranger is not the same as the other, though I repeatedly argue in my forthcoming book that all kinds of xenophobia reduce the existentially vital other to the socially expendable stranger, and in that sense do violence to the self as well as the other. 2 Which, in Levinas’s formulations, is also one’s responsibility to oneself. 3 In 1980, this was only $80 billion. 4 There are figures that suggest that both racism and anti-semitism have seen a slight rise in recent years in some West and North European countries, and the violence against gypsies has certainly become more open, or perhaps even legitimate in some East European countries. Recent studies like The Gypsy ‘Menace’: Populism and the New Anti-Gypsy Politics, edited by Michael Stewart, and Raymond Taras’s Xenophobia and Islamophobia in Europe have highlighted the survival of old-style xenophobic sentiment and actions in contemporary Europe and the USA, with reference to gypsies and Semitic peoples. 5 the_24_year_rule.htm (accessed 23 March 2013). 6 self-support-requirement.htm (accessed 23 March 2013).



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7 A recent anthology edited by Baumgartl and Favell documents, almost incidentally, how similar legislation, targeting ‘non-nationals’, has come into existence from the 1980s onwards in France, Austria, Great Britain, etc.

Bibliography Amin, Samir, From Capitalism to Civilization: Reconstructing the Socialist Perspective. Delhi: Tulika Books, 2010. Baumgartl, Bernd and Adrian Favell (eds), New Xenophobia in Europe. London and the Hague: Kluwer Law International, 1995. Ellwood, Wayne, The No-Nonsense Guide to Globalization. Oxford: New Internationalist, 2009. Kogon, Eugen, The Theory and Practice of Hell: The German Concentration Camps and the System Behind Them. New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1950/2006. Liodakis, George, Totalitarian Capitalism and Beyond. Furnham: Ashgate, 2010. McNally, David, Monsters of the Market: Zombies, Vampires and Global Capitalism. Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2011. O’Neill, Kevin Lewis and Alexander Laban Hinton, ‘Genocide, Truth, Memory and Representation: An Introduction’, in Alexander Laban Hinton and Kevin Lewis O’Neill (eds), Genocide: Truth, Memory, and Representation. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2009, pp. x–xx. Polanyi, Karl, The Great Transformation. New York and Toronto: Farrar and Rinehart, 1944. Smith, Adam, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776). Petersfield: Harriman House, 2010. Taras, Ray, Europe Old and New: Transnationalism, Belonging and Xenophobia. Lanham, MD, and New York: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2009.

4 Four Theses for an ‘Audit of Culture’ Mark Terkessidis

The cultural sphere in Europe is currently confronted with significant challenges. These can be captured in four points: 1. Moving the Reference Point: From the Nation to the Urban Parapolis The nation state has traditionally constituted the frame for education and culture. Without doubt, massive changes took place within the cultural sector during the 1960s and 1970s. Furthermore, today’s culture has also become significantly more international, for example its artists and other professionals are no longer bound to the nation state in the same way they used to be and the agendas, productions and consumption of art and culture are becoming increasingly globalised. The implicit point of reference has nonetheless remained the same as in the nineteenth century – the focus lies on national cultures. The nation state has not disappeared, but the model is under pressure, due to globalisation, European integration and multiplicity1 from within. In this respect it makes sense to adjust the point of reference of cultural production. Ivo Kuyl from the Koninklijke Vlaamse Schouwburg (KVS) has recently described how this theatre thoroughly analysed its own environment and as a result shifted its reference from the category nation to something like ‘urbanity’ (Kuyl 2011). The term urbanity focuses on the above mentioned developments – and the term is by no means only applicable to big cities. Migration, mobility and multiplicity have always characterised life in cities – movement is normal urban reality. But in the period after World War II, migration was treated as deviance. During the 1990s, the category of the nation even had a comeback: a comeback, however, that did not survive. Now an increasing awareness arises that in times of the so-called globalisation, a policy of strict demarcations or of clearly defined ‘cultural identities’ does


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not correspond with reality. Cities are so much influenced by migration, mobility and multiplicity, that it does not make sense any more to define the political community as a community of sedentary inhabitants – as in the customary idea of the polis. Rather, this should be done along the lines of the volatility of their geographic or cultural positions – the city has become a multifaceted ‘parapolis’ (Terkessidis 2011). The word describes the ambiguous, more or less illegitimate ‘para’-version of the term polis. Moreover, the modern Greek adjective ‘para poli’ is hidden in it, meaning ‘very much’. One could thus speak of a place of the ‘very much’, a place of abundance. This ‘parapolis’ needs institutions which give consideration to the multiplicity of cities. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, in many states of Europe, not only the Eastern ones, a process of searching for a new idea of national culture started – in view of the new situation this was quite understandable, but at the same time also fruitless. This search usually became quite provincial and often enough led to the fact that the potentials of transnationality were not discovered. This for example is the case with Germany. In 2007, a short story by the writer Herta Müller was published by the renowned publishing house Reclam in an anthology for educational purposes called Migrant Literature. The anthology contained an appendix in which not one article from the field of literature could be found, only sociological essays about ‘uprooting due to migration’, ‘integration into the system’ and ‘migration and criminality’ (Müller and Cicek 2007). Thus, just two years before she received the Nobel Prize in Literature, Müller was not celebrated because of the literary quality of her works, but only used as example for sociological considerations on migration. As a representative of ‘migrant literature’, she was kept in an arguably uninteresting corner of German literature – held in a ghetto of migrant writing – instead of being recognised for her potential as an artist of sublime fiction writing. Is that not a waste of potential? Herta Müller was a Nobel Prize winner who had been constantly confronted with paradoxical expectations in Germany – as she explained in an article (Müller 2008). On the one hand she was torn from reality, as she – like so many people with a background of migration – was incessantly asked ‘Where are you from?’, and in her answer was supposed to identify herself as a ‘foreigner’. On the other hand, many literary critics demanded from her a kind of national normalisation: she was a great writer, undoubtedly, but could she not at last leave Romania alone and place her stories in Germany instead?

Four Theses for an ‘Audit of Culture’

Writers in countries like Great Britain or France had similar experiences, even though the aspect of transnationality played a different role here due to the colonial history, which has made the experience of multiplicity more common. And in the debate about ‘post-colonialism’ in the 1990s, alternative cultural models were explicitly discussed. The creative potential of migration, mobility and multiplicity can only be exhausted when Herta Müller’s Romania is seen as part of a new transnational ‘German’ cultural sphere. This is not a matter of covering up discontinuities, but of taking a closer look at cultural spheres which are in conflict and deeply connected at the same time. For this, a definition of culture is necessary which does not stop at national borders and does not relate cultural articulations to the national framework. Every cultural statement should be understood as a knot in a historical and current net of connecting lines. In this sense, Eduard Glissant has spoken of the ‘poetics of relationships’ (Glissant 2005). A return to the national framework is not possible any more – the debates initiated by the state about an ‘identité nationale’ in France have shown this. The cultural production, cultural politics, related fields of science and criticism have not yet properly dealt with the challenge this means for their organisations, their concepts of culture and their aesthetic criteria. 2. Moving the Reference Point Further: The New Multiplicity of the Post-migrant Urbanity The theatre Ballhaus Naunynstrasse, which opened in Berlin in 2008, describes its own productions as ‘postmigrant’. In addition to urbanity, this term is quite attractive as a further point of reference. Already in 1997, Homi Bhabha asked the polemic question, ‘Post-this, post-that, but why never post-the-other?’ (Bhabha 1997: 433). But the term creates also a continental European framework beyond the framework of ‘postcolonialism’. In many parts of Europe multiplicity is not a question of colonial subjects re-emerging in the process of migration, but is the history of striving for conquest, spheres of influence, movement of populations and displacement. Moreover, ‘post-migrant’ stresses the point that migration has long taken place and that now the whole of society has to deal with the consequences of it. This finds its expression in a partly dramatic demographic change. It is known that the Federal Republic of Germany stuck to the fiction of a homogenous nation state until 1998. But since the Federal Statistical Office (Statistisches Bundesamt) compiles data on the criterion ‘migration



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background’, it has been acknowledged that in the cities, children with a migration background have become the majority in the age group below six years. In Frankfurt on Main, currently 67 per cent of that age group have at least one parent who themselves immigrated to the Federal Republic of Germany. Additionally, the patterns of present-day migration have changed: for quite a while, immigrants have not only come through a contractual recruitment of workers for the lower jobs, but rather migration nowadays has become difficult to control and takes place in all segments of the employment market with strongly differing perspectives concerning the duration of their stay. In today’s cities, people live as ‘foreigners’ although they have actually been residents for decades; ‘commuters’, who stay on average for half a year; ‘tolerated persons’, whose further perspective of being allowed to stay is reconsidered every half-year even after a decade of living there; ‘persons without documents’, having entered the country as tourists and whose existence is being completely obscured by official statistics. One can find numerous students from other countries, staying for a certain time in a city; ‘expatriates’ of every kind, having come to a certain city because of work, love or a new perspective on life; owners of secondary residences, whose families live in another town; or tourists, who penetrate the texture of the city in an unprecedented way with their repeated weekend trips and knowledge of the local scene. The status of these persons is often ambivalent – in relation to their connection to the place, political subjectivity and economic positioning. So maybe mobility has long been the appropriate expression. Whether we talk of ‘migration’ or of ‘mobility’, it no longer makes any sense to adhere to the ideas of integration that were developed in the 1970s: that those groups of people who have come from elsewhere are considered to have deficits and should usually be integrated into existing structures with the help of compensatory special measures. In the face of the demographic facts and new movement patterns, these ideas have become obsolete. To describe a society as ‘post-migrant’ means to acknowledge the multiplicity within it as a fact – and as a challenge and creative task. In many states of Europe, heterogeneity is often enough connoted negatively. And indeed multiplicity is not about romantic transfiguration – it often comes along with conflict and has to be developed. But only if multiplicity is seen as normality can its potential become visible. Sure there is a need for specific adaptations, but action should not be directed to marginal groups but to the accommodation and innovation of the institutions of society with regards to multiplicity.

Four Theses for an ‘Audit of Culture’

This relation to the whole also proves to be productive because the cultural sphere has a problem with the demographic development on a variety of grounds. The traditional clientele – the well-educated middle class – is shrinking and is highly unsure of its self-image. Currently parts of the middle class are in fear of losing their economic status or cultural interpretative authority. Obviously, the so-called high culture has in practice lost contact with the next generation. The trend research institute T-factory has recently interviewed persons between 11 and 39 years of age and questioned them about their cultural terminology and cultural interests. The research shows that the interview partners still categorise culture along its high cultural forms of expression such as classical music or theatre. But at the same time, 95 per cent of the teenagers state they have never been to an opera or ballet, and just a quarter have been to a theatre only once.2 Young people experience the traditional cultural scene as exclusive. The director of the research mentioned explains: ‘For most young people, the opera is an old house in which old people watch old things. For many this is something more or less “belonging” to an exclusive circle of adults and [which] teenagers just don’t have access to.’3 Here the relevant question arises as to which way the cultural sphere currently organises access for persons who do not belong to this exclusive circle and who do not meet its requirements. The results of the research also show an enormous contradiction between cultural understanding and present practice. A traditional terminology of culture is being maintained, while daily behaviour is dominated by films, series, comedy, computer games, sport and lifestyle. Such a discrepancy can also be found with regard to the ‘nation’. In his research, Jens Schneider discovered that for Germany a traditional, quite stereotypical understanding of ‘being German’ persists (secondary virtues, romantic ideas of a ‘German depth’) which is in no way compatible with the experiences of everyday life any more (cf. Schneider 2001). This clinging to national stereotypes in the face of very atypical living circumstances can be observed throughout Europe. Change therefore has to start by defining post-migrant urbanity as an innovative factor. 3. General Changes in the Cultural World: Shifting from Emancipation, Meaning, Reception, Autonomy, Progress, Knowledge/Criticism to Conversation, Atmosphere, Participation, Disposal, Simultaneity and Affect These difficulties have of course already been recognised in the cultural world. However, many debates and measures still remain in the logic



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of integration; which manifests in the central role given to ‘cultural education’ and to ‘imparting cultural knowledge’ – with a strong imperative from the political establishment. While cultural education is not wrong, it nonetheless suggests that the cultural sphere is intact and only the audience is in need of reform. Due to the poor representation of persons with a migration background or minorities in the cultural sphere, it is often argued that these persons just do not fulfil the right conditions – ‘they’ do not speak the particular language correctly enough, only watch commercial TV programmes, are only interested in their ‘own’ culture and so on. If these opinions predominate, then education, imparting cultural knowledge and ‘audience development’ obviously serve the ‘enlightenment’ of persons with deficits and their introduction to the canon of the bourgeoisie and well-educated middle class. But with this twist of perception the cultural sphere avoids the problem of its own cultural terminology and canon having become unclear in the meantime. For the cultural world is immanently confronted with what in the political sphere is called the ‘crisis of representation’. The changes which have taken place since the 1960s have led to a considerable spreading of topics, forms and cultural milieus as well as to an enormous extension of cultural life and its offerings – one could actually speak of an overproduction. At the same time, legitimacy of the cultural institutions has been questioned and uncertainty has grown – for what does art exist, what are the criteria for its promotion and quality, who produces and who benefits from art? At the moment, this uncertainty is often still being grasped in the form of very traditional oppositions, in which the demands of an aesthetically valuable high culture are being defended against the approaches of ‘socioculture’ or community-based forms and notions of arts on the one hand and commercialisation on the other. But at the same time, the publicly funded cultural institutions carry on by offering spectacular events to keep the middle-class audience – the latter being increasingly oriented towards cultural ‘wellness’ – and to be able to compete with light art forms such as musicals. Pius Knüsel, director of the Swiss arts foundation Pro Helvetia, notes that this change simply implies a subsidised new event culture for the cultural bourgeoisie (Knüsel 2011). But the big questions are being avoided. Even though mobility and multiplicity have changed the background of the whole cultural sphere, the underlying ideas and norms of aesthetics are not discussed: there is still not much discussion about the adequacy of the still ruling ideas of Enlightenment and Modernism, even though those ideas of art and culture seem to be more and more inconsistent for daily practices – they just do not fit any more.

Four Theses for an ‘Audit of Culture’

Actually, certain reference points of cultural production have been considerably modified: emancipation, meaning, reception, autonomy, progress, knowledge/criticism. The cultural sphere in Europe has its roots in a narrative of bourgeois emancipation. But after decades of neoliberal rhetoric, individuals do not have the impression that they need emancipation – they consider themselves to be already free. It is questionable whether they are indeed so – but it is obvious that emancipation has lost its attractiveness for cultural production and consumption. Accordingly, neither are the production and decoding of meaning the centre of focus any more. The subject no longer has the need to emphatically express itself against restrictions, but rather shows a desire for creative aesthetical production which creates an atmosphere in the sense of the German philosopher Gernot Böhme (1995). One example of this tendency can be observed in Lady Gaga’s pop-cultural work. It would not in the least make sense to search for any coherent expressive meaning in her various embodiments – rather, she creates atmospheres which enable sometimes dramatic aesthetic experiences. Altogether, the whole sphere of aesthetical production has expanded. People may not be interested in culture by definition, but they still have an aesthetical practice, as day after day they create their individual atmosphere with the help of fashion, design or cosmetics. Thus, culture is increasingly not being received passively-intellectually as by the well-educated middle class, but is being experienced actively-affectively in a process of social participation and direct involvement. Young people in particular make videos to broadcast new dance steps on YouTube, write and read blogs about fashion, handicrafts or gardening, and design elaborate sites for social networks. Commercial projects like give private individuals the possibility to offer their own products. Television, a medium classically enforcing passivity, has reacted to its own loss of significance by offering (doubtlessly exploitative) participation opportunities: casting-shows, reality TV and so on – incidentally, in all of these formats, the participation of persons with a migration or minority background seems to be no problem at all. In these forms of expression it also becomes apparent that the value of autonomy is not central any more – nowadays practices of showing-oneself and beingin-public are more relevant, at the expense of the conventional idea of privacy. In the field of culture, the idea of history has also changed much. There is no longer any succession of vanguards – the discussion about progress itself has become historical. The web has ensured that an enormous archive of cultural publications is constantly available. So individuals



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live in a cultural sphere of simultaneity, in which modular components from very different eras and cultural spheres become available. This can definitely evoke feelings of being unable to cope with the variety of possibilities. At the same time, new systems of peer-to-peer advice have been established, often based on subjectivity and similarity, which replace the old dominance of (expert) knowledge/criticism. Instead of reacting to these processes with disapproval or complaints, it might be worthwhile to invest in a new ‘coordinate system’ that uses the parameters of conversation, atmosphere, participation, disposal, simultaneity and affect. In his book Conversation Pieces, Grant H. Kester has criticised the modernistic approach of the artist who changes the perception of the consumers via shock. He suggested a concept of dialogical aesthetics (Kester 2004). Actually, art has already moved away from object and representation in the 1960s. So art could currently be understood as a mode to create a space which serves as a platform and laboratory for unconventional thinking and design in collaborative forms. As soon as the word ‘participation’ is uttered, many advocates of high culture anticipate a loss of quality. But why should dialogical aesthetics inevitably go hand in hand with a loss of quality? And who defines the quality criteria? ‘The notion of quality has been the most effective bludgeon on the side of homogeneity in the modernist and postmodernist periods,’ as Lucy Lippard rightly stated in 1990 (Lippard 1990: 7). Often enough, conservational powers in the educated middle class reflect their role as legislators, prosecutors, judges and people gaining profit through distinction all in one. Of course this is not a matter of simply dropping expert knowledge and informed criticism. The question is how to connect knowledge and criticism to physical experience. They are still considered to be solely intellectual work, but this is underlining habitual codes of belonging to a particular social class. How can we use the affective potential of art to support learning and change? When politics deals with education and integration, its demands of the subsidised cultural field are often instrumental – the cultural field is supposed to make up for the deficits of regular schooling. Barbara Mundel and Josef Mackert from the Freiburg theatre rightly emphasise that theatres have to deal with these demands. They admonish the nonsensical separation of the administrative fields for culture and education (Mundel and Mackert 2010). Thus, purely instrumental demands have to be rejected while at the same time the challenges need to be accepted. There is a need to break radically with the still implicitly ruling idea of the artist-genius who produces his art alone, without any participation by the audience, that – according to the ruling idea – would come together only

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afterwards to contemplate the art-product. And if it does not show it has to be prepared through ‘cultural education’. How would a cultural sphere be constituted, in which artistic production processes are thought of from the start in terms of their relationship with their audience, their potential educational tasks and the forms of impartation? At the same time the educational system needs to bring together knowledge acquisition and artistic practice – just as Jack Lang tried it in his ‘missions’ at the beginning of the 2000s in an interesting attempt to bring aesthetical practice to schools as a creative alternative to traditional lessons. The disintegration of alleged static borders between artist and audience can establish the cultural sphere as a place where society’s self-image can be negotiated and individuals may find a new personal orientation in the process. A simple return to the nation is plainly not feasible any more – the division of society would be the consequence of such politics. A commonly developed self-image would be based on the active citizenship of the individuals – specific individuals whose prerequisites, backgrounds and frames of reference differ from each other. Marsha Meskimmon has recently published a book in which she explains the term ‘cosmopolitan imagination’ by using the examples of current artworks: ‘[These works] all engage productively with the processes and practices of inhabiting a global world, they all constitute a form of “being at home” that is simultaneously marked by movement, change and multiplicity’ (Meskimmon 2011: 5). This energy of a mobile imagination is, however, not new. If one recalls the 1950s and 1960s, a cultural scene characterised by migration and cosmopolitanism already existed. In the last decades, the question of multiplicity in art has often been discussed with regard to the ‘post-colonial’: as criticism of representation, mostly of ‘black’ identity, and as a demand for recognition. But in the paradigm of post-migrant issues, other starting points and references are necessary. Surprisingly, a movement like ‘kinetic art’ has nearly been forgotten, although this approach could serve as an interesting point of reference for current changes. The participating artists such as David Medalla, Jesus Rafael Soto, Carlos Cruz-Diez, Lygia Clark, Hélio Oiticica, Yaacov Agam, Panajotis Vassilakis (Takis), Liliane Lijn, Jean Tinguely or Gianni Colombo were migrants or came from the margins of the ‘international’ practice of art: the Philippines, Venezuela, Israel, but also Greece, Belgium, Switzerland and Italy. The stories of these artists are difficult to classify. Along these lines, Takis wrote in his autobiography, ‘By the age of eight, I stopped originating from one well defined class. Not bourgeois, not peasant, not aristocratic. That was my destiny, mine and that of my people’ (Takis 2007: 17).



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The participants were mostly far from being underprivileged, but they underwent enormous disruptions in the continuance of experiences through migration as well as through episodes of poverty, status problems, marginalisation, racism and so on. Many of these artists produced an art which receded from the traditional visual objects and likewise from the idea of an artistic subject which brings forth meaning out of its inner self. The process as well as a democratic activation of the classic, passive audience stood in the foreground. In the optimistic search for an abstract, non-representative ‘language of movement’ (Brett 1968), matters of ‘identity’ evidently played no role. However, a sensibility for plural contexts did exist and the borders of form were overcome quite naturally – maybe as a result of a biography-based absence of ideas of purity. All these characteristics were not deemed to be revolutionary. Already by that time they were part of a new normality. 4. A Task for the Entire Cultural Domain: A Programme Interculture, a Change in Staff, Organisational Culture and the Material Conditions towards a Future Commonality Considering the challenges of multiplicity, the logic of integration also prevents general questions connected to the organisation of the cultural sphere. The organisation differs a lot in the states of the European Union. While in many countries the topic ‘intercultural opening’ has already been discussed for a while, it has mostly been related to the police, social services and administration – institutions considered in contact with persons who have a migration background or who belong to minority groups. In many cases, the opening merely consists of ‘intercultural competence’-training for the autochthonous staff members – often resulting in the passing on of something like an ethnic ‘knowledge of recipes’. A change of personnel has until now been tackled only very hesitantly. There is a need for a consequent ‘programme interculture’ as a task for all institutions, therefore also for the cultural sphere. Interculture in this process has to be a programme for the entire field and not only for a particular field covering certain groups. To put it in slightly exaggerated terms, publicly funded cultural life in Europe has so far found three versions of the integration of ‘others’. The first is the compensatory model: it is based on the assumption that those ‘having come along’ have cultural deficits that have to be corrected through special treatment. The second version could be described as a reservation model: ‘migrant cultures’ are being supported, often enough producing

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dancing or singing events of unclear quality which are regarded as part of a tradition. The third version is the street model: it is the well-meant but often enough ethnographical-theatrical public exhibition of one’s personal life, mostly performed by young people allegedly ‘coming from the streets’, usually via hip hop. All three models have in common that they reduce migrants and minorities to imperfection and authenticity. This prevents the development of an intercultural terrain in which mixture and development could take place. First of all, one has to become aware of the following: a ‘migration background’ or ‘minority’ can be used only in the most limited way as cultural categories of description. In the first place, they are heuristic designations for persons who are potentially affected by affiliation, discrimination or limited opportunities to act or gain access. Being so affected often does not result from people’s ethnic background but rather from their belonging to a certain social class. In the face of multiplicity, an earnest programme interculture is paradoxically forced to find a way to consider the category ‘origin’ on the one hand and on the other hand to let it become trivial. In this sense one should not work with the assumption of ‘normal’ and ‘other’, that is, the integration of certain groups into existing structures, but generally work on the basis of individuals and their backgrounds, prerequisites, frames of reference and potentials. This does not mean that collectivity based on ethnicity is not allowed or would not play a role any more. However, it should mean that ethnicity no longer constitutes an unquestioned category, but that individuals actively integrate it into their personal frames of reference in very different ways. Due to this, though, the perspective changes: it is no longer taken for granted that problems lie in the deficits of the ‘others’, but in the barriers of the institutions; in the composition of personnel, their culture of organisation and material circumstances, the design of the facilities. The staff members of the publicly funded cultural institutions in no way represent the multiplicity of society – as seen from the point of reference formed by post-migrant urbanity, this personnel truly is something coming close to a ‘parallel society’, that is, a small section of society cut off from the multiplicity of society in general. This leads to a lack of correspondence with the audience and often to a distortion in perception, too. It is not really astonishing that migration and heterogeneity mainly appear under the category ‘problem’ in the media if one considers the fact that only 1 (!) per cent of the journalists and staff members of the daily press in a country like Germany are of non-German origin (Geißler et al. 2009). For the journalists it is difficult to describe a society of



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immigration as ‘normal’ because this ‘normality’ does not take place in their everyday life – neither in their jobs, nor in their neighbourhoods or in the kindergartens or schools of their children does the post-migrant urbanity show; their environment is to a large extent homogenous. If cultural institutions are supposed to serve the whole society, then the whole society has to be represented in their personnel. Currently, this is not even the case in countries like the Netherlands, where diversity strategies have already been tested since the 1980s: here the change within the staffs have been realised proactively, according to clear aims. ‘Tokenism’ must be avoided, in which persons of certain backgrounds are being instrumentalised to be exclusively responsible for ‘integration’, that is, to ‘supply’ the unchanged institution which produces the same programme with new clients. Furthermore it should be possible for employees with a non-autochthonous or non-middle-class background to contribute their experience of barriers to the work of the institution. If a code dominates which demands the adaptation to the conversational and social codex of the well-educated middle class, nothing will change. The German educational offensive of the 1970s has certainly brought many persons from working-class families into higher positions, but it happened at the price of denying their specific ‘proletarian’ knowledge and experience. Without doubt a change of organisational culture is a difficult process, but it launches the institutions into a process of innovation. At the moment, though, further tendencies of ‘outsourcing’ can be detected. Naturally, the curatorial and artistic personnel of museums or theatres emphasise that their efforts were directed towards everybody in society, but in many institutions a consensus about the audience exists implicitly – especially about their educational level – and it should be added that the so called educational disadvantage is principally being identified in the context of migration. Recently, an evaluating study of the Tate Gallery in London showed that many mistakes have been made in terms of ‘cultural diversity’. Generally speaking, special programmes in the field of education with ethnic ‘targeting’ had been issued. These programmes were not only ignored, but actively rejected by so-called members of minorities. The persons in question are neither interested in the representation of ‘their’ ethnic identity, nor in a simple ‘post-colonial’ revision of a history of arts regarding their provenance. Quite plainly, they are interested in ‘more complex accounts of visual culture and meaning-making’ (Dewdney et al. 2011: 26). Especially with regard to the intellectual orientation of the cultural sphere, the separation between the aesthetic demands of high culture,

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the communication function of a meeting place, the pedagogical forms of cultural learning, and commercial distraction do not in the least make sense any more. As long as this separation is being maintained, persons with a migration background and minorities will usually find themselves on the side of social work and commerce. They are not under-represented in the many pedagogical projects in which aesthetical expression has an instrumental function: these projects are financed by governmental social programmes and optionally serve as therapies for disadvantaged people, for dialogue between cultures or even as preparation for the labour market. Even though such projects are sometimes quite challenging from the artistic point of view, their results are still only seen from the perspective of ‘help for everyday life’. Likewise, persons with a migration background are not underrepresented in the field of commercial programmes – especially in those being orientated towards participation, like the search for the next ‘superstar’, the next ‘top model’ or a new ‘talent’. Of all cultural places, persons with a migration background are under-represented in the statesubsidised cultural institutions. These cultural separations must be overcome – and it will be helpful to take an interest in the way institutions in other domains have changed. A questioning approach would be necessary that leaves behind both the ideological blinkers of high culture and the contempt for commerce. In order for post-migrant urbanity to become the central reference, cooperation, networking and consultation are needed. In the Germanspeaking parts of Europe, the directors of big theatres are at a loss with regard to intercultural opening, whilst dozens of intercultural theatre projects exist in their cities to which they have never paid attention. They ask themselves with which topics and methods this unknown urban society can be reached while not actually involving this urban society. Participation has become a buzzword, which often only serves the purpose of letting the ‘people’ give their blessing to a programme already determined in advance. It is crucial to involve persons in cultural programming who have different backgrounds and come from different disciplines. In the Rotterdam theatre at the Zuidplein, the former director Ruud Breteler has set up a commission in which the audience can decide on the programme. Hence, the KSV mentioned at the beginning has replaced the directorship with a committee of eight persons. It is the aim of such measures to bring together expert knowledge and manifold cultural interests and demands; to pass on responsibility without simultaneously expecting too much from people. At the same time, consultations help to establish networks



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in urban societies and understand the various communication structures of the parapolis. Equally important are the material conditions of cultural institutions, that is, their design. Do thresholds exist? What impression does the building make from the outside? What is the entrance like? What kinds of people are seen going to it? Are there spaces for socialising which are unconnected to the reception and production of art? Are there in-between spaces, membranes between the institution and public space? Does the institution have to ‘come out of its shell’ and work in a more mobile and ambulant manner? In the past decades, several attempts have been made in different places in Europe to design cultural spaces in a more multifunctional, open and communicative way. Nonetheless, the existing cultural institutions are being seen as places which have codes that seem exclusive and off-putting. In fact, in many institutions a code of conduct still dominates which does not correspond to the reality of life – the demands for discipline, silence and control over movements are enormous and hard to meet, especially by teenagers. But a reorientation is only possible when institutions such as museums modify their selfimage. The administration and exhibition of an art collection may not necessarily have continual priority over the subjective needs and modes of usage of the people. The inhabitants will only accept the museum as a place of learning if its spaces and activities offer them convenient possibilities of ‘adoption’. But all these measures will only be possible if the organisation of an institution and its subsidising are reassessed. The demands for ‘more money for integration’ should not have the first priority in this process. Rather, the emphasis should be on the idea of a reform of structures that orientates the institution towards new conditions and which will finally be of benefit to everybody. Intercultural opening is not just a question of exercising ‘intercultural competence’ with regard to ‘people from other cultural areas’, but of creating ‘barrier-free institutions’ and doing so in order to develop an experience-based and flexible knowledge of the context of individuals with highly differing frames of reference. Before a process of opening is initiated, it is also necessary to ‘measure’ or to ‘map’ the potential of an institution and its environment, and only then move forward to concrete plans. For such planning, conceptual ideas have been mentioned – but only with the basis of empirical data can strategies and specific measures be developed. The intercultural orientation of an institution does not start from zero; it is a matter of learning from the experience of other

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institutions through networking and of coordination so as to avoid competition, repetition and replacement. ‘Best practice’ has become a popular term, but if one takes a look at ‘best practice’ collections, one mostly finds half a page of description outlining the success of a project in a very cursory way. In order to enable a true transfer of learning, much more detailed descriptions are needed, which include explanations of difficulties and mistakes. The German sociologist Erol Yildiz once noted that the extension of lifestyles, which often are described as postmodernism, really are a ‘structurally developed multiculturalism’ (Yildiz 1997: 24). At the same time he pointed out that this postmodernism is ‘divided in half’ with regard to ethnicity – origin represents the form of ‘marker’ which constantly drops out of the accepted ‘normality’ of multiplicity. So it is a matter of extending, or adjusting, the term ‘normality’. When cultural institutions were created, they contributed to negotiating and defining the self-image of society as bourgeois and national. Now they have to engage in the difficult process of negotiating the self-image of the ‘parapolis’ or the ‘intercultural city’ (Bloomfield and Bianchini 2004; Council of Europe 2010). In the multiplicity of post-migrant urbanity only a short period of shared history exists, but there is a long common future. In a process of intercultural alphabetisation (i.e., where everybody has to learn how to deal with intercultural encounters), this is a question of inventing the community of the future. It is a creative situation, in which everybody is learning a new language. At the moment, the process itself is more important than immediate results. One currently has the impression that the reaction of the cultural sphere to these challenges is overproduction. But reflection may be more important. To change the ‘structures of art production’, the artist Gustav Metzger called for a form of artists’ strike – the proclamation of ‘years without art’ in the 1970s. As was to be expected, nobody followed. But on a symbolic level, it is a good idea. Notes 1 I use the notion of multiplicity instead of diversity. It is a translation of the German word ‘Vielheit’ which is more of a philosophical concept than a simple description of heterogeneity. 2 ‘Keine Lust auf Hochkultur’, Wiener Zeitung, 29 February 2012. 3 Ibid.



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Bibliography Bhabha, Homi, ‘Editor´s Introduction: Minority Manoeuvres and Unsettled Negotiations’, Critical Inquiry 23 (Spring 1997): 431–59. Bloomfield, Jude and Franco Bianchini, Planning for the Intercultural City. Stroud: Comedia, 2004. Böhme, Gernot, Atmosphäre: Essays zur neuen Ästhetik. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1995. Brett, Guy, Kinetic Art: The Language of Movement. London: Studio Vista, 1968. Council of Europe, Intercultural Cities. Towards a Model for Intercultural Integration. Strasbourg, 2010. Dewdney, Andrew, David Dibosa and Victoria Walsh, Britishness and Visual Culture. London: Tate, 2011. Geißler, Rainer et al., ‘Wenig ethnische Diversität in deutschen Zeitungsredaktionen’, in R. Geißler and H. Pöttker (eds), Massenmedien und die Integration ethnischer Minderheiten in Deutschland. Bielefeld: Band 2, 2009. Glissant, Eduard, Kultur und Identität. Aufsätze zu einer Poetik der Vielheit. Heidelberg: Wunderhorn, 2005. Gregg, Melissa and Gregory J. Seigworth (eds), The Affect Theory Reader. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010. Kester, Gran H., Conversation Pieces. Community and Communication in Modern Art. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2004. Knüsel, Pius, ‘Weniger ist mehr. Raum für Entwicklung’, Kulturpoltische Mitteilungen 133 (2011). Kyul, Ivo, ‘Theater zwischen Stadt und Welt: Ein Beispiel aus Brüssel’, Vortrag auf der Jahrestagung der dramaturgischen Gesellschaft, 2011. Online: http:// (accessed 13 September 2013). Lippard, Lucy, Mixed Blessings: New Art in a Multicultural America. New York: Pantheon Books, 1990. Meskimmon, Marsha, Contemporary Art and the Cosmopolitan Imagination. London and New York: Routledge, 2011. Müller, Herta, ‘Bei uns in Deutschland’, in H. Müller (ed.), Der König verneigt sich und tötet. Frankfurt am Main: Fischer, 2008. Müller, Peter and Jasmin Cicek (eds), Migrantenliteratur. Stuttgart: Reclam, 2007. Mundel, Barbara and Josef Mackert, ‘Das Prinzip für die ganze Gesellschaft’, Theater heute 8–9 (2010): 38–43. Schneider, Jens, Deutsch-Sein. Das Eigene, das Fremde und die Vergangenheit im Selbstbild des vereinten Deutschland. Frankfurt am Main: Campus, 2001.

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Takis, Autobiographie et pensées de TAKIS, Paris: Art Inprogress éditions, 2007. Terkessidis, Mark, ‘Parapolis’, in IBA Hamburg (ed.), Metropolis: Cosmopolis. Berlin: Jovis, 2011. Yildiz, Erol, Die halbierte Gesellschaft der Postmoderne. Opladen: Leske & Budrich, 1997.


5 ‘Home is Where the Struggle is’ Migration, Form and Politics Moritz Schramm

This is more than theatre – much more than theatre’ (Verrücktes Blut)

In his famous Letter to d’Alembert on the Theatre dating from 1758, Jean Jacques Rousseau in his effort to prevent the building of a theatre in his hometown Geneva asks the rhetorical question what the ‘talent of the actor’ is. He answers his own question: It is the art of counterfeiting himself, of putting on another character than his own, of appearing different than he is, of becoming passionate in cold blood, of saying what he does not think as naturally as if he really did think it, and finally, of forgetting his own place by dint of taking another’s. (Rousseau 1960: 79)

The famous quotation highlights some of his most central arguments against the actor and theatre. He claims that the theatre shows the divergence of the person and the role, that is: a person’s pretending to be another character than the one he is, and thus, by doing so, exposing the art of dissimulation. Rousseau’s criticism of the actor and the art of dissimulation is not limited to considerations on theatre. In his letter he rather explicitly connects this criticism to reflections on politics and democracy. It would be miraculous, he argues, ‘if a gifted actor were not to use his abilities to his advantage in other areas of life as well’ (Rebentisch 2013: 144). If the theatre were built, the art of dissimulation would, Rousseau believed, spread from the theatre throughout the entire republic, inevitably leading to the dissolution of morals and customs. The citizens would be misled into giving up their natural ‘place’ in the


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community and forgetting their authentic personal identities. Instead of preserving the moral unity of the community, the theatre divides the political space: in Rousseau’s thinking, the art of dissimulation is asserted to be responsible ‘for the corrosion of the polity’ (Rebentisch 2012: 273).1 As the art historian and political philosopher Juliane Rebentisch has shown in detail, Rousseau’s disapproval of the theatre and the art of dissimulation partakes in a long tradition of political thinking, which is often referred to in the context of the criticism against the ‘theatricalisation’ or ‘aestheticisation of politics’. According to this tradition, the political sphere is endangered when what is assumed to be true and natural communication in the political sphere is transferred into an aesthetic spectacle that eliminates trust and truthful relations between the members of the community. As Rebentisch points out, thinkers like, for example, Jürgen Habermas, Stanley Cavell and Guy Debord ‘share not only the diagnosis that the theatricalization of the political threatens the life of the polity; they also concur in the claim that the true essence of democracy is fulfilled in a communality of action that would have overcome the division of the political space into hypocritical actors and their audience’ (Rebentisch 2013: 143). The criticism of theatre and the actor thus serves to affirm and to defend the assumption of a political community, where ‘no one puts on an act or a play for anyone anymore: All participants instead engage in joint action’ (Rebentisch 2013: 143; see also: Rebentisch 2006: 75). This concept of political community is thus based on the idea of nonrepresentation; its members are supposed to be transparent and speak out of a position of authenticity. In recent debates in political philosophy, this tradition of animosity toward the aestheticisation and theatricalisation of politics has been challenged by a different point of view, focusing on the ‘irreducible theatrical dimension’ of democracy (Rebentisch 2012: 320; see also: Rancière 2011; Derrida 2002). According to this point of view, every notion of political community and every political subject are always and necessarily ‘constructed, produced and staged’ (Rebentisch 2012: 22). Instead of seeing politics and aesthetics as two related, but essentially distinct areas, this tradition of thinking focuses on the inevitable indivisibility of aesthetics and politics. As the example of the actor shows, this includes the role of the political subject: instead of insisting on the truthfulness and authenticity of the subject, this tradition of thinking advocates an inclusive notion of democracy that is based on the acceptance of the divergence between the role and person and thus

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highlights the experience of ‘self-difference’ rather than authenticity (Rebentisch 2012: 322). In this chapter I will address some of these issues in relation to cultural expressions, dealing with experiences of migration and challenges of the post-migrant condition. In the studies of migration and culture, the ‘aesthetic turn in political thought’ (Kompridis 2014) in general and the debates on the political consequences of the notion of ‘self-difference’ in particular have not yet been of major interest. The dominant focus is on the politics of representation or, in the opposite sense, on political questions about exclusion and inclusion within cultural institutions and society. The question of the fundamental and inherent relationship between ‘selfdifference’ (the divergence of the person and the role) and politics is rarely debated in studies on migration and culture. Moreover, in public debates we often see attributions of authenticity and truthfulness to artists and writers with a so-called ‘immigrant background’ in particular. In an essay written for the literary magazine FREITEXT, the dramaturge and scholar of contemporary post-migrant theatre, Nora Haakh, describes a widespread ‘cult of authenticity’, where the writer with an ‘immigrant background’ is supposed to serve as ‘translator’ between cultures, and thus to give the ‘majority’ certain ‘“insights” into supposedly shuttered worlds’ (Haakh 2013: 38). The major public success of writers such as the Danish poet Yahya Hassan, who produced the best-selling poetry collection in all of Danish publishing history in 2013 (Hassan 2013), can partly be explained through this tendency. The success of writers or artists with an ‘immigrant background’ is still often limited to those who deliver stories which can satisfy the ‘majority’s “appetite for the other”’ (Haakh 2013: 38). This attribution of authenticity is strongly rejected by most artists and writers themselves. There have been repeated attempts to counterargue or challenge those assumptions in writing or in the theatre, sometimes even by playing with notions of authenticity in order to subvert them (e.g. Zaimoglu 1995, 1998; see also: Ernst 2013: 302– 95). In the following discussion, I will reflect on those tendencies by focusing on two quite different cultural expressions that try to replace the notion of authenticity with an emphasis on the distance between the self and the other. By doing so, I will argue they are creating an opening for possible considerations of a future democracy that can potentially move beyond the binary oppositions of ‘us’ and ‘them’. I will start with a discussion of some elements of the novel The Village Indian from 2008 by Abbas Khider and then turn to the play Verrücktes Blut from 2011, written by Nurkan Erpulat and Jens Hillje.



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The chapter will conclude with some general considerations on form, politics and migration. Self-Difference and Freedom Abbas Khider’s partly autobiographical novel, The Village Indian, was published for the first time in German as Der falsche Inder in 2008, and has been praised by the critics for its ironic style and its unusual narrative structure. Straight from the start the setting of the novel is surprising. A young man enters a train that is just about to depart from the central station in Berlin and is heading for Munich. The man sits down on the seat he has reserved and spots a ‘big, fat envelope’ on the seat just beside him (Khider 2013: 3). After he has waited for some time to see whether the owner would come back, a young woman sits down on the seat beside him and flings the envelope in his lap with irritation. He finally decides to open the envelope and finds inside it an Arabic ‘manuscript’ that consists of the ‘memories’ of a person called Rasul Hamid (Khider 2013: 5). His native language is Arabic and he starts to read. For the next roughly 150 pages we hear the story of the young narrator, Rasul Hamid, who in eight partly self-contained chapters gives an account of his life, his flight from Iraq through, for example, Libya, Turkey, Greece and Italy, before he finally is arrested as an illegal immigrant by the German border police during his attempt to reach Sweden. The story is told with a mixture of seriousness and irony, often referring to the writing process itself. The story thus entails a dimension of self-referentiality: the fictivity of the story is exposed in the text itself. Moreover, this strategy of raising doubt about the authenticity of the story is enhanced at the end of the novel, where we return to the setting from the beginning of the novel. The young man who found the manuscript on the seat beside him finishes reading the manuscript and arrives in Munich. He meets his girlfriend on the platform at the station but is still puzzled about the ‘whole thing with the manuscript’ (Khider 2013: 157). We learn that the ‘manuscript’ is not just a random story, but tells the young man’s own personal history. After arriving in his girlfriend’s flat, he excuses himself and decides to ‘lie down on the couch and think about what I’ve experienced’ (Khider 2013: 157). He continues: A terrible nightmare. What sense am I supposed to make of all this? How could someone have written my story, put it in an envelope and then

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left it right next to – of all people – me? If someone stole my story, why did he make sure it got to me, of all people? And the many details that no one could know about me? How did he get hold of them? Even the handwriting is like mine, down to the last dot … And then the idea, the structure. My style, exactly. How did he manage to steal that? From my head? I hadn’t discussed it with anyone. (Khider 2013: 157–8)

This framing is somewhat surprising. We learn that we have just read the life-story of the narrator we were introduced to at the beginning of the novel, but this life-story was supposed to have been written by a different person. Khider’s novel thus introduces a formal distance between the first-person narrator and his own story. One could obviously read this setup as a description of the widespread experience of artists and writers that the cultural product they fabricate inevitably gets detached from the artist himself and achieves a life of its own, outside the artist’s inner universe. One can argue that expressing art is always a process of externalisation. Inspired by the motif of the ‘couch’ in the novel, one can also read the framing of the story as part of a psychological or even psychoanalytical process, where the ‘I’ is confronted with its own narrative, its own lifestory – probably in order to provide distance and better to overcome the traumatic experiences of imprisonment, flight and exile. Repeated references to the narrator’s feeling of ‘madness’, his experiences of moments when the social surroundings suddenly disappear and he feels alone with a ‘vast nothingness round me’ (Khider 2013: 1), could support this reading. I will instead focus on yet another reading that connects this framing to the act of self-constitution and dissimulation. I assert that the framing of the story can be read as an expression of the inevitable distance from the self that is part of every attempt to give an account of oneself and one’s life. For this reading it is helpful to examine Judith Butler’s considerations on the ethical dimension of the subject’s self-constitution by giving an account of oneself. Butler argues that the act of self-constitution always depends on a set of norms and values which historically precede the subject and thus essentially are outside of the self. According to Butler, those sets of norms and values are already included in the language we are using; the process of self-constitution therefore necessarily entails an element of alienation and losing the self (Butler 2005: 25–6). When giving an account of oneself, Butler writes, one is ‘compelled and comported outside one-self ’ (Butler 2005: 28). The only way to achieve knowledge about oneself proceeds ‘through a mediation that takes place outside of



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oneself, exterior to oneself’ (Butler 2005: 28). Therefore, she concludes, one ‘cannot discern oneself as an author or an agent of one’s own making’ (Butler 2005: 28). I propose to read the framing in Khider’s novel from this perspective: Khider’s novel seems to express that the process of telling one’s own story, the process of self-constitution, always implies a distance from the self and an element of being different from the self. His novel thus highlights the artificiality and non-authenticity of every personal story: every act of self-constitution includes a dimension of ‘self-difference’. In the framing of the story, Khider’s novel accentuates this inevitable selfdifference in a playful and ironic way. The irony he uses does not seem to refer to connotations of dishonesty, swindle and fraud. Although the story is told with an ironic distance, it is supposed to be accurate. Using the terminology of Rebentisch, this can be described as a ‘concealing irony’ (Rebentisch 2013: 145). The concealing irony is not fraudulent or deceptive, but rather ‘exhibits the fact that it conceals’ (Rebentisch 2013: 145). According to Rebentisch, the ‘concealing irony’ permits us ‘to distance ourselves from how we appear, and it does so without at once obliging us to render a real identity beneath the appearance explicit – or even to have such a real identity’ (Rebentisch 2013: 145; see also: Rebentisch 2012: 323). The ironic distance from the self thus coincides with Rousseau’s description of the actor as someone who is pretending to be different from himself and, by doing so, will ‘sooner or later lose his own identity’ (Rebentisch 2013: 145). By exposing the distance from the self, the concealing irony thus reveals the emptiness and, as will be demonstrated, the potentiality of our social identities. The political consequences of this reading are apparent: the self is not identical with a pre-given authentic self and it is not, as it is often assumed, defined by its descent or social position. As Butler puts it, in the process of self-constitution there is ‘no final moment in which my return to myself takes place’ (Butler 2005: 27). The widespread image of the migrant ‘as the other, the stranger’, who only can be understood by ‘resorting to her or his “culture of origin”’ (Sökefeld 2004: 22), is largely incompatible with this point of view. When every social self is based on the unavoidable experience of ‘self-difference’, this implies the changeability and the impermanence of every social identity and political community. Following an argument made by Rebentisch, one can even read this as the opening for a political existence, which is different from the tradition founded by, for example, Plato and Rousseau. While they, for different reasons, reject the theatricalisation of politics and defend a community where every social identity is pre-given, the concealing irony is ‘a figure of potentiality’ (Rebentisch 2013: 146). It ‘points to the

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everything-and-nothing that forms the ground, or the groundlessness, of all social identity’ (Rebentisch 2013: 146; see also: Rebentisch 2012: 323). By exposing this ‘everything-and-nothing’ of all social identity, the actor’s irony has the potential to challenge and to push borders and limitations. In the field of political thought in general and theories on democracy in particular, this opening is crucial: while some theorists throughout history have claimed that politics must be based on a pregiven political community, the actor’s irony and the art of dissimulation reveal that every social role ‘retains the possibility of a mimetic opening toward others and otherness, and hence the possibility of change’ (Rebentisch 2013: 146). In Khider’s novel this potentiality of every social identity is explicitly highlighted in the narrator’s struggle with moments of emptiness and ‘nothingness’ behind (or even before) the social existence (Khider 2013: 159). As has been previously mentioned, at certain moments he is overpowered and dazzled by the feeling that he would be ‘all alone, in the city’ (Khider 2013: 159). At moments like this, it seems to him that all people ‘have vanished, were never there at all. Empty’ (Khider 2013: 159). Those feelings of emptiness and nothingness disappear at the end of the novel when he submits the ‘memories’ of Rasul Hamid to the publisher as his own manuscript (Khider 2013: 161). In the beginning he was puzzled and shocked by the fact that somebody else has stolen his story and, as he expresses it, his ‘soul’ (Khider 2013: 158). But then he becomes happy that somebody else committed his ‘odyssey’ and ‘journey on the ghost ship’ down to paper – since he could not manage to do it himself (Khider 2013: 158). The process of telling one’s own story can thus be understood as a process of self-constitution that distances the narrator not only from the self, but also from the feeling of nothingness. The emergence of the social self may entail a moment of ‘constitutive loss’, as Butler accentuates (Butler 2005: 27), but it also brings about a productive distance from the self that can be read as the very fundament of every social identity. As quoted at the beginning of the ‘memories’ of Rasul Hamid, ‘There are two things: emptiness and the I portrayed’ (Khider 2013: 6).2 In Khider’s novel, the self-distance through aesthetic expression is at least implicitly connected to the relationship between different languages, especially between Arabic and German. While the manuscript the narrator found in the train is described as being written in Arabic, the text is presented to us in German. One could assume that this has been done out of necessity in order to reach out to a German reading audience; it is however telling that Khider in the position of author repeatedly refers to the productive relationship between his native Arabic and the later



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acquired German language he uses in his writing. In interviews he has told the story of how he came to Germany as an illegal immigrant, lived as an asylum seeker for a couple of years, and then started to learn German. When he decided to do his writing in German, he chose to read and speak German exclusively for a couple of years. He experienced this as a kind of productive distance, allowing him to refigure and to retell his story. In an interview, he explained, ‘I even re-discovered my personal story through the German language. The use of German as a second language brings about distance and alienation [Verfremdung] which in turn allows for a different understanding’ (Khider 2012). The experience of productive alienation also includes a new perspective on his autobiographical and cultural background: I have the feeling that the Arabic culture within me changes when I write about it in German. I have the feeling that I am dealing with the words, with the Arabic culture, with my past and with history in a completely different manner. Everything changes when I use the German language. (Khider 2012)

By using the German language in his literature, he finds a distance from ‘reality’ which goes hand in hand with his rejection of what he calls ‘Betroffenheitsliteratur’, the literature of the affected. As he stated in another interview, ‘I do not like the literature of the affected. By writing in German I could increase the distance to the events’ (Kohlstadt 2013).3 When the narrator in the novel The Village Indian accepts the fact that the manuscript was written by someone else and thus exists outside himself, it seems to mirror Khider’s experience with distance and the ongoing processes of self-constitution through aesthetic expression: ‘What counts, when it comes down to it, is: I’m now holding my story in written form. Or is that not what counts?’, the narrator asks towards the end of the novel (Khider 2013: 158). When read against this background, Khider’s novel exposes the ongoing process of the reinterpretation of the self, which fundamentally contradicts notions of stability and authenticity. In the ‘theatrical democracy’ where the divergence between the role and the person is not concealed but is exhibited, everything is open for ongoing reconsideration. Moreover, for Khider the experience of ‘self-difference’ is closely connected to the feeling of being at home and the sense of freedom offered by the language. By using the German language he had found ‘his home and his freedom’ (Bartlick 2013). When read from this perspective, home, a sense of belonging and freedom are not based on unmediated feelings or

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on assumptions of unchangeable authenticity, but are founded on notions of distance and self-difference. Home appears to be a place where the members of society always have the possibility to ‘exceed their defined places, positions and social roles’ (Rebentisch 2013: 158). From this point of view, home and freedom are inevitably linked to the individual’s distance from the self. Restrictions and Limitations A similar attempt to question the notion of authenticity and highlight the divergence between the person and his or her role can also be seen in another contemporary cultural expression: in the play Verrücktes Blut (Mad Blood) by Nurkan Erpulat and Jens Hillje. Verrücktes Blut was an overwhelming public success with audiences and critics when performed for the first time at the independent theatre Ballhaus Naunynstrasse in Berlin in 2011. It is widely seen as the international breakthrough of the so called ‘post-migrant’ theatre in Germany (Sharifi 2011; see also her contribution to this book). Inspired by the French film La journée de la jupe by Jean-Paul Lilienfeld, the play has been perceived by the general public as being intelligently and humorously involved in recent debates about integration and intercultural encounters: ‘You do not usually laugh this much when dealing with the integration debate’, one reviewer has stated.4 In the play we are confronted with a teacher who intends to stage Friedrich Schiller’s drama Die Räuber (The Robbers) from 1781 with her students at a theatre workshop. The students, most of them from a socalled ‘immigration background’, are not very interested or supportive. They spend most of their time using their smart-phones, and use strongly sexualised swearwords like ‘bitch’ and ‘fucking whore’ when referring to each other and their teacher. Teaching is impossible. The whole setting changes instantly when the teacher gets hold of a gun that accidently falls out of the backpack of one of the students. With the gun in her hand, she finally achieves her purpose: to make them act Schiller’s play and, as stated in the end, with help of the ‘aesthetic education’ to contribute to a profound change in their attitudes and their personalities. The irony of the setting is difficult to overlook. The play subverts the traditional stereotypes about the disobedient and undisciplined pupils with ‘migration backgrounds’ by staging and exaggerating them. The whole discourse on integration is turned upside down. The result is ‘laughing, gaping, reflecting’.5 In the context of this discussion, what is more important is that the play also initiates a debate about the relationship between authenticity and



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5.1. Verrücktes Blut, Nurkan Erpulat and Jens Hillje, premiered 2011 at Ballhaus Naunynstraße. Photograph by Ute Langkafel.

theatrical appearance. This becomes particularly clear as early as the first scene. It starts with the actors arriving on stage and changing their clothes in a very relaxed manner: they take off their T-shirts and trousers, and put on other jeans, baseball-caps and sports shoes. The point is very clear: they are transforming themselves into the disobedient and undisciplined students with ‘immigration backgrounds’ whom they are supposed to represent some minutes later in the play. Afterwards they even start to practise some of the most significant gestures and body movements that are often associated with the stereotype of a young insubordinate and defiant ‘second generation immigrant’: they face the audience from the edge of the stage and start spitting at them; they pose in aggressive and threatening ways while rubbing their genitals; they swear and curse intensely, often with strong sexualised content such as ‘bitch’ and ‘fuck you’. When the transformation of the actors in their role as students is completed, they turn around and start to enact the play, performing the struggle between the teacher and the students, and the students’ internal struggles with each other. Erpulat and Hillje’s play thus exposes the fictivity of the play and the divergence of the role and the person. We are confronted with an ironic distance, similar to the irony used in Khider’s novel. What the role is, and who the person behind the role is, becomes increasingly unclear. In Erpulat and Hillje’s play we are confronted with actors acting the parts

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of actors who act students who then later act characters from Schiller’s play. It is therefore, as Rebentisch puts it, left unclear what ‘validity these roles may in fact still have at all’ (Rebentisch 2013: 146). Like the characters in Khider’s novel, there does not seem to be a real or authentic identity behind the role: our social identity is founded in the roles we are playing. Erpulat’s and Hillje’s play is, however, not limited to the staging of the art of dissimulation and the divergence of the role and the person and should not be reduced to its tendency to ‘explicitly highlight its own theatricality’ (Rebentisch 2006: 77). Rather, we can also see how the freedom to choose the roles one wants to play and how the possibility to exceed the ‘defined places, positions and social roles’ (Rebentisch 2013: 158) are limited and restricted by external demands. While Khider’s novel highlights the narrator’s distance from his personal story and thus exposes the freedom to change one’s identity, Erpulat and Hillje’s play demonstrates the restrictions people with an ‘immigration background’ in particular are dealing with. This becomes evident in two different ways. First, the restrictions and limitations are evident in the scenes when the teacher – gun in hand – forces the students to enact characters from Schiller’s play The Robbers. By playing Schiller, she hopes that the students with Muslim backgrounds will reflect on their own lifesituations and then, as a reaction to this, start to accept what she perceives as ‘Western values’ and become integrated into Western society. When the teacher uses the gun, she is forcing another student to play Ferdinand from Schiller’s play Kabale und Liebe, presenting it as the last chance for him to change his character and take on a new social role: ‘Don’t you understand? I am giving you a chance, a last chance. You can actually become Ferdinand’ (00:39:00). She thus openly refers to her assumption that playing those characters should educate and transform the students. By performing Schiller’s roles, a female student is even supposed to learn how to emancipate herself and stop wearing her headscarf – even though she is wearing the headscarf by her own free will, as she repeatedly expresses. Confronted with the gun, however, she has no chance and decides finally to liberate herself from what is supposed to be an oppressive headscarf. One can assume that this paradox of teaching freedom through coercion had misled some critics to focus only on the teacher’s impuissance and thus to celebrate it as a play on the necessity of the use of power against the undisciplined ‘coloureds’.6 This is, however, a very one-dimensional reading of the play. The humorous and clearly



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5.2. Verrücktes Blut, Nurkan Erpulat and Jens Hillje, premiered 2011 at Ballhaus Naunynstraße. Photograph by Ute Langkafel.

ironic point is that by using a handgun to make her arguments more convincing the teacher in fact reveals the underlying presence of power and coercion. And when the students during the play start to sing patriotic songs together that highlight their submission to the romantic notion of the German nation, the irony is difficult to overlook.7 Integration, it becomes clear, does not appear to be a process of free participation, but a social dynamic based on the use of power and oppression. We are confronted with the widespread experience that ‘a certain version and development of the notion of “freedom” can be used as an instrument of bigotry and coercion’, as Butler puts it in reference to recent tendencies in European integration politics (Butler 2010: 104–5; see also: Mak 2005; Rostbøll 2010). Second, the students are not only forced to play the roles that the teacher wants them to play, but are also restricted to certain roles and identities. This becomes especially evident at the end of the play after the teacher announces that she refuses to keep on acting (‘Let’s stop acting. What good is any of this?’, 01:30:30). The immediate reaction of the students is to stop acting as well: they take off their costumes and start to discuss things from their daily life, such as what kind of roles they would like to play at the theatre. During this transformation back into the actors they played at the very beginning of the piece (before they changed into the roles of students), one of them refuses to step out of his

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role as student. He takes the gun from the teacher and starts to threaten all the other actors and the teacher who have already stopped acting their roles as students and teacher: ‘I want to go on with the play,’ he suddenly announces, pointing the gun towards the others. Even when one of the other actors takes off his costume and tries to convince him that he is not playing any role any more (‘I am not a Mussa anymore’), the student with the gun does not accept this change of roles: ‘Yes. You are Mussa,’ he replies while he points the gun at his classmate’s head (01:31:00). They are all, he argues, fixated on their roles: the quota of the ‘successful immigrants’ is already filled up, he states, and the role of the ‘minority detective’ on the television show has already been cast. It becomes clear that they are not considered for roles other than the stereotypical second generation immigrant. Consequently, this setting is therefore turned against the audience. While reciting the famous monologue by Franz Moor from Schiller’s The Robbers, where Moor is complaining about the disadvantages of his physical appearance (his ‘Huguenot-eyes’), the student with the gun suddenly turns to the audience and asks, ‘What do you see here? An actor? Or some damn foreigner?’ (01:34:00). He points the gun towards the audience. With the play ending like this, the process of self-constitution is contextualised: the number of social roles that people with ‘immigrant backgrounds’ are allowed to play seems to be limited and restricted by us, the audience. One could therefore read the end of the play as a reference to and criticism of the ongoing exclusion of actors of colour or actors with socalled ‘immigrant backgrounds’ from cultural institutions. However, the play is not limited to this reading alone. When the actor is pointing the gun at the audience in the last act, the scene not only refers to the number of actors with an ‘immigration background’ in cultural institutions, one can argue, but exposes the fundamental discursive practices of ‘othering’ where the ‘the claim of the authenticity of the stranger’ contributes to the construction of ‘binary groups’ (Yildiz 2012: 381). As in the thinking of Rousseau and others, the claim of authenticity and the fixation on certain roles serves to construct, to maintain and to reaffirm the idea of a natural given community, a political unity based on authenticity and similarity rather than on the notions of ‘self-difference’, potentiality and self-constitution. When read from this perspective, Verrücktes Blut exposes not only the impermanence of every role and identity, but also demonstrates how the divergence between the role and the person is limited and restricted by power relations: the individual is restricted to certain roles and characters. As a consequence, the play highlights the need to challenge and redefine



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the prevailing set of norms and values that are part of every process of self-constitution. With Butler one can say that certain practices of recognition or ‘certain breakdowns in the practice of recognition mark a side of rupture within the horizon of normativity and implicitly call for the institution of new norms, putting into question the givenness of the prevailing normative horizon’ (Butler 2005: 24). In Verrücktes Blut, the openness of this process is repeatedly expressed in a famous quotation from Schiller: ‘The human is only free when he plays, and he is only really human when he plays’ (00:25:10). Universalism According to a widely accepted point of view, the aestheticisation of daily life, and of the political sphere in particular, is a problematic and potentially destructive development that undermines the stability of every society. From this point of view, it allegedly hinders and in the end dismantles the very fundament of democracy. The aestheticisation of politics is thus perceived as ‘a form of distortion that undermines ethics and politics from the inside because it erodes its normative substance’ (Rebentisch 2012: 9). In the readings of Abbas Khider’s novel The Village Indian and in the discussion of certain elements of Nurkan Erpulat and Jens Hillje’s play Verrücktes Blut, it became clear that the exclusion of aesthetics would lead to a problematic notion of an unmediated identity between the self and its role, and thus restrict the person to certain roles and characters. Khider’s usage of the term freedom is based on the recognition of ‘self-difference’ and thus on the subject’s distance from itself. It is first by gaining the distance from the self that we gain the ability to redefine our own lives and to – potentially – redefine the social and political world around us. Freedom, it seems, is the freedom of redefinition. When considered from this perspective, home and freedom are, potentially, connected to each other: belonging seems to include the possibility to partake in the critical re-examination and re-cognition of the prevailing ‘horizon of normativity’ (Butler 2005: 23). Especially in Verrücktes Blut this demand for ‘self-difference’ and for the freedom to redefine one’s own identity is embedded in a certain Western European discourse on immigration and integration. It is one of the major points of this reading that the very distinction between ‘us’ and ‘them’ – which is the precondition for every kind of ‘integration’ politics – is challenged by the focus on ‘self-difference’. Instead of focusing on the background or origin of a person, in this context the centre of attention is

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his or her potential to change and to redefine his or her identity – in relation to a given framework or pre-given norms and values. A future democracy would then include an equality that is not based on similarity and unity, but on potentiality instead. In this future democracy, no specific role is given in advance and every identity is to be regarded as impermanent and changeable. The ‘equality of all humans in their potentiality’ includes, one can say with Rebentisch, a ‘radical equality that embraces all humans despite their social assertiveness and situatedness’ (Rebentisch 2012: 323–4). The future democracy thus implies what can be called a postmigrant condition, ‘which in the best case is not based on stereotypical views on the different backgrounds and religions of its members, but on a recognition of the complexity of postmigrant spaces and an acceptance of the multiplicity of subjective perspectives’ (Trotier 2011; see also: Yildiz 2014). Moreover, the future democracy is – potentially – an open society: the borders and limitations of the polity are not given by nature and can thus be challenged. In the end, this future democracy could even reaffirm a form of universalism. As the Iranian activist and writer Soheil Asefi, who is currently living in exile in Germany, asserted in a short essay which was published on the occasion of the international ‘day of the refugee’ in September 2013, the struggle for freedom and democracy can become a place of home and belonging beyond nation states. In all his years in exile, he writes, there was an ongoing search for ‘something like home’ (Asefi 2013). He writes that this search then leads him to remember various activists from around the world who have struggled for ‘democracy and social justice’: Rahman Hatefi, who was murdered in an Iranian prison in the aftermath of the revolution from 1979; Edward Snowden; Mumia Abu-Jamal; and Chelsea Manning. With their images in mind, he then finally sees himself in a photograph standing in front of the Brandenburger Tor in Berlin with a poster around his neck: ‘Home is where the struggle is’ (Asefi 2013). Hence, as in Khider’s novel, Asefi’s text also relates to the narrator’s distance from the self. In Asefi’s essay, the first-person narrative glides into a third-person narrative, and he considers himself from an alternative perspective (Asefi 2013). This distance from the self is connected to a universal struggle for freedom and human rights: freedom and democracy do not appear as ‘Western’ values anymore, as, for example, the teacher in Verrücktes Blut claims, but as universal values, worth fighting for. His ‘home’ is thus not restricted to a country, but to the universal struggle for the possibility to redefine one’s own identity. This struggle for the ‘equality of all humans in their potentiality’ can take place inside a



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nation state and it can also manifest as a universal struggle to assure everybody’s right to change and to redefine his or her identity. In both cases we are dealing with the attempt to overcome notions of origin and authenticity and to replace them by what can be called the unalienable right to ‘self-difference’. Notes 1 All translations from texts in German, which are not published in English, are mine. 2 The quotation comes from a poem by the well-known German writer Gottfried Benn (1886–1956): it refers precisely to the fundamental experience of aesthetic self-constitution as related to nothingness. 3 In political philosophy, one has recently rediscovered the notions of distance and alienation: instead of seeing them as a problematic loss of the authentic self, they are described rather as a precondition for a stable democracy – only when the distance is accepted are the citizens able to act freely and without being bound to unmediated feelings and emotions. Following the theories of Helmuth Plessner, alienation is often accepted as the very foundation of democracy (see e.g.: Bauer 2007; Rebentisch 2012: 280–7). 4 The quotation is taken from the cover of the DVD edition of the play (Erpulat and Hillje 2011). 5 Ibid. 6 This reading of the play was typified by the Danish reception, for example in the television show Smagsdommerne, where the experts who discussed the play collectively celebrated the teacher’s use of coercion (see on this: Schramm 2012). Other critics have been clearer in their understanding, at least in Germany. Telser writes, ‘When the teacher forces her terrified students while death-threatening them to pronounce the “beautiful German word ‘reason’”, the whole concept of the pure, western Enlightenment collapses like a house of cards’ (Telser 2011). 7 The action of the play is repeatedly broken up by what can be read as a reference to the traditional chorus and what clearly is reminiscent of elements of Verfremdung, as we know it from Brecht’s epic theatre: in those pauses the action is suspended and the students and the teacher sing romantic songs from the nineteenth century together, such as the patriotic song Ich habe mich ergeben from 1820, where the text ironically comments on the pupil’s submission to the romantic notion of the German nation: ‘Ich hab mich ergeben / Mit Herz und mit Hand, / Dir Land voll Lieb’ und Leben / Mein deutsches Vaterland’.

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Bibliography Asefi, Soheil, ‘Heimat ist da, wo der Kampf ist’, tageszeitung, 27 September 2013, p. 11. Bartlick, Silke, ‘Freiheit der Sprache: Abbas Khider’, Deutsche Welle (17 September 2013). Online: (accessed 12 April 2014). Bauer, Martin, ‘Das Ende der Entfremdung’, Zeitschrift für Ideengeschichte Heft 1:1 (2007): 7–29. Butler, Judith, Giving an Account of Oneself. New York: Fordham University Press, 2005. — Frames of War: When Is Life Grievable? London: Verso, 2010. Derrida, Jacques, Politik der Freundschaft. Translated by Stefan Lorenzer. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 2002. Ernst, Thomas, Literatur und Subversion. Politisches Schreiben in der Gegenwart. Bielefeld: Transcript, 2013. Erpulat, Nurkan and Jens Hillje, Verrücktes Blut. ZDF-Theateredition, DVD, 2011. Haakh, Nora, ‘Banden bilden, Räume schaffen, Diskurse durchkreuzen: Politisch Theater machen wie am Ballhaus Naunynstrasse’, Freitext. Kultur- und Gesellschaftsmagazin Heft 22 (2013): 36–42. Hassan, Yahya, Yahya Hassan. Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 2013. Khider, Abbas, Der falsche Inder. Hamburg: Nautilus, 2008. —— ‘Die fremde Sprache bedeutet Freiheit (2012). Ein Dialog mit Wolfert von Rahden über Grenzgänge zwischen Sprachen, Staaten und Kulturen’. Online: (accessed 22 April 2014). —— The Village Indian. Translated by Donal MacLaughin. London: Seagull Books, 2013. Kohlstadt, Michael, ‘Abbas Khider und die Liebe zur Sprache der Deutschen’ (2013). Online: (accessed 22 April 2014). Kompridis, Nikolas (ed.), The Aesthetic Turn in Political Thought. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2014. Mak, Geert, Der Mord an Theo van Gogh: Geschichte einer moralischen Panik. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 2005. Rancière, Jacques, The Emancipated Spectator. Translated by Gregory Elliott. London: Verso, 2011. Rebentisch, Juliane, ‘Demokratie und Theater’, in Felix Ensslin (ed.), Spieltrieb. Was bringt die Klassik auf die Bühne? Berlin: Theater der Zeit, 2006, pp. 71–81.



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—— Die Kunst der Freiheit. Zur Dialektik demokratischer Existenz. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 2012. —— ‘Rousseau’s Heterotopology of the Theatre’, in Erika Fischer-Lichte and Benjamin Wihstutz (eds), Performance and the Politics of Space. Theatre and Topology. London: Routledge, 2013, pp. 142–65. Rostbøll, Christian F, ‘The Use and Abuse of “Universal Values” in the Danish Cartoon Controversy’, European Political Science Review 2:3 (2010): 401–22. Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, ‘The Letter to d’Alembert in the Theater’, in Politics and the Arts – Letter to M. d’Alembert on the Theater. Translated by Allan Bloom. Glencoe: The Free Press, 1960, pp. 3–138. Schramm, Moritz, ‘“Smagsdommere” misforstår tysk teater’, Kristeligt Dagblad, 20 November 2012, p. 8. Sharifi, Azadeh, Theater für Alle? Partizipation von Postmigranten am Beispiel der Bühnen der Stadt Köln. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang Verlag, 2011. Sökefeld, Martin, ‘Das Paradigma kultureller Differenz. Zur Forschung und Diskussion über Migranten aus der Türkei in Deutschland’, in Martin Sökefeld (ed.), Jenseits des Paradigmas kultureller Differenz: neue Perspektiven auf Einwanderer aus der Türkei. Bielefeld: Transcript, 2004, pp. 9–33. Trotier, Kilian, ‘Theater und Migration: Bist Du schwul oder Türke?’, DIE ZEIT, 14 July 2011. Yildiz, Erol (ed.), Nach der Migration. Postmigrantische Perspektiven jenseits der Parallelgesellschaft. Bielefeld: Transcript, 2014. Yildiz, Safiye, ‘Multikulturalismus – Interkulturalität – Kosmopolitismus: Die kulturelle Andersmachung von Migrant/-innen in deutschen Diskurspraktiken’, Seminar: A Journal of Germanic Studies 48:3 (September 2012): 379–96. Zaimoglu, Feridun, Kanak Sprak. 24 Mißtöne vom Rande der Gesellschaft. Hamburg: Rotbuch, 1995. —— Koppstoff, Kanaka Sprak vom Rande der Gesellschaft. Hamburg: Rotbuch, 1998.

6 Mapping / Assuming / Exhibiting / Activating the Perspective of Migration Nanna Heidenreich

Political subversion presupposes cognitive subversion. (Pierre Bourdieu)

Images give migration a format; they make a constitutive contribution to the migration regime and thus to how migration is dealt with, in society, in politics, by the courts and the police.1 This argument, made by Brigitta Kuster in her analysis of documentary films on migration (Kuster 2007: 187), reverses the burden of proof to a certain degree: it is not a matter of measuring how appropriate representation is, or of considering the relation between depiction and some previous reality, but of the historyforming power of films and videos, which has also been described by other theorists, indeed from the perspective of migration itself. Migration, according to Sandro Mezzadra, should be understood as a fait social total, which is to say, migration must be examined not only through the means and language of one of the canonised scholarly disciplines, but also by narrative and metaphorical ways of speaking and images (Mezzadra 2005: 794). Migration also fundamentally challenges representation: the movements of migration call into question concepts like citizenship based on the nation state, and thus the constitution of the ‘political body’ as such. The challenge, however, does not only refer to political representation, but also to depiction; so-called illegal migration puts ideas of visibility and invisibility up for debate. This suggests that any attempt to work with the question of migration – which means that we also have to speak about racism – should be done with and in audiovisual media, that activism and artistic practices should be involved with one another. In fact, this is already the case: the last decade or so has seen a consistent rise in the number of thematic


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exhibitions as well as individual artistic works that deal with migration. In addition, art theory and visual studies have been wrestling with the question of what the relationship is between the ‘art of migration’, that is the relation of resourceful strategies and struggles of migration, and artistic practices. This question has to be considered within the tradition of how the connections between activism, theory and art have been engaged with, which has played a significant role in (interventionist) artistic practices as well as in (leftist) political organising in the late 1990s and early 2000s – the more so as this was also an important interface of the focus on migrant struggles and the struggles against racism at the time.2 It is, however, high time to re-examine these connections, not least because the interpretative power of art and its claimed influence on society have increased, as has its economic power. While Joshua Decter, in a 1995 volume of essays, was still critically asking whether ‘resistance or opposition [means] standing in a critical relation to socio-cultural positions’ (Babias 1995: 156), today it seems to be no problem when the writer, theorist and media activist Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi, in a text commissioned for the 54th Venice Biennale, writes, ‘In the coming months, we won’t need a political party. Rather, we’ll need a bunch of curators for the European insurrection’ (Bifo 2013). Or that the art historian T. J. Demos, who has made a name for himself in the last few years, particularly in the thematic areas of migration, exile and other interfaces of art and politics,3 can refer, publically and without challenge, to an artist like Renzo Martens as an ‘activist’ for his contested film Enjoy Poverty (2008), which was financed by numerous film funds and art institutions and was exclusively shown in the context of exhibitions, curated film programmes and film festivals.4 Who or What is Political? The claim to the status of a political avant-garde so popular today in art means that the question of the interfaces of migration, representation, anti-racism, art and activism has to be posed together with current processes of negotiating what is political, the discussion about how to understand the political.5 Contrary to the immanent, empiricist diagnosis that we live in a time of increasing ‘political exhaustion’ in the ‘field of politics’ (Bourdieu 2013: 97ff.), the discussions of what is political are also concerned with calling into question the ‘monopoly of institutional politics’ (Bourdieu 2013: 329ff.). Events such as the protests in Husby,

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Sweden, in 2013, the riots in Great Britain in 2011, the struggles in the French banlieues, and the so-called May 1st riots in Germany6 were declared to be outside the realm of genuine political matters. This calling into question, however, should be understood as part of those racist structures that trigger these conflicts in the first place. The agents of these protests are denied any status as political subjects, and are instead ascribed with pure destructive rage, refusal to integrate, Islamic radicalism and similar traits.7 In the case of the May 1st ‘riots’ in Berlin and Hamburg, for example, depoliticisation is made explicit by linking up with the allegedly increasing participation by ‘youth with a migration background’. Here the machinery for producing racialised subjects and the diagnosis of the events as increasingly apolitical are directly intertwined. In this response, not only does the advocacy of the (racist) status quo come to light, but also the fear of the power of revolutionising political subjectivity promised by the struggles of migration (this is also the reason for the popular orchestration of threatening scenarios caused by the movements of migration). The question of what can or should be political can thus be productively imagined precisely from the struggles of migration, especially so-called ‘irregular’, ‘clandestine’, or ‘illegalised’ migration. This was formulated by Etienne Balibar as early as 1997 in his talk ‘What we owe to the Sans-papiers’: ‘Finally we owe them … for having recreated citizenship among us, since the latter is not an institution nor a status, but a collective practice. They did it … by stimulating new forms of activism and renewing old ones’ (Balibar 2013 (1997)). Balibar’s talk was given in the context of a sustained wave of solidarity after sans-papiers, who had occupied the Saint-Bernard Church, were brutally evicted six months earlier. It would be too simple to interpret Balibar’s talk as a comfortable articulation made from a distance, as benevolent advocacy, as romantic idealisation of the necessary radicalism of these struggles. Of course there is a significant difference between the positions of a (legalised, white) academic and those of the sans-papiers. And this difference also has relevance for the question of how we think of the connections between activism, theory and art, because it constantly leads back to the foundations of representation, which alongside depicting and presenting also means taking someone’s place. Who speaks? Who is heard? Who is seen? What is overlooked? It is the question of subalternity, witnessing and authority. It is a big question that can only resonate in the background here. At this point it is important to me first that Balibar names a turning point that emphasises the fundamental contribution of migration struggles in reforming the idea of the political, both theoretically and practically. Yann Moulier Boutang – to whom we owe the thesis of the ‘autonomy



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of migration’, which insists on the persistence of movements of migration and the non-reducibility of the movements of migration to the attempts to control them and administrative regulation – extended this in 1999 to include ‘the art of flight’ (Boutang 2001 (1999)), which understands refusal, flight, not as passive, but as active political articulation.8 This led to the development of the important dictum that migration must be understood as a political and social movement (cf. Bojadžijev 2009).9 Even today, more than a decade later, it is a matter of understanding the refugee protests throughout Europe (and beyond) as the expression of a reformulation of political subjectivity. For instance, Ilker Ataç writes: The protests not only serve to make previously invisible subjects visible, but also allow us to recognize the determination of these subjects to no longer be satisfied with being forced to the margins of society, spatially, socially, and legally. The central point of this movement is thus the self-articulated demands that go along with the struggle to constitute themselves as political subjects.10

I consider the question of what is political to be the decisive question in view of the ‘art of migration’. Which is not to say that the question of its formatting is subordinate, quite the opposite. So at the same time I would like to examine critically instances where the automatic reaction to scandalous circumstances is ‘let’s make a film (video)’, an impulse that in my opinion is all too often not examined critically enough in leftist activism. As if the political promise of cinema (as the entire system, not only as the sum of all films) or the promise of video activism since the middle of the twentieth century had persisted uninterrupted. All too often, political film and videomaking assumes that the political has already been realised (or simply documented) with the film or the video as such, while not enough thought is given to becoming political, to the process of forming political subjectivity with the camera. My claim is that this marks a deficit in how we reflect on our own visual-political practice, which goes beyond the established thinking about the politics of representation. Visual politics is indeed on the agenda, but unfortunately it is all too often merely a critique of mass media stereotypes and the production of evidence to justify military interventions with the help of visual material. How one’s own political practice can also be formatted with and in the image (and sound), however, is too often left out. Films and videos – and the same can be said for exhibitions – do not simply stand in a relation of depiction to the political, and they also have no purely educational function. As important as the idea of a counter-public

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is, indeed for making information available, other functions are equally important, including questions of aesthetics, the relation of production and reception, of thinking and becoming with the camera. These questions are also not new, quite the contrary, but they are usually primarily treated as questions inherent to art, and not treated as political questions, at least not with the same rigour. In a reverse gesture, by designating the subject of migration for an exhibition project, the decision to do so – to address migration via image production and exhibition – is presented without further explanation. It is as if the political concern has already been sufficiently legitimated merely by choosing the topic. While aesthetic decisions and the relation between the artist(s) and the subject (or the subjects – the ‘migrants’) are usually scrutinised to some degree, the format of an exhibition itself is generally no subject for concern or debate. So, for instance, Melanie Friend, in her chapter ‘Representing Immigration Detainees’, written for her exhibition Border Country (2007) about ‘asylum seekers’ in Great Britain, does go into great detail about the complication of the politics of representation as well as the problems of making visible victimisation, and so on, but the question of why she is pursuing an artistic – or more precisely, a photographic and audio-based – project in the first place and why this is considered a meaningful intervention is assumed already to have been answered without mentioning it at all. Friend does raise her discomfort in view of the inequality of the situation and her empathy for the tales of woe told by her interview partners. This, however, does not affect her choice of artistic format, and belongs, much like the efforts to insure a ‘good’ and ‘friendly’ relationship with the persons filmed in a documentary, to the performative enunciation acts of ethical and political responsibility, which serve to legitimise a project as inherently political (albeit in the mode of the moral). Friend also writes: Whilst in the process of making ‘Border Country’ I often felt immense empathy with the individuals I met, from the start I had to make clear to interviewees the boundaries and limits of my project. I laid out clearly the parameters of our relationship: how the project could not help them directly. I did try to assist several detainees … but I had to be clear that I was neither a member of the press able to swiftly publicise their plight – which was unlikely to have an effect anyway – nor was I a legal expert who could get them out of detention. I could not claim that being interviewed was an empowering experience for the detainees, or encourage any hope that their voices could effect change; but they might help influence public opinion.11



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Friend thus enumerates the important points – effect, change, empowerment, help, empathy – but every moment of involvement is immediately relativised. Radical Rewind The fact that we think of art and political activism as obviously intertwined, however, is also the result of radical interventions in earlier decades, which decisively altered both the field of art and artistic practice as well as the field of the political. The great promise of the 1990s ran as follows: activism and artistic practice are no longer a dichotomy.12 The basis for this claim was found essentially in the extension of an activist/ political vocabulary to include symbolic-interventionist forms, which was expressed, for example, in the Handbuch der Kommunikationsguerilla (Handbook for Communications Guerrillas) – ‘the indispensible tool box for social protest movements’ – which first appeared in 1997.13 The following appeared on the occasion of the fourth edition of the book: Whether Castor Transport or border camp, airline deportation policies, selling off whole neighbourhoods in London or regime change in Austria, unwelcome ministerial visits to the provinces or global protests in Genoa: the communications guerrillas have their fingers in it. Not that the individual entities recognise one another – what joins them is a certain way of looking at the paradoxes and absurdities of power, of playing with representation and identities, with alienation and over-identification. (autonome a.f.r.i.k.a. gruppe / Sonja Brünzels 2002)

I would like to highlight two examples of activism that successfully managed to usurp the dominant cultural grammar in the German context, with a focus on migration and anti-racism: the action kein mensch ist illegal (no human being is illegal) (kmii) and the antiracist network Kanak Attak (to which I myself belonged for a few years). kmii was brought to life in 1997, and it grew out of the Hybrid Workspace at documenta X14 and was ‘from the beginning set up as a hybrid project of artistic and political practice’. It joined up ‘radical political demands with a tactical understanding of media and a presence in the art discourse’ and combined ‘a wide variety of anti-racist activities in complex political as well as aesthetic alliances, for instance those based in (pop) culture’ (Homann 2002). The call was promptly taken up by numerous groups and individuals and

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the initiative continues to this day in the No-Border Netzwerk and campaigns like Deportation Class.15 While kmii was initially and decidedly positioned in the context of art, Kanak Attak was a political project from its very inception, although due to the tools that the anti-racist network regularly used, it was (and is) misunderstood as an artists’ group.16 The alliance was called into action in 1998 with a manifesto.17 This manifesto was written by people who had already been active in anti-racist, immigration and leftist contexts, and many of them were also active as cultural producers. The manifesto went viral, as one would put it today. The call was taken up by many people, or more precisely, they made it their own, and after the first national meeting in Frankfurt am Main, numerous Kanak Attak groups were formed in various (West) German cities, as political associations. At the same time, events started taking place on stage under the ‘label’ Kanak or Kanak Attak (the writer Feridun Zaimoğlu had already coined the term Kanak label for his performances), including the reading and sound tour VIP: KANAK by Imran Ayata and Feridun Zaimoğlu. At the Hamburg stop on this tour in 2000, in what was then the Schiller Opera, Aljoscha Zinflou, as the host of the evening, formulated the amalgamation of political practice and culture in a statement by Kanak Attak: By making inroads into the area of culture, we are occupying and politicising an area that also only allows Kanaks their work under certain conditions. Sexy, hybrid, enriching, successful, that’s how the ghetto kids from Kreuzberg are meant to be the model Kanaks of the Berlin Republic. But we don’t come from Kreuzberg, but from everywhere, and we’re not going to let ourselves be assimilated or dictated to about what our field should look like.18

Then in 2001 the first large-scale Kanak Attak event took place: Dieser Song gehört uns (This Song Belongs to Us) at the Volksbühne am RosaLuxemburg-Platz in Berlin, the whole of which was filled over several days with lectures, DJs, discussions, film-clip presentations, and the OpelPitbullAutoput revue. This ‘History Revue’ is worth pointing out as being the first time stories of migration were presented in a performance with a focus on the dynamics of the struggles. Classical archival or research work also took the stage here, serving to develop positions on the current socio-political situation. This was followed in 2002 by Konkret/ Konkrass, a mixture of stage work, panels, films and DJing on the topic of ‘No Integration’, the right to legalisation and globalisation from below; in 2003 and 2004 by the performance Le Show Papers Royal, which was



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6.1. Kanak Attak, The Walking Cube, drawing from the eponymous performance in the frame of the exhibition Crossing Munich (2009), Rathausgalerie Munich. Marker on several foils, layered, drawings based on photos taken during the noborder protests against the detention centre in Pagani, Lesvos, Greece, September 2009. As a result of these protests over 100 migrants were released with so called ‘white papers’. The images consist of photos taken at their departure.

created in the context of the campaign Recht auf Rechte (Right to Rights) and the founding of the Society for Legalisation, as well as the production Dönerstress, also in 2004.19 The last performance by Kanak Attak took place in 2008 and 2009, The Walking Cube, which was first presented at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt (House of world cultures) in Berlin in the context of the exhibition In the Desert of Modernity: Colonial Planning and After 20 and then was reworked as a new version for the exhibition and research project Crossing Munich.21 This listing would seem to suggest how and why Kanak Attak could be misunderstood as an artists’ group. It focuses, however, only on those moments when Kanak Attak went on stage (there were also videos, lectures, text production, brochures, a CD, T-shirts and much more). One could also tell the history of this alliance in a completely different way, focusing instead on processes of discussion, group meetings, and difficult and tedious negotiations with other activists about shared arguments, strategies and campaigns. As was to be expected, however, these processes were barely documented if at all, although the cultural articulations did produce artefacts that I can draw on today. The fact

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that Kanak Attak is often taken as art and not as politics, however, has much more to do with how symbolic capital is generated in the field of art (at least, participation in group meetings and discussion processes never leads to citations). Already in 2000, the Hamburg Schiller Opera statement was prudently foresighted: ‘Who will become the crème de la crème of the Kanaks and why?’ In addition, the promise from the 1990s of linking art and politics into a new entity encountered institutional and economic logics that were more about absorbing the codes and systems in each case. But it was also not the case that there was no consciousness about this confusion in the context of the popular left: ‘Communication guerrilla is theory, activism, poetry, crafts, technology, political work, pleasure, some take it for art’ (autonome a.f.r.i.k.a. gruppe/Sonja Brünzels 2002; my emphasis). The Art of Migration? The misunderstanding was also intentional and self-induced – it was a matter of ignoring the regulations of both fields, politics and art, borne by the conviction that there was a new activist practice coming into being here, which not only had no concern for attribution, but thought to advance the project of the political by occupying and rewriting both grammars, the political as well as the cultural. Subsequently, however, a fundamental change started taking place from the early 2000s. Art no longer only produced superstars – art itself became a superstar, and this included interventionist and political art. Art theory, and especially socalled German Bildwissenschaft (visual studies), claimed to be a master discipline; art became a strong market power and a thematic generator and set the tone for many thematic discourses. In recent years, the context of art has also included the conviction that now, in view of the failure of institutionalised politics, one is called on to take over the task of the political avant-garde, as the citation from Bifo at the beginning palpably attests to. But rather than understanding the artistic avant-garde and politics as mutually exclusive areas (and productively putting the old form vs. content debate on another track), an avant-garde status is reclaimed, one that includes both, thus subsuming the political of art, or rather, claiming that place in art where the political (newly or in the first place) can be unfolded. This observation in no way denies the meaning of new theoretical approaches to productively interrelating aesthetics and politics – the primary source here seems to be Jacques Rancière – but quite the contrary.22 Thinking the political further requires appropriating



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the power to define from the field of politics proper. But practical concretisations in the field of art must be mindful of this turning point. As mentioned already, migration became a successful exhibition topic. So there are curated exhibitions of contemporary art, exhibitions that are above all about acknowledging migration as a movement of historical impact (this also concerns the so-called museification of migration) as well as documentary exhibitions that seek to enlighten politically (and historically), as well as exhibitions in an activist context, such as those in the context of the Kunstfestival der Flüchtenden (Art Festival of the Fleeing), in the refugee protest camp or in the context of the Festival gegen Rassismus (Festival against Racism) (both in Berlin in 2013) or also cultural and art projects with an activist-political claim, such as the Wienwoche in Vienna, which was founded in 2012 and which uses the motto ‘How Migration Changes All of Us’ in 2014.23 I have already discussed the current prominence of migration in art theoretical discourse in another text and so I refrain here from making a (renewed) list of titles, research projects and persons (cf. Heidenreich 2011; 2013a, b). Instead, I will focus on the question: what is it about? – in the sense of: what is at stake? I will discuss this in terms of participation and reception. It has to be about something if the political claim is meant to be plausible, whether that be in (art) theoretical negotiation or in artistic practice. That much should be clear. This does not mean that urgency alone, the immediacy of the issue or the situation, is a sufficient response to the question of how art and activism can be entangled, or that the question of the forms of the political can be considered as answered. But it makes a decisive difference whether the thesis of the autonomy of migration (Boutang) refers to the struggles of migration or to a video essay.24 One can take up and treat the right topics and still be wrong, in the sense of not meaning anything by it. There is also no documented right to transgressivity that has come down to us, neither in the sphere of art nor in one’s own biography, and also not with respect to one’s own identity. What is political, when and how, must still be negotiated anew, over and over again. This is why there are also no aesthetic or formal strategies that might direct affects and effects, a format that could guarantee putting things into movement – and then in the right direction to boot. There is only this question that has been posed time and time again. Just like that of participation and reception. Gerald Raunig summarised the following (thoroughly plausible) criteria for a critical intervention art, or in his words, ‘intervention art that is not considered in terms of content’ (Raunig 2000):

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The interventionists’ activity lies in the preproductive, meaning in a parallel dimension to the work aspect and above all prior to it. This causes products more or less to become unexhibitable, they are not circulated in the art market, they no longer necessitate mediation. Secondly, it has to do with intervention in the form, in the structures of a micro-political field. Instead of a work on products, it must be work on the means of production. Thirdly, aside from the micro-political effects, the model nature of this kind of art is significant. It is able to provide producers an improved apparatus and incites them to produce. (Raunig 2000)

In the last point, the idea of participation resonates, which is deployed above all in community art. However, as Stella Rollig claims in the same place (the Transversal issue kunst 2.0): ‘equality among artists and non-artists in projects conceived of and carried out by artists remains a fiction’ (Rollig 2000). Raunig is also aware of this fiction: he describes in the same article how community art can go wrong when it itself commodifies and exhibits the inequality. It is precisely this successful resonance, however, that is found taken to an extreme in the art world: for instance, the perversion of participatory art in the intensification of the over-exhibition of misery in numerous works by Santiago Sierra, in which he has people, including political refugees, street vendors, prostitutes and (illegalised) migrants, perform meaningless, brutal, redundant and laborious tasks, which violate both borders and shame, for minimal remuneration,25 in order thus to ‘bring exploitation and oppression into the art world’.26 It is a similar case with the exposition and ideological exploitation of poverty in the film by Renzo Martens mentioned above: during the course of the film he ‘encourages’ the local (sometimes literally starving) Congolese population to ‘enjoy poverty’, an argument he illuminates with a neon sign that he has local porters carry through the jungle and set up in various villages. He also ‘teaches’ Congolese photographers to capitalise on poverty like their Western colleagues by taking images of starving children and wounded people instead of photographing weddings, as such images would sell well to an international audience (the project fails because the photographers in the end do not get accredited by the big international agencies). Martens takes advantage of the (equally convincing) criterion of an intensive, because destructive, reception as the sign of engaged art, and insists that the audience feel the same pain as the one he is showing. The anguish of the experience of looking thus would consist precisely in being exposed to (one’s own otherwise) immunity to the misery of the world: ‘That’s what



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6.2. Petja Dimitrova, Staatsbügerschaft?/Nationality?, 2003, video still. Video, DVD Pal, 8 min, German/English.

angers people: the fact that they see what it is to be part of zero reaction, and that watching this film, which is indeed quite an ordeal, makes them part of that zero, not of a better world. But really, what I show is the price that we pay, and that we ask others to pay, for privilege, for art’ (Martens in Demos 2012: 98). This argument does hold a certain plausibility, but only if the artist is taken out of the equation, and therefore also the circumstances and concerns of production. Martens does present himself as the producer in his film, but he is at the same time only the analyst and documentarist of that misery that ‘the audience’, that is, all the others, creates and justifies by general indifference. One’s own involvement in the misery only serves the cause of art’s great gesture of discovery, that of having invented a truly new documentary genre.27 The only ones who must be shocked are the others – those others that are also required by the form of empathy-based reception that Martens criticises (the suffering of the world is devastating, literally leading to pity (Demos 2012: 98)). The audience must therefore be either enlightened or condescended to. The production of art and the producer of art remain an unassailable blank position in all of this, possessing a ‘phantasmatic position as flexible universalist overseeing all’ (Raunig 2000).

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The role of participation in production can literally connect the two terms art and migration. Describing the strategies in and of migration as art can be taken literally: not only can the globalised system of art, much like tourism, be analytically intertwined with migration (shared spaces, overlappings, parallels),28 not only can the uses and tactics (in de Certeau’s sense) of migration be creative in an artistic sense – maskings and narratives, for example29 – but art can itself become a migration strategy. For instance, at steirischer Herbst ’95, WochenKlausur commissioned seven refugees to produce a ‘social sculpture’, the sale of which procured for them the work status of ‘artist’, which in turn facilitated access to a legal residency status (cf. Kube Ventura 2002: 194). This becomes even more pointed in the works of Tanja Ostojić and Petja Dimitrovas, Looking for a Husband with EU Passport (2000–5) and Staatsbürgerschaft/Nationality (2003)30 respectively, which both stage, realise and document their struggle for a legal residency status in the EU as an artistic process. In doing so, they put art as an institution and (economic) system to work for the goals of migration, marking the lists and ingenuity of migrant strategies as art (as artful) and in art. In short, they take the art of migration literally. Fast Forward To speak of the ‘art of migration’ is of course immediately to call up the debates on the tension between fact and figure, the critique of metaphoric romanticising of the nomadic, of exile, of mobility.31 This tension even turns up in my formulation that it must be about something, that something has to be at stake. But it is not a matter of opening up the relationship of previous reality/subsequent representation, but of assuming the relationship to be intertwined. Once again Rancière: ‘The fiction of the aesthetic age defined models for connecting the presentation of facts and forms of intelligibility that blurred the border between the logic of facts and the logic of fiction’ (Rancière 2013: 34–5). This connection, according to Rancière, has come from literature and ‘crossed over to the new narrative art – cinema’ (Rancière 2006: 61). Whereas cinema takes ‘both of these means, the mute and suggestive trace and the construction that calculates the power of meaning and the truth value, to the heights of their possibilities’ (Rancière 2006: 61).32 This is the sense in which I would like to conclude by briefly coming back to the meaning of the (video) camera for subjectivisation, by making cursory reference to the works of Maurizio Lazzarato and Angela



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Melitopoulos (in which theoretical and artistic practice are intertwined).33 For both, video is not a medium of representation, but a technology of time, of subjectivising, of becoming: ‘It is not simply a matter of an image that should be seen, but of an image that one tampers with, that one works with (a time of the event)’ (Lazzarato 2002: 79). For Melitopoulos, video is an essential medium of migration – an argument that Mieke Bal also makes in the context of her much-discussed term of ‘migratory aesthetics’ and her contribution to the catalogue for the exhibition 2move, although her explanation of it is somewhat different (cf. Bal and HernándezNavarrao 2008). Here the micropolitical strategies of migrants are to be understood as a kind of non-linear montage, which consists in ‘linking heterogeneous elements in one’s thinking and actions, which would normally be regarded as contradictory’ (Melitopoulos 2007). Thus, for her, ‘the essential function of an image is not a suitable representation of a given reality or the emphasis of a correspondence between a real object and our memory, but rather the image (and the idea) is that through which our consciousness finds its orientation, steering the flow of thought and images that it crosses’ (Melitopoulos 2007). In this sense, the video image is activating, it is ‘an image that one can interfere with’ and not so much ‘an image that one looks at’ (Lazzarato 2002: 174). The problem therefore does not fundamentally lie in representation, but in the fact that the power of working with images is withheld from social practice (cf. Lazzarato 2002: 78). I cannot entirely share Lazzarato’s and Melitopoulos’s media ontology – it ignores the part that the capitalist logic of the marketability of a technology plays in the history and practice of video and would also mean that anywhere that video had a different (or at least in the period of analogue video) history in the context of political filmmaking, the image could not be articulated as event and could only serve as depiction – and thus seamlessly pass over from cinema in Rancière to video. Their approach here, however, does serve as a possible example of the necessary reversal of the representational-political paradigm that I raised in the beginning in the perspective of migration in view of concrete practices with video. But the fact that these are not only relevant in the field of art is attested to, among other things, by the numerous Harga YouTube videos and their re-edits in (raï/rap) music videos (cf. Friese 2012).34 As the debates about the relationship of (social) media and political movements as a chicken-or-egg question have made clear, media participate, but they do not produce any activism (cf. for instance Ohm 2013). This is plainly also the case for art: it can participate, but activism needs more than a stage, a screen or an exhibition space. On the other hand, art, as a space

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for thinking, offers opportunities to grasp the role of digital (cell phone) cameras and the new images that have emerged in (and not merely from) the great political struggles of our time, starting from the 2009 Green Revolution in Iran through the so-called Arab Spring up to the Gezi Park protests in Turkey. Today, processes of political subjectivisation always take place with and in video/the image – and they do not need art to occur. But in the processes of aesthetic reflection of artistic works, these can be thought out further, archived and projected into other spaces – for instance in Rabih Mroué’s work Pixelated Death about cell phone videos from Syria – which also convey knowledge gained from concrete experience about how to use the camera for political work. If we take migration seriously as a social and political movement, as a movement that fundamentally reconfigures the political, and understand migration not as something to depict, but as an event, then another perspective also opens up for the question of the relation between art and activism. This – the perspective of migration – is already in the image. But it still needs to be activated: politically and aesthetically. Notes 1 This chapter was first published in German as ‘Die Perspektive der Migration aufzeichnen / einnehmen / ausstellen / aktivieren’, in Alexander Fleischmann and Doris Guth (eds), Kunst – Theorie – Aktvismus. Emanzipatorische Perspektiven auf Ungleichheit und Diskriminierung. Bielefeld: Transcript, 2015. Translation from the German version by Daniel Hendrickson. 2 The manifesto of Republicart, drafted by Gerald Raunig in 2002, thus ends as follows: ‘In the context of current political movements, art is becoming public again. Around the issues and activist strands of globalisation, border regimes and migration, the conditions are being created to get “revolutionary machine, artistic machine and analytical machine working as mutual components and gears of one another” (Gilles Deleuze/Felix Guattari)’ (Raunig 2002). In 2002, Raunig was one of the organisers of the Transversal conference (http://igkultur. at/projekte/transversal/transversal), which addressed the new transnational political struggles and the transsectoral connection of activism, the production of theory and artistic intervention. The conference was organised by IG Kultur and the European Institute for Progressive Cultural Policies (EIPCP), the latter of which was co-founded by Raunig. EIPCP initially published the republicart web journal (2002–5) and today the online publication Transversal. In both, there are numerous texts that are relevant to the discussion here, some of which will also be cited.



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3 Online: (accessed 27 December 2014). 4 At the conference L’artiste en ethnographe at the Musée du Quay Branly in Paris, 26–27 May 2012 (personal notes, N.H.). 5 See here in particular Oliver Marchart 2010. 6 These riots regularly take place in bigger cities such as Berlin and Hamburg, which are also the sites of traditional political rallies and demonstrations on 1 May. Berlin, for example, is the location for the yearly “Revolutionary May 1st Demonstration” which was initiated after 1987, when major riots broke out in the Kreuzberg neighbourhood of the city. Hamburg has mainly been the place for the Europe-wide Euromayday activities (http://www. 7 See Power 2013; Trott 2013. 8 On the exodus, see also Papadopoulos, Stephenson and Tsianos 2009; on the analysis of the so-called non-movements as political, see especially Bayat 2009, which examines subaltern movements in Iran. 9 See also the sub-chapter ‘The Subject of Politics’ in Mezzadra and Neilson 2013: 251–7. 10 Ataç 2013. Ataç also explains how flight can be understood as a political act: ‘In many cases, even the reason for the flight is a political act, the decision to flee becomes a political act. Even the circumstances of travelling as well as the necessity of organising oneself with respect to looking for protection in another country are political acts.’ 11 How one can reflect differently on such a circumstance is explained by the filmmaker, curator and educator Madhusree Dutta in an interview (see Sarkar and Wolf 2012). 12 For an overview of political art in the 1990s in the German-speaking world, see Kube Ventura 2002. Furthermore, on the discussion about the relation between theory, activism and art, see Raunig 2005, as well as Babias 1995. 13 See also the blog chronicle of the communications guerrilla. Online: http:// (accessed 27 December 2014). 14 The Hybrid Workspace was conceived by Geert Lovink and Pitz Schultz and encompasses a long list of participating individuals, initiative and groups. See their online archive: (accessed 27 December 2014). 15 On the No-Border Network, see their website. Online: For Deportation Class, see their online archive: (both accessed 27 December 2014). 16 See Heidenreich 2013b, Heidenreich and Vukadinović 2008. 17 See the website of the network:, under archive, texts to download (accessed 27 December 2014).

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18 Personal transcription of a video recording of an evening from the personal archives of former Kanak Attak members. 19 On all events, see the networks’ websites. Online: and www. (accessed 27 December 2014). 20 See the Haus der Kulturen der Welt’s website. Online: programm/2008/wueste_der_moderne/_wueste_der_moderne/projekt-detail_ wueste_20465.php (accessed 27 December 2014). 21 The project is devoted to the history and present of migration in Munich. See the project’s website. Online: (accessed 27 December 2014). 22 See for instance Rebentisch 2012; Kastner 2012. 23 See the festival website. Online: (accessed 27 December 2014). 24 When writing about Ursula Biemann’s Sahara Chronicle (2006–7), T. J. Demos essentially uses the vocabulary of the thesis of the autonomy of migration: ‘wherein migrants are shown as definers of their own destiny, existing outside of the nation’s attempts at controlling them. According to their geography of resistance, migrants chart their course defiantly through the state’s space, rendering its borders porous, positioning themselves as rebels against the sovereignty that otherwise excludes them’ (Demos 2008: 190). 25 See for instance the individual exhibition at the Tübinger Kunsthalle 2013. Online: view&id=281&Itemid=194&catid=148/ (accessed 27 December 2014). 26 See the venue’s website. Online: ?rubrik=archiv&detail=114 (accessed 27 December 2014). 27 Source: hearsay, that is, private gossip. On the function of gossip as an alternative form of knowledge production, see the works of Marc Siegel – and Vaginal Davis’s blog Speaking from the Diaphragm. Online: (accessed 25 March 2014). 28 See Holert and Terkessidis 2006. 29 Strategies of masking such as masking as a national handball team from Sri Lanka, as a car seat, as an old white man. 30 See Petja Dimitrova’s homepage. Online: Staatsbuergerschaft.html (accessed 27 December 2014). Petja Dimitrova is also part of the artistic and managing team of the Wienwoche. 31 See for instance Ahmed 2000. 32 Translator’s note: The German and English translations of Rancière’s Le Partage du sensible have significant differences. In order to maintain the integrity of the argument in this text, this and the previous citation (which do not appear in the English translation) have been translated from the German version.



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33 Relevant video works by Melitopoulos here are Passing Drama (1999), Corridor X (2006), as well as the project Timescapes. See the online documentation: www. (accessed 27 December 2014). 34 Harga videos document the Mediterranean passage. These are often also used in music videos, which use them, sample and re-edit them or cite them; to a certain degree they are their own migration genre. Harga stands for ‘burning’ and ‘burning one’s papers’, also the burning wish to flee, to make it to Europe. See the interview with Heidrun Friese in the German daily newspaper Tagesspiegel from 16 February 2011. Online: html (accessed 27 December 2014). In this interview, Friese also refers to the role of popular music in political mobilisation.

Bibliography Ahmed, Sara, Strange Encounters: Embodied Others in Post-Coloniality. New York and Abingdon: Routledge, 2000. Ataç, Ilker, ‘Die Selbstkonstituierung der Flüchtlingsbewegung als politisches Subjekt’ (‘The Self-Constitution of the Refugee Movement as a Political Subject’), Transversal 02 (2013). Online: atac/de (accessed 28 December 2013). autonome a.f.r.i.k.a. gruppe / Luther Blissett / Sonja Brünzels, Handbuch der Kommunikationsguerilla. Berlin: Assoziation A, 1997. autonome a.f.r.i.k.a. gruppe / Sonja Brünzels, ‘Kommunikationsguerilla, 4. Auflage, 2002’ (2013). Online: kommunikationsguerilla-4.-auflage (accessed 28 December 2013). Babias, Marius (ed.), Im Zentrum der Peripherie. Kunstvermittlung und Vermittlungskunst in den 90er Jahren. Dresden and Basel: Verlag der Kunst, 1995. Bal, Mieke and Miguel Ángel Hernández-Navarro, 2MOVE: Video, Art, Migration. Murcia: Cendeac, 2008. Balibar, Etienne, ‘What we owe to the Sans-papiers’, Transversal 02 (2013 (1997)). Online: (accessed 28 December 2013). Bayat, Asef, Life as Politics. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2009. Bifo, Franco Berardi, ‘Pasolini in Tottenham’, e-flux Journal 3:43 (2013). Online: (accessed 21 May 2014). Bojadžijev, Manuela, Die Windige Internationale: Rassismus und Kämpfe der Migration. Münster: Westfälisches Dampfboot, 2009. Bourdieu, Pierre, Politik, Schriften zur Politischen Ökonomie 2, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp 2013.

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Boutang, Yann Moulier and Stanley Grelet, ‘The Art of Flight: An Interview with Yann Moulier-Boutang’, Rethinking Marxism: A Journal of Economics, Culture & Society 13:3–4 (2001 (1999)): 227–35. Demos, T. J., ‘Sahara Chronicle: Video’s Migrant Geography’, in Ursula Biemann and Jan-Erik Lundström (eds), Mission Reports. Artistic Practice in the Field: The Video Works of Ursula Biemann 1998–2009. Bildmuseet Umea and Arnolfini Bristol, Manchester: Cornerhouse Publishers, 2008, pp. 178–90. —— ‘Toward a New Institutional Critique: A Conversation with Renzo Martens’, Atlántica 52 (2012): 90–103. Friend, Melanie, ‘Representing Immigration Detainees: The Juxtaposition of Image and Sound in “Border Country” (2010), FQS Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Research 2:11, Art. 33 (May 2010). Online: (accessed 28 December 2013). Friese, Heidrun, ‘Y’al babour, y’a mon amour. Raï-Rap und undokumentierte Mobilität’, in Marc Dietrich and Martin Seeliger (eds), Deutscher GangstaRap. Sozial- und kulturwissenschaftliche Beiträge zu einem Pop-Phänomen. Bielefeld: Transcript, 2012, pp. 231–84. Heidenreich, Nanna, ‘Bilder die die Körper bewegen: Neue Perspektiven auf Migration’, review, Zeitschrift für Medienwissenschaften zfm 05:2 (2011): 168–72. —— ‘Die Kunst der Migrationen’, in Annika McPherson et al. (eds), Wanderungen. Migrationen und Transformationen aus geschlechterwissenschaftlicher Perspektiven. Bielefeld: Transcript, 2013a, pp. 217–30. —— ‘Die Kunst des Aktivismus. Kanak Attak revisited’, in Burcu Dogramaci (ed.), Migration und künstlerische Produktion. Aktuelle Perspektiven. Bielefeld: Transcript, 2013b, pp. 347–60. Heidenreich, Nanna and Vojin Saša Vukadinović, ‘In Your Face. Kanak Attak and Visual Activism’, in Randal Halle and Reinhild Steingröver (eds), After the Avant-garde. Contemporary German and Austrian Experimental Film. Rochester and New York: Camden House, 2008, pp. 131–56. Holert, Tom and Mark Terkessidis, Fliehkraft. Gesellschaft in Bewegung – von Migranten und Touristen. Cologne: Kiepenheuer and Witsch, 2006. Homann, Ralf, ‘Immerwährender Neustart. Zur hybriden Praxis von kein mensch ist illegal’, Transversal 09 (2002). Online: homann/de (accessed 28 December 2013). Kastner, Jens, Der Streit um den ästhetischen Blick. Kunst und Politik zwischen Pierre Bourdieu und Jacques Rancière. Vienna: Turia and Kant, 2012. Kube Ventura, Holger, Politische Kunst Begriffe in den 1990er Jahren im deutschsprachigen Raum. Vienna: edition selene, 2002. Kuster, Brigitta, ‘Die Grenze filmen’, in Transit Migration Forschungsgruppe (eds), Turbulente Ränder. Neue Perspektiven auf Migration an den Grenzen



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Europas. Bielefeld: Transcript (2007), pp. 187–202. Lazzarato, Maurizio, Videophilosophie. Berlin: b_books, 2002. Marchart, Oliver, Die politische Differenz. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 2010. Melitopoulos, Angela, ‘Timescapes. The Logic of the Sentence’, Transversal 02 (2007). Online: (accessed 28 December 2013). Mezzadra, Sandro, ‘Lo sguardo dell’autonomía / Der Blick der Autonomie’, in Kölnischer Kunstverein et al. (eds), Projekt Migration. Cologne: DuMont, 2005, pp. 794–5. Mezzadra, Sandro and Brett Neilson, Border as Method, or, the Multiplication of Labor. Durham, NC, and London: Duke University Press, 2013. Ohm, Britta, ‘A public for democracy: overcoming mediated segregation in Turkey’, Open Democracy, 22 July 2013. Online: http://www.opendemocracy. net/britta-ohm/public-for-democracy-overcoming-mediated-segregation-inturkey (accessed 28 December 2013). Papadopoulos, Dimitris, Niamh Stephenson and Vassilis Tsianos, Escape Routes. Control and Subversion in the 21st Century. London: Pluto Press, 2008. Power, Nina, ‘Rioting with Reason: From England to Sweden and Back Again’, Mute, 27 May 2013. Online: (accessed 28 December 2013). Rancière, Jacques, Die Aufteilung des Sinnlichen. Die Politik der Kunst und ihre Paradoxien. Berlin: b_books, 2006. —— The Politics of Aesthetics. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013. Raunig, Gerald, ‘republicart Manifesto’, Republicart 07:08 (2002). Online: http:// (accessed 28 December 2013). —— Kunst und Revolution. Künstlerischer Aktivismus im langen 20. Jahrhundert. Vienna: Turia and Kant, 2005. —— ‘Grandparents of Interventionist Art, or Intervention in the Form. Rewriting Walter Benjamin’s “Der Autor als Produzent”’, Transversal 02:12 (2000). Online: (accessed 28 December 2013). Rebentisch, Juliane, Die Kunst der Freiheit. Zur Dialektik demokratischer Existenz. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 2012. Rollig, Stella, ‘Between Agitation and Animation: Activism and Participation in Twentieth Century Art’, Transversal 02:03 (2000). Online: transversal/0601/rollig/en (accessed 28 December 2013). Sarkar, Bhaskar and Nicole Wolf, ‘Documentary Acts: An Interview with Madhusree Dutta’, BioScope: South Asian Screen Studies 3 (2012): 21–34. Trott, Ben (ed.), ‘Special Issue: Rebellious Subjects: The Politics of England’s 2011 Riots’, South Atlantic Quarterly 112:3 (2013).

7 Art from Asia Aesthetic Cosmopolitanism and the World in Art Nikos Papastergiadis

Contemporary art has recently been seen as a world-making activity. It is not only an icon of the globalising forms that are reshaping our everyday lives, but also a sphere in which we imagine the world anew. This phenomenon is evident in Asia as it is in many other places. Artists see themselves as opening new frontiers in the aesthetic form and the social context of visual experience. These transformations in artistic practice also prompt a rethinking of how we explain the modality of creative imagination, from its classical roots as a cosmic force, an expression of the mental faculties, and a product of its material environment. It has also provoked a radical appraisal of cosmopolitanism as a term that can refer to the widest possible forms of belonging. Cosmopolitanism is the product of an idea of the world and an ideal form of global citizenship. Everyone who is committed to it recalls the phrase first used by Socrates and then adopted as a motif by the Cynics and the Stoics: ‘I am a citizen of the world’ (Plutarch 1959). Indeed the etymology of the word and its theory appear to be in wondrous symmetry. Throughout history cosmopolitanism has continuously surfaced as a concept that addresses the meaning of the subject at both the core of being and the widest spheres of belonging. It can be traced back to the mythological fascination with the abyss of the void and the infinite cosmos, as well as recurring in the philosophical debates about the relationship between individual freedom and universal rights. I will argue that the need to give form – to make a world – out of these extremities is a persistent feature of critical imagination and that its contemporary manifestations are more clearly grasped through the concept of aesthetic cosmopolitanism. This general claim about aesthetic cosmopolitanism is grounded in the observation of the current tendencies to generate a


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dialogue between global issues and local experiences in contemporary art, and is subsequently developed through a reframing of the debates over the function of the imagination within aesthetics and politics. At the heart of this chapter are key examples of artistic practices from Asia that explore the issues of belonging, hospitality and cosmopolitanism. For the Stoics this notion of being and belonging was expressed in a complex way – there was a spiritual sense of interconnectedness, and an aesthetic interest in difference, as well as a sense of political equality and moral responsibility with all humanity. Since the Stoics the spiritual and aesthetic dimensions of cosmopolitanism have been slowly disregarded. Roman Stoics like Tacitus and Seneca were the first to link the moral values of prudence, endurance and steadfastness with imperial governance. In the sixteenth century the Dutch philosopher Justus Lipsius put further stress on the stoic virtues of moderation, courage and toughness, as he defined the principles of good governance through the ethos of emotional self-restraint. Henceforth, the cosmopolitan vision of conviviality and justice was dependent on the moral fortitude of the leaders and a state system based on reason (Oestrich 1982). By the time Kant adopted cosmopolitanism as a key concept for thinking about global peace, the focus was almost entirely on de-provincialising the political imaginary and extolling the moral benefits of extending a notion of equal worth to all human beings. Since Kant the debates on cosmopolitanism have been even more tightly bound to the twin notions of moral obligations and the virtue of an open interest in others. In more prosaic terms, the concept of cosmopolitanism now serves as a catchphrase for expressing the ‘duty’ to live with all the other people in this world, and the moral challenge that humanity should rise up to (Appiah 2006). If we have to elevate ourselves in order to become cosmopolitan, then what is ordinary existence? And, from where does the original cosmopolitan vision of conviviality come? Is it the outcome of reasoned argument, or the perception that mutuality is an inherent human quality? Kant argued that reason delivers a cosmopolitan order through the progress of the historical narrative of civilisation (Kant 1983). I propose an alternative view that through the perpetual function of the imaginative world picture-making ensures that aesthetics is always cosmopolitan. I obviously share the commitment towards securing the moral and political ideals of cosmopolitanism, but the emphasis on ethical duties and deliberative frameworks, and the attendant disregard for the aesthetic process, has constrained both the scope of the ideal and obscured the signs of cosmopolitanism. In short, I will argue that the focus on the

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necessary moral stance of openness has failed to notice the concomitant forms of aesthetic interest. Cornelius Castoriadis claimed that the act of the imagination is the principle means for facing both the abyss of the being and the eternity of the cosmos (Castoriadis 1997a: 3). This act of facing is a big bang aesthetic moment, filled with horror and delight. Traces of this aesthetic encounter with the abyss of being and the infinity of the cosmos can be found in the everyday acts of curiosity, attraction and play. It is from this perspective that I will argue that the cosmopolitan images of conviviality arise not only from a moral imperative, but also from an aesthetic interest in others and difference. I will propose that the aesthetic dimension of the cosmopolitan imaginary can be reclaimed through a critical overview of the contemporary artistic practices in world-making and a reframing of the act of the imagination. Imagination – irrespective of the dimensions of the resulting form – is a world picture-making process. Imagination is therefore a crucial starting point for cosmopolitanism. Hence, the appearance of cosmopolitan tendencies in contemporary art are not just cultural manifestations of globalisation. These are the imaginings that combine an old universalism with a new kind of globalism. My interest in aesthetics is therefore not an attempt to announce the triumphant return of the repressed, but to demonstrate the need for rethinking both the general role of the imagination in cosmopolitan visions of the world and the specific visual practices that have emerged in the contemporary art scene. The concept of aesthetic cosmopolitanism has been used to refer to the now normal cultural condition in which locally situated modes of cultural production and consumption are in dialogue with globally hegemonic forms (Regev 2007). My aim is not directed toward outlining the social forces that are defining this emergent cultural field, but rather to reflect on the imaginary constitution of cosmopolitanism through aesthetic practices. I should stress that aesthetic cosmopolitanism does not simply refer to the aesthetic representations of cosmopolitanism, but to a cosmopolitan worldview that is produced through aesthetics. Therefore the attention to contemporary artistic practices is not confined to either the visualisation of cross-cultural interactions, or even the appearance of global processes in artistic practices, but is more concerned with the proposition that the process of world-making is a radical act of the cosmopolitan imaginary. The theoretical underpinnings of the concept of cosmopolitanism can thus be retraced through the recent tendencies in artistic practices. According to the artist Liam Gillick, the earlier models for representing aesthetics and politics have been rendered obsolete by the



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contemporary visual practices (Gillick 2007). In broad terms I will map out five artistic themes and tendencies that are expressive of an aesthetic cosmopolitanism – a cultural phenomenon that is borne from a productive tension between globally oriented networks and locally grounded practices. I will outline the emergence of aesthetic cosmopolitanism by tracing the rise of interest in the issues of denationalisation, reflexive hospitality, cultural translation, discursivity and the global public sphere in contemporary art. Five Tendencies in Aesthetic Cosmopolitanism For Marcel Duchamp, leaving home was a de-nationalising act of disentangling himself from the feeling of being rooted in one place. From this seminal figure in the history of modernism we can witness a cosmopolitan tendency that starts from a process of subtraction. The self-defined cosmopolitans of early modernism, such as the avant-garde artists and revolutionary intellectuals, often spoke of belonging nowhere. They eschewed any fixed or authentic attachment to their origins and adopted a perspective that Amit Chaudhuri calls ‘worldview as angularity’ (Chaudhuri 2008: 96). This peculiar perspective is prominent in the work of Jun Nguyen-Hatsushiba. His work is of immediate interest in the way it situates his own biographic coordinates of Japan, the USA and Vietnam within an atmosphere that combines hypnotic longing for a ghostly underwater afterlife with acerbic awareness of resistance and futility. This was most notable in the Memorial Project (2001–4) trilogy that utilised Vietnamese fishermen to perform underwater as bicycle taxi drivers, carriers of the New Year’s dragon puppet, and as easel painters. In each scene the languid gestures and mysterious blue waters restages the national saga of ‘boat people’ within a post-colonial frame. In deep-sea diving, between the bottom of the sea and the surface, there is a point at which neither is visible. It is worth recalling this alluring state of limbo and the dreadful sensation of placelessness, when considering Jun Nguyen-Hatsushiba’s The Beach Ball Project (2005). In its installation at the Malmö Kunsthall the room was reconstructed so that it was raised with a slight upward tilt. The floor space was covered with spherical beach balls/globes. On the globes the earth’s land surfaces were represented in light blue and the space of the oceans was transparent. It is also worth noting that the Vietnamese word nuoc is a homonym: it can mean both ‘water’ and ‘nation’ (Liew 2005). The globes/balls were both luminous and see-through. As a visitor I could sit between,

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recline amongst and press myself into these globes/balls. The body of the work and the representation of being in the world were, to return to Chaudhuri’s phrase, received in ‘angularity’. An image of the world was created through the complex and bizarre juxtaposition between the places on the globe and the weight of my own body. The persistent exilic tendency that is articulated in Jun NguyenHatsushiba’s practice can be further elaborated by following a form of artistic practice in which the spaces and protocol for receiving the work of art assumes a kind of reflexive hospitality. According to Daniel Birnbaum, the understanding of alterity and the principle of hospitality amounts to an epistemic revolution. For instance, in Olafur Eliasson’s artworks, Birnbaum observes the construction of a scenario in which the viewer is not only aware of the process by which he or she sees the work, but he also notes that ‘a kind of inversion takes place – you are seen by the work’ (Birnbaum 2008: xii). By adopting an active role in shaping the whole environment, the viewer’s subjectivity is in turn shaped by the experience of giving in to it. This shift in perspective towards the object of the artwork, and the heightened attitude towards the consciousness of the viewer in the artwork, also amounts to a redistribution of agency. It stimulates a relationship of co-production. The viewer becomes more directly engaged in the act of observation. Given the vigorous interplay between subject and object, and the fundamental role of alterity in defining the intentionality of the viewer and the form of the artwork, this tendency recasts the relationship between self and other as a form of reflexive hospitality. In Ho Tzu Nyen’s video installation at the Venice Biennale The Cloud of Unknowing (2011), he also evoked an atmosphere that highlighted the process of emergence from one state of being to another. As June Yap perceptively argued: [T]he cloud is not simply what it appears to be – a casual prop for the empyrean, but a grid and frame that locates the viewer, whom, like the aspirant of the medieval text, by paying close attention, allowing the self to be enveloped by, and surrendering to an unmediated experience of the cloud, may find the terrifying sight of his vast swathe of ignorance, momentarily checked. (Yap 2011: 8)

A more explicit articulation of this tendency can be found in Rirkrit Tiravanija’s practice of ‘sculpting hospitality’ whereby he includes cooking and the sharing of meals as part of the process of art-making. In his recent show, Fear Eats The Soul (2011), Tiravanija combined his early practice



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of print-making with the basic gesture of preparing food. In Tiravanija’s practice, the meals are relatively simple, they are media for staging the times and spaces for reflection and reception. Reflexive hospitality is also the central feature of numerous artistic collectives such as the Danish artist collective Superflex and the South Korean collective Mixed Rice, who work intensively with the existing conditions in local communities and the tools furnished by global experts. These two collectives have a history of working together. In 2002, as a protest against the xenophobia and rising forms of right-wing populist nationalism in Denmark, and the general context of the ‘war on terror’, Superflex distributed a number of posters in the city of Copenhagen with the message ‘Foreigners Please Don’t leave us Alone with the Danes’. In the 2006 Gwangju Biennale, Mixed Rice replied in kind with the message in their exhibition space: ‘Foreigners Please Don’t leave us Alone with the Koreans’. The proliferation of non-Western artists within the institutions of contemporary art has also prompted critical attention towards the process of cultural translation. For many critics when faced with the sheer volume and diversity of art that now appears in biennales, there is the instant reaction of horror – how to judge the merits of so many different works, what model can address both the cultural specificity of the artwork’s context and elucidate the capacity of art to transcend cultural differences? This cross-cultural challenge is neatly outlined by the Iranian-born but US-based artist Shirin Neshat: At one moment I am dealing with Iranians who know the sources of my material, and then I am dealing with an audience who has not a clue. To me they both have their advantages and disadvantages. With Iranians, I can never fulfil their expectations because I am [an] outsider; with foreigners I can never fulfil their expectations because I am Iranian and they are Westerners. And I can never really break down the cultural context of the work. (Neshat 2007: 724)

This neat separation between Iranians and foreigners obscures one crucial fact: Neshat’s work is speaking to a new constituency – composed of Iranians and foreigners who know what it means to be outside of a culture but still attached to it, or what Naoki Sakai calls a ‘non-aggregate community’ (Sakai 1997: 7). Obviously not everything becomes clear to a foreigner, but the artist – as a virtual cosmopolitan – embarks on the process of translating between the global and the local, without the foreknowledge of a known addressee (Mitter and Mercer 2005: 38).

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The complexities of these cosmopolitan dialogues and the residual tenacity of local knowledge can be touched upon with reference to the development in one of Korea’s most renowned artists. Although Park Seo-Bo is often celebrated for his rejuvenation of traditional techniques, material and forms, he also took inspiration from Yves Klein and Lucio Fontana. As is well known, Klein sought to both destroy and objectify the illusion of space in painting. Fontana also denounced the spatial limits of painting by cutting and puncturing the surface, which he claimed exposed an inner void that lies within the painting and between the viewer and the object of his or her gaze. The scale of Klein’s ultramarine monochromes and the tension with which Fontana cuts into the taut skin of the painting introduced an erotic allure. It may well be one of the most curious transpositions of the modern period that these emphatic declarations of the death of painting inspired the contrapuntal response in the work of Park Seo-Bo. What was presented as the limit point for modern painting provided an opportunity to rethink the source of styles and methods that were already alive in traditional Korean arts leading to the creation of a new synthesis. In Park Seo-Bo’s painting there is the birth of a third way. Between the Euro-American claims of the finality of painting and the ongoing trajectory of traditional Korean painting, Park Seo-Bo has formed a hybrid (Papastergiadis 2007). The themes of hospitality and the challenge of cross-cultural communication were also formative processes in the tendency that Bruce Ferguson defined as the ‘discursive turn’ (Ferguson and Hoegsberg 2010: 360–77). Ferguson was referring to artistic projects like Liam Gillick’s that were organised as modest participatory events. While modest in form, they also confronted some grand thematic issues and pursued overarching objectives such as examining the gaps between the processes of modernisation and the cultures of modernism, exposing the shortcomings in modernity, challenging the commodification of culture and encouraging new forms of communal activity. This discursive turn was also evident in curatorial practice. Curators such as Okwui Enwezor, Hou Hanru, Maria Lind, Charles Esche, Claire Doherty, Nick Tsoutas, Vasif Kortum, Nina Montmann, Gerardo Mosquera and the curatorial team that work under the name Who, What, How redefined the function of institutional art venues as spaces of encounter and adopted a method of representation that was sensitive to the spirit that Manray Hsu described as ‘decentralizing cosmopolitanism’ (Hsu 2005: 76). The discursive turn in artistic and curatorial practice, with its wild embrace of hybrid identities and its committed efforts to hijack capital, was also aligned with a desire to build a new global public sphere. At present



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it is impossible to ground this desire within a concrete site. The global public sphere has no territorial location, it lacks any administrative entity and there is not even a coherent community that would claim ownership over the idea. Within the conventional geo-political categories the global public sphere does not exist. And yet, within the rustling republic of texts and images that circulate in the net, in the weak gatherings of people from across the world at events such as art biennales and social fora, there are, as Immanuel Wallerstein claims, beginnings of a cultural and political imaginary that is moving away from an absolutist and nationalist ideology on cultural identity (Wallerstein 2003). The Retort collective also found inspiration from the unanticipated appearance on the world stage as something like a digital ‘multitude’, a worldwide virtual community, assembled (partly in the short term over the months of warmongering, and partly over the preceding decade, as various new patterns of resistance took advantage of cyberspace) in the interstices of the Net; and that some of the intensity of the moment derived from the experience of seeing – of hearing, feeling, facing up to – an image of refusal become a reality. (Retort 2006: 4)

The Retort collective is right to stress that the visuality of the conduct of this war on terror, that is, the global witnessing of its mode of representation, was crucial in provoking a global protest. However, just as crucial is the cascading effect of witnessing the formation of a global resistance. It is in the interplay of these two processes that they also claim a ‘premonition of a politics to come’. This vague definition of the locations, form, constituency and dynamics of this new politics is echoed further on in their text when they claim that ‘something is shifting in the technics and tactics of resistance’ (Retort 2006: 12). These new alliances are by nature fragmentary, ephemeral and loose, often operating beyond, or on the margins of, institutions and in opposition to formal structures. These flashes of creative resistance do not offer simple or even unified solutions. On the contrary, they often take us deeper into the messy complexity of everyday life. They also remind us of a fundamental principle, that these days seems to have been pushed to the side of political discourse; that is, when people, whose worldview is formed in different civilizations, encounter each other, they do not necessarily erupt into a violent clash, but can also utilise their respective intelligence to understand each other and create a dialogue about what is possible and necessary.

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I am not so naive as to rest my case on such faint claims about the potentialities that occur within transitory gatherings. Neither am I so cynical as to assert that art and activism is incapable of making any difference. Between these two extreme points is the more demanding task of teasing out emergent forms and probing the shape of reconfigured structures. Art materialises thought in all its contradictions. It does not always make the meaning of things more clear. At times, it just comes out the way things are being lived, with anachronisms still glowing and anticipations not yet reached. If, the ‘global public sphere’, as Okwui Enwezor suggests, has become both the destination of art and the focal point for shaping the politics of human life, then the challenge is to represent the relationship between art and politics within a cosmopolitan framework (Enwezor 2004: 14). These principles motivated the development of a transnational artistic project that was initiated in 2008 through a partnership that I led between scholars, curators, artists and two organisations, Federation Square in Melbourne and Art Center Nabi in Seoul.1 Both organisations are hosts to a large screen in their respective city. We proposed a project that would link the two screens in real time with the simultaneous display of a single interactive artwork. The aim was to enable the public in each place to interact with the artwork that was projected on the respective screens. Public feedback from Melbourne would be visible on the screens in Seoul and vice versa. Hence the two locations – situated at opposite ends of the world, but sharing a common time zone – would be conjoined by the mediated platforms of the large screens. On 7 August 2009, two large screens in Incheon (South Korea) and Melbourne (Australia) were used for a world first live link-up that allowed audiences to communicate with each other via digital art and SMS texting. Both large screens were situated in a large civic square. The live telematic event was designed to commemorate the launch of Incheon’s Tomorrow City – a metropolitan centre designed to house a new industrial, educational and research complex. This event was both an experiment in a transnational aesthetic experience and a site for testing the potential articulation of cultural citizenship through a transnational public sphere. It was the first outcome of a wider project on the role of large screens in transnational cultural practices that embody mediated forms of interaction and participation. From the outset this project was designed to address the logistical issues concerning the compatibility between different communication systems and civic policy issues of public display, as well as aesthetic concerns over what would be meaningful and attractive to different



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audiences. Against this awareness of the technical, curatorial and artistic challenges there was the recognition that urban space is already a mediarich environment and that everyday life is increasingly shaped by new patterns of global mobility and transnational communication. There is already extensive discussion on the formation of transnational cultural spaces (Papastergiadis and Martin 2011). Through this project we have commissioned a series of artworks that utilised the technical possibilities for establishing a mediated transnational public space. Priority was given to artists as the agents for initiating the form of encounter in a new transnational sphere, because there is now a strong trend in contemporary art practice that engages with issues of global scope, proposes interactive methods of public participation and experiments in critical forms of cross-cultural dialogue. By bringing together these globally oriented art practices with the communicative potential of large screens we witnessed the expression of intimacy and connectedness that are vital for the emergence of new forms of ‘publicness’ and transnational cultural agency (Papastergiadis et al. 2013). Art and Politics through a Cosmopolitan Frame What sort of knowledge of the world does art furnish? The discourse of aesthetics has, in broad terms, proposed that art is the free play of the mental faculties. It is capable of giving form to sensation, impression and intuitions without a conceptual order that is yoked to the logic of either instrumental function or reasoned benefit. Art represents the capacity of human imagination to conceive possibilities that have no necessary objective purpose and, as Kant argued, it can appear in an almost disinterested state of apprehension. However, for all its appreciation of art’s creative force, the discourse of aesthetics has generally viewed the knowledge of art with suspicion. Philosophers acknowledge that art can constitute its own subjective world, but they tend to argue that truth does not reside in art. This fundamental distinction between art’s ability to constitute its own image of the world, and the role of reason to deliver the truth of the world, has vexed all the debates on aesthetics and politics. My concern with this distinction is not guided by a desire to assert the priority of aesthetics, or to wrestle with the superiority of reason’s access to truth, but rather to highlight the knowledge of art as a worldmaking activity in order to recast the debates on aesthetics and politics through a cosmopolitan frame. Putting aside the recent flutter of hope that neuroscience can provide a new psychologism to explain the

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mystery of creativity, the dominant trend in the discourse of aesthetics continues to persist along two broad trajectories. One side stresses the primacy of formalist concerns, and the other emphasises the structural significance of social and political forces such as race, class, gender and power. This division is rarely articulated in absolute terms. For instance, while Liam Gillick openly acknowledges the influence of political theory, his critics would nevertheless assert, in a somewhat anxious tone, that he also remains ‘judiciously peripheral’ to the critical discourses that intersect with his practice (Szewczyck 2009: 29). This uncertainty over the divide between aesthetics and politics can be traced from Victor Burgin’s examination of the ‘unbroken thread’ in art historical treatises, in which he identifies a recurring correlation between the social value of art and non-aesthetic qualities such as spiritual sensitivity or political commitment (Burgin 1986), to T. J. Clark’s promotion of the model that art becomes revolutionary through its ideological critique of the everyday (Clark 1982) and even in Arthur C. Danto’s exploration of the triple transformation of art in its transfiguration of the ordinary (Danto 1992). Throughout these diverse accounts there is a common argument that art acquires an elevated status – it becomes revolutionary – as it is embedded within the social or propelled by external political forces. These approaches were well suited to the task of explaining the discursive affiliations, unpicking the political premonitions in the medium of art and demonstrating the formal services of art in social transformation. However, I will depart from these art historical approaches because even if there is a robust contextualisation of an emergent artistic practice, there is still a gap between the critique of the forms of aesthetic representation and the conception of aesthetic knowledge (Demos 2007). At best, the artistic imagination is perceived as occupying a space of speculative detachment that is separated from the activity that produces social change, and in the worst cases the function of the artwork is reduced to ‘a mute form of political economy’ (Lutticken 2009: 93). My aim is distinct from the view that either upholds art as a mercurial entity that eludes the grasp of theory, or condemns art to a position of ‘complicit alongsidedness’ with the dominant social forces. Of course, there is no shortage of examples in which art has been co-opted to either decorate a corporatist agenda or promote activist propaganda. Art does not exist in a pure space outside the messy complicities of institutional objectives and economic imperatives. However, the recent tendencies in art also point towards a different mode of engagement with the processes of social transformation, and in these instances the medium of art is not confined to a fixed object. This mode of political engagement and the



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current play with non-material media compels a reconfiguration of the relationship between art and politics. Although artists are forever denying that they are part of something that is recognised and defined by others, artistic practice is now increasingly tending to be defined as a medium for constituting ‘the social’ in contemporary society. In particular, I will argue that the five emergent artistic tendencies require a new cosmopolitan conceptual framework. This framework would depart from the traditional approaches that focused on the capacity of an artwork to either formally embody or pictorially represent the social changes that society is yet to recognise (Gillick 2010). Given the politicisation of contemporary visual practice, and the aestheticisation of contemporary politics, the discourse of aesthetics cannot be confined to the contemplation of an artistic object. Aesthetics is now propelled into the ambient field of image production and circulation. The ubiquity of images and the enhancement of public participation has not only disrupted the conventional categories for defining the agency of the artist, and opened up the meaning of collective authorship, but it also underscores the necessity to rethink the function of the imagination as a world-making process. Arjun Appadurai stated it most succinctly: ‘the imagination is today a staging ground for action, and not only escape’ (Appadurai 1996: 7). By drawing together insights from the recent work of Jacques Rancière and Gerald Raunig I will argue that it is possible to move beyond the dead-ends that appeared whenever the relationship between art and politics was defined as either the pictorial representation of political messages, or even the political inspiration that is drawn from art. The concept of aesthetic cosmopolitanism overcomes this impasse as it addresses the transformation that occurs through the interplay between the creative imagination and intersubjective relations. Against the grain of art, the historical attention towards the emergence of the objective forms of art, and its placement within a regional cultural context, I will argue that one of the current tendencies in art, as well as the role of the image in the ambient spectacle of war, are begging for a different perspective on the significance of place and the flow of ideas. Such a critical methodology would not only go beyond the Eurocentric foundations of art history by acknowledging the diverse contributions to contemporary global culture, but it would also develop new theoretical approaches to the relations between different cultural and geographic fields, as well as reevaluate the function of both individual and collective imagination in contemporary knowledge production. This approach is not only focused on the redistribution of agency in the production of meaning and event, but also concerned with tracing the participant’s capacity to imagine their

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place in the world as a whole. This cosmopolitan frame thereby serves as my standpoint for reviewing two of the key figures in the recent debates on aesthetics and politics. Rancière has stated that the aim of his book The Politics of Aesthetics had been to challenge the long history of aesthetics that repeats a stigmatic hierarchy between the image and truth, and thereby create some ‘breathing space’ – an intermediary zone that enables an affirmative engagement with the way art can modify the realm of the ‘visible, sayable and possible’ (Rancière 2007a: 259). This rejection of the negative relationship to the image parallels a shift in contemporary artistic practice. Since the 1970s it was commonplace to observe artistic projects that sought to ‘awaken the public imagination’ by inviting either public participation or incorporating critical theory into the framework of the art project. The aim of these projects tended to be defined in terms of revealing or demystifying the machinations of dominant power structures. The aesthetics of resistance in contemporary art assumes a different stance towards public participation, aesthetic form and political theory. A critical stance is not defined by simply claiming to be standing outside or against power, but also in finding ways to rework the meaning and form of power by collaborating with the public. The point of art is not the exposure of the truth, but the creation of public situations for reimagining reality. At the centre of Rancière’s theory of the image and aesthetics is the key concept of ‘distribution of the sensible’. The distribution of the sensible refers to the symbolic and social transformation that arises from the active involvement of people who are normally excluded from the process of defining the rules of the everyday, and their ability to create new terms of perception and interaction. Hence, Rancière defines the process of transformation through the interplay between the rise of new subjects and the emergence of new forms of knowledge. By giving primacy to the distribution of the sensible, Rancière stresses that aesthetics and politics are two forms of an underlying imaginary process (Rancière 2009: 26). By foregrounding the imaginary function in the distribution of the sensible, Rancière overcomes both the false hierarchy that separates art from politics. He proposes that both are formed within their independent ‘regimes of identification’. Aesthetics and politics are different ways, distinctive discourses, unique modes of addressing the task of the distribution of the sensible. While they operate within their own system they do not exist in separate realities. They share a common space and both have their respective capacity to suspend the normal coordinates of sensory experience and imagine new forms of life. In



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short, aesthetics is engaged in the distribution of the sensible as it invents specific forms that link the realm of individual affect to a social way of being. Hence the intervention of aesthetics is always political because the ‘principle behind an art’s formal revolution is at the same time the principle behind the political redistribution of shared experience’ (Rancière 2004: 17). However, while the principle of the distribution of the sensible underpins both aesthetics and politics, Rancière goes one step further as he claims that the aesthetic regime precedes the political (Rancière 2004: 34). By stressing that the ‘real must be fictionalised in order to be thought’, Rancière lays claim to aesthetics as a regime of thought that can challenge the established order of politics. While Rancière’s work challenges both the negative ideology of the image, it has thus far remained as a philosophical reflection on aesthetics. A more radical conceptualisation of aesthetics can be found in the recent work of Gerald Raunig who claims that philosophical reflection needs to be combined with active engagement and commentary from the sites of emergent social transformations (Raunig 2007). Raunig shares Rancière’s view that the politics of art is not found in the depiction of political struggles. Like Rancière, Raunig also rejects the modernist claim of aesthetic autonomy and argues that while art is not subordinate to politics, they are both discrete fields that rest on the same terrain. Raunig sees himself as being part of a ‘broad assembly of artistic platforms of resistance’ (Raunig 2002). His fascination with the cross-over between artistic and activist communication techniques is, in my view, framed by a new kind of cosmopolitan agenda. For instance, he repeatedly celebrates the way that the anti-globalisation movement and new artistic collectives have sought to re-route information flows and widen the legal and political frameworks from a state-centric perspective of citizenship to the articulation of a political agenda that ‘explodes the national framework, as it were, from the inside’ (Raunig 2002). Raunig argues that the radical function of art is not confined to the articulation of differences in the perceptual sensorium, but also evident in the mobilisation of differences in social encounters. An apposite definition of transversal activism can also be found in the motto of the Viennese Volxtheater Favoriten: ‘living revolutionary subjectivity in the here and now instead of saving up wishes for changes in the party funds – for the some fine day of the revolution’ (Raunig 2007: 206). He notes that these collectives, like the autonomous movement in general, sought to invent new networks of social organisation. However, Raunig also conceded that transversal activism ‘required a great deal of energy, incited many conflicts and could only be maintained by most actors for a certain period

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of time’ (Raunig 2007: 218). A striking feature of Raunig’s approach is not only the combination of philosophical reflection with participant observation, but also the adoption of an evaluative standpoint that recognises ephemerality and intensity as a virtue. Raunig has relinquished the effort to create a model of transversal activism that can serve as a master plan for the future. Through his account of the intense and short moments of critical encounter he gives an insight into the shuttling exchange between aesthetic and political activities. In short, this reflexive method has the distinctive benefits of attending to the persisting tension between utopian ideals and precarious realities, and thereby offers a new framework through which we can view the cosmopolitan dialogues in contemporary art. Outline of a Cosmopolitan Imaginary These recent approaches to the vexed relationship between aesthetics and politics take us some of the way towards understanding the significance of the emergent tendencies in contemporary art. Rancière highlights the role of aesthetics in producing a supplement to existing modes of perception and meaning. Raunig takes us further into the transversal relations between aesthetic representation and political organisation. Through these accounts we gain insight into the ways artistic practices are producing knowledge in the world, rather than simply reflecting other forms of knowledge of the world. This crucial distinction prompts further reflection on the function of creative imagination and the use of cosmopolitanism as a framework for contemporary artistic practice. According to Richard Kearney, the theories of the imagination have been dominated by three metaphors that respectively highlight the mimetic/reflective function, as if it were a mirror that reflects another reality; the generative/creative process, such as a lamp that produces its own light and heat; and the parodic/refractive state, that can be compared to a labyrinth or looking glasses in which the object unfolds in infinite variations (Kearney 1988). In my view, imagination is the faculty for both representing and creating realities through the form of images, and the cosmopolitan imagination in contemporary art could be defined as an aesthetic of openness that engenders a global sense of interconnectedness. As already noted, this cosmopolitan imagination is neither grounded within a territorial claim, nor directed by institutional parameters, but is an emergent concept that can generate an alternative sense of being in the world and intersubjective relations.



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Art historians like David Summers have conceded that the conventional approaches based on either a visual analysis of the formal resemblances between the artworks or the historiography of the artist’s place of origin are inadequate tools for addressing both the cosmopolitan dialogues in art and the capacity of art to be a medium for ‘the first impulses in which the world is “formed” and made into a characteristic unity’ (Summers 2003: 33). Mark Cheetham has also turned to the ancient and contemporary discourse of cosmopolitanism in order to renew and extend the disciplinary models of art history. While sceptical of the ‘lazy cosmopolitan’ appellations that adorn art criticism and artistic self-proclamations, Cheetham has acknowledged that there is a need to find the ‘connective tissues that enable artists to be properly placed and appropriately mobile’. However, he also questions the very foundation of the art historical discipline by concluding that the cosmopolitan visions in contemporary art will not be properly conceptualised via the ‘strictures of Kantian reason’ (Cheetham 2009). A sign of the new directions in art history can also be witnessed in Marsha Meskimmon’s attempt to track the ways artists engage ‘with the processes and practices of inhabiting a global world’ and participate ‘in a critical dialogue between ethical responsibility, locational identity and cosmopolitan imagination’ (Meskimmon 2011: 5). This focus on the engagement with global mobilities and participation in the invention of new forms of ‘being at home in the world’ not only radically expands the contextual framework, but also shifts the attention away from merely decoding what art represents, to also testing the creation of new modes of social interaction. Art is thus not just a reflection of the process of cosmopolitanisation but also an active partner in articulation of cosmopolitan ethical agency and spatial habituation. Hence, the cosmopolitan imaginary is, in Summers’s account, materialised through the artistic invention of real forms that are inseparable from habitual activities, whereas for Meskimmon it is found in the embodiment of a multi-centred cultural vision and the adoption of ethical modes of global citizenship. The zone within which the creative imagination and social habituation occur is the imaginary. Cornelius Castoriadis defined the imaginary as a fluid space that accommodates both the inner images of the world and the social practices for living in the world. Although Castoriadis never spoke directly to the concept of cosmopolitanism, on numerous occasions he linked the act of creativity with the capacity to grasp universality. It is through creativity that being is given form,

Art from Asia

otherwise existence is an ‘abyss, chaos, groundless’ (Castoriadis 1997a: 3). For Castoriadis, all the social institutions of our daily life can only exist insofar as they have been imagined. However, while social institutions furnish a worldview that enables the individual to deal with the flux of life, it also tends to produce a sense of belonging that is experienced through the feeling of enclosure and exclusivity rather than an exposure to the world at large. Hence, while Castoriadis argued that social institutions are viable only insofar as people find them symbolically meaningful and are willing to identify with them, he also noted that institutional closures blocked the individual’s freedom to question the limits of existing structures, engage with strangers and develop a genuine interest in the ideas that are formed in one culture but are also expressive of a ‘potential universality in whatever is human for humans’ (Castoriadis 1997b: 270). Paradoxically, it is imagination that makes and breaks the limits of social institutions. However, by placing the grip of universality inside the hand of the creative imagination, Castoriadis flies against the grain of Western metaphysics. Imagination is not just a speculative mechanism for producing opinion and fantasy. For Castoriadis, imagination is the primary means for inventing social ideals (Castoriadis 1997b: 379) and it is through the ‘unceasing and essentially undetermined’ function of the imaginary that rationality and reality are delivered (Castoriadis 1997c: 3). Whether it has been defined in terms of perceptual modification or social transformation, the function of the imagination has been at the core of the debates on aesthetics and politics. By contrast the role of the creative imagination has not been the focus of the recent sociological and political debates on cosmopolitanism (Delanty 2009). As Etienne Balibar has observed, much of the theoretical discussion on cosmopolitanism has proceeded within a deliberative paradigm that stressed the role of reasoned argumentation in the delivery of a new transnational public sphere (Balibar 2007). The absence or marginalisation of the aesthetic function from the debates on cosmopolitanism reinscribes the stigmatic chain of association that separates the ordered, consistent and steadfast truth of reason from the faulty, fleeting and flighty genius of imagination. This gap is not corrected by acknowledging the visceral aspects of cosmopolitanism, but requires a conceptual framework that links the creative imaginary to the cosmopolitan visions of the world.



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Note 1 ‘Large Screens and the transnational public sphere’, Australian Research Council Linkage project, LP0989302, Chief Investigators, Nikos Papastergiadis, Sean Cubitt, Scott McQuire, Ross Gibson, Audrey Yue, Partner Investigator Doouen Choi Art Center Nabi, Cecelia Cmielewski, Australia Council of the Arts.

Bibliography Appadurai, A., Modernity at Large. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996. Appiah, K., Cosmopolitanism. New York: W.W. Norton & Co, 2006. Balibar, E., ‘On Universalism in debate with Alain Badiou’ (2007). Translated by Mary O’Neill. Online: (accessed 22 May 2014). Birnbaum, D., The Hospitality of Presence: Problems of Otherness in Husserl’s Phenomenology. New York: Sternberg Press, 2008. Burgin, V., The End of Art Theory. London: MacMillan, 1986. Castoriadis, C., World in Fragments. Edited and translated by David A. Curtis. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1997a. —— The Castoriadis Reader. Translated by David Ames Curtis. Oxford: Blackwell, 1997b. —— The Imaginary Institution of Society. Translated by Kathleen Blamey. Cambridge: Polity Press, 1997c. Chaudhuri, A., ‘Cosmopolitanism’s Alien Face’, New Left Review 55 (Jan.–Feb. 2008). Cheetham, M., ‘Theory reception: Panofsky, Kant, and disciplinary cosmopolitanism’ (2009), Journal of Art Historiography 1, Page / record No.: 1-KJ/3. Online: volume=1&issue=&date=2009 (accessed 15 December 2010). Clark, T. J., Image of the People, Gustave Courbet and the 1848 Revolution. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1982. Danto, A., Beyond the Brillo Box: The Visual Arts in Post Historical Perspective. New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1992. Delanty, G., The Cosmopolitan Imagination. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009. Enwezor, O., ‘Documentary / Verite: Bio-Politics, Human Rights and the Figure of “Truth” in Contemporary Art’, Australian and New Zealand Journal of Art 4/5:1 (2004): 11–42. Ferguson B. and M. Hoegsberg, ‘Talking and Thinking about Biennials: The Potential of Discursivity’, in Elena Filipovic, Marieke Van Hal and Solveig

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Ovstebo (eds), The Biennial Reader. Bergen: Bergen Kunsthall and Hatje Cantz, 2010. Gillick, L., Renovation Filter: Recent Past and Near Future. Bristol: Arnolfini Gallery Publications, 2000. —— ‘Is there anything for art to say about Iraq?’ (2007). Online: http://www. (accessed 10 March 2009). —— ‘Contemporary art does not account for that which is taking place’ (2010). Online: (accessed 20 December 2010). Hsu, M., ‘Networked Cosmopolitanism on Cultural Exchange and International Exhibitions’, in N. Tsoutas (ed.), Knowledge + Dialogue + Exchange: Remapping Cultural Globalism from the South. Sydney: Artspace, 2005. Kant, I., Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Intent, in Perpetual Peace and Other Essays. Edited by T. Humphrey. Indianopolis, IN: Hackett, 1983. Kearney, R., The Wake of the Imagination, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988. Liew, F., In Between Spaces and Beyond Border. Malmö: Malmö Kunsthall, 2005. Lutticken, S., Idols of the Market. New York: Sternberg Press, 2009. Memos, T., The Exiles of Marcel Duchamp. London: MIT Press, 2007. Meskimmon, M., Contemporary Art and the Cosmopolitan Imagination. London: Routledge, 2011. Mitter, P. and K. Mercer, ‘Reflections on Modern Art and National Identity in Colonial India’, in K. Mercer (ed.), Cosmopolitan Modernism. London: INIVA and MIT Press, 2005. Mouffe, C., ‘Politics and Artistic Practices in Post-Utopian Times’, in M. Szewczyk (ed.), Meaning Liam Gillick. London: MIT Press, 2009. Neshat, S. quoted in Chin Tao Wu, ‘Worlds Apart: Problems of Interpreting Globalized Art’, Third Text 21:6 (2007): 719–31. Oestreich, G., Neostocism and the Early Modern State. Edited by B. Oestreich and H. G. Koenigsberger. Translated by D. Mclintock. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982. Papastergiadis, N., ‘The Radiant Paradox of Park Seo-Bo’, in Kim Bora (ed.), Playing with Color. Gyeonggido Museum of Art, 2007, pp. 58–68. —— and M. Martin, ‘Art Biennales and cities as platforms for global dialogue’, in L. Giorgi, M. Sassatelli and G. Delanty (eds), Festivals and the Cultural Public Sphere. New York: Routledge, 2011, pp. 45–62. —— et al., ‘Mega Screens for Mega Cities’, Theory, Culture & Society 30:7/8 (2013): 244–60. Plutarch, Moralia, Vol. vii. Loeb Classical Editions. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1959, pp. 513–57.



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Rancière, J., The Politics of Aesthetics. Translated by Gabriel Rockhill. London: Continuum, 2004a. —— The Philosopher and his Poor. Translated by John Duru. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004b. —— ‘Art of the Possible’, Artforum XLV:7 (2007a). —— ‘The Emancipated Spectator’, Artforum XlV:7 (2007b). —— The Future of the Image. Translated by Gregory Elliott. London: Verso, 2007c. —— Aesthetics and its Discontents. Translated by Steven Corcoran. Cambridge: Polity, 2009. Raunig, G., ‘A war machine against the Empire: on the precarious nomadism of the Publix Theatre Caravan’ (2002). Online: raunig/en (accessed 24 March 2008). —— Art and Revolution: Transversal Activism in the Long Twentieth Century. Translated by Aileen Derieg. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2007. Regev, M., ‘Cultural Uniqueness and Aesthetic Cosmopolitanism’, European Journal of Social Theory 10:1 (2007): 123–38. Retort (Iain Boal, T. J. Clark, Joseph Matthews, Michael Watts), Afflicted Powers: Capital and Spectacle In a New Age of War. London: Verso, 2006. Sakai, N., Translation and Subjectivity. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997. Summers, D., Real Spaces, World Art History and the Rise of Western Modernism. London: Phaidon Books, 2003. Szewczyk, M., Meaning Liam Gillick. London: MIT Press, 2009. Wallerstein, I., The Decline of American Power. New York: New Press, 2003. Yap, J., Ho Tzu Nyen: The Cloud of Unknowing. Singapore Pavilion Catalogue, Venice Biennale, 2011.

8 In Your Face Migratory Aesthetics Mieke Bal

Introduction Migration is an issue that concerns us all. Therefore, I introduced the qualifier ‘migratory’ to signify not ‘what pertains to migrants’ but to the culture, in the Western world as the case may be, we all share with migrants. Later I will connect the qualifier to aesthetics.1 To say ‘us all’ I mean all humans. This reeks of universalism. I have learned from feminist scholar Louise Anthony not to reject the idea of ‘us all’ too fast, nor use it too easily (Anthony 1998). To deal with the migratory, therefore, I propose to deploy a strategic universalism, not to diminish cultural differences but to avoid all the traps that come with a hypostasis of such differences: exoticism, exclusion, condescension, polite arrogance and ultimately indifference. In this chapter, and in the installation Nothing is Missing that, although only visible in some photographs, is part – not an illustration – of this chapter, I propose, with a strategic universalism, to consider motherhood universal.2 I do this because especially in the context of migration it is useful to do so. Relativising, for example, the horror of losing a child by alleging that in some severely underprivileged countries, losing a child to illness, hunger or violence occurs so frequently that it is ‘normal’, would be a scandalous acceptance of the unacceptable, in addition to a painful condescendence. At the same time, one of the most severe challenges to the idea, or hope, of universality in terms of equality is the division produced all over the world between people who can afford to live in a place and those who cannot, who are driven to migration. The combination of motherhood and migration, then, is a good place to reflect on the confrontation with the dialectic of difference and equality to which much thinking on postcolonial, anti-racist, feminist and ‘migratory’ issues is currently devoted.3


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I offer this chapter and the video installation it accompanies as a way of addressing that confrontation head-on. The relationship between the singular and the general – to use a more abstract binary that encompasses both universalism-singularity and globalisation-intimacy – has consequences for the relationship between my videography and my academic writing. Although one of my video installations is central to the argument here, this is not a traditional case study but an exploration, through one particular ‘case’, of the dynamic complementarity between media. One goal is to make the mothers staged in this installation into full participants in what can only be a multi-voiced discussion. Another goal is to develop a methodology suitable for the object of study, which is contemporary migratory culture.4 This chapter-cum-installation probes the contradiction between usages of universalism as escapist exclusion and as a strategy to enhance differences. For this, I propose to replace any thematic universality with a performative one. The question the video work raises and the chapter attempts to answer is how it is possible to make contact across the many divisions that separate people in different linguistic, economic and familial situations. For such contact a measured, mitigated, hence, strategic universalism is to my mind the best starting point. The goal is not to reach a universal ground for communication but instead to establish the universal as the ground on which differences can be brought into dialogue. This universal ground acknowledges common humanity without diminishing differences between humans. Over the past ten years I have explored this tension through several video works on migration. Most of these are based on the performativity of intimacy with migrants; they are concerned with situations of displacement (Lost in Space) and show migrants struggling to achieve some level of integration (A Thousand and One Days; A Clean Job) or suffering from the economic consequences of globalisation (Colony). The tension between intimacy and the consequences of globalisation is enacted most explicitly in a video installation made between 2006 and 2011. Through a discussion of this installation I seek to grasp the potential of a strategic use of universalism (‘motherhood’) as well as of a foregrounding of differences (‘migration’).5 Is Nothing Missing? The ground of the video installation Nothing is Missing is a space looking like a living room, where visiting is like a social call. The image is a portrait,

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8.1. Mieke Bal, Nothing is Missing, 2006–11. Installation in the Zuiderzee Museum, Enkhuizen. Photograph: Astrid van Weijenberg.

bust only, of a woman speaking to someone else. In some cases we hear the voice of the interlocutor; in others we hear nothing but the women speaking. Every once in a while, one of them falls silent, as if she were listening to the others. The videos are each about 30 minutes long. The installation as such enacts the tension between global and intimate, since the domestic ambiance is created within a space that is public, although often not a space where such installations are expected. I have installed it in museums and galleries, academic settings, near street markets and in office spaces – for example in a corner office at the Department of Justice in The Hague.6 The women are from various countries. They all live in their home country and all saw a child leave for Western Europe. They speak to someone else; the speech situation is personal. Their interlocutors are people close to them. If we are to understand the possibility of considering motherhood as universal, we must first of all realise the enormity of the consequences involved and the changes in the lives of individuals taking this drastic step. We must wonder, that is, why people feel they must leave behind their affective ties, relatives, friends and habits – in short, everything we take for granted to constitute everyday life.7 A first step to contemplating these questions is to perform a triple act of facing. Facing sums up the aesthetic and political principle of this video work that is an attempt to reflect on this severance and its consequences.



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Through this installation, I attempt to shift two common, universalist definitions of humanity: the notion of an individual autonomy of a vulgarised Cartesian cogito, and that of a subjecting passivity derived from the principle of Bishop Berkeley’s ‘to be is to be perceived’. The former slogan has done damage in ruling out the participation of the body and the emotions in rational thought. The latter, recognisable in the Lacanian as well as certain Bakhtinian traditions, has overextended a sense of passivity and coerciveness into a denial of political agency and hence, responsibility. I try to shift these views in favour of an inter-cultural aesthetic based on a performance of contact. In order to elaborate such an alternative I have concentrated this installation on the bond between speech and face as the site of the performance of a universal: the possibility of contact. Speech, not just in terms of ‘giving voice’, but as listening, and answering, all in multiple meanings; and the face, turning the classical ‘window of the soul’ into an ‘interface’. Facing Ideas Facing is three things, or acts, at once. Literally, facing is the act of looking someone else in the face as an illocutionary act. It is also coming to terms with something that is difficult to live down, by looking it in the face, instead of denying or repressing it. Third, it is making contact, placing the emphasis on the second person and acknowledging the need of that contact in order, simply, to be able to sustain life. This makes it a perlocutionary act. Instead of ‘to be is to be perceived’ and ‘I think, therefore I am’, facing proposes, ‘I face (you), hence, we are.’ For this reason, facing is my proposal for a performance of contact across divisions, that avoids the two traps of universalist exclusion and relativist condescendence. For this purpose, I first make the move from the two universalist views of humanity – Descartes’ and Berkeley’s – to a merger that replaces both; from Esse est Percibi to Cogitote Ergo Sumus. Berkeley’s formula Esse est Percibi as elaborated to exhaustion by Samuel Beckett in his film Film is agony-inducing (Uhlman 2004). And, as it happens, linguistically this shows already in the mere fact that the formula defines being in nonpersonal forms. Beckett’s Film explores the agonising feelings that result from a consciousness of being through being perceived. The figure played by the ageing Buster Keaton flees from the notion of perceivedness in the ‘action image’. The sets of eyes that watch him and that he systematically eliminates show us the limits of what Deleuze

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calls the ‘perception image’ and the ending, the close-up of the ‘affection image’ translates affect into horror only.8 In Nothing is Missing these three types of images culminate in the mitigated close-up of the face that shuttles between perception and affection image. Here, a rigorously affirmed second-personhood is the reply to Beckett’s pessimistic view. The perceivedness that the predominance of the close-up foregrounds does not lead to either rejection or agony, but instead to an empowering performativity. Whereas Beckett’s figure flees from the look of the other, the mothers in Nothing is Missing appreciate the opportunity to face and be faced. Now, for Descartes, allegedly the bad guy of Enlightenment rationalism, the stake of the cogito is not primarily the link between thinking and being, nor even the exclusive emphasis on reason and the excision of the body, but the double, tautological grammatical use of the first person. I think, [therefore] I am; the point is the possibility to describe human existence outside of the need to use the second person (Goux 1990). He never wrote ‘therefore’; instead he stuttered ‘I’, ‘I’… The popularity of his formula has done more harm than good to Western thought, especially in its exclusions, its excising of not only emotions from human existence, but also the dependency of human life on others. I call it an autistic version of humanity, and deny it universality. Yet, the dependency on others is so obvious and so absolute that it may well be its inevitability that informed the desire to erase it. From the baby’s mother to social caretakers to linguistic second persons, this dependency has been articulated clearly in psychoanalysis, sociology and linguistics, respectively. So much so, that being a second person seems more ‘natural’ a definition of being human than anything else. Second-personhood, I contend, may well be the only or most important universal of human existence.9 This means that we cannot exist without others – in the eye of the other as much as in sustenance of others. That is where I would start any attempt to confront the generalisation of universalism. Not to pursue the beating of the Cartesian dead horse but on the contrary, to keep in mind the productivity of keeping returning with ‘critical intimacy’ to moments of the past, such as the dawn of rationalism in the seventeenth century. In this I am joining a growing group of scholars, many influenced by Deleuze, his Spinoza, his Leibniz and his Bergson.10 Among these scholars, philosophers Moira Gatens and Genevieve Lloyd (1999) studied Descartes’ contemporary Baruch Spinoza. The line Spinoza–Bergson–Deleuze has led to important and productive revisionings of the image, perception and feeling that lie at the heart of the



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‘migratory aesthetics’ of my installation – of an aesthetics of geographical mobility beyond the nation state and its linguistic uniformity; an aesthetic in the public domain of the culture in which we all participate. Gatens and Lloyd’s book does three things at once that are relevant for my project, to further the activity of ‘migratory aesthetics’ and deploy the performative face in that context. First, they invoke the relevance of Spinoza’s work for a reasoned position in relation to aboriginal Australians’ claim to the land that had been taken from them by European settlers. These claimants are not migrants since they stayed put while their land was taken away from under them, but their claims are based on a culturally specific conception of subjecthood and ownership that makes an excellent case for the collective and historical responsibility the authors put forward with the help of Spinoza. And this responsibility is key to any possible universality. It is a relation to the past that, today, we have to face. That this ‘intercultural ethics’ should be based on a seventeenthcentury writer who never met such claimants – although he can be considered a migratory subject – makes, second, a case for a historiography that I have termed ‘preposterous’ (Bal 1999). This conception of history is focused on the relevance of present issues for a re-visioning of the past. In alignment with intercultural relationality, we could call it inter-temporal. Third, we need an interdisciplinarity modelled on interfacing in the sense I am developing here as a strategic-universalist practice.11 Against this background – my search for an alternative to masochistic passivity and autism as a ground for the possibility of a performative universal – the face, with all the potential this concept-image possesses, seemed a good place to start. But to deploy the face for this purpose requires one more negative act, the elimination of an oppressive sentimentalist humanism that has appropriated the face for universalist claims in a threefold way: as the window of the soul; as the key to identity translated into individuality; and as the site of policing. Common origin is a primary ideology of universalism. Creation stories around the world tend to worry about the beginning of humanity in terms of the non-humanity that precedes and surrounds it. Psychoanalysis primarily projects on the maternal face the beginning of the child’s aesthetic relationality. Both discourses of psychoanalysis and aesthetics show their hand in these searches for beginnings. Here, I oppose an individualistic conception of beginnings. A few years after his pathbreaking book Orientalism, the late Palestinian intellectual Edward Said wrote a book on novels of the Western canon, titled Beginnings: Intention and Method (1985). In this book he demonstrated that the opening of a

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literary work programmes the entire text that follows, its content and its style, its poignancy and its aesthetic. Origin is a forward-projecting illusion. Therefore, in this installation I wished to explore a different sense of the beginnings – not in motherhood but in migration. The primary question is why people decide to leave behind their lives as they know them and project their lives forward. With this focus, I aim to invert the latent evolutionism in the search for beginnings and, in the same sweep, the focus on children, on babies, inherent in that strange contradiction, individualistic-universalist theories of the subject. Today, with authorities and other unthinking people displaying high anxiety over the invisibility of the Islamic veiled face, we cannot overestimate the importance of the ideology of the face for the construction of contemporary socio-political divides. To briefly show the workings of this ideology I look to an art-historical publication that earned its stripes in its own field: a study on the portrait, the artistic genre par excellence where individualism is the conditio sine qua non of its very existence.12 Confusing, like so many others, origin with articulation, in his study of the portrait – the genre of the face – art historian Richard Brilliant explains the genre with reference to babies: The dynamic nature of portraits and the ‘occasionality’ that anchors their imagery in life seem ultimately to depend on the primary experience of the infant in arms. The child, gazing up at its mother, imprints her vitally important image so firmly on its mind that soon enough she can be recognized almost instantaneously and without conscious thought … (Brilliant 1991: 9)

Like psychoanalysis, art history here grounds one of its primary genres in a fantasmatic projection of what babies see, do and desire. It deserves noting that these acts by babies are not knowable. Both disciplines can and must be challenged for their universalism coached in a story of origin.13 A second unquestioned value in Western humanist culture elevated to universal status is documentary realism. Brilliant’s shift operates through the self-evident importance attributed to this mode. The point of the portrait is the belief in the real existence of the person depicted, the ‘vital relationship between the portrait and its object of representation’ (Brilliant 1991: 8). The portraits that compose Nothing is Missing challenge these joint assumptions of baby-based individualism and realism and their claim to generalised validity. On the one hand, these claims are not entirely eliminated, since the very subject of the installation is also the mother–child bond. But this time, the child is an



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adult and can express him- or herself. This makes the mother–child bond no less crucial, but it relativises the sentimental appeal of considering babies the holders of this bond. Instead, in this project I seek to integrate this bond, and its rupture, with world-political issues such as violence and economic inequality. The women in this work are, of course, ‘real’, as real as you and me, and individual – as different from you and me as the world’s divides have programmed. And, at first sight, they have been documented as such. But at the same time, they speak ‘together’ from within a cultural-political position that makes them at once absolutely distinct and absolutely connected. This is the meaning of the silences that suggest they are listening to one another, even if in reality they never met. As for the documentary nature of their images, again, this is both obvious and obviously false, since the situation of speech is framed as both hyper-personal and utterly staged. I filmed the migrants’ mothers talking about their motivation to either support or try to withhold their children who wished to leave and about their own grief to see them go. The mothers talk about this crucial moment in their past to a person close to them, often someone whose absence in her life was caused by the child’s departure – a grandchild, a daughter-in-law, the child him- or herself. This is a first take on the performance of contact I want to propose, against an exclusionist universalism. The filming itself is implicated in this theoretical move. I staged the women at a spot of their choice in their homes, asked their interlocutors to take their place behind the camera, set the shot, turned the camera on and left the scene. This method is hyperbolically documentary. To underline this aspect I refrained from editing these shots. Instead of claiming to represent the real, I yielded to it. This has consequences for the aesthetic at stake. For my conception of aesthetics I return to the eighteenthcentury philosopher Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten, who developed the notion of binding through the senses. He also considered aesthetics a useful approach to the political, because the aesthetic experience takes place in public space. Since this conception presumes neither beauty nor a separate artistic sphere, it seems a useful starting point to develop the idea of an aesthetic understanding that straddles the distinction between academic and artistic exploration. Moreover, the proximity presupposed by the sense-based experience also establishes intimacy between the subject and the object of the aesthetic moment. Hence, this approach furthers my attempt to develop a methodology that approximates the ‘object’. Aesthetically, the women are filmed in consistent close-up, as portraits – the other side of the face of Brilliant’s babies. The relentlessly

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8.2. Mieke Bal, Nothing is Missing, 2006–11. Elena, video still.

permanent image of their faces is meant to force viewers to look the women in the face and listen to what they have to say, in a language that is foreign, using expressions that seem strange, but in a discourse to which we can all, affectively, relate. Facing them, not as babies but as adults capable of facing the women’s lot. This is a second form of the performance of contact. Another assumption of Brilliant’s argument concerns the nature of identity. This again is based on the baby, enabled by seeing the mother’s face. The face as interface is an occasion for an exchange that, affect-based as it may be, is fundamental in opening up the discourse of the face to the world. Here is Brilliant’s view: Visual communication between mother and child is effected face-toface and, when those faces are smiling, everybody is happy, or appears to be. For most of us, the human face is not only the most important key to identification based on appearance, it is also the primary field of expressive action … (Brilliant 1991: 10; emphasis added)



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The assumed link between these two sentences posits the equality of communication with identification and expression. This equation is grounded in the double sense of identification – as and with – that, I contend, underlies the universalist paradox – the idea that being a single, autonomous individual is universally human – and to which my installation attempts to consider the alternative of ‘interfacing’. The socio-cultural version of this political ambiguity is most clearly noticeable in the dilemma of ‘speaking for’ and the patronising it implies, versus ‘speaking with’ as face-to-face interaction. The selfsufficient rationalism of the cogito tradition is thus in collusion not only with a denial of second-personhood, but also with a subsequent denial of what faces, rather than expressing, can do. In order to move from an expressionism to a performativity of the face that, I contend, writes a programme for a new, tenable universality, the three uses of the preposition ‘inter-’ I invoked a propos of Spinoza can be usefully mobilised. Inter-ships Intercultural relationality in its inscribed mobility of subjectivity posits the face as an interlocutor whose discourse is not predictably similar to that of the viewer. These women speak to ‘us’, across a gap, as they speak to their own relatives, across a gap. The first gap is that of culture if we continue to view cultures as entities instead of processes. The second gap is that caused by ‘the cultural’ conceived as moments and processes of tension, conflict and negotiation. The people to whom the women tell their stories are close to them, yet distanced by the gap made by the migration of the loved one. The daughter-in-law not chosen, of Massaouda, for example, is reaching out to the mother across an unbridgeable gap produced by history. The two simultaneous situations of speech – between the mothers and their relatives and between the mothers and the viewer – doubly mark second-personhood. The theoretical and artistic alternative to artistic authority of a ‘willful abandon of mastery’ underlies the filming in my own absence. With this decision to yield I sought to make a point that I have been making for a long time in my academic work.14 Uhlmann concludes his essay on Beckett’s Film mentioned above with the following summary of what, in the wake of the Deleuzian affiliation he establishes between Berkeley, Bergson and Beckett, the image does

In Your Face

to intention. I quote this formulation because it succinctly sums up why the image is productively incompatible with intentionalism – an incompatibility that, I argue, is most useful for a migratory aesthetics of the face. He writes: What Film in part offers is the exploration of a medium that draws its power – the power to produce sensations – through gaps. Yet, images provide sparks that leap from one side to the next, like messages across synapses, thereby allowing the formation of a unity among difference: intuition and sensation, intuition and the idea, intention and reception, philosophy and literature. (Uhlmann 2004: 103)

Significantly and paradoxically, Uhlmann uses the discourse of mediumspecificity here to make a point about the merging of domains and the discourse of embodiment – sensations – to posit gaps. The gaps as entrance into sensations are grounded in someone else’s body, opening the door to the interface. Gaps, in other words, are the key to a migratory aesthetics that binds globalisation to a transformed intimacy. There is necessarily, not coincidentally a gap between intention and artwork. The gaps as entrance into sensations that are ‘borrowed’, in a sense grounded in someone else’s body, open the door to the interface. Gaps, in other words, are the key to a universality that rejects a romantic utopianism in favour of a difficult, hard-won but indispensable interfacing. Gaps, not links, are also the key to intermediality. The two, my installation attempts to suggest, go hand in hand. This concept of the gap lays the ground, in turn, for the second partner in the exploration of inter-, namely inter-temporal thinking, which comes with the preposterous foregrounding of the present as starting point. These women carry the history of the severance from their beloved child. They state their acceptance of that separation as a fact of the present. Moreover, the concept of video in installation positions the co-presence of the mothers with the viewer visiting the installation. Here lies one function of the acoustic gaps, the silences in the films. When she does not speak, the viewer’s turn has come to speak back to her – to the mother who now looks the viewer in the face. The strong sense of intimacy emanating from the direct address of the mother to her closely familiar interlocutor at first excludes the viewer. Only when one makes the effort and gives the time to enter the interaction can the viewer earn a sense of participation. When this happens – and, due to the recognisability of the discourse, it does –



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the experience is exhilarating and, I contend, unique in public events such as art exhibitions. The inter-temporality also plays out in the belatedness of the viewer’s engagement. To understand the need for this engagement in its inevitable belatedness, two distinct steps need to be taken. The first makes the move from individual to social, the second from past to present. At the same time, the social nature of intersubjectivity holds a performative promise of the improvement of the social fabric the imaginary enactment of identification will help build.15 The images themselves fulfil a function in this inter-temporality. Aesthetic work may be eminently suitable to double-bind the women to a social world whose fabric allows their experience to be voiced, so that they can be relieved of carrying the burden too solitarily, instead of being caught in a double-bind that forces them to silence. This is where the affection-image, which Deleuze theorised as emblematically situated in the close-up, comes in with its typical temporality. Close-ups subvert linear time (1986). They endure and thus inscribe the present into the image. Between narrative images and close-ups, then, a particular kind of intermediality emerges; one that stages a struggle between fast narrative and stillness. The intertemporality at stake here takes its starting point from the present – the present of viewing.16 Spinoza’s conception of affect is explicit in its inter-temporality. Gatens and Lloyd write: The awareness of actual bodily modification – the awareness of things as present – is fundamental to the affects; and this is what makes the definition of affect overlap with that of imagination. All this gives special priority to the present. (Gatens and Lloyd 1999: 52)

The images that result from this are far from the documentary realism so dear to Western culture. Such images possess a ‘temporal density’ that is inhabited by the past and the future, while affect, especially the affect produced by the close-up, remains an event in the present – an event of becoming. Becoming concerns the presence of the past. If we take this presence to the realm of the social, we can no longer deny responsibility for the injustices of the past, even if we cannot be blamed for it. For, without that responsibility the use of the vexed pronoun ‘we’ – ‘the full deceptiveness of the false cultural “we”’ (Torgovnick 1994) – itself becomes disingenuous, even unethical.

In Your Face

‘Spinozistic responsibility’, then, is derived from the philosopher’s concept of self as social and consists of projecting presently felt responsibilities ‘back into a past which itself becomes determinate only from the perspective of what lies in the future of that past – in our present’ (Gatens and Lloyd 1999: 80). Taking seriously the ‘temporal dimensions of human consciousness’ includes endorsing the ‘multiple forming and reforming of identities over time and within the deliverances of memory and imagination at any one time’ (Gatens and Lloyd 1999: 81). This ‘preposterous’ responsibility based on memory and imagination makes selfhood not only stable but also unstable (Gatens and Lloyd 1999: 82). This instability is a form of empowerment, of agency within a collectivitybased individual consciousness. In Deleuze’s work, this becomes the key concept of becoming. Finally, interdisciplinary thought is needed. This has always been high on my agenda. Interdisciplinarity allows us to make the connection, in the present and across the cultural divides, between a number of discourses and activities routinely either treated separately or unwarrantedly merged. In my book on travelling concepts I have put forward arguments in favour of a serious, well-thought-through interdisciplinarity (Bal 2002). But without the thinking-through it spells disaster. There are many issues here, of which I single out one: the place of psychoanalysis, the darling of some and a changeling for others. I do not dismiss the theory but give full weight to the mothers’ enacted desire for modesty; their wish to refrain from self-expression. First, the situation of filming, in the intimacy-with-gaps and in the absence of the filmmaker, could easily become a trap to solicit more self-expression than the women would want to endorse. But it is at moments of restraint, when they seem most reluctant to express themselves (in the Western sense of that word), that the performativity of their self-presentation is most acutely able to pierce through the conventional surface. These are the moments of the performative interface. Massaouda – the first woman I filmed for this project – offers a striking instance of a culturally specific reluctance that cautions us against psychologising or psychoanalysing her. Not coincidentally, this is at the most strongly performative moment of the video. This is the situation: as I have been able to see first-hand, Massaouda and her newly acquired daughter-in-law, Ilhem Ben-Ali Mehdi, get along famously. But in their relationship remains the stubborn gap immigration policy has dug. When Ilhem married Massaouda’s youngest son, the mother was not allowed to attend the wedding: the authorities had denied her a visa. Hence, not only had Massaouda not been in a position to witness who Ilhem was, but



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8.3. Mieke Bal, Nothing is Missing, 2006–11. Massaouda, video still.

even more obviously, since her son met Ilhem in France, she had not been able to fulfil her motherly role as her culture prescribes it, which is to help her son choose his bride. At some point, Ilhem ends up asking with some insistence what Massaouda had thought of her when she first saw her, after the fact, hence, in a kind of disempowerment. First, Massaouda doesn’t answer, which makes Ilhem anxious enough to insist and to ask: did you find me ugly, plain? The older woman looks away at this point. The young woman insists. We will never know what Massaouda and Ilhem ‘really’ felt, but the power that the filming bestows on her, as if in compensation for her earlier disempowerment, is to either withhold or give her approval. She does the latter, but only after some teasing. When I saw the tape and understood the speech I was convinced Ilhem would never have been allowed to ask this question and thus vent her anxiety. She confirmed my conviction. As for the mother, she was given and performed the power she had been denied, and she used it to first mark the gap, then to be kind, to help her somewhat insecure daughter-in-law. We can easily relate to this moment. This interaction is thoroughly social, performative and bound to the medium of video – to the making of the film. These qualities are all specific, singular. But the interaction

In Your Face

8.4. Mieke Bal, Nothing is Missing, 2006–11. Ilhem, Massaouda’s daughter-in-law and interlocutor; video still.

does not allow, say, a universalising psychoanalytic interpretation. Neither did I as maker have any influence on this occurrence – it was not my ‘intention’. Nor can we construe it as a realistic, documentary moment where an ‘occasion’ was recorded – it would never have happened outside of the situation of making this video. Thus, it contradicts and suspends the universalising myths of realism and documentary ‘truth’. It is a moment, in other words, that was staged, yet real, thus challenging that distinction. Nor can we pinpoint a psyche offering symptoms for interpretation. For this to happen there was, instead, a need for a culturally-specific relationship between two women related by marriage and separated by the gaps of migration; and for a relationship to the medium that allowed the women to overstep cultural boundaries. Thus, my willful abandon of mastery extends from the filming to the critical discourse I am offering, the reflection on what I have learned from this experimental filmmaking. An installation of voices, intermingling and alone, and of faces facing people none of them has ever seen. The art-making, in other words, is not an instance or an example to illustrate an academic point, nor an elevated form of cultural expression. Instead of these two things, equally problematic, I propose the universal validity of



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the performance in its non-universal singularity, including the moment of slight tension between Massaouda and Ilhem. The performative moment is the product of an act of filmmaking that required the absence of the filmmaker. But more than that, it also required the surrender of the two women to the apparatus standing between them. This surrender entailed a cultural transgression – to ask and insist on a question that in the culture of origin would be unspeakable. This, more than her linguistic pronunciation of Arabic as a second language, is Ilhem’s ‘accent’, in the sense in which Hamid Naficy famously uses that term (Naficy 2001). This ‘accent’ emblematises the productive, innovative and enriching potential of intercultural life. In this case, it could occur thanks to the absence of the filmmaker – but also of the two husbands – and the situation of displacement for the younger woman, who was visiting her inlaws at that time. This interaction – between the people performing and the critic reflecting on how to understand what they did – would be stifled if a too-well-known psychoanalytic apparatus were let loose on this event. This is as useful a lesson for a scholar interested in interdisciplinarity as any. It takes us out of the somewhat despairing ‘anything goes’ posture that the flag of interdisciplinarity seems to cover too often (and which the indifferent use of the term ‘multidisciplinarity’ betrays). The insight is the result of the shift from an essentialist concept of a static culture to a performative, confrontational concept of what could be called ‘the cultural’. In this adoption of Fabian’s concept (2001) of culture as a process of contestation, I see a possibility to articulate an intimate cultural dynamic in the globalised world: the intercultural, indeed. And yet, like psychoanalytic practice, this is a work of the spoken word. Video binds the image we see to the sound we hear. That sound is, in this case, primarily and almost exclusively the human voice and the spoken words it utters. Speech, then, becomes the occasion for a positive deployment of interdisciplinarity, one that operates through intermediality. Massaouda’s and Ilhem’s performances of intercultural contact were done on the basis of a close collaboration of the face and the word. The spoken word is central to a performance of contact across divisions, as well as to the installation, in the attempt to turn a condescending act of ‘giving voice’ into an affirmation of our need to hear that voice. Video binds the image we see to the sound we hear. First, the centrality of the spoken word impinges on the visual form, the close-up. For, it is also in order to foreground the privileging of the voice of the mothers that the films consist of single shots of their faces as they speak and listen and remain unedited. At the same time, they are keenly aware of the public nature of the speech they are producing in

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front of a camera. The nature of this performance is closer to theatricality, in the critical sense, than it is to traditional filmmaking.17 Second, the translations presented as surtitles also embody the close bond between linguistic and visual aspects of the images – the bond between face and speech. The surtitles, for example, make it easier to read the words and watch the faces at the same time. As I mentioned, the viewer is confronted with different languages, foreign to most, audible in their foreignness and visible in an emphatically visualised translation. Placed visually above their faces, the language is both made important and presented as somewhat of a burden. English as the universal entrance port is exploited as well as de-naturalised, both by this visual foregrounding and by the translations themselves. Translations, where possible done with the person who conducted the interview, are as literal as possible, bringing out the poetry in the original languages without sacrificing clarity. None of the translators are native speakers of English. Their assignment was to help me stay as close as possible to the phrasings the women used. This method results in this ‘accented’ English that maintains the bi-cultural status of the communication; not only between cultures but also between family language and official language. Finally, the most acute intermediality occurs in the faces, which visibly produce the sound of the voices through their movement, thus yielding the movement of the image by means of sound. For this, with the languages we do not understand and the need to translate, all in one, the face is the actor. It is really difficult to separate sound from vision as the mouths articulate with the rhythm of the sounds. Sync is of the essence. This is not simply a case of the ‘moving image’ of cinema. Instead, the moving quality becomes a poetic, self-reflective statement about the medium that reintegrates what has been severed by the predominance of English as universal language, in contrast with the particular home-boundness resulting from a lack of means and education, in turn aggravated by misogyny and colonialism. The face and its acts, thus, becomes the emblematic instance of video’s power to transgress boundaries of a variety of kinds. This is a kind of interdisciplinarity very different from the more usual lumping together of disciplines under a heading that groups them. Here, the three ‘inter-ships’ I have mentioned – intercultural ethics and relationality; inter-temporal density; and an interdisciplinarity dictated and restricted by the situation – exemplify what I mean with strategic universalism.



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Facing the Singular in Strategic Universalism In Nothing is Missing, I do address actual migration, but not as the thematic heart of the work. That heart, rather, is the encounter with the faces as negotiated, strategic universality, where globalisation meets and inflects singularity – and vice versa. The focus on the face embodies the act of facing in its three meanings, all three staged here as acts of mutuality facilitating contact. First, the emphasis on activity reflects back on the face itself. No longer the site of representation and expression, the face has become an agent of action: what can faces do, rather than how to do things with faces. The face is the subject of action; the source of performativity.18 How, then, can the face be read across cultures, how can it serve strategic universalism without presuming that facial expression is crossculturally stable? The face faces, looking us in the face, which makes the viewer the interlocutor. It faces something that is hard to live down, here, the severance of the primary bond that humanism construes as defining of humanity: that between mother and child. In these videos of acting faces, that event is qualified as larger than the individual. All women speak in understated tones of the causes of the child’s departure in terms for which Western cultures can assume some measure of historical responsibility, if only ‘we’ reason with Spinoza. The severances, different as they are and differently related to the past, are lived as what for me is the ultimate tragedy: that the mothers, all of them, say that they are happy about the sore fact that their child left. Hence, the discourse intimated in the installation’s title – the one on which Massaouda ends her finally and hard-won openness about what matters most to her as a mother: that her son finds bread to eat. Then, ‘nothing is missing’. Facing these present pasts and the kind of recognisable, perhaps dare I say the word, universal motherhood that results nevertheless fulfils the becoming of who we are in the present: facing these pasts together so that ‘we’ can ‘be’ is part of our own potential of becoming. Making contact, the third and most important act implied in facing facilitates that becoming – becoming world citizens, building our existence on mobility without having to move.19 This making of contact is suggested as an effect of the insistent facing in Nothing is Missing. What faces can do is stage encounters. This is the point of the faces of the mothers in Nothing is Missing – their empowerment. In the installation, the face is constantly present, in close-up but not as close as possible. As a visual form, the close-up itself is the face:

In Your Face

There is no close-up of the face. The close-up is the face, but the face precisely in so far as it has destroyed its triple function [individuation, socialization, communication] … the close-up turns the face into a phantom … the face is the vampire. (Deleuze 1986: 99)

If the close-up is the face, the face is also the close-up. Not quite, though; there is a slight distance built into the image to avoid locking the viewer up and denying the women any space at all; to avoid facile conflation and appeal to sentimentality; to give the face a frame within which it can exercise its mobility and agency as it can within the veil that in today’s divided world signifies Muslim identity; to make the images look like the busts of Roman emperors and other dignitaries. That slight distance, then, provides the space for a freedom à la Spinoza. Such a freedom is ‘critical’. Critical freedom, wrote James Tully, is the practice of seeing the specificity of one’s own world as one among others and inter-temporally, this freedom sees the present as fully engaged with the past that, insofar as it is part of the present, we can a little more freely rewrite. The act of interfacing can do that. This pertains to what I have termed ‘migratory aesthetics’ – an aesthetic of facing our common participation in migratory culture; an aesthetic that makes sense beyond a relativism that implies turning one’s back to such faces. My primary goal in this reflection was to explore the possibility of an ‘aesthetic understanding’ that, by means of its own intimacy across the gaps of globalisation, can engage the political. If we follow Baumgarten’s conception of aesthetics as binding through the senses, Nothing is Missing seems to do precisely that. It also does it in the public domain with domestic intimacy leaking through the seams. For the political, as I have developed extensively elsewhere (Bal 2010; 2013a; 2013b), I rely on the distinctions between politics and the political currently advanced by, among others, Jacques Rancière and Chantal Mouffe (Mouffe 2005; Rancière 1999). In a clear and concise book about this distinction, the latter defines the two terms as follows: [B]y ‘the political’ I mean the dimension of antagonism which I take to be constitutive of human societies, while by ‘politics’ I mean the set of practices and institutions through which an order is created, organizing human coexistence in the context of conflictuality provided by the political. (Mouffe 2005: 9)



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In this distinction, politics is the organisation that settles conflict; the political is where conflict ‘happens’. Thanks to the political, social life is possible. Politics, however, constantly attempts to dampen the political. Rancière uses different terms for the same distinction. In his work, Mouffe’s ‘politics’ corresponds to ‘the police’, and her ‘political’ is identical to his ‘politics’. Since I find Mouffe’s terms clearer, I follow those. According to Mouffe’s view, everyday life, including the intimacy that inhabits it, pertains to the political. It is here, then, that we can most effectively shift from Cartesian and Berkeleyan blindness to a facing that binds through the senses, in public space, as Baumgarten added. This combination of intimacy, sense-based contact and the possibility to differ in public space constitute the political. It is this that Nothing is Missing attempts to encourage by imaginatively staging its possibility. Notes 1 This contribution is a revised version of an earlier article, published as ‘Facing: Intimacy Across Divisions’, in Geraldine Pratt and Victoria Rosner (eds), The Global and the Intimate: Feminism in Our Time. New York: Columbia University Press, 2012, pp. 119–44. 2 For information and photographs, see: installations/nothing-is-missing/. The installation in Copenhagen was mounted on 23–25 October 2013 at Copenhagen University and Trampoline House. Curators: Macho Llorando (Karen V. Andersen, Elin Ljungkvist and Tobias Linnemann Ewé). My use of the noun ‘indifference’ here alludes to my proposed ‘ethics of non-indifference’ (Bal 2008). 3 Doris Salcedo’s Unilever Commission Shibboleth at the Tate Modern in London consisted of a long, deep and elaborate crack in the floor of the Turbine Hall. The artist attempted to put the global division between people down literally. The term ‘infra-humanity’ she used must be understood in that context. See Bal (2010) for an analysis of Salcedo’s work. 4 Making videos is an attempt to respond creatively to the constant actuality of the topics of the contemporary. By definition, the contemporary suffers from the belatedness of publications. This will always make it impossible to limit our research into the contemporary to libraries. Moreover, videos, while of course not full accounts either, preserve something of the voice of the subjects they stage. 5 For a complete list, trailers, stills and synopses of these video works, see: http:// (accessed 26 July 2014).

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6 For a list of venues and installation photos, see artworks/installations/nothing-is-missing/ (accessed 26 July 2014). This page also contains photographs of each of the mothers. 7 For a theoretical reflection on everyday life, see Colebrook 2002. 8 The most succinct formulation of these three types of ‘movement-images’ is in Deleuze 1986: 66–70. 9 I have been stimulated to think in terms of second-personhood by Lorraine Code 1991; 1995. 10 See Deleuze’s first book on film (1986), his early book on Spinoza from 1970 (1988) and his Bergsonism, also in English in 1988. For the useful term ‘critical intimacy’, see Spivak 1999. I am currently working on a film project on Descartes meeting Spinoza, in order to work out how the conception of the subject of both together would work wonders for what I am arguing in this chapter. 11 The more commonly used term for ‘preposterous history’ is ‘anachronism’. Although today this term is becoming more positive, I prefer to use my own term to avoid the negative conception of anachronism. For a positive use, see Farago and Zwijnenberg (2003). 12 For a fabulous psychoanalytic interpretation of such anxieties in the case of Denmark, see Holm 2013. 13 ‘Occasionality’ refers to the reality depicted; in the case of the portrait, it refers to the sitter. Brilliant took this concept from Hans Georg Gadamer’s 1960 phenomenological methodology (1989). 14 The most extended version of this anti-intentionalist argument is elaborated in the chapter ‘Intention’ of my 2002 book. 15 This is the productive result, I hope, of the experience of ‘giving time’ to the mothers in this installation. Whereas any support to these individual women is both impossible and belated, the amelioration of the social fabric is rewarding not only for them, but for migratory culture as a whole. 16 According to Mary Ann Doane, many theories of the close-up are hyperbolic (2003). I agree with Doane that the suspension of diegetic time through the closeup does not halt the diegesis. A fictional diegesis can even be entirely built up by means of close-ups. I see the close-up, especially when it ends a zoom-in, as a potential spatiotemporal slowdown. Hansen (2004) offers a lucid critique of those moments where Deleuze appears to relapse in a disembodied conception of vision. 17 On critical theatricality, see Maaike Bleeker 2008. 18 My phrasing is meant to invoke the beginnings of the theory of performativity in J. Austin’s 1962 book. His theory of performatives as rather rare utterances was generalised by, for example, Derrida (1988). Judith Butler made the concept relevant for both visual and bodily expression and for political analysis. 19 See also Nikos Papastergiadis’s contribution to this volume and his recent book on the subject.



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Bibliography Anthony, Louise, ‘“Human Nature” and Its Role in Feminist Theory’, in Janet A. Kourany (ed.), Philosophy in a Feminist Voice: Critiques and Reconstructions. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998, pp. 63–91. Austin, J. L., How to Do Things With Words. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1975 (1962). Bal, Mieke, Quoting Caravaggio: Contemporary Art, Preposterous History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999. —— Travelling Concepts in the Humanities: a Rough Guide. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002. —— Loving Yusuf: Conceptual Travels from Present to Past. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008. —— Of What One Cannot Speak: Doris Salcedo’s Political Art. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010. —— Thinking in Film: the Politics of Video Installation According to Eija-Liisa Ahtila. London: Bloomsbury, 2013a. —— Endless Andness: the Politics of Abstraction According to Ann-Veronica Janssens. London: Bloomsbury, 2013b. Baumgarten, Alexander Gottlieb, Aesthetica. Hildesheim, Germany: Olms, 1970 (1750). Bleeker, Maaike, Visuality in the Theatre: The Locus of Looking. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008. Brilliant, Richard, Portraiture. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991. Butler, Judith, Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of ‘Sex’. New York: Routledge, 1993. Code, Lorraine, What Can She Know? Feminist Epistemology and the Construction of Knowledge. Ithaca, NY, and London: Cornell University Press, 1991. —— Rhetorical Spaces: Essays on Gendered Location. New York and London: Routledge, 1995. Colebrook, Claire, ‘The Politics and Potential of Everyday Life’, New Literary History 33 (2002): 687–706. Deleuze, Gilles, Cinema 1: the Movement-Image. Translated by Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam. London: Athlone Press, 1986. —— Bergsonism. Translated by Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam. New York: Zone Books, 1988. —— Spinoza: Practical Philosophy. Translated by Robert Hurley. San Francisco: City Light Books, 1988. Derrida, Jacques, ‘Signature, Event, Context’, in Limited Inc. Translated by Samuel Weber, Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1988, pp. 1–23.

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—— Given Time: I. Counterfeit Money. Translated by Peggy Kamuf. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992. Doane, Mary Ann, ‘The Close-Up: Scale and Detail in the Cinema’, Differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies 14:3 (2003): 89–111. Fabian, Johannes, Anthropology with an Attitude: Critical Essays. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001. Farago, Claire and Rob Zwijnenberg, Compelling Visuality: The Work of Art in and out of History. Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2003. Gadamer, Hans-Georg, Truth and Method, 2nd revised edition. New York: Crossroad, 1989. Gatens, Moira and Genevieve Lloyd, Collective Imaginings: Spinoza, Past and Present. New York: Routledge, 1999. Goux, Jean-Joseph, Oedipe Philosophe. Paris: Aubier, 1990. Hansen, Mark B. N., ‘Affect as Medium, or the digital-facial-image’, Journal of Visual Culture 2:2 (2002): 205–28. Holm, Henrik Ole, ‘Contest-Nation Denmark: A PTSD-struck Nation Contesting Analysis’, in Griselda Pollock (ed.), Visual Politics of Psychoanalysis: Art and the Image in Post-Traumatic Cultures. London: I.B.Tauris, 2013, pp. 23–40. Mouffe, Chantal, On the Political. New York and London: Routledge, 2005. Nafici, Hamid, An Accented Cinema: Exilic and Diasporic Filmmaking. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001. Papastergiadis, Nikos, Cosmopolitanism and Culture. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2012. Rancière, Jacques, Disagreement: Politics and Philosophy. Translated by Julie Rose. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999. Said, Edward, Beginnings: Intention and Method. New York: Columbia University Press, 1985. Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty, A Critique of Postcolonial Reason: Toward a History of the Vanishing Present. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999. Torgovnick, Marianna, ‘The Politics of “We”’, in Marianna Torgovnick (ed.), Eloquent Obsessions: Writing Cultural Criticism. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1994, pp. 260–78. Tully, James, Strange Multiplicity: Constitutionalism in an Age of Diversity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995. Uhlmann, Anthony, ‘Image and Intuition in Beckett’s Film’, Substance 104:33/2 (2004): 90–106.


9 Taking the Strangeness out of Strangers Cinematic Strategies for Emphasising Sameness over Difference in Multi-Ethnic Europe Eva Jørholt

The foreignness of foreigners, the strangeness of strangers: these things are real enough. It’s just that we’ve been encouraged not least by well-meaning intellectuals, to exaggerate their significance by an order of magnitude. (Appiah 2006: xix) We need to consider whether the scale upon which sameness and difference are calculated might be altered productively so that the strangeness of strangers goes out of focus and other dimensions of a basic sameness can be acknowledged and made significant. (Gilroy 2004: 3)

After winning a safe traffic competition for German schoolchildren, young Mehmet was invited to a reception at the town hall. When the mayor kindly asked him where he was from, Mehmet replied that he was from the small town near Bielefeld where he was born and had spent his entire life. Having expected him to name some place in Turkey, the audience burst into laughter, and for the first time, Mehmet suddenly felt different from his schoolmates, as if he did not belong as fully to the German community as they. Mark Terkessidis (2010) tells this story as a demonstration of how even a seemingly harmless focus on alterity may entail a feeling of exclusion in the person regarded as ‘stranger’. When repeated over and over again, such behaviour may, according to Terkessidis, contribute to establishing a clear and lasting demarcation line between ‘us’ and


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‘them’ (Terkessidis 2010: 80). A divide which is not only at the heart of discrimination, ‘identity politics’ and radicalisation but also informs most immigration policies, from assimilation to multiculturalism. And by typically presenting members of ethnic minorities in their capacity of immigrants/strangers rather than as citizens like any other, the media, including films, have a significant share in fuelling this attitude towards immigrants and their offspring. In recent years, however, a number of European films have sought to counterbalance the dominant difference discourse by focusing on what people of diverse ethnicities may have in common, rather than on what sets them apart. In this, these films stand out from the vast majority of European cinema which – despite the filmmakers’ usually good intentions – has tended to foreground the alterity of immigrants with a non-European background. Starting with the British so-called ‘cinema of duty’ (Malik 1996) and its German counterpart, the Betroffenheitskino (‘cinema of the affected’, Burns 2007), immigrants have typically been represented ‘within a framework of centre and margin, white and non-white communities’ (Bailey with reference to the cinema of duty, in Malik 1996: 204), with an unremitting focus ‘on alterity as a seemingly insoluble problem, on conflict of either an intercultural or intracultural variety’ (Burns on ‘the cinema of the affected’, in Berghahn 2012: 22). While the ‘cinema of duty’/‘cinema of the affected’ was primarily a phenomenon of the 1970s and 1980s, it is far from extinct today – as demonstrated by recent films like, for example, Die Fremde (When We Leave, Germany 2010, dir. Feo Aladag), Inch’Allah dimanche (France/ Algeria 2001, dir. Yamina Benguigui) and Brick Lane (UK/India 2007, dir. Sarah Gavron). Since the late 1980s, the cinema of duty has, however, been accompanied by less problem-oriented films which have looked beyond the victim discourse and tried to break with essentialist understandings of ethnic minorities – films such as Gurinder Chadha’s Bhaji on the Beach (UK 1993) and My Beautiful Laundrette (UK 1985, dir. Stephen Frears), which Sarita Malik, in her seminal chapter from 1996, saw as representative of a new interest in ‘the pleasures of hybridity’. A similar development was seen elsewhere in Europe (e.g., Göktürk 2002), but I would argue that even many of these films carry on the alterity discourse. In Bhaji on the Beach, for instance, there is hardly any interaction between majority and minority, and while the ethnic mixedness of the gay couple in My Beautiful Laundrette is undeniable, the backgrounds of the two protagonists are so monumentally different – Omar has Pakistani roots whereas Johnny is a former skinhead – that their union comes across

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primarily as a dramaturgical ploy intended to draw attention to the very implausibility of such a relationship in Margaret Thatcher’s Great Britain. By contrast, the films investigated in this chapter focus on various aspects of a sameness which transcends ethnic and cultural divides, some by simply representing everyday instances of local cosmopolitanism, others by seeking to actively deconstruct the discursive boundaries separating ethnic minorities from the majority population. Such films are produced throughout Europe – in erstwhile colonial empires, such as the United Kingdom and France where the vast majority of presentday immigrants have their origins in the former colonies, as well as in countries like Sweden and Germany where host society and immigrant communities do not share a common past.1 Some of the films are made by ‘post-migrants’ (Yildiz 2013), that is, descendants of immigrants, people who have not migrated themselves but have an intimate knowledge of the harmful consequences of an all-pervading alterity discourse. Others are made by filmmakers who do not have an immigrant background at all, but who, like all citizens of contemporary Europe, are affected by the challenges and opportunities brought about by immigration. That these films emphasise sameness, however, does not imply that they deny the fact that cultural and other differences do exist. In general terms, what these films are saying is not that we are all the same but that people from different cultural backgrounds share some basic human features. We may, for instance, all have similar ambitions for our children, the same health concerns and more or less identical dreams for the future, just as we may share a passion for football, food, music or … freedom. Some people hate football, of course, but the point is that ethnicity has no bearing on whether people like it or not. Another aspect that separates these films from the majority of European films on ethnic minorities is that they typically do not subscribe to the social realist style of the cinema of duty nor to the often ‘interstitial’ production mode characterising the so-called ‘accented cinema’ as defined by Hamid Naficy (2001). Rather, the majority of them target a large audience through the use of commercial mainstream formats and welltried generic formulas for aligning the audience with the characters. And indeed, unlike the majority of films on immigrants, several of these recent films have done remarkably well at the European box office. I have identified five cinematic strategies for emphasising sameness over difference: reversal, parallel structure, shared heritage, living hybridity and beyond ethnicity. Before explaining each of them in more detail, let me just point out that while the first two of them are rhetorical strategies



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proper, the remaining three refer primarily to the adopted point of view as well as to the choice of characters and environments. Arguably, these very choices can, however, also be regarded as cinematic strategies. There may be other methods for achieving the same goal, but these five strategies seem to hold a particularly prominent place in contemporary European cinema and are, therefore, a good place to start. It is important to note, however, that in the individual films they are frequently mixed. Reversal A basic human sameness can be highlighted through a reversal of common alterity stereotypes as well as of narrative structures which place ethnic minorities as objects for the filmic gaze. Reversal is not just one strategy but a number of interrelated methods for turning discursive conventions upside down in order to question the ‘naturalness’ of the dominant difference discourse and expose it as a social construction rather than based on actual facts. One way of reversing stereotypes is to place members of the majority in positions commonly associated with minority groups, and vice versa, often with comical effect. A case in point is the Danish children’s film MGP Missionen (2013, The MGP Mission, dir. Martin Miehe-Renard) in which an ‘ethnic Danish’ boy, Karl, moves to Copenhagen from a small fishing community on the west coast of Jutland. The film’s other protagonist, Turkish-Danish Sawsan, on the other hand, is a streetwise city girl familiar with the fast-paced life in the capital. She also speaks (an urban youth version of) Danish without a hint of an accent, whereas Karl expresses himself in a heavy west Jutlandish dialect, so Sawsan assumes the task of teaching him to speak properly. In addition, the ‘immigrant’ Karl clearly belongs to a minority in his new, multi-ethnic school, and whereas Karl’s family, as well as Karl himself, are devout Christians, Muslim Sawsan and her family seem to have a much more relaxed attitude to religion. So, although the film thrives on an array of rather thick clichés, The MGP Mission also questions at least some ethnic stereotypes, inviting its youthful audience to reconsider the concept of cultural ‘strangeness’ and to see it not as a given fact but rather as a highly context-related ‘shifter’. A similar effect may be achieved through a ‘reversal of gazes’ in which the majority culture’s mediatised gaze on minorities is replaced by a look at the majority as seen through minority eyes. A good example of this is provided by the comedy Almanya – Willkommen in Deutschland

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9.1. The MGP Mission: Streetwise Sawsan (Malika Sia Graff) with Turkish roots and Karl (Sylvester Byder) who has just migrated to multicultural Copenhagen from a provincial fishing village.

(Germany 2011, dir. Yasemin Samdereli), which recounts the story of Turkish immigration to Germany from the point of view of three generations of one Turkish family. The family is the focal point of the film, the narration’s ‘we’, and through this structure the audience is invited to experience ordinary German everyday life as strange or even unheimlich. How strange, for instance, that ‘they’ go for a walk with their weird little, rat-like dogs that do not appear to have any legs. And what of their disgusting, chair-like toilets which must be infected with all kinds of unimaginable germs, not to mention their horror-like cult of a dead man on a cross and their habit of drinking his blood and eating bits of him every Sunday … A related kind of empathic reversal is found in the French comedy Il était une fois dans l’Oued (2005, dir. Djamel Bensalah) about a young, white Frenchman who is madly obsessed with anything Algerian, to the point of being more ‘Algerian’ than his neighbours who are actual immigrants from Algeria. By having a representative of the majority embody stereotypical perceptions of an ethnic minority – and take them to extremes – the film invites its spectators to laugh with the Algerian family at the stereotype incarnate. Overall, however, the inherent paradox of the reversal strategy is that it must highlight – and often exaggerate – difference in order to reverse and, ultimately, subvert it. Films which use this strategy, therefore, walk a tightrope between sustaining, perhaps even widening, and bridging cultural divides.



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Parallel Structure Similar pitfalls apply to the parallel structure which consists in juxtaposing two or more characters from different cultures and pointing out their similarities. With its story about two teenage girls – Jess, who has an Indian background, and the ‘native’ English Jules – who share the same dream of becoming professional football players, Gurinder Chadha’s coming-ofage comedy Bend It Like Beckham (UK 2002) – 4.8 million tickets sold across Europe and an additional 5.4 million in the US2 – is a prototypical instance of such parallel composition. In no way does Bend It Like Beckham downplay cultural difference. Strong family ties are emphasised on the Indian side, epitomised in Jess’s sister’s ‘big fat Indian wedding’, whereas Jules’ is a small, and much less colourful, nuclear family. And while the Indian family’s adherence to the Sikh religion is unmistakable, Jules and her family do not seem to have any strong religious convictions. The point the film is making, however, is that while the two girls may belong to different cultures, not only do they share the same dream, but they also encounter similar reactions from their parents, albeit for different reasons: whereas Jules’ mother opposes her daughter’s football ambitions because sports bras and football shorts do not do justice to Jules’ feminine form, Jess’s mother is appalled at the idea that her daughter is displaying her naked legs in public. From the two football-crazy girls’ point of view, however, the effect is the same. A similar construction is found in The MGP Mission whose two young protagonists, Karl and Sawsan, share a passion for music – a passion which not only transcends all cultural divides and creates a strong bond between the two of them but also propels them to run off to participate in the local Junior Eurovision Song Contest (in Danish: Melodi Grand Prix, hence the film’s title), to the dismay of their respective parents. And as Sawsan’s parents on the one hand and Karl’s mother and grandfather on the other join forces and set out to look for their children together, even the older generation’s cultural differences pale compared to their concern for the two 12-year-olds. In Rachid Bouchareb’s London River (UK/France/Algeria 2009) as well, a shared concern for their respective children bring together two people from two different cultures. Set in London right after the July 2005 terror attacks, the film presents a sombre yet hopeful story about a housewife from Guernsey and a black Muslim immigrant from France whose paths cross as she is searching for her daughter, he for his son, who both seem to be missing after the bombings. Gradually, the two elderly

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9.2. Bend it Like Beckham: Parminder Nagra and Keira Knightley as the two football-crazy girls in Bend it Like Beckham (dir. Gurinder Chadha, UK/Germany/ USA 2002).

persons, who have never had any previous contact with each other’s culture, come to realise that they have more in common than either of them would have imagined. Josef Fares’ feel-good romantic comedy Jalla! Jalla! (Sweden 2000) – 1.5 million tickets sold – is another example of this kind of parallel composition. Its two protagonists, Roro and Måns, who work as garbage collectors in Stockholm’s public parks, both have problems when it comes to issues related to the other sex. Roro, who has a Lebanese background, is facing an arranged marriage with a Lebanese girl, Yasmin, but is already in a relationship with a Swedish girl; Måns, a blond Nordic type, is suffering from impotency, which the film appears to relate to living in a society where a (too) liberal attitude to sex has placed erotic acrobatics with strange toys over romantic love. If the challenges each of them is facing are thus presented as culture-related, they are also parallel and seem, in both cases, to be overcome by the power of true love – genre oblige. In the end, Roro’s father comes to accept his son’s choice of girlfriend, and Måns seems to be cured of his problem after falling in love with Yasmin. Auf der anderen Seite (The Edge of Heaven, Germany/Turkey/Italy 2007) – Fatih Akın’s second film in his planned trilogy on ‘Liebe, Tod und Teufel’ (Love, Death and Devil) – can be seen as a more complex parallel composition, intertwining several narrative strings which all pertain to universal human issues of love and death. At the heart of the film, which is set in Germany and Turkey, are three parent/(adult)–child relations: an elderly Turkish-German man and his son who is a professor



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of German in a German university; a Turkish-German woman who makes a living as a prostitute in order to provide for her daughter in Turkey; and an elderly German woman whose daughter falls in love with the daughter of the Turkish woman when the latter comes to Germany in search of her mother. Two deaths – the Turkish mother and the German daughter – catalyse new interethnic encounters and strengthen already existing relationships between the remaining characters, all based on the recognition that in the face of death as a shared human condition, cultural differences are of little importance. Shared Heritage This strategy is somewhat different from the other four in that it does not foreground a basic human sameness but seeks to unite majority and minority by emphasising their shared heritage. It is therefore only relevant in post-imperial nations where a significant proportion of the immigrant communities originate in the former colonies, and it aims not only to rewrite official history from the point of view of the colonised but also, and in this context perhaps even more importantly, to heal the wounds. Interestingly, the shared heritage strategy appears to be a strictly French phenomenon. And it seems to be employed primarily – but not exclusively – with reference to the Algerian war of independence (1954– 62), arguably the most violent of all decolonisation processes and to this day an open scar on the relationship between the indigenous French population and the North African immigrant communities. For almost 40 years a trou de mémoire (Tarr 2005) in the consciousness of most Frenchmen as well as in official French history books, the war in Algeria has only recently been unearthed and addressed in both public debates, literature and films.3 Some of these films – such as L’Ennemi intime (Intimate Enemies, France/Morocco 2007, dir. Florent-Emilio Siri), La Trahison (The Betrayal, France 2005, dir. Philippe Faucon) and Mon colonel (France/Belgium 2006, dir. Laurent Herbiet) – use the war film genre as a framework for denouncing the French army’s horrible deeds in Algeria. But even though their focus is thus primarily on French traumas, it can be argued that by transferring the role of the ‘bad guys’ from the North Africans to l’ennemi intime, that is, to the French themselves, such films do to some extent contribute to a less dichotomous understanding of the war. When it comes to stressing a shared heritage, however, Rachid Bouchareb’s Hors la loi (Outside the Law, France/Algeria/Belgium/

Taking the Strangeness out of Strangers

9.3. Outside the Law: French police massacre of Algerians in a Parisian metro station on 17 October 1961, at the height of the Algerian war of independence.

Tunisia/Italy 2010) is of particular interest. Drawing freely on a range of commercial genres, it tells the story of an Algerian family – a mother and her three sons – who, after having been forced to leave their native country, experience the war in Algeria from Nanterre, a then miserable shanty town on the western outskirts of Paris. Here, the mainly North African immigrant population is caught up in a bloody fight with the French police on the one hand and between antagonising factions of the liberation movement on the other. Merely by transferring the front from far away Algeria to metropolitan France, the film reinforces the sense of a heritage shared by Frenchmen and North African immigrants. But Outside the Law also presents the war as a much more complex issue than just Frenchmen against Algerians. It shows, for example, how the Algerian immigrants were terrorised by the FLN (the Algerian Front de Libération Nationale) to support the war effort, but also how Frenchmen (so-called porteurs de valises) supported Algerian independence, while Algerians (so-called harkis) worked for the French police, often carrying out some of its roughest and most dubious tasks against the immigrants. And in addition to this, the film also draws attention to a number of parallels between the Algerian fight for independence and the French resistance against German occupation during World War II. Hors la loi thus presents a very multifaceted revision of the very divisive understanding of the war which still mars the relationship between Frenchmen with and without a North African background. Space will not allow me to deal with all recent films on the war in Algeria, but in order to show their generic variety, it is worth mentioning Michou d’Auber (2007, dir. Thomas Gilou), a feel-good family film about



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an Algerian boy whose father places him in the care of a French couple in a provincial town in metropolitan France, to protect him from the violence of the war in Algeria. Initially, the French woman tries to hide the boy’s identity from her husband (played by Gérard Depardieu), a World War II veteran and fervent supporter of de Gaulle, but when it is eventually disclosed that the boy is Algerian, the husband sides with the boy whom he has come to love as his own son, to the point of exclaiming ‘I am an Arab!’ Noteworthy too is Bouchareb’s box office success Indigènes (Days of Glory, France/Algeria/Morocco/Belgium 2006) – 3.2 million tickets sold – which is not about the Algerian trauma but addresses the largely neglected issue of the North African tirailleurs who fought in the French army and helped liberate France during World War II; and Les Hommes libres (Free Men, France 2011, dir. Ismaël Ferroukhi) which stands out from the others by not taking up the colonial past. Instead, it focuses on the persecution of Jews during the German occupation and especially on the role played by the Paris Grand Mosque in hiding Jews and helping them escape. This is another way of emphasising a common humanity which transgresses cultural and religious divides, based on actual historical events which are not mentioned in official history books. Living Hybridity Films within this group focus on contemporary life in, primarily, large European cities where different ethnicities share the same urban space and intertwine in complex and often culturally stimulating ways. Such ‘togetherness-in-difference’ is at the very heart of Ien Ang’s concept of living hybridity. Unlike multiculturalism, which to Ang comes down to ‘living apart together’, living hybridity ‘foregrounds complicated entanglement rather than identity, togetherness-in-difference rather than virtual apartheid’ (Ang 2001: 3). While cultural difference is indeed at the heart of a concept like togetherness-in-difference – as well as of the films which I group under the living hybridity heading – in this context, it is not to be understood as an unbridgeable gap between indigenous Europeans and non-European ‘strangers’. Rather, difference is conceived of in positive terms, as opening up to a cultural diversity ripe with new potential. According to German sociologists like Terkessidis and Erol Yildiz who have investigated everyday life in cities with many immigrants, the post-

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migrant generation has transformed urban space into a stage for playing with cultural input from all over the world and giving it a specific local flavour. Yildiz, for instance, talks of an ‘opening of local places to the world’, which he also sees in the way many cities have become places of transit for frequent travellers. And he emphasises how ‘a social grammar surfaces, opening up new spaces of possibility in which differences are rethought, activated and combined in various ways’ (Yildiz 2013: 25; my translation). The prime filmic proponent of this new, bottom-up social grammar is the German director Fatih Akın whose international breakthrough film, Gegen die Wand (Head-On, Germany 2004), has been aptly described by Deniz Göktürk as ‘genre cinema in the era of air travel, appropriating global pop music as well as locally specific references, along with Turkish, German and American conventions of melodrama’ (Göktürk 2010: 216). It is a prominent feature of all Akın’s films that his usually multiethnic characters are somehow in a state of perpetual transit. Even though many of them see Hamburg – Akın’s own home town – as their home, none of them seem to forget that they can always leave and go somewhere else, often to Turkey – as seen in, for instance, Head-On, Kurz und schmerzlos (Short Sharp Shock, 1998), Im Juli (In July, 2000) and The Edge of Heaven. These cosmopolitans also bring the world to Hamburg, transforming it into a nexus of living hybridity, which is both represented in the narratives of the films and reflected in their aesthetic make-up. Akın’s most interesting film in this regard – and, with 2.4 million tickets sold across Europe, also his commercially most successful – is the ensemble comedy Soul Kitchen (2009). Two brothers with Greek roots, the restaurant owner Zinos and the jailbird Illias, are at the centre of the story, surrounded by, among many others, the hot-headed Romani chef Shayn, the perhaps partly Hispanic waitress Lucia and the physiotherapist Anna who may or may not have a Turkish background but with whom Zinos eventually establishes a relationship after his blonde girlfriend, Nadine, has left for Shanghai. Among the characters who are related to or just visit the restaurant, ethnicity is only explicitly foregrounded in occasional jokes or musical performances, but it is precisely the ethnic and cultural diversity, the characters’ togetherness-in-difference, that brings forth the metaphorical essence of the film’s title: a spicy, cosmopolitan mix of different ingredients, brought together by, and with, passion, as reflected in the film’s globally eclectic musical score.



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9.4. Soul Kitchen: Togetherness in difference.

Films in this category are also found outside Germany, in, for example, the French comedy Cheba Louisa (2013, dir. Françoise Cherbat) about the friendship between two young women in a housing project: the well-educated Djemila and the struggling single mother Emma. In the end, Djemila is persuaded to perform in a nightclub and sing some of the songs made famous by her Algerian grandmother – the renowned Cheba Louisa – accompanied by Emma on a West African djembé parading as Algerian derkouba. Less flamboyant, but no less significant in its portrayal of cultural hybridity as a lived fact even in smaller towns, is Abdellatif Kechiche’s La Graine et le mulet (Couscous, France 2007). In Sète, a coastal town in the South of France, the middle-aged Slimane decides to turn an abandoned ship into a restaurant after he has been licensed from his job at the local shipyard. Although Slimane and his family have North African roots, he unequivocally defines himself as French, which becomes clear when he complains, with reference to his own situation, that the harbour prefers to employ immigrants rather than Frenchmen because the latter demand higher wages. But of particular interest in this context is the fact that Slimane’s restaurant is to specialise in serving couscous with mullet, that is, a combination of a traditional North African cuisine and the most common local type of fish, the mullet. Although Slimane and his extended family are socially disadvantaged and still somewhat marginalised by the town elite, through the restaurant project they contribute to creating a new social grammar of living hybridity.

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Beyond Ethnicity If the ‘living hybridity’ films foreground and celebrate the entanglement of different cultures, the ones in the ‘beyond ethnicity’ category do not pay any attention at all to ethnic and cultural differences. Although they do feature ethnically diverse characters, cultural diversity is not highlighted and neither addressed as a problem nor as a source of crosscultural celebration. The characters are just human beings, ‘beyond skin’.4 In this, these films tap into the ‘banal conviviality’ (Gilroy 2004) found in many multi-ethnic neighbourhoods where everyday life is guided by ‘unspectacular pragmatics’ (Yildiz 2013). In Abdellatif Kechiche’s Golden Palm-winner La vie d’Adèle (Adele: Chapters 1 and 2, France 2013), for instance, the gallery of characters surrounding the two (white) protagonists is distinctly multi-ethnic, yet ethnicity is never an issue. Another example is supplied by Josef Fares’ Leo (Sweden 2007), a drama about three friends who set out to avenge the murder of the girlfriend of one of them, with disastrous consequences. While Leo is a typically blond Swede, his two friends (one of them played by the director himself) clearly have other ethnic backgrounds, like several of the guests at Leo’s 30th birthday party with which the film opens. This, however, is never commented upon by the film which presents the multi-ethnic composition of Leo’s friends with a complete and uncontroversial matterof-factness. In the same director’s comedy Kopps (Sweden 2003), about four cops who, in order to prevent the closure of the local police station, try to boost the crime statistics of their small, absolutely crime-free town, one of the policemen clearly has an immigrant background (he is played by the director’s brother, Fares Fares, who also played Roro in Jalla! Jalla!). Yet the film never refers to his ethnicity or portrays him as culturally different from his colleagues. Similarly, Allt flyter (The Swimsuit Issue, Sweden 2008, dir. Måns Herngren) is a comedy about a group of Swedish men who engage in synchronised swimming to combat their midlife crisis. Two of them are played by actors with an immigrant background – Peter Gardiner and Shebly Niavarani – but their characters are just as plain Swedish as the others. The only time ethnicity is touched upon is when a clearly gay Fin expresses his desire to join the otherwise (seemingly) straight group, and the swimmers snicker about him asking each other if they think he is really … Finnish? In a distinctly minimalist visual style with no underlying musical score, Thomas Arslan’s art film Der schöne Tag (A Fine Day, Germany



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2001) depicts a day in the life of Turkish-German Deniz. We see her leave her boyfriend in the morning, break up with him, go to work in a dubbing studio (where she dubs the voice of the female lead in a Rohmer film into German), visit her mother, present herself at an audition, take an interest in a guy she happens to meet on the Berlin U-Bahn, have a quick Chinese dinner with her sister, and finally a beer with the guy from the U-Bahn, who informs her that his girlfriend will be returning the next day. The next morning, after Deniz’s former boyfriend has unsuccessfully tried to patch up their relationship, her eye catches another guy on the U-Bahn … perhaps suitable material for a new relationship. While the film does not deny that Deniz has a Turkish background – she speaks Turkish with her mother, for instance – this is not presented as having any relevance for the issues she is struggling with as a young Berlin girl. Her thoughts are primarily on finding a good job and a nice boyfriend – arguably, the main concerns of most young girls, irrespective of their ethnicity. And for Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging (UK 2008) – an adaptation of Louise Rennison’s books on a white teenage girl’s diary about boys, friendship, her family and, not least, her extraordinary cat Angus – Gurinder Chadha made one of the protagonist’s friends Indian in order to present a ‘truer picture of Britain’ (bonus material on DVD). The film does not offer any details about the Indian girl’s background, and she is not presented as in any way culturally different from her friends nor treated any differently by her surroundings. The only ethnicity marker is her brown skin which corrects an otherwise too ‘white’ representation of contemporary Britain. Catering to Assimilationist Politics? In 2010, Sarita Malik revisited ‘the pleasures of hybridity’ in a new article entitled ‘The Dark Side of Hybridity’. Of particular interest in this context is her critique of British Asian cinema’s successful adoption of the mainstream format for stories about socially integrated British Asian characters – as seen, for instance, in Bend It Like Beckham. To Malik, these films – and their success – are problematic, partly because they seem to revive essentialist notions of ethnic identity, but primarily because ‘it is implied … that the societal aims of social equality initiatives have been achieved in a new “post-racial” era’ (Malik 2010: 138). Malik refutes the notion that the UK should have entered a ‘post-racial’ era, and with reference to Kobena Mercer’s concept of ‘the burden of representation’

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– that is, the expectation that ethnic minority artists speak on behalf of their community – she claims that these films are ‘racialised’ by the way they are industrially positioned, marketed and received by audiences. While it is certainly true that race still matters, just as most films by ethnic minority directors are indeed categorised according to the ethnicity of their makers rather than in, for example, national or generical terms like other films, I do not share Malik’s view of these films as problematic. Accusing them of catering to liberalist assimilationist politics because they do not focus on discrimination and marginalisation would seem to revive the original meaning of ‘the burden of representation’ by imposing restrictions on the subject matter which ethnic minority directors are ‘allowed’ to address. To require European films – by minority or majority directors – to always focus on the dark sides of immigration is not only to neglect the fact that some immigrants and postmigrants are, in fact, perfectly natural members of the local or national communities in which they live, but may also sustain the dominant difference discourse and, hence, contribute to widening cultural divides. And we should not forget that the films discussed here are still in the minority compared to the ones addressing intercultural problems of various kinds. Whereas the mainstream format is usually considered to be the very opposite of subversivity, the commercial success it has brought at least some of the films considered here can indeed be seen as subversive – and, arguably, more so than the often quite marginal films on victims and antagonisms. For, as I have tried to point out in this chapter, through their focus on a basic human sameness, these films supply a much needed antidote to the official alterity discourse, and the potential efficiency of the cure is, invariably, proportional to the number of spectators reached. In an interview, Gurinder Chadha referred to Bend It Like Beckham as a ‘tabloid movie’ because all the tabloids loved it. To her, however, the fact that so many different groups within British society – Indians, women, girls and eventually the general British public – had embraced and for various reasons owned this film by a female British Asian director about a British Asian girl played by an unknown British Asian actress, also made it a radical film. Asked if commercial success made it even more radical, she answered: ‘Absolutely, it’s subversive!’ (in Korte and Sternberg 2004: 252).



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Notes 1 This particular investigation includes film examples from the UK, Germany, France, Sweden and Denmark only. 2 All information regarding box-office results derives from the European Lumière data base: 3 Besides the titles mentioned here, other recent films addressing the war in Algeria include Cartouches gauloises (Summer of ’62, France/Algeria 2007, dir. Mehdi Charef), Nuit noire, Octobre 17 1961 (France 2005, dir. Alain Tasma), Harkis (France 2006, dir. Alain Tasma), Caché (Hidden, France/Austria/Germany/Italy 2005, dir. Michael Haneke), Djinns (Stranded, France 2010, dir. Sandra and Hugues Martin), Le premier homme (The First Man, France/Italy/Algeria 2011, dir. Gianni Amelio), Pour Djamila (France 2011, dir. Caroline Huppert) and Ce que le jour doit à la nuit (What the Day Owes the Night, France 2012, dir. Alexandre Arcady). 4 The expression ‘beyond skin’ was coined by the British Asian musician Nitin Sawhney who, in the liner notes for his album of this title (1999), explained it with reference to his own identity: ‘My identity and my history are defined only by myself – beyond politics, beyond nationality, beyond religion and beyond skin.’ The expression was, however, taken up by Paul Gilroy (2004) who uses it in a wider sense with regard to everyday forms of conviviality in which skin colour is of no importance.

Bibliography Ang, Ien, On Not Speaking Chinese: Living Between Asia and the West. London and New York: Routledge, 2001. Appiah, Kwame Anthony, Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers. London: Penguin Books, 2006. Berghahn, Daniela, ‘My Big Fat Turkish Wedding: From Culture Clash to Romcom’, in S. Hake and B. Mennel (eds), Turkish German Cinema in the New Millennium: Sites, Sounds, and Screens. Oxford and New York: Berghahn Books, 2012. Burns, Rob, ‘Towards a Cinema of Cultural Hybridity: Turkish-German Filmmakers and the Representation of Alterity’, Debatte: Journal of Contemporary Central and Eastern Europe 15:1 (2007). Gilroy, Paul, After Empire: Melancholia or Convivial Culture. London and New York: Routledge, 2004. Göktürk, Deniz, ‘Beyond Paternalism: Turkish German Traffic in Cinema’, in E. Carter and D. Göktürk (eds), The German Cinema Book. London: Palgrave Macmillan/BFI, 2002.

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—— ‘Sound Bridges: Transnational Mobility as Ironic Melodrama’, in D. Berghahn and C. Sternberg (eds), European Cinema in Motion: Migrant and Diasporic Film in Contemporary Europe. Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010. Korte, Barbara and Claudia Sternberg, Bidding for the Mainstream? Black and Asian British Film since the 1990s. Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi, 2004. Malik, Sarita, ‘Beyond “The Cinema of Duty”? The Pleasures of Hybridity: Black British Film of the 1980s and 1990s’, in A. Higson (ed.), Dissolving Views: Key Writings on British Cinema. London: Cassell, 1996. —— ‘The Dark Side of Hybridity: Contemporary Black and Asian British Cinema’, in D. Berghahn and C. Sternberg (eds), European Cinema in Motion: Migrant and Diasporic Film in Contemporary Europe. Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010. Naficy, Hamid, An Accented Cinema: Exilic and Diasporic Filmmaking. Princeton, NJ, and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2001. Tarr, Carrie, Reframing Difference: Beur and banlieue filmmaking in France. Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 2005. Terkessidis, Mark, Interkultur. Berlin: Suhrkamp Verlag, 2010. Yildiz, Erol, Die weltoffene Stadt. Wie Migration Globalisierung zum urbanen Alltag macht. Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag, 2013.


10 The Un-Doing of Hard Borders Art at the US Wall Against Mexico Mary Watkins

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it, And spills the upper boulders in the sun; And makes gaps even two can pass abreast. (Robert Frost, Mending Wall)

The conjunction of the pernicious effects of transnational capitalism, environmental degradation, genocides and civil wars have caused millions to flee their homes in search of basic human rights to food, shelter, healthcare, education and security.1 While the number of international migrants has doubled since 1994, we have become witnesses to the multiplying of highly militarised walls built between groups, nations and regions. Their functions are multiple: to divide people; to prevent entrance to victims of forced migration; to preserve unjust income-divides; to create cheap labour at and beyond the border; and to inscribe national rights above human rights. Art on these walls attempts healing functions. Countering nationalistic, class and ethnic divides, artistic partnerships are forged. Rejecting false and militarised separations of hybrid or potentially hybrid cultures, art on separation walls ignites critical consciousness about the dynamics of such barriers. Most strikingly, some border art fulfils what Brazilian pedagogist Paulo Freire calls an annunciatory function, awakening our imaginations to peaceful and just possibilities of relationship. While separation walls pose limit situations, border wall art helps us to see them not as ‘the impassable boundaries where possibilities end’ says Alvaro Pinto, ‘but the real boundaries where all possibilities begin’ (Pinto 1960: 284). The limit situations of hard borders call forth the creation of art as limit acts that cross over the given into rehearsal for and creation of a more just


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and peaceful world. This chapter reflects on the functions of border art at and near the US border wall at the US–Mexico border. Paradoxically, when we are pressed against walls, if a sense of futility or defensive violence does not overtake us, creative imagination can be powerfully constellated. To practice imagination in the face of oppressive fixity is an example of what Freire (1989) calls a ‘limit act’, an act that both resists the imposition of destructive limits and creates anew in the face of them. The building of the wall at the US–Mexico border has paradoxically, yet predictably, called forth the rupturing ‘swell[s]’ that poet Robert Frost knew eventually would undo imposed divisions that ‘spill the upper boulders in the sun’. Quickened by the aggressive ‘securing’ of the border after the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and 9/11, creative counter-acts have gained focus and resolve. Many US citizens are fiercely divided regarding the wall, some arguing for its demise while others even provide personal funding for its completion. Others still are disinterested. When I first encountered the wall in 2001, I was on the US side at Friendship Park, south of San Diego. The monotonous military green of the landing strips from the first Gulf War used to construct the wall blocked a full view to the Mexican beach on the other side. The next day, while on the other side in Tijuana, I discovered creative and vibrant wall art, transposing the drab military backdrop. Studying this art, talking with some of the artists and linking the wall art in Mexico with border wall art in Derry, Belfast, Palestine and Berlin have been important ingredients in the galvanising of my capacity to see – to vision – alternatives. To learn about the transborder and international collaboration of wall artists has acted as a counter-force to the divisiveness of the wall itself. Border wall art has the power to undermine a separation wall’s functions, transmuting the impeding material surfaces into a gallery that nourishes critical consciousness, memorialises losses and sparks prophetic imagination. It portrays marginalised points of view, critiques dominant messages, presents its own ideological commitments and not only posits alternate possibilities but inspires them. Such are the functions of limit acts. While the wall stands, it is put to different uses, indeed, to tasks most often antithetical to its intended purposes and meanings. Performative border art also defies the limit of the wall, rehearsing transgressions that allow imagination not to be stopped at the wall’s brute technologised and material limit. The art on the Mexican side of the wall is like a healing salve placed on an open wound. To encounter images on such a forbidding surface is to

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remember Nietzsche’s insight that ‘we possess art lest we perish from the truth’ (Nietzsche 1968: 435). The building of the wall has been a violent introduction of a foreign object into and onto the earth, intruded into aquifers and incised across fragile and unique terrains. It divides people from their backyards and animals from their habitats and migratory ranges. It slashes through the heart of nature preserves, a university, and through the streets of people’s towns and cities. It stands as a powerful contradiction to the welcome we strive for in our homes and communities. It is ugly and, indeed, it repels and repulses. Conversely, the art on the wall invites one in and brings one up close, creating an intimacy with the wall. In the midst of wall art one does not feel ‘up against the wall’ – in opposition to it – but invited to altogether other scapes and ways of thinking. Transgressively, the art uses the wall to begin to undo the wall itself. Vladimir Mayakovsky insisted that ‘Art is not a mirror to reflect the world, but a hammer with which to shape it’ (quoted in Samuels 1993: 9). While this is not true of all art, it holds true for much border wall art. Some say the Berlin Wall fell from the weight of the paint used for graffiti and murals on the West Berlin side. The East Berlin side of that wall remained sterile except for a few marks. The US side of the wall at the US–Mexico border also has no wall art. A single exhibit in Brownsville, curated by artist Mark Clark of Galeria 409, was attached to the fencelike wall in Brownsville for a few hours and then removed as planned. What graffiti has been placed on the US side of the US owned and created wall has been erased or blacked out by border authorities. Artists’ proposals have been rejected by the Department of Homeland Security. On the Mexican side the arts of contestation, protest, memorial, outrage and prophetic imagination thrive without any form of state censorship. Graffiti: Generative Words and Images The popular education method of Freire is employed not only for acquiring literacy skills but to learn to decode and read, to analyse the situations we live in. In the spirit of Freire, a beginning place for critical analysis is to bring into dialogue generative words and phrases that help us claim and focus on what is important in our realities. These words name both what is problematic and what is valued (e.g. femicide, militarisation, clean water). Those who create separation barriers and walls tend to obscure the functions of the walls with their naming.



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For instance, the East German government called the Berlin Wall the ‘anti-Fascist protection rampart’. The wall that separates Catholic and Protestant neighbourhoods in West Belfast is called the ‘Peace Wall’. Graffiti art often takes on the function of naming what a wall is from the perspective of those who are prevented from moving freely across it. The first graffiti on the Berlin Wall was ‘KZ=DDR’, equating East Germany with a ‘concentration camp’, a chilling and insightful summation, attempting to crystallise the function of the wall to keep people in, not out. German graffiti also posed the question of how much longer the wall would be allowed to divide: ‘Wie lange noch?’ – a question that introduced fragility and uncertainty to what was presented as powerfully solid and durable. While the government talked about protecting its citizens from the decadence of capitalism and fascism, the wall actually functioned to create a prison for many East Germans. Similarly, the word ‘GHETTO’ is written in graffiti across the Israeli Separation Wall, ironically linking the ghettoes in which Jews historically suffered to the environments being created for Palestinians in the occupied territories of Palestine. Some of the graffiti on the US wall also incisively sums up the situation from the Mexican side: ‘Go home Yankee!’ With such a brief exclamation, the history of who is situated on whose land is underscored. Mexicans like to say, ‘The border crossed us. We did not cross the border.’ The question of who is actually in the others’ home space destabilises the position of the wall and contests the placement of the border itself. The graffiti ‘Deportan a la Migra’ (‘Deport the Border Patrol’) reverses the cry by 51 per cent in the US to deport Mexicans without documents. ‘Get out of Iraq, get out of Mexico!’ draws attention to the US government’s propensity to intervene in other people’s lands. Through this graffiti the tacit claim of the wall – that Mexican interlopers need to be forcibly restrained – is called into question. The graffiti turns the table on the question of who the real interlopers are. Many graffiti writers are trying to establish the larger context of which the wall is a part, for instance by linking the wall to US military interventions in other parts of the world. This is similar to how the art on the International Wall in West Belfast tries to link the struggle in Northern Ireland to that in the Basque country, to Cuba, to slavery in the US. These linkages create international solidarities. For instance, the graffiti phrase Fronteras: Cicatrizes en la Tierra (Borders: Scars to the Earth), by its general claim, links the US–Mexico border wall to other international border walls. Even brief graffiti statements can bear a power to transform the very thinking out of which the wall first arose. In

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Nogales one reads ‘Las paredes-vueltas de lado son puentes’, telling us that if we bend walls, we can create bridges. In addition, there are single generative images that attempt to show some of the meanings of the wall. Some simply paint money signs, pointing not only to the money migrants hope to make in the US, but to the profits made by trapping people at the border who then work for low wages in the maquiladores, industrial factories on the Mexican side. Indeed, the wall is all about money. One of the most powerful generative images of the border and its wall is that of ‘una herida abierta’ (an open wound). It is clear that this wall is not like a garden wall that protects a restorative place. It is another variety of wall, one that is imposed upon an open and dynamic landscape and which forcibly separates peoples and families, curtailing their freedom of movement, as well as overturning environmental safeguards that have taken decades to put into place. On the Mexican side of the wall in Tijuana a gaping wound is painted, with attempted sutures. It is not a delicate painting, but a rough and jagged one, evoking the tear in the landscape and the pressing need for repair and healing. Separation walls have given rise to a lexicon of imagery that is recognisable across particular situations. On the Palestinian side of the Israeli Separation Wall, there is a particularly poignant face that is crying, giving image to the grief and tragedy occasioned by this wall. Upon seeing Jews intensely praying at the temple wall in Jerusalem, Europeans dubbed it ‘the wailing wall’. This Palestinian face evokes a different sense of a wailing wall, one where the wall itself cries, as though witness to the separations and injustices that the wall starkly imposes. When one places one’s imaginal ear on the northern face of the US wall at the US–Mexico border, one can hear it weeping. It is also easy to imagine blood seeping through it. The US border wall occasions deep sadness and even tragedy for many Mexicans and Central Americans. The self-regulatory aspect of migratory streams has been disrupted by the wall. When the border was more open, a person could come to the US to earn money for one’s family, and still return home for a funeral of a loved one, for a reunion with one’s spouse and children, to give life another try in one’s village or city of origin that one calls ‘home’. Now it is so expensive and dangerous to cross without documents that many migrants remain in the US without hope of return. Family members and friends in Mexico rightfully fear the rape and/or death of those migrating.



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Memorial Much of the art on the wall memorialises the deaths of those trying to cross into the US. The very wall that has caused these deaths is used to name them and remember them, transgressing the literal lack of vision the wall imposes with insight into its human costs. Crosses with names and caskets with numbers of migrants who have died each year since the passage of NAFTA dot the wall. Each is a solemn assessment of the wall’s tragic and deadly outcome. Here the death of unnamed migrants is marked and remembered, those who travel without identification and whose families will have no way of knowing if they have disappeared into hiding in America or perished on their way there. It is a slow and steady death count of those who have perished on their way north, often about even in numbers with the young American men and women who have died in the Afghan and Iraq Wars. We are reminded that at our border we are involved in a war of a different kind. Artist Carmela Castrejon forewarned this when she hung blood-soaked clothes on a 13mile stretch of fence built at the border in 1991, coinciding with the first year of the Gulf War. One of the most moving memorials to both living and dead who are touched by migration is Alejandro Santiago’s 2501 Migrantes. Upon returning to San Pedro Teococuilco, his hometown near Oaxaca, Santiago was shocked and saddened by the migration of 2,500 residents due to poverty, lack of schools and chronic unemployment. Like hundreds of other Mexican towns it has been depopulated by 50 per cent or more due to the economic need of its residents to find work in El Norte. Adding himself, this made 2,501. Many of his own friends and relatives had also left for the US, adding to his own intimate sense of abandonment. Santiago had a dream in which his community became repopulated. When he awoke, he undertook the project of creating in ceramic form the absent ones of his village (Casanova 2008). His vision was to create a tribute that would offer dignity to those who had to migrate. He hoped that the project could draw population back to Teococuilco, as well as keep its current young people at home by creating jobs and creative activity. Santiago enlisted a local team composed of the sons and daughters of local farmers struggling to support their families, training them to become ceramicists in order to accomplish this project. He understands emigration as signalling a loss of connection to one’s community and the land. To better foster these connections he has introduced into Teococuilco farm animals and projects for water conservation and agriculture, hoping to create an ecosystem that is self-sustaining (Johnson 2006).

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10.1. Alejandro Santiago, 2501 Migrantes, 2006, Museo de Arte Contemporáneo, Oaxaca, Mexico.

Although having the proper documents to cross the border legally, Santiago arranged to cross with a coyote so that he could experience what those in his village had gone through to find passage to the north. From that harrowing experience, he understood that his three-quarter life-size clay figures needed to be made naked to express their utter vulnerability in leaving their homes, risking their lives in crossing through perilous deserts and mountains, into a country where they are deemed aliens. The nude ceramic clay figures display the migrants’ uprootedness, the marks and scars of their journey imprinted on their flesh, their weary gazes and broken bodies – all testifying to their desperate pilgrimage. 2501 Migrantes is Santiago’s ‘tribute’ to those crossing borders who have to begin their lives anew, as well as to those whose lives are taken by borders. These figures have been placed in the desert near the border, in the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Oaxaca, and are intended to be placed back in Santiago’s hometown. In school yards and churches, at the town zocalo, and near shops and fields, these figures will mark the absence of those who have gone north to feed their families, to secure funds to come back and build a home, or to pay for the medical care of an ailing mother or father. As you walk amongst these figures in Oaxaca and stand beside them, you are gifted with tender encounters. Made of earth,



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their fragile, vulnerable, naked and ghostlike presence makes an appeal to us. As our bodies stand amongst them, we cannot hesitate to imagine what it would be like to wait for a stranger to lead us into completely unfamiliar terrain, to be at their mercy as we cross into a land that forbids us and threatens us with death by forcing us onto such forbidding terrain. These ‘mutely expressive’ (Johnson 2006) figures have a profound impact on those who experience them. The viewer is brought from bystander to witness, pulled into the situation by the imploring and lost faces. In one part of the installation, there are multiple rows of open coffins, each with a ceramic migrant in his or her final resting state, having succumbed to the inhospitality of the desert through which they had been forced to travel. One of the most moving parts of the installation is a refuse pile where parts of broken figures lie waiting to be thrown away. The migrants are used up, broken and discarded. Border Dynamics In addition to the naming of single generative words and images, more complex border wall art often visually depicts what the dynamics of the border are from the perspective of those who live in its shadow. Until 2010 on Calle Internacional in Nogales, Mexico, walking along the wall, you would find El Paseo de Humanidad (The Parade of Humanity) (2004) by three artists from both sides of the border: Guadalupe Serrano, Alberto Morackis and Alfred Quiróz. Their trans-border partnership reflects efforts to link artists from north and south who through their artistic collaboration defy the separation that the wall attempts to impose. Inspired by the border art of Tijuana, Quiróz says that making the art was ‘like a rebellion, because people are not supposed to touch the border’ (personal communication, 2011). This transgressive installation in 20042 of 16 giant milagros by Quiróz and 19 metallic human figures by Taller Yonke Arte Público artists Alberto Morackis and Guadalupe Serrano warns migrants of the dangers that await them as they cross the border. It borrows from Mayan, Aztec and Catholic iconographies, asserting the generative power of the Mexican peoples’ cultures and traditions. Milagros are religious folk charms in the shape of what someone is praying or offering thanks for. They may be held in the hand while praying, attached to statues of saints, nailed or pinned to crosses, or hung with ribbons from altars and shrines. A particular milagro helps to quicken the supplicant’s prayer for such things as a recovery from an illness or a heartbreak. It also helps the person to focus his or her attention

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10.2. Giant Milagros by Alfred Quiroz; Parade of Humanity/Paseo de Humanidad by Alfred Quiroz, Guadalupe Serrano and Alfred Morackis, US border wall, Calle Internacional, Nogales, Mexico, 2004–10.

on a specific ailment as they pray. They are carried for good luck and protection. Quiróz uses the popular iconography of healing in Mexico to offer both blessings and warnings. These charms, central to popular healing, are fixed on the separation wall as though on the wall of a church. While they are intended to help heal the sufferings of those who are on the way to cross the border, it seems as though they might also act to heal the wall itself. By placing the milagros on the wall, it is transposed from a wall that reinscribes economic and national divides into a site of supplication and prayer. On the very wall that asserts power, control and inhospitality, Quiróz suggests a different way to be with the border: as a holy place to pray for wellbeing and health. In the face of a wall that negates what migrants bring to their ‘host’ culture, Quiróz celebrates the healing images of their folk tradition. Quiróz uses the milagros ‘to tell the story of the border’. Tucson Weekly art critic Margaret Regan (2004) says they are meant to be read in sequence. One set begins with a flaming heart, a conflagration that sends the wanderer away from home. Next is a snarling coyote head, a standin for the human coyotes who smuggle migrants across the border for a fee. Then there is a big leg, another traditional milagro icon, but this one is equipped with border-crossing jeans and a sneaker that is on the run.



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10.3. Parade of Humanity/Paseo de Humanidad by Alfred Quiroz, Guadalupe Serrano and Alfred Morackis, US border wall, Calle Internacional, Nogales, Mexico, 2004.

Ahead are a truck laden with skulls, two gallon-size water bottles lying uselessly next to a skull in a now equally useless hat, and finally, the trio of skulls lying at the foot of a saguaro. Yet others address the economic aspect of the situation: one depicts a retail bar code on a saguaro – everything is up for sale. In the central portion of this work the dynamics of exchange at the border are depicted, combining, says Morackis, Aztec iconography with contemporary sensibility (Regan 2004). The artists present the border as a red revolving door, where migrants both depart and return. Using the male and female symbols familiar to us from the doors of public bathrooms, the artists symbolise the mass nature of the migration underway. Above is the map of Mexico before the US–Mexican War, reminding us of the fact that what lies on the other side of the wall was not so long ago a part of Mexico. What are the migrants bringing to the US? One figure carries Mariachi instruments on his back, another the Virgin of Guadalupe in his backpack. They bring not only their labour, but also their culture, their music and spirituality. We are introduced to new cultural figures, such as Juan Soldado, who was wrongfully killed for a crime he did not commit in Tijuana. He is symbolic of failed justice, an experience all too many migrants will encounter as they cross the border. Another figure

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10.4. Alfred Morackis and Guadalupe Serrano, Border Dynamics, 2007, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona. Originally designed for the US border wall.

is Jesus Malverde, known as the saint of narco-traffickers, a folk hero in Sinaloa and analogous to Robin Hood in being a champion of the poor (Alvarez 2008). One figure represents the border patrol agent, la migra. He is chasing the migrants with a big stick. His chest and heart area are constructed out of the same corrugated metal as the wall. He is speaking what at first looks like Latin, an unintelligible language to those he addresses. Above his head is a credit card insignia, for from one point of view he is an agent of the free market capitalism that has forced these travellers to take flight from their homelands. What are the migrants bringing home? A bomb and weapons are painted on the body of a woman, as the US is the largest exporter of arms to Mexico – which has strict gun control laws. A shrouded body, a victim of the crossing itself, is carried back to his homeland. Manufactured goods, from screws to a washing machine to women’s boots, are depicted, as migrants bring back items their families would not otherwise be able to enjoy. The desert itself, often called a ‘road of fire’, is depicted as a flaming path that burns the travellers’ shoes and feet, as the imprints of their travels leave a trail of footsteps. Indeed, the journey leaves a variety of imprints, such as the figure whose body is covered by eyes, pointing to



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the effects of being surveilled so closely by the border patrol. His being is reduced to someone who is seen and tracked, while meanwhile his organs are exposed and show the plight of dehydration. A woman traveller bears sign language symbols on her body that spell what she desires, ‘Vida’, life. One female figure holds her child by the hand, as her belly carries an unborn child into the dangerous terrain. Sculptors Serrano and Morackis planned an installation called Border Dynamics for both sides of the wall, US and Mexico. After initial approval by the US border authorities, it was denied – purportedly because they feared Mexican migrants would slide down the backs of the figures and that children might hurt themselves climbing on them. All four figures were placed temporarily on the Mexican side and then installed at the University of Arizona campus in Tucson. In Border Dynamics we are drawn to meditate on both the action and the inattention that keeps a wall in place. In this installation, the artists draw our attention past those holding the wall in place through their intentional force, and invite us to focus on how the walls we live within and impose on others are sustained by our weight through the turning of our backs. The work urges us to acknowledge the degree to which our weight has often silently sustained the walls in our communities, as well as at the border, as our eyes have been focused elsewhere. Prophetic Imagination The power of separation walls to restrict and control constellates transgressive limit acts of prophetic imagining and embodied acts of resistance inspired by them. Developing a critical understanding of border dynamics by demystifying the past and present opens a creative space in which people can begin to dream a future that is more deeply aligned with what is desired. Envisioning images of the future can help us dream past the restrictions and curtailments of the present, beginning to give life to images of liberation, justice and of peaceful coexistence. These images act as seeds for actions in the present and future. Utopic images of a world without destructive separations appear on many separation walls around the globe and are an essential part of the lexicon of wall art. In Tijuana on the US wall, we see a mural of an open door, signalling hospitality and freedom in lieu of exclusion. In 2010 in Nogales, Alfred Quiróz collaborated with Grupo Yonke to make the wall invisible. Quiroz’s photo of an area of Nogales, Arizona, just opposite the wall to the north was transposed onto vinyl and installed on the border wall at

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10.5. The Life and Dreams of the Perla Ravine/Vida y Sueños de la Cañada Perla, replica of mural painted in Taniperla, Mexico, by Sergio Valdez, Calle Internacional, Nogales, Mexico, 2005 (removed in 2011).

the exact location where the photo was taken. As you look at the life-size photo of trees and vegetation, you experience what you would see if the wall were no longer present. It gave viewers a glimpse into both the past and the future, the border without the separation wall. The Life and Dreams of the Perla Ravine (Vida y Sueños de la Cañada Perla) is a mural painted on the Mexican side of the wall in Nogales. This mural was originally painted in 1998 in Chiapas, Mexico, to celebrate the inauguration of the autonomous Mayan municipality of Ricardo Flores Magón,3 a Zapatista community committed to self-governance and its own organisation of education, healthcare, women’s rights and communal agriculture. The leader of the team was artist Checo Valdez. It was destroyed 14 hours after its creation by paramilitary forces on 11 April 1998, and its artist among others was imprisoned. Subcomandante Marcos, the spokesperson for the Zapatistas, called for it to be repainted throughout the world, and it has been. The mural depicts Mayan indigenous communities in Chiapas as able to live in peace after 500 years of assault by colonialism and neoliberalism. In 2005, Guadalupe Serrano invited Valdez to oversee its replication on the border wall in Nogales.4



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This mural acts as a healing salve placed upon the wound of the wall and the border. It functions like the Sabbath does in Judaism, bringing messianic time into ordinary time, transforming the place of the present with its divisive struggles into a temporary sacred space of enacting and manifesting what is most desired (Heschel 1951). A time is imagined when peace and justice prevail, where people live in the fullness of creation, where women can safely gather and children are free to swim in refreshing waters. The inspirational leaders of this Mayan community, Ricardo Flores Magón and Zapata, watch over the peaceful scene. Through the multiple incarnations of this mural in many communities, we are encouraged to experience the solidarity of diverse people that contradicts the stark division of the wall. Reconciliation Arts: The Search for Common Understanding and Ground The literal walls humans build between their own group and others are material embodiments of the divisions being lived in towns and neighbourhoods. Reconciliation art begins from a position of compassionate listening to those on both sides of the division. It seeks through the presentation of images to build understanding, hoping that fruitful dialogue can be stimulated. An example of such a project was undertaken in 2007 by artists Zuntz, Reitz and Moshe who used the Israeli separation wall in Abu Dis as a temporary site of interconnection. The wall became a screen for a multimedia project, Challenging Walls: Life Beyond the Walls. Life-size photographs of people from both sides of the wall were projected to Palestinian and Israeli audiences, attempting to bring the two sides closer together through the visual displays. The photographers had grown up next to separation walls in their home communities in Germany, Cyprus, Northern Ireland, Israel and Palestine. The photos from these four walled-off conflict zones show the daily lives of people on both sides of such walls. Zuntz said ‘the goal of the project is to draw attention to the lives of the people on either side of the wall. If we succeed in removing the mental walls between the two sides, we will be able to overcome the fear and despair that separate the two peoples, as well as the physical wall itself’ (quoted in Belarmino 2007) If art and imagination are to be used for reconciliation, to heal the open wound of the border, they must attend to the lived realities on both sides of the wall, communicate these to both sides, and search for the common ground that could once again be exposed. In work over the last decade

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with US groups of varied ages and ethnicity, participants have imagined the images that would give expression to fears and worries on the US side that breed division, as well as images that depict the US history of racism against Mexicans and others that find its latest expression in the building of the separation wall at the border. Participants imagined these images not only upon the US wall, but on the walls of their home communities, giving expression to how these issues are lived at close range in their own communities. Americans and others do not have to go to the border wall to practise the arts of reconciliation. As playwright Cabranes-Grant says, ‘We are each transportable borders, enacting a separation or challenging it’ (Cabranes-Grant 2004). We are faced each day with living inside or resisting the borders that we have created or that have been imposed on us. Each of us can name these walls, question the dynamics that birth them, bring forth images to express what they are really about. We can inquire into their history, and mourn what is lost in the face of them. We too can rehearse for a daily life where doors are made in these walls, where we use our bodies and our hearts to hold them open and walk more freely back and forth, as we work to forge a needed hospitality. Notes 1

This chapter is based on material from the book Up Against the Wall: Re-Imagining the U.S.–Mexico Border by Edward S. Casey and Mary Watkins, 2014, courtesy of the University of Texas Press. 2 Unfortunately, given increased security concerns at the border, the installation was removed in 2010 to protect it from theft. 3 Magon was a critical anarcho-syndicalist thinker who helped the Mexican revolution. 4 In 2011 it was taken down, hopefully temporarily, as the US constructed a new border fence that allowed the border patrol to see into Nogales. Whether or not art that obscures the US vision of the other side will be allowed is uncertain.

Bibliography Alvarez, M., ‘La pared que habla: a photo essay about art and graffiti at the border fence in Nogales, Sonora’, Journal of the Southwest 50:3 (2008): 305–34. Belarmino, V., ‘Artists to take over the separation wall in Israel, and Palestine’ (1 July 2007). Online: events-and-news/55227 (accessed 22 May 2014).



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Cabranes-Grant, L., in J. Velasco, Director’s Notes for Bordertown and La Barda (The Wall), Ensemble Theater Company, Santa Barbara, CA, 12 March 2004. Casanova, J. P., ‘A brief comment on the significance of the project, 2501 Migrantes’. Online: (accessed 7 July 2008). Chavéz, P., M. Grynsztejn and K. Kanjo, La Frontera, The Border: Art about the Mexico/United States Border Experience. San Diego, CA: Centro, 1993. Cultural de la Raza, Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, 1993. Freire, P., Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Seabury, 1989. Frost, R., Robert Frost’s Poems. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2002. Hanh, T. N., Creating True Peace: Ending Violence in Yourself, Your Family, Your Community, and the World. New York: Free Press, 2004. — Being Peace. Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press, 2005. Heschel, A. J., The Sabbath, Its Meaning for Modern Man. New York: Farrar, Straus and Young, 1951. Johnson, R. (2006) ‘A human parade of loss: Mexico’s Alejandro Santiago evokes the toll of immigration with his growing population of clay figures’, Los Angeles Times, 2006. Online: entertainment/et-migrantes7 (accessed 7 April 2006): Nietzsche, F., The Will to Power. Translated by W. Kaufmann. Edited by W. Kaufmann and R. J. Hollingdale. New York: Vintage Books, 1968. Prieto, A., ‘Border art as a political strategy’, ISLA, Information Services Latin America, 1999. Online: (accessed 22 May 2014). Regan, M., ‘Artistic Warning’, Tucson Weekly, 13 May 2004. Online: http://www. (accessed 22 May 2014). Samuels, A., The Political Psyche. London: Routledge, 1993.

11 Migratory Aesthetics and the Politics of Irregular Migration A Case Study of Isaac Julien’s Western Union: Small Boats Anne Ring Petersen

The Securitisation of Migration In tandem with the burgeoning migratory movements to, from and within the European continent, the borders of nation states have been fortified across Europe. Irregular migrants and refugees from the world’s war zones and destitute areas are nonetheless trying to gain entry to what they imagine to be the Promised Land, only to discover that the set of practical and legal measures of border control that have been described as the securitisation of migration (Aas 2007: 32) has in many ways turned Europe into a pan-national fortress under constant surveillance of the guards from Frontex, the European Union’s agency for external border control.1 Securitisation is a political and discursive process by which the language and practices of security become the organising principle of social relations. In Europe as well as elsewhere, cross-border surveillance systems have become vital instruments of an emergent system of transnational governance shaping a global polity which is increasingly governed through a combination of crime control and immigration control, also known as ‘crimmigration control’ (Aas 2011b: 2). As the criminologist Katja Franko Aas has noted, the securitisation of borders has thus become one of the defining traits of migratory movements in the last decades, but also a defining feature of contemporary governance which frames issues of irregular immigration and asylum as threats to national security rather than humanitarian problems (Aas 2007: 112). The pressure of immigration and the resulting escalation of surveillance and control have been especially intense in the


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Mediterranean region: in 2006 alone, almost 30,000 Africans tried to reach the shores of the Spanish Canary Islands in dilapidated boats (Aas 2007: 32), and 2,000 were estimated to have died on the islands’ shores (Aas 2007: 185). The same year about 22,000 people reached Italy by boat (González 2011: 115). Although numerous migrants pay with their lives each year, the political discussions and media discourses envision irregular immigration almost exclusively as a security threat to Western nations. As Aas has pointed out, one of the inadequacies of the traditional nation state framing of migration develops from the disparity between humanist ideas of security and state security concepts. The concept of human security aims at the protection of individuals, not states. Irregular migrants are vulnerable precisely because they are excluded from nation state security concepts (Aas 2007: 185). The fortification of borders thus functions as a boundary-defining mechanism, which excludes some people as non-members in relation to the nation state. Sometimes it even jeopardises ‘the right to have rights’ (Arendt 1976: 298) otherwise granted by the human rights discourse to all individuals by virtue of their being human, regardless of their particular citizenship (Aas 2007: 198–9). Considering the so-called ‘political turn’ in contemporary art since the 1990s, it is not surprising that a number of outstanding artists have committed themselves to spotlighting the geopolitical issue of the securitisation of borders and its recurrent fatal consequences for migrants. This chapter focuses on unwanted immigrants as part of the overall phenomenon of international migration. It examines how the enforcement of European borders surfaces in the artistic-cinematic imaginary by analysing British artist and filmmaker Isaac Julien’s video installation Western Union: Small Boats (2007), which is about African migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea to reach the coasts of southern Italy. Although the chapter focuses on a video installation with pronounced cinematographic features, it draws more on a cultural studies reading of the work than on a specifically cinematographical or art historical analysis. Isaac Julien’s works have often and rightly been labelled queer because many of his films address issues of homosexuality; alternatively, they have been labelled post-colonial because they deal with racism and interracial relations as well as the colonial legacy and the complicated post-colonial relationship between Africa and Europe. However, merely naming Julien’s position tends to miss the point that diagonal moves and connective procedures are at the core of his modus operandi (Mercer 2001: 11): in his multi-screen video installations he weaves together dance, music, poetry,

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painting, film, documentary and fiction to create a visual and artistic translation of the concept créolité. Moreover, by allowing hybridised and complex spaces of representation to develop through movement between different geographical sites and different temporalities, he creates a moment of re-seeing the European world from different points from within its expanded geographies. As Kobena Mercer has observed, viewing Isaac Julien’s work in film, video and installation intertwines dreaming and critical awakening: [T]he experience is one in which the dream-like quality of the image flow induces a luxurious mood of ‘drift’. In this condition of critical reverie, which feels at once ‘transgressive and hallucinatory’, thoughts and sensations are directed by a poetic touch that loosens the stream of semiotic material from rigid adherence to sedimented conventions. Amid the flow, there are sharp moments felt as a piercing of the commonplace which create a ‘punctum’ – a moment of surprise offset by the holding environment of the surrounding pictorial narrative. (Mercer 2001: 8; emphasis added)

As an expert on Julien’s work, Mercer is acutely aware that Julien may be addressing politically sensitive issues such as migration and homosexuality, but his sophisticated use of aesthetics as a means of moving his audiences across boundaries would make it highly problematic to reduce his works to political statements. Hence, rather than simply reading Western Union: Small Boats as a critical comment on European immigration policies, I wish to explore the tensional interpenetration of politics, ethics and aesthetics in Isaac Julien’s installation. The sheer beauty of his cinematic representation of the misery of migrants makes it necessary to move beyond the question of aesthetics and consider the issue of aestheticisation and the ethical relation of the artist to his subject matter. For theoretical support, the chapter will turn to Mieke Bal’s concept of migratory aesthetics and Jacques Rancière’s distinction between ethics and politics. It will also include Iain Chambers’ thoughts on migration and modernity in the Mediterranean region as well as Didier Fassin and Richard Rechtman’s analysis of a paradigmatic change in the Western relationship to history, from looping back on and celebrating historical victories to looping back on the history of wrongs: colonisation, the slave trade, genocide, and so on. Fassin and Rechtman argue that one outcome of this shift is that the victim has become a central figure in Western common-sense understandings of the world (Fassin and Rechtman 2009: 276–9). Taking my lead from Fassin and Rechtman, I will examine how



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11.1. Isaac Julien, Western Union Series no. 9 (Shipwreck – Sculpture for the New Millennium), 2007. Duratrans image in lightbox, 120 x 300 cm. Edition of 6 plus 1 AP.

Julien interprets the cultural trope of the migrant as victim. The Migratory Aesthetics of Western Union: Small Boats Western Union: Small Boats was shot in Sicily, and it is the third film in an ongoing exploration of sea passage and transnational crossings that Julien calls his Expedition series. The work is structured as a tripartite video installation with five large-scale projections.2 An antechamber with a single screen projection functions as an ‘overture’. It shows a graveyard of rickety wooden boats painted with Arabic script. Solemnly the camera pans along the mass of abandoned boats, seemingly without beginning and end, thereby silently setting the stage for a human drama and introducing a note of tragedy right from the beginning. The antechamber is followed by a central room with a display of three projections and then an exit with a single projection which mirrors that of the antechamber and closes the sequence. There is no authoritative narrator (or voice-over), only carefully selected juxtapositions of footage which create multiple layers of meanings, suggestively enhanced by a soundscape of electronic music, a capella singing and barely decipherable fragments of information about imperilled refugees on a scratchy radio frequency. Western Union: Small Boats thus follows a loose narrative in which documentary elements provide a more realist and sobering framework for the wondrous and perturbing interpretive gestures of the lyric passages (González 2011: 117). The combination of a partly documentary, partly fictive rendering of the current fates of unwanted immigrants on the doorstep of Europe with almost hallucinogenic images of Europe’s former aristocratic wealth is in keeping with Julien’s interdisciplinary method and the general complexity of his videographic language. According to Mieke Bal, the ‘migratory’ is a

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feature of cultures at large in today’s globalised world where it has become a condition of life, and as such also a condition of art and aesthetics. Bal has therefore introduced the concept of migratory aesthetics as a means to focus on the nexus of art and migration. She defines ‘aesthetics’ and the ‘migratory’ in broad terms: I use ‘aesthetics’ here not so much as a philosophical domain, but rather, according to its traditional meaning, as a term to refer to an experience of sensate binding, a connectivity based on the senses, and the ‘-s’ at the end of the word is meant to indicate the plural form, not the ‘science of ’ or meta-meaning. ‘Migratory’ does not claim to account for the actual experience of migrants, but instead refers to the traces, equally sensate, of the movements of migration that characterize contemporary culture. Both terms are programmatic: different aesthetic experiences are offered through the encounter with such traces. (Bal 2008: 19)

Bal also claims that there are important politico-epistemological connections between video – as an influential medium of our time – and migration – as a situation characteristic of the contemporary world – or better, between the ‘videographic’ and the ‘migratory’. It is because video is a temporal medium based on moving images that it shares with migratory life ‘a complex and confusing, challenging multi-temporality’ (Bal 2008: 36). Bal also suggests that video art involving the migratory does ‘political work’ (Bal 2012: 229), and that video-making is always a political act in the sense that it involves an act of ‘making visible’ by which ‘it opens perception up to others’ (Bal 2008: 16). Although her claims concerning video’s potential vis-à-vis migration remain politically vague and metaphorical, and although they sometimes come close to the notion of the multicultural, Bal’s concept of migratory aesthetics has proven to be able to effectively focalise the current discussions on the nexus of art and migration, which aim to balance reflections on art’s political content and effects with a consideration of its aesthetic dimensions.3 Following the programmatic definition of the Australian art historian Jill Bennett, migratory aesthetics entails ‘a politics of contemporary culture as “migrant”; that is, a culture transformed by migration but emphatically not a separable minority culture. In this arena, pressing concerns (the refugee issue, “multicultural” politics and contemporary divisions, as well as fundamental issues of democratic participation) emerge through the aesthetic analysis, as it were’ (Bennett 2012: 120). It is my contention that Isaac Julien’s Western Union: Small Boats could be conceived of as an



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11.2. Isaac Julien, Western Union: Small Boats, 2007. Three-screen projection. 35 mm colour film, DVD/HD transfer. 5.1 SR sound. Total running time: 18 mins 22 secs. Installation, Metro Pictures, New York 2007.

instance of migratory aesthetics. Taking my cue from Bal’s observation that temporal heterogeneity is an important link between the videographic and migratory mobility (Bal 2008: 35), I will argue that the complex temporal structure of Julien’s work shapes the way it engages its audience in the problematics of irregular migration and European immigration policies. Tourist and Migrant Gazes The narrative of Western Union: Small Boats unfolds in the triptych projection of the central room. The opening shot presents a view of the open sea and blue sky through a gloomy gated archway. Accompanied by the voice of singer Oumou Sangaré, the graceful figure of actor Vanessa Myrie steps out of the darkness and into light and freedom. Myrie is a recurrent figure in Julien’s recent video installations. She is not a conventional protagonist but appears as witness as well as actor on the margins of the historical events: as the one who enacts, or the one who observes, reveals and reflects. Thus, the first scene triggers associations ranging from the Atlantic Middle Passage through incarcerations past and present to perilous sea passages of contemporary African migrants

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across the Mediterranean Sea (González 2011: 115–17). In other words, it evokes a history of wrongs. Next, the video jumps to a harbour with small boats and Italian fishermen arranging their fishing tackle on a quiet, sunny morning. From the harbour with its implicit metaphor of the ocean as sustaining human life, the video cuts to a contrasting location: the graveyard for boats abandoned by their owners on the coast of Italy and gathered by the authorities into heaps of broken vessels, still scattered with things left behind by the people who sailed them: empty water bottles, discarded life vests as well as shoes and clothes bleached by sun and saltwater. After establishing the maritime setting, Julien shifts from the suggestive realism of documentary footage to a lyrical interpretation of the migrant’s journey (González 2011: 119). It begins with a moment of relief and aesthetic pleasure. The confronting close-ups on the ghostly remains from precarious sea journeys is succeeded by a panoramic view of the Scala Del Turchi, or the Turkish Steps, at Agrigento, stretching horizontally over all three screens. The white rocks become a spectacular backdrop for a group of five dancers walking in a line towards the coastline, where Myrie, the witness, reappears and lifts a red T-shirt out of the surf as a remnant of a life lost. From the beauty of the barren rocks the camera cuts abruptly to a group of exhausted African men sailing in a small boat under an unforgiving sun set against a burning orange sky. As one man falls asleep, the roaring of the sea ceases, and we enter the silence of a dream. Crosscutting to the rich decor of Palazzo Gangi in Palermo, Julien leads us through the dreamscape of the migrant subject, a space of desire and fantasies of wealth. As art historian Jennifer A. González remarks, ‘[t]he shimmering palace is the wished-for haven from hardship and strife, but also a mirage of luxury that is, finally, a site of refusal and unyielding power’ (González 2011: 119). Borrowing a term used by Dina Iordanova and Yosefa Loshitzky, one could say that Western Union: Small Boats revolves around the mechanism of ‘projective identification’ (Loshitzky 2010: 37), whereby it is not primarily intended to represent African migrants but to project concerns about Europe itself. As demonstrated by the first eight minutes of the video installation’s 18-minute loop, which I have just summarised, the mechanism of ‘projective identification’ is triggered by Julien’s careful staging of a dialectic that puts attentive viewers in an ambiguous viewing position, or in what I would call an inside-outside position. He thereby invites viewers to reconsider European policies of irregular migration and asylum in particular and Europe’s mainly negative perception of immigration in general. The dialectic of the work is played out on two



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different levels: that of the gaze and that of temporality. I will discuss them in proper order. In Western Union: Small Boats the camera alternately identifies with the migrant’s gaze and the tourist’s gaze. It thus invites the spectator to oscillate between the two and reflect on the tensions that link them together as well as the gaps that separate them.4 As the narrative evolves from the theme of the journey, it has the potential of activating a tourist gaze by positioning the audience as virtual tourists enjoying the magnificent Sicilian landscapes and palace. The sunlit panoramas and the camera’s lingering on Palazzo Gangi’s sumptuous gilt ballroom illuminated by shining chandeliers deliberately stimulate such scopophilic desire. However, ‘touristic’ pleasure is awakened only to be withdrawn the next time the camera cuts to a contrasting scene, whereby the audience is invited to identify with another gaze: that of the migrant. To the migrant, the sea and the coast are not picturesque spectacles, but inhospitable spaces that have to be traversed and penetrated. While the tourist’s gaze seeks aesthetic stimulation and is driven by the pleasure principle, the clandestine migrant’s gaze seeks survival and is driven by the dream of a better life. As Yosefa Loshitzky has demonstrated, such an oscillation between tourism and ‘poorism’ can create a distanciation effect, resulting in a Brechtian alienation (Loshitzky 2010: 29). The dialectic oscillation between gazes thus establishes the ethical thematic of Western Union: Small Boats: is an artist entitled to use and represent migrants’ misery for artistic ends? Is a spectator entitled to derive pleasure from a sensually gripping representation of migrants’ suffering? There are two important points here: first, staging a dialectic of contrastive gazes enables Julien to offer his audience a critical viewing position reminiscent of the migrant’s outside-inside perspective famously described by Salman Rushdie as a double perspective or ‘stereoscopic vision’ (Rushdie 1991: 19); second, the critical reflection on the ethical dilemma of aesthetics is not just something that viewers bring to Julien’s work. It is already built into the thematic of the work by the way the camera is used and the video footage cut. Ultimately, the dialectic of gazes alerts the viewer to the difference between the tourist’s and the migrant’s points of view. Oscillating between contrastive points of view, the audience is displaced from the tourist’s secure, distanced position to one of immersion into and tensional identification with the contradictory perceptions of the world presented by the installation.

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A Temporal Dialectic As mentioned above, Western Union: Small Boats also stages a dialectic of temporalities. It is established by alternation between a realist and a lyric mode of representation and by crosscutting from various moments and places ‘in the present’ (e.g. the opening scene, the graveyard of ‘small boats’, the fishermen at the Italian harbour) to various moments and places ‘in the past’ (e.g. the palace, flashbacks to/memories of landscapes and townscapes in Africa). Moreover, Julien has also included moments of fiction such as the dancers at the Turkish Stairs and, as we shall see, a minimalist but highly symbolic social drama acted out with Palazzo Gangi as a historical backdrop. In an essay on the politics of time in video, Mieke Bal has proposed that video and migration are linked by the experience of time as multiple and heterogeneous, and that video – because of the moving camera and the cutting of the footage – is eminently suited to represent what movement and multi-temporality means, and how it feels in our bodies. As Bal puts it, ‘[b]oth video and migratory culture intensify the experience of heterochrony’ (Bal 2008: 35). Bal distinguishes between the term multi-temporality, which she uses to denominate the way heterogeneous time is structured as a ‘phenomenon’, and the term heterochrony, which refers to the ‘experience’ of multi-temporality. How ‘representation’ enters the equation is not exactly crystal clear in Bal’s definition. As my object of study is a work of art, I will use the term multi-temporality about the work of art as a phenomenon, presenting itself to us as a representation, in order to unpack the dialectic structure of time in Julien’s work. In brief, I will argue that it is the alternation between realist and lyric temporalities and the complex interweaving of different moments in time which produce the work’s multi-temporality. The term heterochrony, on the other hand, will refer to the experience of multi-temporality, first and foremost the audience’s experience.5 One more note on Bal’s terminology is that one should not distinguish too sharply between the videographic and the cinematic. Julien has made films as well as video installations, and he draws freely on techniques, genres and stylistic features from both video and cinema.6 This practice reflects a general trend in contemporary video art with its increasing assimilation of cinematic features and techniques. My point is not that this development limits the usefulness of Bal’s concepts, but rather that they are sufficiently generalised to be of use in the study of both the videographic and the cinematic as they pertain to all kinds of moving images.



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11.3. Isaac Julien, Western Union Series no. 11 (Leopard/Afterlife), 2007. Duratrans image in lightbox, 120 x 120 cm. Edition of 6 plus 1 AP.

To make a multi-temporal representation effective as an experience of heterochrony, Julien uses what Mieke Bal calls ‘temporal foreshortening’. Like the spatial foreshortening known from linear perspective, foreshortened time is distorted – made wider or thicker – in order to be condensed. It also undoes the ontological temporal cut between past and present (Bal 2012: 224). Foreshortening remains an illusionistic device, but foreshortened time is not only disenchantingly unreal, it is also irresistible, especially when deployed in video and film. Although it does not offer us a real passage to the past, foreshortening makes the past feel compellingly ‘present’ (Bal 2008: 48). In Western Union: Small Boats temporal foreshortening condenses time and blurs the boundaries between past, present and future. As opposed to conventional diegetic compression of a story, Julien’s temporal foreshortening is non-linear and non-logic. As a result, the different scenes and their locales enter into a

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dialectic relationship which suggests to the viewer that past and present, near and far, the North and the South are deeply entangled. Last, but not least, the crosscutting between discrepant moments in time can also produce an acute feeling of heterochrony in attentive viewers, thereby not only suggesting that this experience is intrinsic to the experience of migration but also offering viewers empathic insight into it. Heterochrony is perhaps most urgently felt when Julien cuts from the sleeping African migrant in the boat to the ballroom, thus staging a temporal dialectic between past, present and a yearned-for future. Temporally, we are displaced from a realist to a lyric temporality or ‘dream time’, but also from ‘our time’ to ‘historical time’. The ballroom of Palazzo Gangi was also used as location for a famous scene in Luchino Visconti’s The Leopard (1963), the eponymous film adaptation of a 1958 novel by Prince Guiseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa. Visconti’s film is set in the 1860s and examines the unification between the Sicilian society in the South and the Italian society in the North, as well as the decline of the Sicilian aristocracy and the rise of a bourgeois class. It portrays the Prince of Salina’s struggle to accept these transformations and his own role in a modern society. The cinematic reference enables Julien to relocate the issues raised in Visconti’s historical costume epic to the present day, which is also a time of transition due to the mobility of people, both geographically and socially. In the ballroom scene of The Leopard, the prince broods on how aristocratic privilege may lead to decadence, while beautiful silk-clad women frolic in the very same hall of mirrors, some gracefully circumnavigating the ballroom, others resting on luxurious divans (González 2011: 121). The Leopard is ambiguous about class relations in bourgeois modernity, although it makes it clear that the gap between rich and poor will remain. In Julien’s reinterpretation of Visconti’s ballroom scene, the room is not crowded but deserted. In steps the current descendant of the Prince and Princess Pietro and Marianna Valguarnera who occupied the palace in the eighteenth century. The whiteness of her skin and the way her smile stiffens somehow transform her into an uncanny ‘sentinel of aristocratic privilege’ (González 2011: 122). Cutting away from the princess, the camera focuses on Myrie who strolls around the ballroom, confidently fanning herself like the young women at Visconti’s ball as if she were a protagonist of the social ambitions and mobility of people of colour. What her relaxed presence in this fortress of wealth might mean to the migrant dreamer is left to the viewer to speculate on as the camera jumps back to the Turkish Steps, where a man is carrying another man across his shoulder. The latter sags like a corpse, and we



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are thus returned to the theme of the perilous journey and the migrant as victim, but the race politics have been further complicated because the rescuer is a man of African descent while the man we are led to believe has drowned, or who is perhaps being rescued, is white. By using multi-temporality to suggest causal relations between and deep entanglement of seemingly unrelated people, places and incidents across time, Julien in fact uses aesthetic means to open up the ethical and political perspectives of his work. Europe as Geopolitical Borderlands Skin colour is also used as a signifier in a sequence near the end which intercuts from the African boat people to documentary footage of lightskinned tourists bathing on the Italian shore before Julien zooms in on the tragic signs of death at the margins of carefree beach life: five corpses wrapped in silver mylar lined up along the water’s edge. The dead bodies represent a punctum (Mercer), a perturbing cut of the flow of idyllic images, because the camera suggests that tourists and fatalities of migration are united in a continuous space-time. Julien’s critical montage of tourists, migrants and dead bodies – all travellers – takes the viewer by surprise by establishing an unexpected proximity between what is usually separated and held apart, thereby enabling another telling (González 2011: 23). Although the line-up of anonymous drowned people has been staged, it has a disturbing air of realism. The reality effect derives from the scene’s intertextual references to prototypical mass mediated images. As part of his research for new works, Julien mines the media for images. When Western Union: Small Boats was shown in Warsaw in 2009, Julien actually reprinted a newspaper article with a similar press photo in the exhibition catalogue to emphasise the work’s status as an intervention into current debates on irregular emigration to Europe.7 However, the work also operates on another level of meaning. With its specific references to African migrants, it contributes to widening our notion of Europe and ‘the Mediterranean’ as geopolitical territories expanding well beyond their present borders. Naples-based scholars Lidia Curti and Iain Chambers have made the case for a reconfigured and more fluid and multicultural understanding of the Mediterranean as ‘aesthetic and cultural, as well as geographic borderlands’. This conception of the Mediterranean as an intricate site of encounters and migratory flows is based on the centrality of seaborne

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communication, connecting Europe, Asia and Africa in a historical net that stretches over centuries (Chambers and Curti 2008: 387, 392): ‘This would be a critical space in which it becomes possible to recognize Cairo as a Mediterranean city, Islam as a European religion … and Turkey as a part of the formation of Europe for at least six centuries’ (Chambers and Curti 2008: 390). One outcome of the historical and cultural clashes and exchanges across the Mediterranean Sea is that borders have been both transitory and zones of transit. Today, the European Union has established a complex system of filters and channels that stretch outward into extraterritorial space, both on the Sea and into the Maghreb, in an attempt to stem the tide of migration from beyond its borders (Chambers 2008: 4–5). Despite transnational measures of securitisation and surveillance, European borders – like all borders – remain permeable.8 The thousands of Africans who try to fulfil their dream of a better life by embarking on the risky journey across the sea testify to this porosity of borders as well as to the notorious European fear of the South. As Chambers has pointed out, most immigrants to Western Europe actually come from the east, either Eastern Europe or Asia. Yet, this fact is often ignored because the signs of race and religion stir ‘a spiralling moral panic obsessively staring south toward Africa and Islam’ and activate the fear of a continent reduced in the world media to the home of ‘the wretched of the earth’ (Chambers 2008: 9). For Julien, as for Chambers, ‘the Mediterranean’ thus becomes a site of experimenting with different ways of representing history and contemporaneity. Redefining ‘the Mediterranean’ enables them to engage with the ‘outside’ of the history of Western modernity and its repressed colonial pasts, thereby connecting Europe with the more extensive elsewhere that it has always been part of. Western Union: Small Boats foregrounds contemporary migration. In an interview, Julien has explained that this work is really about the thousands of irregular immigrants coming to places like Sicily and Lampedusa (Kudláček 2009: 102). However, the work is also about the history inherent to the actual location of Sicily. Julien re-examines historical buildings and sites like the Palazzo Gangi, frequently highlighting the scars and traces of time as metaphors for traumatic memories and the violence of history. He also includes the Turkish Steps, where the Ottoman colonisers disembarked on the hillside’s natural steps of white rock, and the coast of Scopello as the emblem of today’s invasion by tourists. Julien thus constructs a complex image of the Mediterranean as a multi-temporal meeting point between East and West, North and South – a genuine multicultural and transcultural ‘contact-zone’.



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The Language of Humanitarianism Let us return to the cultural trope of the migrant as victim. In recent years, a strong emphasis on screening migrants to sort the ‘good’ desirable migrants from the ‘bad’, undesired migrants has transformed the politics of immigration in Europe (Loshitzky 2010: 3). Anthropologists Didier Fassin and Richard Rechtman have demonstrated that this transformation has also caused a shift in the European conception of asylum since the 1990s, leading to a weakening of the legitimacy of asylum for victims of political violence, while a new criterion based on humanitarianism has been developed for sick migrants with no access to proper treatment in their home countries. As Fassin notes, administrations and police officers have come to view asylum seekers with ‘systematic suspicion’: until it is proven otherwise, anyone seeking refugee status is now considered to be ‘undocumented immigrants seeking to take advantage of the generosity of the European nations’. As a result, the use of the term ‘false refugees’ as a reference to ‘economic immigrants’ who claim political asylum has become central to immigration control (Fassin 2005: 369). Fassin points to the fact that refugees and irregular immigrants occupy an important place in the biopolitics of Europe (Fassin 2005: 368): as the suffering body becomes an important legal resource for undocumented immigrants seeking a residence permit in Europe, the political increasingly integrates the humanitarian and is thereby also redefined by the humanitarian. As Fassin observes, repression and compassion have become profoundly linked (Fassin 2005: 370, 381–2). Of particular relevance to Western Union: Small Boats is the change in attitude to irregular immigrants caused by this shift in emphasis from political asylum to humanitarian reasons in European immigration policy. In political and media discourses, as well as the public imagination shaped by these discourses, asylum seekers and irregular immigrants are often bracketed together, by which both groups are typecast as victims.9 Fassin concludes that Europe increasingly bases the management of immigrants from poor countries on the recognition of rights in the name of the suffering body, or what he terms biolegitimacy. This goes hand in hand with a turn in Europe’s moral economy toward ‘a compassionate attention to individual suffering in which the search for a common humanity resides in the recognition of bare life, that of the physical alteration of the body’ (Fassin 2005: 372). The question is: does Western Union: Small Boats challenge Europe’s consensual immigration policy with its conflation of legal repression and humanitarian compassion, or does Julien affirm it by monumentalising it?

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Here, one must bear in mind the complexity of the work. It does not communicate an unequivocal political message, but what does catch the eye is the representation of African boat people as purely passive figures, lost at sea, dreaming in vain, suffering or drowning and thus literally becoming victims of the sea. On the other hand, the ballroom scene does complicate this representation of the migrant as victim: partly, because of the self-confident presence of Myrie as an embodiment of migrant agency and potentiality in the stronghold of declining European power; and partly, because the artificiality of the scene could also be taken as an invitation to read it as a metaphor of European fear of immigration (Fassin 2005: 380–1). Yet, it is the trope of the migrant as victim which dominates Julien’s piece with its appeal to the viewer’s moral consciousness. Aestheticisation after the Ethical Turn Having identified the migrant victim and the language of humanitarianism as central to Western Union: Small Boats, it is time to address the question of aestheticisation and the ethical relation of the artist to his topic. As Jennifer A. González has phrased it, ‘Is it unethical to build a body of expensive, lush, and sensually gripping work around the real-life tragedies of immigrants?’ (González 2011: 127). In his critique of the so-called ‘ethical turn’ in contemporary political discourses, Jacques Rancière has warned against a new regime of humanitarian consensus which may endanger the political dissensus at the very core of democratic societies and lead to a de-politicisation of the political community (Rancière 2010: 188–91). Of particular relevance to Julien’s work is Rancière’s claim that the disappearance of differences in politics and right in ‘the indistinctness of ethics’ has its counterpart in the arts. The artist’s political engagement in society tends to be redistributed between, on the one hand, a vision of art as a remedy to strengthen social bonds (as in relational aesthetics and social outreach projects), and on the other hand, a vision of aesthetics transformed into ethics. To Rancière, this amounts to an evacuation of art’s political agency and a reduction of art to an ethical witnessing of historical wrongs, interminably looking back to memorialise the victims instead of calling for political change (Rancière 2010: 193, 200–1). While Western Union: Small Boats is surely an ethical commemoration of the fatalities of migration, it is not merely that. It poses political questions of globalisation and economic inequality, and by inviting its audiences to engage in a projective identification (Loshitzky) with



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the dispossessed, it also opens a critical perspective on European immigration policies. As art historian T. J. Demos has argued, art becomes political not simply by communicating a political message but by intervening in the very forms of communication. Quoting Rancière, Demos insists on the paradox of political art: it must maintain the ‘readability of a political signification’ for its political claims to be taken seriously, while simultaneously producing an aesthetic shock by avoiding a fully transparent, and hence purely political, signification (Demos 2013: 92). It is exactly the emphasis on the unsettling effect of aesthetics which enables Western Union: Small Boats to transport spectators out of the narrow politico-historical context of contemporary Europe and make them see migration in a broader, transhistorical perspective and recognise that they are themselves historical subjects of migratory movements. Notes 1 The term ‘irregular’ is used here to avoid the commonly used, dehumanising and incriminating term ‘illegal’. See: Koser 2007: 54–7. 2 The following analysis is based on the installation of the work at the exhibition Border Crossing, Kunsthallen Brandts, Odense, 2012. 3 Bal introduced this neologism in connection with a collaborative research project resulting in several publications testifying to the heuristic usefulness of the term: Bal 2008; Durrant and Lord 2007; Bal and Hernández-Navarro 2012. 4 My analysis of the dialectic of gazes is indebted to Yosefa Loshitzky’s illuminating analysis of Michael Winterbottom’s In This World (Loshitzky 2010: 27–30). 5 Bal’s analysis of Mona Hatoum’s video work Measures of Distance (1988) actually leaves it open to interpretation whether the term refers to the work’s representation of an experience or the experience that the video ‘generates’ in viewers. It may even refer to both, thus obliterating the distinction between representation and reception (Bal 2012: 217). 6 On Julien’s use of digital video in combination with film equipment, see Kudláček 2009: 105. 7 Feature in El Pais, 6 May 2006: 6. See Julien 2009: 76. 8 See also Edward S. Casey’s contribution to this volume. 9 For a French example of how television coverage showing suffering ‘illegal migrants’ can stir public compassion and provoke political reactions from human rights associations and the public, see Fassin 2005: 373.

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Bibliography Aas, Katja Franko, Globalization and Crime: Key Approaches to Criminology. London: Sage, 2007. —— ‘A borderless world? Cosmopolitanism, boundaries and frontiers’, in Cecilia Baillet and Katja Franko Aas (eds), Cosmopolitan Justice and its Discontents. London and New York: Routledge, 2011a, pp. 134–50. —— ‘“Crimmigrant” bodies and bona fide travelers: Surveillance, citizenship and global governance’, Theoretical Criminology 15.3 (2011b): 331–46. Arendt, Hannah, The Origins of Totalitarianism. San Diego: Harcourt, 1976. Bal, Mieke, ‘Double Movement’, in Mieke Bal and Miguel Hernández-Navarro (eds), 2Move: Video Art Migration. Murcia: Cendeac, 2008, pp. 13–80. —— ‘Heterochrony in the Act: The Migratory Politics of Time’, in Mieke Bal and Miguel Hernández-Navarro (eds), Art and Visibility in Migratory Culture: Conflict, Resistance and Agency. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2012, pp. 211–38. —— and Miguel Hernández-Navarro (eds), Art and Visibility in Migratory Culture: Conflict, Resistance and Agency. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2012. Bennett, Jill, ‘Migratory Aesthetics: art and politics beyond identity’, in Mieke Bal and Miguel Hernández-Navarro (eds), Art and Visibility in Migratory Culture: Conflict, Resistance and Agency. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2012, pp. 109–26. Burkard, Lene and Lene Sangild (eds), Border Crossing. Odense: Kunsthallen Brandts, 2012. Chambers, Iain, Mediterranean Crossings: The Politics of an Interrupted Modernity. Durham, NC, and London: Duke University Press, 2008. —— ‘Adrift and Exposed’, in Isaac Julien (ed.), Isaac Julien – Western Union: Small Boats. Warszawa: Centre for Contemporary Art, Ujazdowski Castle, 2009, pp. 8–13. —— and Lidia Curti, ‘Migrating modernities in the Mediterranean’, Postcolonial Studies 11.4 (2008): 387–99. Demos, T. J., The Migrant Image: The Art and Politics of Documentary during Global Crisis. Durham, NC, and London: Duke University Press, 2013. Durrant, Sam and Catherine M. Lord (eds), Essays in Migratory Aesthetics: Cultural Practices Between Migration and Art-making. Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi, 2007. Fassin, Didier, ‘Compassion and Repression: The Moral Economy of Immigration Policies in France’, Cultural Anthropology 20.3 (2005): 362–87. —— and Richard Rechtman, The Empire of Trauma: An Inquiry into the Condition of Victimhood. Princeton, NJ, and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2009. González, Jennifer A., ‘Sea Dreams: Isaac Julien’s Western Union: Small Boats’, in Saloni Mathur (ed.), The Migrant’s Time: Rethinking Art History and Diaspora.



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Williamstown, MA: Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, 2011, pp. 115–29. Julien, Isaac (ed.), Isaac Julien – Western Union: Small Boats. Warszawa: Centre for Contemporary Art, Ujazdowski Castle, 2009. Koser, Khalid, International Migration: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2007. Kudláček, Martina, ‘Interview with Isaac Julien by Martina Kudláček’, in Isaac Julien (ed.), Isaac Julien – Western Union: Small Boats. Warszawa: Centre for Contemporary Art, Ujazdowski Castle, 2009, pp. 100–5. Loshitzky, Yosefa, Screening Strangers: Migration and Diaspora in Contemporary European Cinema. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2010. Mercer, Kobena, ‘Avid Iconographies’, in Kobena Mercer, Chris Darke and Isaac Julien (eds), Isaac Julien. With essays by Kobena Mercer and Chris Darke. London: Ellipsis, 2001, pp. 7–21. Rancière, Jacques, Dissensus: On Politics and Aesthetics. London and New York: Continuum, 2010. Rushdie, Salman, ‘Imaginary Homelands’, in Salman Rushdie (ed.), Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism 1981–1991. London: Granta Books, 1991, pp. 9–21.

12 A Migrant Aesthetics through the Phenomenality of Place Sten Pultz Moslund

Any work of art that is defined by its engagement with the historical context of migration – migration literature, migration art, migration cinema – leans on a raison d’être that is ‘drawn not from the work but the world ’, to borrow an expression from Elleke Boehmer. It ‘first and foremost denotes history, not aesthetic form’ (Boehmer 2010: 175; emphasis added). Boehmer refers more specifically to post-colonial literature (see also the introduction in this anthology), but her observation illustrates how complicated – even sensitive and provocative – it may be to speak of aesthetic approaches to those kinds of art that emerge from or respond directly to historical experiences of violence, oppression, suffering, loss and privation. As is the case in the field of post-colonial studies, which has many overlaps with migration studies (cf. the huge migratory movements within the empire and after its collapse), the arts that deal with migration are permeated by ethical and political urgencies. As in post-colonial studies, such urgencies may cause aesthetic readings to seem like an unaffordable indulgence (if ‘aesthetic readings’ is understood in very broad terms as any approach to the work that addresses other than its overt or implicit interactions with a socio-cultural, historical or political context, and, as Boehmer puts it, ‘transcends cultural-political co-ordinates and determinations’ (Boehmer 2010: 171–2)). Boehmer rightly observes in her description of a general climate in post-colonial studies that the notion of ‘a post-colonial aesthetic’ – pursued by scholars who grapple with the literariness of, for example, the post-colonial novel – will often be received as if a contradiction in terms. Post-colonial writing, she explains, is generally met as political writing before anything else, a type of literature that never loses sight of ideology, is end-directed, programmatic, instrumentalist, a literature that transmits a message and has political designs on the reader (Boehmer 2010: 170). From


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within the same line of argument – that is, a heightened (and, I agree, indispensable) attention to the historical and political urgencies of the work – the notion of a ‘migratory aesthetic’ may in many contexts strike the critic as irreconcilable with much of the subject matter of migratory art: when confronted with representations of trafficking or the brutal experiences of refugees, the displaced, the excluded, and so on, questions of beauty, formal features and sensuous qualities may seem of secondary importance, to say the least. Yet (and this is a central argument in this chapter), any unease with aesthetics in relation to works that deal with subjects such as these harks back to notions of the aesthetic as a withdrawal from the world, for example, notions of beauty, harmony and the artwork in and for itself, devoid of any instrumentality or interests or political ends. Naturally Kant looms large in this philosophy. His aesthetic judgement involves a purely disinterested exercise of detachment and impartiality in order to appreciate how a transcendental work of art represents itself as beautiful and harmonious, beyond cultural and authorial intentions and without goal or end (reflected on in Boehmer 2010: 172). Contrary to this conventional notion of the aesthetic, Boehmer refers to a range of different aesthetic approaches to post-colonial and migratory literature that are not at all irrelevant to the political and ethical urgency of the work, such as an aesthetics of ‘polyglot layerings and cross-cultural mixing’ or ‘hybridity and in-betweenness’ (Boehmer 2010: 170–1, 175). Towards the very end of her chapter, Boehmer also suggests an engagement with aesthetics as generating a fundamental critique of the values we live by, for example, by raising ‘questions of the final unknowability of other human beings’ (Boehmer 2010: 180). It is the latter – rather than the former – entry point into the aesthetic that this chapter explores. In my view it is sometimes difficult to see when analyses of art that engage the former kind of aesthetic (i.e. polyglot layerings and hybrid in-betweenness) actually distinguish themselves from cultural-political analysis – insofar as we allow ourselves to make a distinction between analyses of the politics of representation and the aesthetics of representation. Arguably, the engagement with the (cultural) aesthetics of hybridity and cultural pluralism often tips over into modes of analysis that communicate more readily with identity politics and political counter-identities (identity-discourses) than open up analyses of aesthetic dimensions or qualities – at least when it comes to the kind of embodied sense-aesthetics that will be engaged in the following reflection (which takes its cue from the original Greek meaning of the word ‘aesthetics’: aiesthesis, i.e. as that which has to do with a ‘sensuous knowledge’ of the world).

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I wish to propose a supplementary aesthetic take on migratory literature (and art writ large) that differs from the socio-cultural or identitarian modes of analysis altogether; that looks at something else than socio-cultural and political relations in and outside the work, yet without losing sight of the capacity of the aesthetic qualities of the work to counter ideology. In contrast to, for example, a Kantian notion of the aesthetic, the sensuous approach to art that I am about to unfold involves an aesthetics that still does not separate the work from the world, or separate the work from a concern with how humans are in the world and how they interrelate with each other. It is not an aesthetics that rests on a transcendent judgement of taste and disinterested modes of appreciation, but an aesthetics that is grounded in an embodied experience of the world, that is, how reality may appear in human consciousness as produced by pre-linguistic or pre-cultural bodily sensations and feelings (we will return to this below). Accordingly (to give an example), we may speak of an aesthetics of violence within the range of this approach to the work not in terms of disinterested appreciation but in terms of the artistic representation of bodily experiences of pain and emotional distress. Another important aspect of aesthetics of sensation – or percepts and affects (to signal a general indebtedness to Deleuze and Guattari) – is that the sensuous brings the phenomenal world of things to the fore and, very importantly in the present context, the place world. In fact, with a sense-based aesthetics like this, the place world – along with all the bodies, phenomena and spatial dimensions that fill it – assumes a central importance in our reading of the work of art and it is, accordingly, the place world (in literature, the ‘setting’) that I will propose as a significant element in the exploration of a migratory aesthetics. One would assume the place world to be at the centre of attention in studies of migration already. After all, migration has so much to do with spatiality: movement as the transversal of space; spatial organisations of reality by national imaginaries and other forms of territorialisations; borders and boundaries; notions of displacement and belonging, and so on. This centrality of the dimension of space would also explain the analytical vocabulary and the central body of metaphors in the field: transgression, crossing, roots, uprootedness, and so on. Yet the place world, or place as a concept, is far from a central part of the study of migration or the migratory experience. In fact, it is often hardly noticed at all. There are several reasons for this – all of which de-emphasise embodied experience and, with that, direct attention away from a senseaesthetic mode of analysis. First of all, it appears that movement is often supposed to abolish place or suspend what is frequently spoken of as the



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former significance of place to human life. Critical attention is drawn to the act of movement. Truly movement has become (or is becoming) the governing condition of human life. Today, more than ever before, movement significantly defines most societies or cultural formations, and it upsets and replaces old ideologies of settlement and belonging in this regard. Yet analytical paradigms of a new essential restlessness, a nomadic unbelonging, a permanent state of transit have been lavished on migration studies (at least within theoretical junctures of culture, discourse and literature), and all of these paradigms seem (erroneously) to imply an opposition to place – whenever this opposition is not directly expressed. A casual example may be taken from Paul Gilroy in connection with his idea of diaspora as offering a new mode of thinking the ways in which we are in the world: As an alternative to the metaphysics of ‘race’, nation, and bounded Culture coded into the body, diaspora is a concept that problematizes the Cultural and historical mechanics of belonging. It disrupts the fundamental Power of territory to determine identity by breaking the simple sequence of Explanatory links between place, location, and consciousness. (Gilroy 1997: 328; capital letters in the original)

Movement is proposed as a liberating alternative of ‘placeless imaginings of identity’ that may supplant ‘the sedentary politics’, or should we say the sedentary metaphysics ‘of either soil or blood’ (Gilroy 1997: 317; emphasis added). Often the discourse of movement and placelessness travels back and forth between literary works of migration and the readings and theories that accompany them. Salman Rushdie is of course one of the most prominent writers when it comes to the articulation of contemporary movement of people across the globe as producing a new episteme of mobility and cultural mixture over the old episteme of settlement and cultural homogeneity. He famously pits ‘levity against gravity’ and associates earth, land and place with the confinement of being stuck or held down (Rushdie 1998: 3). In The Satanic Verses (1988) we hear about the desire of the characters to escape or transcend ‘impoverished, heavy, pullulating earth’ and ‘land, belonging, home’ are refuted as ‘hollow, booming words’ (Rushdie 1998: 15, 4). Accordingly, Rushdie’s migrant heroes are mostly uprooted and mobile. They are ‘wandering … without any certain abode … without any fixed place, or space’ to rest their feet (Rushdie 1998: prologue); they are those ‘who just don’t belong’ or are ‘rooted in the knowledge that the journeying itself was home (Rushdie

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1998: 94). In The Ground Beneath Her Feet (1999) they have even become ‘the physically unattached … travelling through space, staying free of all gravitational fields’ (Rushdie 2000: 45; emphasis added). A novel of ideas like The Satanic Verses, or The Ground Beneath Her Feet, for that matter, and the post-structural criticism that accompanies it, spring from the linguistic and cultural turns in the humanities that discovered language and culture to be systems of socio-political signification and exposed knowledge and reality as a cultural and linguistic construction. Consonantly, movement across different geographies and cultures (i.e. across different cultural and linguistic constructions of the world) discloses all ‘the contradictions in the real’ in Rushdie’s novels (Rushdie 2000: 386). We find a classic example of this in one of Rushdie’s many airport scenes where the experience of international movement produces an existential shock. When Ormus Cama, one of the migrant heroes in The Ground Beneath Her Feet, arrives in England from India for the first time he discovers the world to be a place that is made up: the ground beneath his feet has to be invented before he can take the next step: The homecoming passengers notice none of this [the inventedness of ‘the ground’], they stride confidently forward through the familiar, the quotidian, but the new arrivals look fearfully at the deliquescent land. They seem to be splashing through what should be solid ground. As his own feet move gingerly forward, he feels small pieces of England solidify beneath them … everything must be made real, step by step. This is a mirage, a ghost world, which becomes real only beneath our magic touch, our loving footfall, our kiss. We have to imagine it into being, from the ground up. (Rushdie 2000: 294)

Having to imagine the ground beneath your feet before you can step on it, or relate to it, is a recurrent motif in Rushdie and it illustrates why the materiality of place and embodied relations to places matter less in his perspective: our ideas of the world reign supreme. The world is not produced by our bodily perceptions of things or dimensions but by our imaginings of what the world is and, especially, by our mutually shared stories of what the world is or is supposed to be, or must be made to be. The place world, the matter of place, has to be imagined into being before it really matters, before even our bodies respond to it. Insofar as everything moves primarily on a suprasensory or ideological level – the way we live and move entirely in our ideas of material reality – our minds and bodies are rooted not in places but in dreams and imagined realities.



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Although there is much more to the literary work itself (including works that appear primarily to dramatise post-structuralist deconstructions of reality constructions), the analytical apparatus that has been built around migration literature within the era of discourse analysis directs us to approach these works primarily through socio-cultural or discursive rather than other modes of analysis. And combined with the subjection of place and embodied experience to extreme scepticism, socio-cultural modes of analysis easily result in a remarkably disembodying outlook on reality. Homi Bhabha’s idea of ‘how newness enters the world’ is famously inspired by The Satanic Verses and his notion of cultural hybridity as a ‘third space’ is an eponymous example of the disembodied character of transcultural theory and the lenses of analysis it provides for us. Despite a potentially different signal in the title of his seminal book (1994), ‘the location of culture’ is not a bodily sensed space to Bhabha but a discursive location or territory, that is, a negotiation and general contestation between people about ‘signs of identity’ and the significance of signs as ‘conceptual and organizational categories’ (Bhabha 2006: 1–2). And, as in the example from Rushdie (and Gilroy), the notion of place comes to figure negatively as a synonym for the metaphysics of the nation or rootedness or Blut-und-Boden, or any other reactionary mode of sedentary thinking to be replaced by the restless mobility of an ‘intervening space’ or an ‘in-between space’ (Bhabha 2006: 7). When all of human reality is assumed to be the inescapable result of constructed texts competing with each other in defining reality – supra-sensory contestations of other supra-sensory ideas about reality – any sense-aesthetic analysis is simply of no relevance. To the contrary, any assumption of touching or connecting with reality through the senses may be criticised as a failure to see the ideologies that mediate that connecting touch, just as descriptions of sensuous experiences of places would commonly be associated with a fallacious belief in the transparency of language, or the naturalisation of ideology and, very likely, with romantic sensibilities of place and the patriotic rhetoric of the nation in this regard, for example, along the lines of Bhabha’s critique when he speaks of how national discourse ‘encourages memories of the “deep” nation’ as ‘crafted’ in the natural soil (Bhabha 2006: 132, 169). Within this mode of analysis we must learn to realise how ‘[t]here is nothing outside of the text’, as Jacques Derrida put it in 1967, how ‘the absolute present, Nature … have always already escaped, have never existed’, which led him to the famous conclusion: ‘What opens meaning and language is writing as the disappearance of natural presence’ (Derrida 1976: 158–9; emphasis added).

A Migrant Aesthetics through the Phenomenality of Place

When facing a territorialisation of the world by a dominant text or meaning system (e.g. a mono-logic or mono-cultural mode of thought) within a world of many different texts and meaning systems, the poststructural mode of deterritorialisation is one of destabilising meaning with a multiplication of meanings or by unsettling meaning with the errancy of paradoxes, ambiguities and semantic self-contradictions, as in Bhabha’s notion of in-betweenness. In the field of migration literature, it has been noted by characters, narrators, readers and researchers alike how identities are liberated from homogenising forces by the cultural multiplicities and disparities that global movement produces. Global migration is rightly seen as interrupting the meaning-making coherence of any singular narrative by the multiplication of other stories or accounts of the world. In Rushdie’s airport scene the narrator tells a story of how all of the world is storied, and how we story our lives – construct identities that fit like characters into existing stories – to be able to move in these storied places. The migratory perspective pluralises and liquidises the stories – or storied meanings – of the world within which we may move, and any account of the self dissipates into multiple, changing and essentially uncertain identity formations. This form of post-structural deterritorialisation has occasionally been understood as integral to a post-colonial/migrant aesthetic in accordance with Boehmer’s suggestion of cultural heterogeneity, hybridity, movement and in-betweenness as openings to an aesthetic (rather than a principally political) mode of attention to works of art in these fields (see Boehmer above). Yet, as the argument above runs, these approaches to the aesthetic in migratory art (or post-colonial art) may also be seen in many cases as largely overlapping with political-cultural analysis when preoccupied by identifying the work’s counter-discursive enunciations. The discursive or post-structural approach does not settle the question of how we may read literatures of migration, or any instantiation of migratory art without taking the negotiation of ‘signs of identity’ and ‘conceptual and organizational categories’ as our primary starting point for the aesthetic. Hence it may turn out that it is a reconsideration of other relations to reality than hybridity or in-betweenness that may more radically open towards other modes of exploring the arts of migration aesthetically – such as, for instance, a reconsideration of the nature of our relation to the place world. To begin with, we need to retrieve the place world from the erroneous conflation of place with nation, rootedness, stasis and Blut und Boden. The idea of movement as an escape from place, and its consequent disembodied world relation, rests on a rather false idea of what place is – at least from within a phenomenological mode of enquiry. The phenomenality of place



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is first and foremost produced not by ideas but by our bodies before we turn it into an idea (a literary illustration is to follow). Place emerges, accordingly, as a complex blend of sensations of touch, smells, sounds, visible forms and colours, and so on. For this reason, the nation is not a place in phenomenological place philosophy, it is an abstract idea (although it may very well concretise and naturalise itself in our mental, and subsequently, bodily, experience of places). It cannot be smelled, touched, tasted, heard in a sound, or seen in a landscape. Unless, of course, we plant a flag or sound an anthem and in that way allow national symbols to cause our minds to persuade our bodies that the nation is really what they touch or taste in a certain place – which is why we must always stay attentive to how the senses are for the most part discursively mediated by abstract ideas – or, to put it differently, how abstract ideas organise themselves in the sensuous apparatus of our bodies (see, e.g., Howe 2005 or Moslund 2015). A place is not static or fixed, either. As with everything else, any place is in a continual process of change. As Edward Casey has it, a place is not something that is, it is something that continually happens, and so are our relations to places. We are never rooted in a place in the sense of a bound mind and body tied to a timeless, unchanging location. No one is ever completely in place. Places continue to change; our minds and bodies continually change; people, ideas and matter continuously move in and out of any given place. For all these reasons, we always find ourselves in a process of getting-back-into-place, continually readjusting ourselves to a vast complexity of multiple and changing modes of relating to any place – although at different speeds, and some speeds so slow that we hardly notice any changed relations at all (see, e.g., Casey 1993 and 2003). Rather than ‘rooted’, we may see ourselves as in a constant process of re-emplacement – and the acceleration of the global speed of change and movement has no doubt sped up the process of constant re-emplacement in many parts of the world, making this fundamental human condition visible in the first place. Third, place is not at all the opposite of movement. This is not only because of the inherent dynamism of places and our composite relations to them. The place world underpins movement (without it we could not even tell that we were moving). Although we are never completely in a particular place, we are always immersed in the place world ‘by our own lived body’, which never ceases to relate to the sensuous phenomena and dimensions of the environment in which it happens to be: ‘Given that we are never without perception … we are never without emplaced experiences’ (Casey 2003: 19–23). Finally, before we get ahead of ourselves here (and our senses run away with us), let us stress, once more, what has already been said: any place is indeed a

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socio-cultural and political construction – or organisation – in which our bodies move – and the example from Rushdie is brilliant in exhibiting this dimension of the place world. But the place world is never only that (that would be an absolutist assumption). Casey rightly argues that: Even the most culturally saturated place retains a factor of wildness, that is, of the radically amorphous and unaccounted for, something that is not so much immune to culture as alien to it in its very midst, disparate from it from within. (Casey 2003: 35)

To Casey this ‘ensures that cultural analysis never exhausts a given place’ (Casey 2003: 35; emphasis added) – and this is precisely what a senseaesthetic analysis may show. Rather than destabilising meaning with more meaning or an errancy of cultural meanings, the sense-aesthetic analysis shifts away from the cultural interpretation or discursive meaning of things and engages a wholly different register of our multiple modes of relating to the world. The sense-aesthetic reading opens to ‘the radically amorphous and unaccounted for’ in the very midst of culture. (What is the meaning of the colour blue before we turn it into a symbol, i.e., into something other than its appearance as a spontaneous sensuous impression?) As we shall see, a sense-aesthetic analysis may in this way offer a mode of deterritorialisation that is in many ways much more farreaching than that of cultural multiplicities and hybridisations. When it comes to the question of aesthetics in relation to migratory works of art, the artist and art critic Mieke Bal has made a remarkable difference which has yet to achieve its impact in the studies of literary works of migration. She famously calls for a ‘migratory aesthetics’ in a way that very expressly does not lose sight of other than formal and culturaldiscursive notions of the aesthetic and, quite unusually (however tacitly), implicates place before it even mentions the obvious aspects of hybridity and movement. The ‘gripping tales of travel’ – with their thematisations of globalisation, movement and in-betweenness – need not be ‘the point of the aesthetic’, says Bal: ‘a topic does not make an aesthetic … What does make an aesthetic is the sentient encounter with subjects involved’ (Bal 2007: 31, 26). In the same breath, by suggesting a migratory aesthetics as a ‘sentient encounter’ or ‘a condition of sentient engagement’ within the historical context of migration, she tones down any overt socio-cultural and political discourses of the work (Bal 2007: 23). Arguably, what Bal’s migratory aesthetic as sentient (that is, ‘sensory’ or ‘sensuous’) engagement really portends is, to a large extent, a discovery



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of the significance of place in studies of migratory art. Bal does not at all refer to the discourse of in-betweenness or the celebration of movement as a disembodied state of being nowhere and everywhere. Without a doubt, she observes, we can say that in a migratory world ‘the centre is nowhere … but it only takes on space, a small, graphic gap, to turn that halfway-statement into something more liveable: the centre is now-here’ (Bal 2007: 34). How do we experience the now-here? We do so through the presence of place as produced by the embodied sensations of phenomena: the touch, sounds, smells, colours of this spatio-temporal moment that happens as a synaesthetic appearance of reality. This tallies with how Bal understands the aesthetic as an embodied aesthetics of the senses – as in the original Greek sense of aiesthesis anticipated above: I use ‘aesthetics’ … according to its traditional meaning, as a term to refer to an experience of sensate binding, a connectivity based on the senses, and the ‘-s’ at the end of the word is meant to indicate the plural form, not the ‘science of ’ or meta-meaning. (Bal 2008: 19)

In literature this involves a mode of reading that engages with the embodied sense-effects of words rather than the contestation of their socio-cultural meaning-effects. Or we might say that it is an aesthetic that does not trace the work’s socio-cultural interpretations of things or places, which trades in the register of socio-cultural meaning – as in the question of what a particular phenomenon means to us socially or culturally – and soon connects with the political perspectives of representation, ownership, identity, and so on, or supra-sensory ‘meta-meanings’, as Bal calls them. The sense-aesthetic, on the other hand, retraces the immediate, that is, the pre-linguistic and pre-cultural sensuous experiences of things and places in the work. Although a distinctly aesthetic mode of inquiry, the exploration of aiesthesis in the work of art is not irrelevant to the world of politics and ideologies. On the contrary, it is a deterritorialising aesthetic, but it deterritorialises in a different way than the discourse of global placelessness and cultural in-betweenness. The difference may be illustrated by comparing Rushdie’s airport scene with one of the many airport scenes we find in the writings of another canonised writer of the migrant experience, V. S. Naipaul. (Note, these are illustrative examples only. Rushdie’s and Naipaul’s oeuvres are vast and complex, political and aesthetic in all senses of the word, and not to be understood as simple

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opposites.) Whereas movement in the example from Rushdie figures as a strong image of liberation from place and gravity, the following example drawn from Naipaul suggests that movement, indeed, the speed of travel, intensifies the embodied experience of place. In A Bend in the River (1979), one of Naipaul’s many migrant characters, Indar, muses on how ‘the aeroplane is a wonderful thing’ because ‘[y]ou are still in one place when you arrive at the other’ (Naipaul 2000: 130): I was in Africa one day; I was in Europe the next morning. It was more than travelling fast. It was like being in two places at once. I woke up in London with little bits of Africa on me – like the airport tax ticket, given me by an official I knew, in the middle of another kind of crowd, in another kind of building, in another climate. Both places were real; both places were unreal. You could play off one against the other. (Naipaul 2000: 268)

Remarkably, Naipaul’s character does not depict movement as a placeless passage through a space between destinations: ‘It was more than travelling fast’, and this ‘more’ is revealed as a filling up of experience with an amassing of place sensations, ‘like being in two places at once’, like still being ‘in one place when you arrive at the other’. We are fairly used to being in two places at once through the imagination. In fact, our minds are usually somewhere else, occupied by other things than the immediate milieu of our bodies. However, whereas that involves a disappearance from consciousness of the place we happen to be in, or the place our bodies happen to be in, Naipaul’s migrant experiences an intensification of the presence of the place world as such with and through the body. Accordingly, and although provoking sensations of the ‘unreal’, the scene in Naipaul is not primarily a discursive, imagined or conceptually conceived geography – the solidity of the world does not melt into airy ideas or ideological imaginaries, as in Rushdie’s scene. Rather, the place world as produced by the body appears as something that is there before any discursive constructions of place – as in Bal’s notion of the extremity of a ‘now-here’. Soundlessly the amorphous excess of matter fills up the words evoking a sensuous presence: ‘little bits of Africa on me’, ‘airport tax ticket’, ‘crowd’, ‘building’, ‘climate’. These come into appearance as aisthetons (i.e. things appearing as immediate sense impressions) rather than icons or symbols or representations (i.e. things appearing as abstractions, as standing for something else than their phenomenal appearance – e.g. the way a phenomenon like a shoreline may be made to be perceived, abstractly, as a national border).



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For the same reason, language in this brief passage from Naipaul relates to reality in a different way than language in the example from Rushdie. In the example from Naipaul, language ceases to serve the temporality of narrative and takes on a remarkable spatial quality. It is not the kind of Nacheinander that characterises the storyfication of the world (the need Ormus describes of having to imagine the world into being, to story it, whereby ‘small pieces of England’ (a national story) may solidify beneath his feet), but a Nebeneinander as in the spatial simultaneity of objects before they are ordered or made sense of – a com-position rather than a composition (we will return to this point in a moment). David Seamon is a place theorist who, like Edward Casey (and others), believes we are in the world with and through our bodies before anything else. In a seminal essay on the body-subject he has shown that we do not notice this due to the ways in which our bodies work. Our bodies work silently in habitual environments. Seamon argues that this is so because the body-subject manages routine demands independently of conscious thought and in that way we gain ‘freedom from … everyday places and environments’ (Seamon 1980: 156–7). Or, to put it differently, the bodysubject liberates space in our minds for abstract thought or thought that has no immediate relevance to the environment our bodies are in. Since there is hardly any consciousness intervening between environment and the movement of the body-subject, ‘place is experienced without deliberate and self-conscious reflection’ (Seamon 1980: 161). Yet, Seamon sees this unnoticed body-subject as no less than the very foundation of our condition of being-in-the-world: lived space is ‘first of all grounded in the body’ and ‘[w]hatever the particular historical and cultural context, the bedrock of [a person’s] geographical experience is the pre-reflective bodily stratum of [that person’s] life’ (Seamon 1980: 153, 162). Both Rushdie’s and Naipaul’s airport scenes speak into the powerful but invisible and unnoticed relation between place and body that Seamon demonstrates with the body-subject. Rushdie shows how place is constructed by ideology (something Seamon misses out), and for that reason Seamon’s observations that ‘place is experienced without deliberate and self-conscious reflection’ and ‘the bedrock’ of our ‘geographical experience’ as the ‘pre-reflective bodily stratum’ of our lives becomes commanding testimonies in Rushdie’s scene to how ideology is so powerfully and invisibly encoded in the infrastructure of our everyday behaviour – in our places and bodily perception – that it has gained the solidity of reality itself. The ‘homecoming passengers … stride confidently forward through the familiar’ without realising that ‘the familiar’ is a discursive reality that has to be taught and internalised as an automatised

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routine before it really exists. Whereas movement in Rushdie often causes the migrant to discover the discourse of place in this way along with the internalisation, or, as a matter of fact, the incorporation of this discourse in our mental and bodily relations to place, movement in the extract from Naipaul causes the migrant to discover the body in place, not the bodysubject as subjected to socio-cultural constructions of reality (or ‘metameaning’ in Bal’s terms) but a pre-discursive body-subject that uncovers an embodied connection with the world beneath metaphysical ideas. Whereas Rushdie’s character experiences intensity in movement and movement as a liberation from the gravity of place, Indar’s experience of movement uncovers the intensity of our embodied relation to the place world which may best be described as an intensification of a sense of presence – or a ‘now-hereness’ as a disarray of simultaneous stimuli, as an amorphous geography blending embodied impressions of built and natural spaces before they are organised by any cultural imagination or cultural interpretations. It is a sense-aesthestic body-subject before it is turned into a socio-cultural body-subject and it relates to things – earth, climate, and so on – before they are turned into idea, story and history. In the brief passage from Naipaul, no narrative of England emerges to tie things together again. Naipaul’s character may be said to uncover the deterritorialised wilderness of place Casey refers to, where the place world is not entirely saturated by culture or socio-political narratives, that is, territorialisations of reality. The migrant haptically taps into a rhythm of place that opens to other relations to the world than those offered by the world of ideas, sociocultural and political interpretations of things or any other textualisation of the world – including the multiplication of texts and cultural meanings. With reference to the ‘now-here’, Bal speaks of an ‘inadequacy of narrative to account for the state of mobility and displacement’ (Bal 2007: 31), and this touches precisely on a fundamental difference between the discursive and the sense-aesthetic modes of deterritorialisation. The radical spatiality (as opposed to temporality) in Naipaul’s rendition of place not only intrudes into one narrative account of the world and shifts it around (e.g. by retelling the story or organising the narrative differently), but also disrupts the narrative account of the world altogether. With its tumultuous Nebeneinander or com-position of things, it ‘interrupts the story’ of the world, as Judith Butler expresses it with reference to the historicising impulse of narratives that constantly constructs discursive identities and norms of recognition. For a moment, the place world is returned to what Butler calls a ‘prehistory’ that ‘has never stopped happening’ (Butler 2001: 37). The notion of ‘prehistory’ (or ‘pre-story’, we might say) points to a pre-



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discursive, pre-identitarian world relation that is always happening below the nation or any other socio-cultural identification or territorialisation of the world by our narrative accounts or explanations of self and other. It follows, for example, that the simultaneity of different places from different parts of the planet makes it possible to think the depths of place as formed by pre-storied earth before it is narrativised by the nation – and, in extension of that: to recognise our relation to reality and other humans as existing, too, on the level of an embodied immediacy of perceptions and perceptual affects before we characterise ourselves and each other as identities within this or the other socio-cultural or national narrative. Fundamentally, the sensuous geographies of place are different from the geographies of nations or the geographies of identity-producing histories. The sensuous geographies of places are geographies of Being, geographies of the inexplicability of existence and the Otherness of the planet (cf. Spivak’s planetarity as a radically Other mode of connectivity than that of the globalisation of the globe): geographies of the Otherness of our shared thrownness into this world, connecting us all from within our ‘primary relation to alterity’ (Butler 2001: 39). Sensuous geographies momentarily cause discourses of socio-cultural identity formations to disappear the way Édouard Glissant describes it in relation to our immediate embodied experience of matter: Relation to the earth is too immediate or plundering to be linked with any preoccupation with identity … Identity will be achieved when communities attempt to legitimate their right to possession of a territory through myth or the revealed word. (Glissant 1997: 13)

Narrative and the production of identity go together – as Bal and Butler illustrate in their respective ways – and together they come to form accounts of the self and the other that very specifically define our relations to the world and other humans, insofar as these narrative accounts of the world and human beings are invariably based in relations of possession, judgement, othering or other identity-producing practices (even care and affection are relations that construct identities for Butler). The narration of identity and narrative identifications of (spatial) phenomena are, in both cases, a retrospective account of the world, Butler reflects. They are accounts that retrospectively connect and explain events by constructing an apparently coherent string of ‘meaningful’ causes and purposes – by all kinds of antecedent reasons, we might argue – which, in the case of possession, judgement and othering keep us from experiencing the

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sensuous intensity of the presence of things and other humans. To Butler (when she speaks of negative intersubjective relations), all such narratives are centred on self-sustenance – or identitarian self-defence (Butler 2001: 39): so many normative frames for ‘seeing and judging’, so many ‘anthropocentric dispositions and cultural frames’ – which is why it is only at ‘reason’s limit’ that ‘the sign of our humanity’ emerges (Butler 2001: 23, 37). Think for a moment how commonly the immediate presence of white skin or black skin is perceived not as sensuous presence but as marks of identities passed on to us through so many (hi)stories. This is why Bal stresses that the now-here is an appearance, which is a word that ‘must be given its full weight’ (Bal 2007: 33) as it has tremendous importance not only for the way we relate to the non-human world – natural phenomena, the earth, the planet – but also for the ways in which we relate to each other. The now-here invokes an ‘absence of a clear cultural identity’ (Bal 2007: 32): a form in which people are encouraged to appear, not as images to be voyeuristically captured, nor in the name of a cultural provenance that keeps them imprisoned as ‘different’, but in a synaesthetic fullness that only becomes possible after the collapse of the real [i.e. explanatory representations or accounts of the real], that greatest lie of all. (Bal 2007: 34)

The challenge to metaphysical regimes of meaning by the intensity of prediscursive embodied experiences of being in the world does not translate into cultural-political meanings or regimes of identity, whether English, Indian or hybrid. It moves within a wholly other mode of relating to the world than that of identity – whether we speak of the identity of a place or the discourses of identity that govern individuals and sociopolitical communities. This is a mode of relation through which we come to recognise ourselves and each other as humans before we turn ourselves and each other into one or the other identity. It will never replace narratives and discursive identity positions and positionings, but, once acknowledged, it may endure as an alternative mode of recognition that disturbs and denaturalises such positions and positionings. In conclusion, a migratory aesthetics as a sense-aesthetic that connects with the place world moves in the opposite direction of both deconstruction and the migratory pluralisations of meaning that have dominated migratory studies to this day. It does not find an escape from hegemonic metaphysics by leaving matter behind in the endless play and errantry of signification, nor does it find an escape from



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any oppressive discourses of place in the acceleration of movement as a supposed suspension of the significance of place and attachment to places. On the contrary, it finds a flight from all kinds of absolutism and totalitarianism in matter. Reading place and movement aiesthetically as appearing through the bodily senses (before their organisation by specific socio-cultural systems of meaning) does not move beyond matter but connects with matter. Substance here entails an aesthetic sub-stance – it is not a stance against or a stance beyond, but a stance below: a radical substance below the suprasensory metaphysics of nations, socio-cultural identity formations and discourses of othering, below the celebration of the metaphysics of the supra-national, too, and late modernity’s world picture of a new placeless capital of global mobility. Yet the place-specific now-here is not a self-enclosed locality. In accordance with a migratory mode of enquiry, it opens toward the wider world through the critical alterity of a trans-geographical connection of humans and places as fundamentally belonging to and transfused by the otherness of the planet. On a lesser scale, though, the sub-stance of the sense-aesthetics of place plays into the whole post-migration perspective that has found its way into this anthology as a promising new perspective on migration studies and our engagement with the arts of migration. As a substance, and in line with one of the central points of the post-migration perspective, the sense-aesthetic analysis of migration in relation to the place world contributes to the cultural analysis with a far more complex and, indeed, textural space of engagement than the old binary paradigms of migration versus settlement or belonging versus unbelonging. Bibliography Bal, Mieke, ‘Lost in Space, Lost in the Library’, in Sam Durrant and Catherine Lord (eds), Essays in Migratory Aesthetics. Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi, 2007, pp. 23–36. —— ‘Double Movement’, in Mieke Bal and Miguel Hernández-Navarro (eds), 2Move: Video Art Migration. Murcia: Cendeac, 2008, pp. 13–80. Bhabha, Homi, The Location of Culture. New York: Routledge, 2006. Boehmer, Elleke, ‘A Postcolonial Aesthetic: Repeating Upon the Present’, in J. Wilson, C. Şandru and S. Welsh Lawson (eds), Rerouting the Postcolonial: New Directions for the New Millennium. London: Routledge, 2010, pp. 170–81. Butler, Judith, ‘Giving an Account of Oneself ’, Diacritics 31:4 (2001): 22–40. Casey, Edward, Getting Back Into Place: Toward a Renewed Understanding of the Place World. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1993.

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—— ‘How to Get from Space to Place in a Fairly Short Stretch of Time: Phenomenological Prolegomena’, in Steven Feld and Keith H. Basso (eds), Senses of Place. Santa Fe, NM: School of American Research Press, 2003, pp. 13–52. Derrida, Jacques, Of Grammatology. Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976. Gilroy, Paul, ‘Diaspora and Detours of Identity’, in K. Woodward (ed.), Identity and Difference. London: Sage, 1997, pp. 299–346. Glissant, Édouard, Poetics of Relation. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997. Howe, David, ‘Introduction’, in David Howe (ed.), Empire of the Senses. The Sensual Culture Reader (Sensory Formations). Oxford: Berg, 2005. Moslund, Sten Pultz, Literature’s Sensuous Geographies: Place Matters in Postcolonial Literature. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015. Naipaul, V. S., A Bend in the River. London: Picador, 2000. Rushdie, Salman, The Satanic Verses. London: Vintage, 1998. —— The Ground Beneath Her Feet. London: Vintage, 2000. Seamon, David, ‘Body-Subject, Time-Space Routines, and Place Ballets’, in Ann Buttimer and David Seamon (eds), The Human Experience of Place. London: Croom Helm, 1980. Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty, The Death of a Discipline. New York: Columbia University Press, 2003.


13 Moments of Significance Artists of Colour in European Theatre Azadeh Sharifi

Introduction In early 2013, I organised a conference called Postmigrant Perspectives on European Theatre1 in London, where artists and theatre professionals from Great Britain, Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands were invited to discuss post-migrant theatre and the work of artists of colour within the European context. The conference was attended by artists and academics such as Nasim Aghili, Deniz Utlu, Onur Suzan Nobrega Kömürcü, Rani Kasapi, Hassan Mahamadallie and Omar Elerian. The conference not only brought the participants together but also provided a space for real debates. All too often we find ourselves tangled up in discussions where we have to set out telling fragmented stories of non-white theatre in Europe again and again. As a result, the discussion tends to lack depth and we are unable to build a foundation for the present and the future. Postmigrant Perspectives on European Theatre provided us with the opportunity to reflect on the aesthetic and theoretical framework we have made in various places in Europe, and to coordinate our work in relation to artists of colour in European theatre. To establish such a structure means to create an archive of knowledge and a continuity of stories and perspectives which are told from marginalised positions in European society. But by trying to do so we recognise the repetition of this claim that stems from the disconnection between us and the work of earlier artists and scholars in the same field. Jatinder Verma, artistic director of the first Asian British theatre company, Tara Arts in London, asserted over a decade ago: When it comes to Asian or Black Arts, there is no history, only ‘moments of significance’, we lurch from moment to moment of visibility, separated


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by a void of invisibility we are tasked with developing a theoretical framework that restores a continuous narrative. (Verma 2003)

This discontinuity is linked to the individual histories of European countries and their political and social exposure to migration. But it is also linked to the European colonial past and its consistency of cultural frame. The perspective through which European art history is written persists in keeping non-white artists outside of it (Araeen 2010: 22). Stuart Hall argues that ‘cultural identity is not an essence, but a positioning’ (Hall 1989: 226), dictated by a politics of position that is a result of discourses on culture and history. European cultural identity is built on the selfimposed assumption of intellectual superiority over the ‘Other’. In the context of European theatre, non-white artists are racialised bodies who can only speak from their allocated position. As I will point out in this chapter, racial discrimination represented by the lack of self-representation of artists of colour is an issue in contemporary European theatre. Nonwhite artists are constantly reinventing a non-white presence rather than being seen as a part of a long-standing historical fact. The white space and the representation of non-white bodies exposes the impossibility for non-white artists and a non-white audience to enter this space. But the main goal of my chapter is to appoint strategies of resistance through appropriation of the discourses and institutionalisation of their work as post-migrant theatre. There is still a lack of contextualisation of their work within the European theatre discourses. My attempt to oppose this absence is by introducing the term post-migrant aesthetics, which is inspired by discourses on migratory aesthetics as a decolonising strategy. Finally I use the term ‘artists of colour’ as a self-imposed description which includes vastly different people with only the common distinction of not being perceived as white. The term draws attention to the fundamental role of racialisation and serves to emphasise the importance of solidarity and coalition. The White Space In the last century, European artists became increasingly interested in aesthetic forms used by artists from Japan, South Asian and African countries in search of inspiration for transforming their own theatre practice (Fischer-Lichte 1999: 9). However, artists who immigrated from

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those countries had hardly any access to European theatre (Brauneck 1983; Sappelt 2000; Sharifi 2011). Although there are differences in the histories of European countries, the similarities in their definition of what can be part of their culture are much greater. For example, Great Britain now seems to embrace the diversity of heritage, ethnicity and culture that has existed since the end of World War II. Regardless, for a very long time, Britain ignored or excluded ‘the work of those foreigners which cannot be assimilated within the national canon’ (Brett 1995: 50). The exclusion of artists of colour can be seen in all other European countries, particularly when it comes to the respective national canon. European theatre is what I call a white space that is defined by a white, Eurocentric perspective on society. This might seem an instant accusation, even though it is visible on the stages. I will exemplify my assertion by the debate on ‘blackface’. The ‘blackface’ debate has been present in European countries for many years, but has recently become more heated. ‘Blackface’ was a form of theatrical make-up used in nineteenth-century minstrel shows, in which performers created a stereotyped caricature of a black person. In 2012, Swedish Minister of Culture Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth cut a large cake shaped like a caricature of a black female body. This happened as part of an art installation in the Moderna Museet in Stockholm. The artist himself, Makode Linde, performed as the screaming head of this ‘blackface’ cake. The incident triggered a large-scale debate on racism in Swedish society (Harding 2012). However, a few years earlier, a production of the play Unschuld (Innocence) by Dea Loher was going to be staged at Riksteatern Stockholm. It was to feature ‘blacked-up’ white Swedish actors for their roles as ‘black illegal immigrants’ Fadoul and Elisio. Besides anti-racist activists, no one intervened – not the Riksteatern, nor anyone else from Sweden’s theatre scene – because they didn’t regard the racist history of ‘blackface’ as part of their theatrical tradition and therefore didn’t consider themselves to be in a position to offend. Coincidentally, the same debate on Unschuld took place in 2012 at Deutsches Theater Berlin. Two white actors playing Elisio and Fadoul appeared on stage in ‘blackface’. In an interview with German-French television channel Arte, the artistic director of Deutsches Theater, Ulrich Khuon, explained that the blackface technique used was of an ‘antiracist’ nature: the actors were wearing black ‘masks’ that gradually came off as the play progressed. The intention was, said Khuon, to engage the audience in reflection about otherness, the state of ‘looking’ different, hence feeling alien and rejected – a reflection on and against racism.2



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This statement, as true as it may be for the audiences of Deutsches Theater Berlin, exposes the white perspective of both artist and audience. The black mask marks otherness and difference for a white person, but not for a person of colour. There is no room for non-whites on stage or in the audience; the stage is created with a white gaze for a white gaze. One of the main consequences of the white space is that in the course of their artistic careers, artists of colour experience structural racism on various levels. It begins with the entrance exam at drama school, where they might be rejected because the school representatives assume they wouldn’t be able to play all the roles in the repertoire of European theatre. After eventually graduating, artists of colour will be rejected by artistic directors or agencies because they do not ‘fit’ into white roles – meaning almost every role in the European theatre canon. A good example of this is the heated debate about the play I’m Not Rappaport by Schlossparktheater Berlin, where ‘blackface’ was used for a white actor who played the sole African-American role. After Schlossparktheater Berlin received an enormous number of complaints, they justified their decision by arguing that there were no black actors who could fit the role, and that even if they did exist, the theatre could not have employed them because of the general scarcity of ‘black roles’. Very few theatre ensembles in Germany, Austria and Switzerland include black actors – if only because a theatre repertoire’s few roles that can be offered to them during a season cannot justify a permanent position (Schlossparktheater 2012). This statement is unintentionally upfront: it is much more common to argue that artists of colour are not hired because of a lack of quality or talent. After hearing the latter argument over and over again, in discussions with and interviews by white artistic directors, one could almost begin to assume that all non-white artists lack talent. In fact, it has prompted me to speak sarcastically about ‘the collectively untalented artists of colour’. Besides rejection on the ground of physical features, there is another structural problem: the work of artists of colour is measured and judged through an ethnical lens (Verma 2004). Their work seems always affiliated to their cultural roots or their physical appearance. Their body is racialised as not being white and connected to political dimensions such as the ‘integration’ debate. As already mentioned, the ethnification has a huge effect on the exclusion of artists of colour from the mainstream. Some of the artists also define themselves through the hegemonial definitions. As Stuart Hall points out, ‘They had the power to make us see and experience

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13.1. Elisabeth Blonzen, Schwarz tragen, premiered 2013 at Ballhaus Naunynstraße.

ourselves as “Other”’ (Hall 1989: 225). And finally, the art of artists is rejected as art but rather considered educational or socio-cultural work. Many artists access socio-cultural funds or, at times, special funds called ‘intercultural funds’. These intercultural funds were initially created to support artists of colour, but in fact they now keep artists of colour outside of the mainstream arts funding systems by a version of ‘cultural apartheid’ (Araeen 2010: 29). In addition to the segregation of ‘mainstream art’ and art by artists of colour, the socio-cultural and ‘intercultural’ funds award lower subsidies, which further hinders the production of high-quality art (Bloomfield 2003: 128). Ballhaus Naunynstraße and the Institutionalisation of Post-migrant Theatre While the white space called European theatre keeps artists of colour out, many artists have found their own ways to make themselves visible. They have intervened against hegemonic forces by crossing the regulated boundaries and creating new content and new aesthetics (Ha 2005: 83). In the last decade, artists of colour have founded new companies and new venues that have given them the possibility of gaining experience and creating their own aesthetics. A venue that plays a major role in the



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process of the institutionalisation of artists of colour in Germany – but also in Europe – is Berlin’s Ballhaus Naunynstraße. Since the 1960s and 1970s, immigrants have used art as an agency for telling their stories in Germany. But due to political and social circumstances, such as the refusal of governmental funding and rejection of artistic education by the culture industry, the work of immigrated artists and artists of colour remained in the off-scene (Brauneck 1983: 12). Until the early twenty-first century, these artists were not part of the German theatre scene (Sappelt 2000: 276). At the turn of the century, a paradigmatic shift in German politics and the declaration of Germany as a country of immigration led to a small window of opportunity in the art sector for artists of colour. While in film and literature artists such as Feridun Zaimoglu were already well known after the political shift, it took almost another ten years for the theatre sector to open itself for artists of colour. A person that has played a significant role in this transformation is Shermin Langhoff. Langhoff began her career in film, as assistant to Fatih Akın, but soon went on to work in theatre. In 2006, she curated the festival Beyond Belonging – Migration2 at Hebbel am Ufer Berlin, where secondgeneration immigrant artists presented their work. For many young, emerging artists, such as Ayse Polat, Nevin Aladağ and Neco Celik, this unique platform provided an opportunity to show their art for the first time. The festival questioned the concept of cultural identity as a nationality-based culture. Based on the premise that art should not be perceived through ethnicity, the festival aimed to target art beyond nationality or the concept of who is considered to represent the German nation. The artists dealt with the stories of immigrants and the history of migration in Germany. After two successful years at Hebbel am Ufer, Langhoff noticed the urgent necessity of and demand for a dedicated venue where a collective voice of marginalised artists could be heard; a place where perspectives and positions of artists of colour could be continuously staged and diaspora experiences and their narratives of displacement could find their own aesthetic. In response, Langhoff founded Ballhaus Naunynstraße, which is located in the heart of Kreuzberg, historically a district of immigration. Stuart Hall calls places like Ballhaus Naunynstraße ‘a very powerful and creative force in emergent forms of representation amongst hitherto marginalised peoples’ (Hall 1989: 223). It was to become a place of self-representation and new aesthetics for artists of colour very soon, but at first there was a need to overcome the German discourse of migration, which is dominated by stereotypes and racism. Every

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citizen not ethnically German is considered a ‘German with a migration background’ (Migrationshintergrund), regardless of whether they were born in Germany or outside of it, or for how many generations their families may have lived in the country. As a substitution for this official term and as a means to continue the discussion on a nationality-based culture, the concept of post-migrant theatre was introduced. Initially, the term ‘postmigrant’ had been used by American academics to describe German-born authors whose work could not be defined by their migration background (Haakh 2011: 3). The rationale of the concept was to dissociate them from the often racist use of the term ‘migration’ and, at the same time, to appropriate the discourse by self-definition. Post-migration does not refer to a historical period but is an analogy to the various ‘post’-conditions of the twentieth century. As a theoretical term, it brings a critical notion to the discourse of migration (Lornsen 2007: 211). Ballhaus Naunynstraße was the first theatre company worldwide to call itself a ‘post-migrant theatre’, showing the ‘stories and perspectives of those who are not immigrated, but who have a migration background as a personal history and as a collective memory’ (Langhoff 2011). After its first two seasons, Ballhaus Naunynstraße had already gained some recognition in the German theatre scene. The breakthrough came with the play Verrücktes Blut (Mad Blood) by Nurkan Erpulat and Jens Hillje, which was invited to the 2011 Berliner Theatertreffen, a showcase for the best plays in Germany. It was the first time that a play by an artist of colour was nominated at the Berliner Theatertreffen. Verrücktes Blut is loosely based on the French film La journée de la jupe (Skirt Day), but adapts the inner core of the story into a German context. In the play, a German teacher is presented with an unusual opportunity: while she is attempting to make one of the classic playwrights of Western theatre, Friedrich Schiller, accessible to undisciplined students with migration backgrounds, a gun falls into her hands. She takes her class hostage and forces them to internalise Schiller’s On the Aesthetic Education of Man. Gradually the students appropriate the ideas of Schiller and apply them to the teacher, who doesn’t want to believe in their improvement. Finally they all end up leaving the stage for a döner (a kebab). The play reproduces clichés about Turkish and Arabic immigrants and deconstructs them, pointing out the racist connotations. One of the main points of the play is that young actors with a migration background play the roles of the violent immigrant kids. The performance on stage begins with the actors literally slipping into the clothes of their characters and ends with them slipping out of their role by saying that they are no longer willing to play the role of ‘self-hating immigrants’. Although this switchover was



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13.2. Nurkan Erpulat and Jens Hillje, Verrücktes Blut, premiered 2011 at Ballhaus Naunynstraße.

clearly demonstrated on stage, white audiences (including journalists and theatre critics) tended to have a hard time understanding the point, and instead continued to identify the actors with their roles. For this reason, the director Nurkan Erpulat describes the play as an exemplification of the white audience. Nevertheless, Verrücktes Blut is now performed all over Germany, in city and state theatres. There is obviously a need for stories on German society with diverse perspectives. In the meantime, Ballhaus Naunynstraße became well known internationally as a post-migrant theatre. They inspired other artists and practitioners to use the term of post-migration, for instance the European project Europe Now!, which is a collaboration of theatres dealing with Europe from post-migrant perspectives. Playwrights, directors and producers from five theatres – Riksteatern (Stockholm), Talimhane Tiyatroso (Istanbul), Theater RAST (Amsterdam), Arcola Theatre (London) and Ballhaus Naunynstrasse – came together to develop five new plays in dialogue with each other. The main goal was to provide a structure for new stories, a larger audience and opportunities for artists of colour. Ballhaus Naunynstraße has had an impact on the political and social discourse of ‘migration and integration’ as well. Within the German context, cultural productions have a major effect on the debate on migration because they overcome traditional images. The international success of film director Fatih Akın is a good example of how art by artists

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of colour is creating spaces of resistance against stereotype representations (Göktürk 2011: 32ff.). And since autumn 2013, the continuing alteration in ‘migration mainstreaming’ has reached German state theatres, as Langhoff has become the artistic director of the renowned Maxim Gorki Theater in Berlin. She is now the first artist of colour in a leading position at a national theatre in German history. Her goal is to promote the ideas that she developed at Ballhaus Naunynstraße and implement a ‘colour-blind’ company at a state venue. In the same vein, the new artistic directors of Ballhaus Naunynstraße, Tuncay Kulaoglu and Wagner Carvalho, have started their own focus on experimental performances that include more artists of colour in their programme. Post-migrant Aesthetics The artists of Ballhaus Naunynstraße have achieved an important shift in German theatre. A similar development can be observed in other European countries. Artists of colour are slowly transforming European theatre despite the unequal and uneven forces of cultural representation. There work comes from a post-colonial perspective, engaging ‘with culture as an uneven, incomplete production of meaning and value … produced in the act of social survival’ (Bhabha 2004: 172). Culture is a strategy of survival which is rooted in specific histories of cultural displacement. The questions that are raised on stage come from marginalised positions in society and aim to overcome hegemonic structures of power. The struggle defines the circumstances of the work as well as content and aesthetics. Productions such as Jag ringer mina bröder (I Call My Brothers) by Jonas Khemiri, Fatima by Ahita Sen Gupta, and Verrücktes Blut deal with exclusion, marginalisation and ascription of meaning to non-white bodies. The transmission of cultures of survival does not occur in the ordered canon of national European cultures but is constantly reinvented as new and the future, rather than a long-standing historical fact (Naidoo 2010: 73). In his thesis on the Philosophy of History, Walter Benjamin uses the term ‘tradition of the oppressed’ which emerges from the discontinuity of representation of the marginalised bodies in history. Benjamin implies a conception of history where the state of exception is the rule (Benjamin 2007: 697). The discontinuity and the dislocation of the bodies as well as the work are the ‘exceptional situation’ in which artists of colour are placed.



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Artists of colour are constantly recreating history to site their work in a tradition. In 2013 two music projects reached out to approach a revitalisation of hidden history. Songs of Gastarbeiter by Bülent Kullukcu and Imran Ayata and Heimatlieder by Mark Terkessidis collected songs and musical data by so-called ‘guest-workers’ from the 1960s and 1970s. The music is part of the collective memories of the first generation or part of the traditional folk music which is kept alive by either performing it in private surroundings or by founding choirs. The core of their approach is an ‘imaginative rediscovery’ of ‘hidden histories’ which have played a critical role in the beginning of important social movements (Hall 1989: 224). While the ‘exceptional situation’ is the rule and the periphery is still the position from which artists of colour operate, there is a need to contextualise their work in the theatrical discourses. Until now the work of artists of colour who identify their work as post-migrant theatre has not been aesthetically acknowledged by theatre studies. In order to specify the aesthetic of post-migrant theatre, I will employ the concept of ‘migratory aesthetics’ by cultural theorist Mieke Bal. ‘Migratory aesthetics’ is a theoretical ‘non-concept’, which uses migration as a metaphor for cultural practice. Bal insists that the modifier ‘migratory’ does not refer to migrants or the actual migration of people (Bal 2007: 23). Instead, it opens up grounds for experimenting with possible relations on the migratory without a specific link or reduction to the migrant as the subject. Bal describes the migratory aesthetic as an aesthetic encounter which is detached from the certainty of a geopolitical position and thrown into a vague condition, in which self-empowerment and self-representation are key elements. But how can the migratory aesthetic that is based on the vagueness of meaning relate to the work of artists of colour and their aesthetics? As mentioned above, one of the central issues for artists of colour is the ethnical labelling of their work. The political and social demands in their cultural practice are close to what Bal describes as ‘migratory aesthetics’. In particular the vagueness and the discrepancy of ascription as well as the struggle of appropriation of aesthetic freedom and spaces are essential components of post-migrant theatre. While migratory aesthetics endorse the prospects of discrepancy and vagueness in the aesthetics of post-migrant theatre, there is still a need for cultural specifics in the analysis of cultural processes when it comes to art by artists of colour. Bal asserts that in the absence of a clear cultural identity, the ‘cultural specific’ has to be redefined as the ‘multi-cultural specific’ (Bal 2007: 32).

Moments of Significance

The ‘multi-cultural specific’ is the attempt to subdue the idea of a central ‘Eurocentric’ culture and replace it by the culture of displacement where the ‘centre is nowhere’ (Bal 2007: 34). From this point of view, art has to be defined in the specific contextual framework and in consideration of the diverse relations in which it is produced and placed. Under these circumstances, it is possible to detach art from artists of colour from a cultural provenance that keeps them imprisoned as ‘different’ and approve synaesthetic fullness through self-representation. Post-migrant theatre is a strategy to position art against the Eurocentrism of European theatre. The approach appears to be a contradictory one. The aesthetic outcome, post-migrant aesthetics, is formed by appropriation of and resistance to aesthetic discourses. And post-migrant aesthetics have broadened the frames of reference. What should be considered as European art is challenged by artists who weave their own experiences into their work as transcultural aesthetic elements. Rethinking European Theatre Post-migrant aesthetics is only one attempt to capture the abundance and the diversity of the aesthetics that artists of colour are performing on stage. As I mentioned earlier in this chapter, the conference I organised was an attempt to give these cultural practices a frame and to record a shared history of European theatre from the perspective of artists of colour, or post-migrant perspectives. At the conference, we struggled with the term ‘postmigrant’ as a kind of limitation and label from which we were actually trying to free our work. And we realised that ‘we might not need labels, but we need reflection’ (Chris Keulemans, Tolhuistuin Amsterdam). Recently, Shermin Langhoff insisted in an interview that she prefers to label her work herself: ‘I have labelled myself. If the ascription of my work is already made, then I prefer to do it by myself’ (Wahl 2013). Post-migrant theatre, post-migrant perspective or post-migrant aesthetics may be labels which artists of colour are resistant to. But the resistance is necessary and useful for the aesthetic discourse, because it establishes strong artistic positions. And the label gives insight into the need for a yet-to-be-created reality of equal access and representation of different narratives. It makes possible the placement of the work of artists of colour within the conception that is called European theatre, where, until now, artists of colour were hardly visible in the ‘universal narrative of capital – history’ (Chakrabarty 2008: 254).



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While post-migrant theatre is a phenomenon that emerged within the system of European theatre, the artists are confronted with the same hegemonic representation of their art and their body as artists from ‘the East, the Orient, the Third World, or any number of other names used by the West to designate areas that are not the West’ (Amine 2013: 3). The Moroccan theatre scholar Khalid Amine points out that art by nonEuropean artists is either edited out, or otherwise often only mentioned on the borderlines between absence and presence. To position the work of non-European artists as part of the world theatre history, Amine uses ‘double critique’ as a decolonising strategy for rethinking the hegemony of the West and the subordination of ‘not the West’. Double critique is a term inserted by the Moroccan sociologist Abdelkebir Khatibi to denote a third path towards decolonisation by rethinking difference and identity without recourse to essentialist absolutes of West and East. It is an ‘archaeology of silence’ and a resistance of recuperation within a closed system (Amine 2013: 2). In rethinking the history of European theatre, we have to be aware of the colonial past and the perceptions that are still attached to nonwhite bodies. And we have to be aware of the ‘multiple identities, a sedimental layering of cultures past and present, in permanent flux between moments of conviviality and tragic sublimity’ (Amine 2013: 3) of what we call post-migrant theatre, post-migrant aesthetics or even artists of colour. What Chakrabarty called the ‘provincialising of Europe’ (Chakrabarty 2008: 254) is a provincialisation of Eurocentric theatre that can only be achieved by uncovering the complexity of European theatre with its untold and invisible histories and traditions. The ‘moments of significance’ in which art by artists of colour becomes visible can then be the foundation of the rewriting and rethinking of European theatre. Notes 1 The conference was a cooperative effort of the ITI Germany and the GoetheInstitut London, funded by the Zeit Stiftung. 2 http://w w,CmC=6619564.html (accessed 29 September 2014).

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Bibliography Amine, Khalid, ‘Double Critique: Disrupting Monolithic Thrusts’ (2013). Online: (accessed 1 February 2014). Araeen, Rasheed, ‘Cultural Diversity: Creativity and Modernism’, in R. Appignanesi (ed.), Beyond Cultural Diversity: The Case for Creativity, A Third Text Report. London: Third Text Publications, 2010, pp. 17–34. Bal, Mieke, ‘Lost in Space, Lost in the Library’, in Sam Durrant and C. M. Lord (eds), Essays in Migratory Aesthetics, Cultural Practices Between Migration and Art-making. New York: Rodopi, 2007, pp. 23–35. Benjamin, Walter, ‘Über den Begriff der Geschichte: VIII. geschichtshistorische These’, in Erzählen. Schriften zur Theorie der Narration und zur literarischen Prosa. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 2007, pp. 129–42. Bhabha, Homi, The Location of Culture. New York: Taylor and Francis, 2004. Bloomfield, Judy, Crossing the Rainbow, National Differences and International Convergences in Multicultural Performing Arts in Europe. Brussels: IETM, 2003. Brauneck, Manfred, Ausländertheater in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland und in West-Berlin. Arbeitsbericht zum Forschungsprojekt Populäre Theaterkultur. Hamburg: Pressestelle der Universität Hamburg, 1983. Brett, Guy, Exploding Galaxies: The Art of David Medalla. London: Small Pr Distribution, 1995. Chakrabarty, Dipesh, Provincializing Europe, Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008. ‘Dialoge I: Migration dichten und deuten. Ein Gespräch zwischen Shermin Langhoff, Tunçay Kulaoğlu und Barbara Kastner’, in A. Pelka, Artur and S. Tigges (eds), Das Drama nach dem Drama, Verwandlungen dramatischer Formen in Deutschland seit 1945. Bielefeld: Transkript Verlag, 2011, pp. 399–408. Fischer-Lichte, Erika, Das eigene und das fremde Theater. Tübingen: Francke, 1999. Göktürk, Deniz, Transit Deutschland, Debatten zu Nation und Migration. München: Konstanz University Press, 2011. Ha, Kien Nghi, Hype um Hybridität. Bielefeld: Transkript Verlag, 2005. Haakh, Nora Marianne, Islamisierte Körper auf der Bühne. Identitätspolitische Positionierung zur deutschen Islam-Debatte in Arbeiten des postmigrantischen Theaters Ballhaus Naunynstraße Berlin. Berlin: Freie Universität zu Berlin, 2011. Hall, Stuart, ‘Cultural Identity and Diaspora’ (1989). First published in Framework 36. Online: HallCulturalIdentityandDiaspora.pdf (accessed 1 February 2014).



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Harding, Luke, ‘Swedish Minister denies Claims of Racism over Black Woman Cake Stunt’ (2012). Online: apr/17/sweden-europe-news (accessed 1 February 2014). Lornsen, Karin, Transgressive Topographien in der türkisch-deutschen PostMigranten-Literatur (2007). Online dissertation: handle/2429/420?show=full (accessed 1 February 2014). Naidoo, Roshi, ‘Diversity after Diversity’, in R. Appignanesi (ed.), Beyond Cultural Diversity: The Case for Creativity, A Third Text Report. London: Third Text Publications, 2010, pp. 71–80. Sappelt, Sven, ‘Theater der Migrant/innen’, in C. Carmine (ed.), Interkulturelle Literatur in Deutschland. Stuttgart: Metzler Verlag, 2000, pp. 275–92. Schlossparktheater Berlin (2012). Online: http://beatsandpicturesandlifeandstuff. (accessed 1 February 2014). Sharifi, Azadeh, Theater für Alle? Partizipation von Postmigranten am Beispiel der Bühnen der Stadt Köln. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang Verlag, 2011. Verma, Jatinder, ‘Asian Arts in the 21st Century’ (2003). Keynote Address by Jatinder Verma, DNAsia Conference, Watermans Arts, London. Online: http:// (accessed 1 February 2014). Wahl, Christine, ‘Theaterpionierin Langhoff – “Ich habe mich selbst gelabelt”’ (2013). Online: (accessed 1 February 2014).

14 Ghosts of Place Displacement and Identity in the Work of Ori Gersht Alexandra Stara

Ori Gersht is a contemporary artist who works with photography and film across a variety of subjects that share common themes. Gersht writes that his work: investigates the themes of history’s violence, the poignancy of time’s indifference to what passes, and the cyclical relation between past, present, and future … the work explores the visual dialectics of what was but no longer is, of what presents itself to the eyes as arrested and frozen or ever returning presence, but which is finally an eternal absence. (Gersht 2009)

Gersht’s work eschews explicit agendas, but its preoccupation with traumatic moments of twentieth-century Europe, including some of the most violent uprootings and enforced journeys in history, can be read as a poetic meditation on migration. This chapter proposes to do so, in order to investigate ways of engaging with migration as a multifaceted phenomenon, both factual and metaphoric. In Gersht’s work, references to the reality of migration and persecution during World War II, the foundation of the state of Israel and other such major historic events are accompanied by the evocation of a vaguer yet equally persistent sense of displacement, alienation and trauma, which transcends historicity and can be read as a meditation on the human condition as a whole. Such metaphoricity is not intended to undermine the specificity of those events and their concrete reality as felt by millions. The abstraction in Gersht’s work is not a diminution but an enhancement, a kind of explosion of the particular occurrence,


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inevitably limited and perishable, into a common, shared and thus renewable and enduring re-enactment. Gersht’s strategy is to address these themes obliquely, mostly without depicting human action, but focusing instead on the landscapes where it took place, tracing the emotional residues it has left behind. His work seeks loss as a presence and wrestles with the paradoxical quest for identity at the sites of its uprooting. In this quest, both memory and imagination are at work. Scholars as diverse as Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Paul Ricœur, Reinhart Koselleck and Marc Augé have discussed memory as a creative process, as much about the past as it is about the present, the situation within which the recollection happens. It is a dialogue between what has actually taken place and what is in place now – or, more precisely, what is actually in place here and now, and what we think has happened. Collective memory is even more deeply woven with the imaginary, as it is less about actual events or conditions and more about a reflective extrapolation from them, a projection. Gersht invests heavily in this dialectic: he approaches the object of memory – the past and its traumas of violence and displacement – from an oblique angle and shrouded in ambiguity, suggesting the impossibility of a total recall, but offering instead a tentative piecing together, a re-membering, closer to the metaphoric function of a ritual re-enactment. The alterity of the past and the paradoxes involved in both knowing and representing it have been the subject of much theorising in recent decades, frequently collapsing into a relativism of history and a ‘supposed assimilation of history to fiction’ (Robinson 2011: 3). This is not, however, what Gersht’s work proposes. What we are offered is not an abandonment of all claim to truth, but a pursuit thereof that resists its own fulfilment and remains in perpetual deferral (Millar 2005: 14). This dialectic process safeguards against both reification and relativisation, revealing its meaning consistently yet always as if for the first time. Philosopher Paul Ricœur uses the notion of ‘trace’ in order to capture the ambiguity and obliqueness that are essential for understanding something predominantly absent, something that has passed, yet also formative of the present and therefore still somehow here. Ricœur writes that the only way to engage with history in the modern world is through remainders, or traces. Outside traditional worldviews conceiving of time as the eternal return of the present, and operating ‘historically’, under the prevailing prospect of the future, the trace is the medium through which the reality of the past can be rendered. Ricœur proposes the trace as an analogue, as the dialectic between same and different, between re-enactment and distance (Ricœur 1984: 36). It is only in this ‘between’ that something

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‘past’ can make sense in the present – that is, in a perpetual no-man’s land, remaining displaced but also identifiable. Gersht’s images have a dream-like quality, which is haunting and engaging even as it distances the reality of the subject. The device of distancing is a crucial hinge for a body of work that eschews rhetoric to invest in the power of poetry to carry the weight of meaning and affect. The artist says that he always finds himself ‘drifting towards the poetic’ (Stout 2002: 141). This could be seen as dangerous, potentially trivialising the tragedies he addresses through his subject matter. However, this overt aestheticising is arguably not a superficialising, but recourse to metaphor, the essence of art’s ability to communicate. The magnitude of the tragedies referenced in Gersht’s work is beyond literal presentation; it can only be alluded to. The beauty of the images draws us in and demands that we decipher its truths in an active process of disclosure; while, at the same time, because of what is shown, or, rather, not shown, the images keep us at arm’s length and prevent the completion or closure of the process. Ori Gersht was born in Israel in 1967 and lived there for a couple of decades before moving to London, where he studied photography and now lives and works permanently. The history of his and his wife’s family, Jews originating from Poland and what is now the Ukraine, is woven through with the serial violence and ethnic conflict of World War II, the Holocaust and the fraught existence of the state of Israel, which continues to this day. A significant part of Gersht’s work has emerged following journeys to the places of his family’s plight. Devoid of human presence, the protagonist of these images is often the landscape, shot in ways that are simultaneously evocative and abstracting. The specificity of place is lost, but a sense of drama pervades. To capture these images Gersht pushes the capacity of the camera to its limits, through such devices as overexposure and movement. These gestures intensify the impact of the images and the affect they produce, but also allude to the limits of representation, another recurrent theme in the artist’s work. The series White Noise (1999–2000) was made on a train journey through Poland, from Krakow to Auschwitz and Belzec. The photographs were taken from the window of a moving train through relatively long exposures, resulting in blurred images resembling broad brushstrokes of colour. The view a traveller might have seen from the windows during the artist’s journey is not what the camera has captured, as the images are heavily distorted. This denial resonates with the knowledge that the multitudes displaced through a similar journey more than half a century ago did not have windows – they were oblivious of their fate and of the passing countryside. These scenes they never saw, we also barely see. The



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14.1. Ori Gersht, When Tom Comes, from Liquidation, 2005.

marks in the photographs seem like traces of erasure, like an incomplete process of erasure, the blurring of form to the point of unrecognisability. But traces do remain, and this is the hinge of the work and its proposition in terms of historical memory and how we might engage with it. The series Liquidation (2005) is the result of another journey, to the towns of Kolomiya and Kosov in the Ukraine, from where Gersht’s wife’s family originated. The accounts of Nazi persecution and forced migration by surviving family members inspired this work, which, like White Noise, is also shot from a train (Fig. 14.1). However, in this series, the blurred ‘moving’ landscapes are interspersed with images taken in the towns themselves, setting up a dramatic juxtaposition through their remarkable stillness and carefully balanced composition. If the frantic abstraction of the train shots refers to the violence of persecution and displacement, these calm, picturesque scenes in near-monochrome, as if from the early days of photography, could refer to what was left behind and lost, the place itself as origin and identity. It would be tempting to identify a lingering nostalgia in these images, but it would also be misguided. What we see is far from idealised and remains ambiguous. Fallen Rocks, for example, for all its sunlit

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calmness, shows brick walls in a state of ruination under that pristine snow. As with much of the artist’s later work, the series’ technique of juxtaposition becomes more complex and sophisticated, with contrasting and seemingly unrelated images composing a whole, which intensifies the communicative potential and affect of the work. Hide and Seek (2008–9) is a series shot in the marshes and forests in central Europe that served as hiding places during the Nazi era. These are non-places where the persecuted were only temporarily located, a brief stopping point on the trajectory of displacement, though for many permanent non-places, as they did not survive to move on. Ignored or forgotten by official histories and documentation, these fluidly bounded places are covered in a thick mist, as if behind a veil. ‘The places in the Hide and Seek photographs occupy a “no man’s land” between official histories and the vernacular of collective memory’ (Miner 2012: 49). Once again in Gersht’s work, our capacity to recollect is shown to be partial and fraught, our memory foggy. This device becomes exceptionally poignant in the images entitled Drapes where the view is seen behind an actual veil, a flowery net curtain, of the kind one would expect to find in someone’s home (Fig. 14.2). This juxtaposition of the homely net curtain and the uninhabited landscape of swamps makes reference to the unhomeliness of the welcome the refugees fleeing from persecution would have found in these desolate places. The dissonance at the root of the unhomely/ uncanny, a notion of profound relevance to migration studies, is usefully elaborated in the idea of the ghost, which references directly the temporal dimension of this dissonance. Professor of literature and philosophy Miguel Tamen writes that the ghost is an apparition from the past, which has an effect on the present. Although often violent and frightening, it is nevertheless a fleeting and elliptical effect, because the ghost is never fully there (Tamen 1998: 297). It is an absence suddenly made present, to destabilise the present, to which it remains fundamentally alien and indifferent, if not inimical. The ghost, for Tamen, is a revenant, which, from the French revenir, alludes paradoxically to a coming ‘back’ into the present from the past. Such an apparition, or vision, is therefore a re-vision, a shift from the original, a return that is never quite the same. This unease, this state of flux and unsettledness specifically related to a dissonance between past and present, a disjunction in the course of history, manifesting itself as a haunting, is another theme of broader relevance to Gersht’s work. The artist’s series Ghost (2004) refers to this explicitly, through the overexposed images of olive trees in the region of Galilee, in northern Israel, with a large Arab population. The forced



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14.2. Ori Gerscht, Drapes 3, from Hide and Seek, 2008–9.

migration of whole swathes of people who planted and tended these trees is referenced through the ghost-like depiction of these remainders, which are also, somewhat mockingly, symbols of peace and of the bond between the people and the land. Through history’s vicissitudes this bond is repeatedly broken and forged anew, so, although the olive trees remain, the place is ambiguous and shifting. The shimmering traces of these trees in Gersht’s images, with their evanescent outlines, re-enact the palimpsestic erasure and reinscription of histories and identities in the region. Beyond this conscious reference to ghosts, the concept of the revenant also finds its way into much of Gersht’s later work. The series Evaders (2009), shot along the Lister Route in the French Pyrenees, a route with a long history of use by both smugglers and refugees of persecutions across the centuries, engages with philosopher Walter Benjamin’s final journey. Benjamin, fleeing Nazi occupied France in September 1940, walked the gruelling and dangerous path, only to commit suicide in a hotel room at the Catalan end of the route, having been refused entry to Spain by the border guards. Evaders consists of stills and a film, the latter being a dual projection showing the close-up of a man walking in darkness on one

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14.3. Ori Gerscht, still from Evaders, 2009.

screen, and his unhomely surroundings, on the other, sometimes with him as a much smaller, unrecognisable figure. This is not a faithful re-enactment of Benjamin’s fateful journey – the actor playing Benjamin is much older than the latter really was; the scenes from the route are not in any order; and the journey has no beginning or end. Through its duration but lack of precise narrative, Evaders conjures up the idea of flight and displacement at its most elemental. The man is poorly-prepared for this journey in the freezing, craggy mountains, clad in a flimsy coat and city shoes holding a satchel, sometimes clutching it close to his chest. In some scenes we see papers fluttering in the wind, perhaps escaped from that satchel. The man is tenacious and holds on – to his identity, to his purpose – but the elements are unforgiving and blow him, and it, apart. The scenes showing the man naked in a hotel room, echoing Benjamin’s death in just such a place, appear disorientingly early on in the film (Fig. 14.3). This reversal is in keeping with Gerhst’s rejection of documentary accuracy and linear narrative, here perhaps speaking of the futility of the journey, offering the unhappy ending of Benjamin’s journey at the beginning of the film. It is also possible, however, to read this temporal disruption as part of the drive to detach the work from the particular event and its specific sequence, and align it with broader themes of enduring relevance.



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Evaders marks a departure for Gersht in that it focuses on a person for the first time. However, the role of the landscape remains crucial. As with all his work, the historic and geographic specificity, which seems important to the work on first encounter, quickly dissolves into something else, something broader and vaguer, more universal and less graspable. Gersht knowingly operates in the tradition of Romantic landscapes. The paintings of Caspar David Friedrich are the most obvious and frequently cited reference, and one which becomes particularly poignant in the case of Evaders, with the Jew trapped in a Germanic landscape. But Gersht’s work also brings to mind Friedrich’s English contemporary John Martin, and his highly dramatic visions of biblical stories set in landscapes of nightmarish intensity. Martin’s archetypal themes of human folly and divine retribution staged in terrifyingly sublime and luridly coloured nature seems to inform some of the key moments of Evaders. Beyond its aesthetic debt, however, equally important in Gersht’s work is the evocation of the existential philosophy accompanying the Romantic tradition of art – and particularly its German manifestation, such as in the works of Friedrich Schlegel – placing emphasis on incompletion and ambiguity, and the perpetual struggle of man in the face of nature’s and history’s unfathomability. The philosophical poem Stanzas from the Grande Chartreuse of another Romantic Englishman, Matthew Arnold, offers an intriguing parallel to Evaders, with its description of an apparently idyllic mountain journey in the Alps, which nevertheless conceals a futile quest for faith and redemption at the onset of modernity. In this vein, Jeremy Millar writes that Gersht’s work engages with an Absolute that resists its own fulfilment (Millar 2005: 14). Gersht himself has repeatedly stated that he is interested in representing metaphysical space rather than just geographical (Stout 2002: 138). The easily-overlooked presence of the satchel, barely visible against a rock at the lower centre of the still Far Off Mountains and Rivers, completely out of place and incongruous once perceived, echoes the abject loneliness of man and, perhaps in the end, of all men, in this place of sublime beauty yet utter indifference to humanity (Fig. 14.4). In his film entitled Will You Dance For Me (2011), Gersht revisits the format of Evaders. The film opens with a slow, panning shot across an icy landscape, which fills both screens. Eventually, the close-up of the face of a solitary figure in a dark space appears on the left screen, while views of the landscape continue on the right (Fig. 14.5). The figure is Yehudit Arnon, a Czech-born dancer who later moved to Israel and

Ghosts of Place

14.4. Ori Gerscht, Far Off Mountains and Rivers, Evaders, 2009.

became director of a celebrated dance company there. Arnon was 19 when the guards at Auschwitz, where she was interred, demanded that she dance for them. When she refused, they left her standing barefoot in the snow as punishment. She promised to herself that if she survived her ordeal she was going to dedicate herself to dancing. Arnon sits in a rocking chair and throughout the film we see her moving in and out of the darkness that threatens to engulf her, but never quite does. She is extraordinarily expressive without speaking, through a kind of dance that she performs with her head and arms alone, as she remains seated and rocking in and out of view. She tells her story without words, in her way, recollecting the fragments and offering them through the most faithful medium she possesses – her body – despite its weakness from old age. Gersht resists the allure of a mere documentary, and offers us this re-enactment through further abstraction, which, arguably, makes it even more powerful, resonating at a deeper, more primal level than fact. Al Miner writes about this: ‘True to the nature of memories and dreams, Gersht bases his narrative structure not on a linear progression but on the weighting, mirroring and recurrence of elements’ (Miner 2012: 30). The flat, icy images that continue to pan slowly on the right introduce to the work the idea of nature, once again as something on a completely different scale to the fragile-looking figure on the left. These



The Culture of Migration

14.5. (above and opposite) Ori Gerscht, still from Will You Dance For Me, 2011.

landscapes obviously refer to Arnon’s ordeal in the snow, but also to the alien scale of these spaces, spatially and temporally. In this work, the landscapes were actually filmed in Kiev, not Auschwitz. Are these places we are shown here significant in their specificity or in their metaphysical allusion? Are they ‘places’ at all? Documentary accuracy is irrelevant at this level, in the same way that an actor ‘playing’ Benjamin does not diminish the significance of the work. It is clear that Gersht, as many artists, resists the idea of ‘documentation’ as, largely, an impossibility – everything that comes after the event is, inevitably, artifice, and all memory is also imagination. Neither the Lister Route journey nor Arnon’s recollections are the same event – they are re-enactments. But this is not a challenge to the authenticity of the events, simply a recognition that its communication resides beyond matters of formal accuracy. Just as the reality of the past is only accessible through what Ricœur calls the analogue, the affective presence of these events is now only possible through metaphor. This touches on the difficult role of the work to preserve and communicate something intensely personal yet collectively relevant, beyond the lifespan of any one person. Arnon is still alive, but for how much longer? The temporality of the work is not that of a person’s life, let alone a therapeutic moment, any more than it is of a traumatic instance. Its responsibility is duration – that is, a distance that will allow it to be meaningful elsewhere and for others. As such, the role of the work is also, technically speaking, migratory, or ghost-like, in Tamen’s sense of the ghost as revenant, as a return and re-vision that remains partial and incomplete. The place where

Ghosts of Place

re-membering might become possible, where the migrant’s uprooted, fragmented identity might be pieced back together, does not exist. Or, rather, it is not a physical place any more than it could be a substitute for the loss of origins – and where, what are they, after all? Using Casey’s analysis of historical notions of place, it could be argued that topos, the more specially defined, classical Greek understanding of place, with clear boundaries, is not the kind of place we encounter in Gersht’s work. It is the earlier Greek notion of chora that is at work here – a more open and ambiguous understanding of place, as a latent possibility rather than a fully materialised, definite location (Casey 1998: 41–3). Ultimately, what Gersht is suggesting is ‘place’ as something less physical, less of nature and more of culture, of mankind and its metaphysics. The horizons of nature are dominant, but also indefinite, interchangeable and indifferent. Nature as the origin of mankind and the root of place may be linked with the emergence of identity, but such origins are unreliable and fragile, subsumed in the ocean of history and its vicissitudes, repeatedly erased and written over. The flux, or fluidity, underlying this reading of place and identity may have a key role to play in finding a common thread in the multifarious and often disparate occurrences of migration in later modern history. Although not all migrations arise violently, there is a necessary force at their core – that which drives one away from or towards somewhere else – and which becomes encased in the migratory act, defining the identity of the migrant. Rather than thinking of this force as an uprooting, as was suggested earlier, we could conceive of it as a liquefaction, whereby one is dissolved and poured away from the ‘own’ into the ‘other’, having traversed yet more otherness still. This image



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is borrowed from Zygmunt Baumann, who uses the liquid as a cultural metaphor extensively, suggesting that fluidity is a more appropriate basis for describing many central and previously ‘solid’ aspects of our late modern condition, such as public space, love and even modernity itself. ‘Fluids travel easily,’ writes Bauman, ‘unlike solids they are not easily stopped – they pass around some obstacles, dissolve some others and bore or soak their way through others still’ (Bauman 2000: 2). What this implies is that everything changes in the process of migration, not just the migrant. This results in an ongoing state of hybridity between the same and the different, tasking both memory and imagination, and confirming the essential role of art in understanding these processes. Furthermore, the concept of fluidity, alongside the concepts of the revenant and the trace discussed earlier, allow for a certain defence against even the most violent forces at the root of migration, without the risk of diminishing or relativising them. Gersht cites mankind’s helplessness in the face of history as one of his overarching subjects, but it would be misleading to read his work as a singular oeuvre of fatalistic mourning. Gersht’s migrants, shown or implied, have experienced the cruel and often fatal indifference of both historical and natural forces, but the work is not there to treat them as victims in some dubious act of memorialisation. The finality of individual predicaments liquefies and flows into a perpetual motion of collective re-enactment and remembrance, which, like Ancient Greek tragedy, has all the poignancy of the specific and the robustness of the universal. Millar suggests that Gersht’s work does not allow absolution but rather compels us to an ongoing moral vigilance (Millar 2005: 17). One could add that it also does not allow despair, another form of finality and abdication of responsibility. The transformation from mere spectator to witness is an empowerment for us, too, the bystanders and latecomers, who are given the opportunity to partake of something increasingly distant yet perpetually relevant and fundamental to our own humanity. Bibliography Benjamin, Walter, ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’, in Illuminations. Translated by Harry Zohn. London: Pimlico, 1999. Bauman, Zygmunt, Liquid Modernity. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2000. Casey, Edward, The Fate of Place. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1998.

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Gersht, Ori, unpublished artist’s statement from the exhibition Strange Places: Urban Landscape Photography, Stanley Picker Gallery, London, 30 September–21 November 2009. Koselleck, Reinhart, Futures Past: On the Semantics of Historical Time. Translated by Keith Tribe. New York: Columbia University Press, 2004. Millar, Jeremy, ‘Speak, you Also’, in S. Bode and J. Millar (eds), The Clearing: Ori Gersht. London: Film and Video Umbrella, 2005, pp. 9–19. Miner, Al, ‘Ori Gersht: History Repeating’, Ori Gersht: History Repeating. Farnham and Burlington, VT: Lund Humphries, 2012, pp. 23–52. Papastergiadis, Nikos, The Turbulence of Migration: Globalization, Deterritorialization and Hybridity. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2000. Ricœur, Paul, The Reality of the Historical Past. The Aquinas Lecture, 1984. Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 1984. Robinson, Alan, Narrating the Past: Historiography, Memory and the Contemporary Novel. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. Stout, Katherine, interview with Ori Gersht, in Afterglow: Ori Gersht, exhibition catalogue, Tel Aviv Museum of Art, 2002, pp. 137–43. Tamen, Miguel, ‘Phenomenology of the Ghost: Revision in Literary History’, New Literary History 29 (1998): 295–304.


15 Staging Memories Chu YinHua

Photographing The (In)visibility of the Imagined City Chu YinHua





This practice-based research arises from my experience of travelling between different cities, which induces a state wherein perceptions of the physical environment are overlaid with memories. In 2003 I first left my home town and moved to London as an international student. Living in a city that was totally alien and new to me, confronting unfamiliarity and various cultural shocks in my everyday life, I found that many things began to awaken memories of past experiences of living in Taipei. Such associations provided me with a sense of familiarity and security in this foreign city. The memories were so absorbing that I ceased to read the city of London – I saw Taipei again. I realised that an individual’s relationship with cities is intangible and cannot be defined in a simple way. As a photographic practitioner, I use the concept of mise-en-scène as a method of perceiving and experiencing the everyday physical environment of the city photographically. The physical space that reflects actual light into one’s eyes is transformed, through and across the spaces one remembers, imagines or fantasises, into what I call the ‘imagined city’.

Paralleling Memories,

Fuji Polariods, 5.5 x 8.5 cm, 336 images, 2009

In this project, photography is charged with the task of time travel between cities. I observe how my psychical images might interact with the physical environment through photographic activity. I used nine sets of miniature figurines as characters, including police officers, pedestrians, swimmers, cyclists, painters, photographers, sitters, gardeners and football players. Everyday, at four-hourly intervals (10:00, 14:00, 18:00 and 22:00), I picked up and photographed one figurine based on what I was doing at that time. The project continued for 12 weeks while travelling from city to city: - Tokyo is where the project starts when I was invited by the Taipei Artist Village to visit Tokyo Wonder Site as a visiting artist. Because of my personal and cultural background, I can read the ‘Kanji’ (Chinese character) in Japanese, and I understand the East-Asian culture. I am the outsider-insider in Tokyo. - Taipei is my hometown. I totally understand both verbal and gestural languages. I am accustomed to everything and I consider myself an insider in the city. - Paris is a foreign city for me. I am a complete outsider in Paris. - As Singapore shares the Chinese culture, I always feel the sense of strangely-familiar in the city. - London. As an international student, I feel foreign sometimes because of cultural differences. I posit myself as an insider-outsider in London. The public space of cities and clock time provided the structure. The miniature figurines constituted a surrogate persona representing my response to everyday encounters. The self-imposed requirement that I photograph the figurines at specific times dissolved the geographical boundaries between cities, while at the same time endowing me with the status of observer. In order to find appropriate backgrounds to mise-en-scène the figurines, I paid more attention to the details of my physical surroundings, especially when the time to take the photograph approached. There were two parallel worlds: one the world of everyday routine, the other the miniature world. Once every four hours, the camera became the apparatus with which I detached myself from my physical environment and projected my mind into the miniature world.

Tokyo “artist” insideroutsider

Taipei “home” insider

Paris “tourist” outsider

Singapore “designer” insideroutsider

London “PhD student” outsiderinsider

Tracing Memories,

Mixed Media (5 sets), 150x150cm, 2010

Rules of the Game: 1. Draw five routes on a map of London reflecting my experience of place. For example: Tate Modern is my landmark of London; Columbia Road (Broadway Market) represents my understanding of the structure of district. 2. Walk the predefined routes. Take snapshots of the scenes that I encounter. 3. Superimpose the routes drawn on the map of London onto a map of Taipei. 4. Use photographs taken in London to direct my movements in Taipei, generating chance encounters. The procedure of walking and taking snapshots is designed to trigger free associations between the two cities.

From my experience of travelling between cities, I have found that memories serve as guiding templates, translating and interpreting what is ‘foreign’ in the current physical environment. For example: Sloane Square in London = Omotesando in Tokyo = XinYi District in Taipei Brick Lane in London = Shimokitazawa in Tokyo = XiMeng Ding in Taipei Hyde Park in London = Kijijoji in Tokyo = DaAn Forest Park in Taipei However foreign we are to a city, we still know how to ‘use’ it, if we have experienced other cities. In The Image of the City (MIT Press, 1960), Kevin Lynch suggests that to be completely lost in the modern city is a rare experience for most people, because we are ‘supported by the presence of others and by specific way-finding devices: maps, street numbers, route signs, bus placards’ (p. 5). Lynch has identified the elements that make a city legible and that form its inhabitants’ mental maps: landmark, district, path, edge and node. This project examines the relationship between the public image of cities and my private images. I used Lynch’s schema to classify places in London and Taipei, devising certain rules and instructions that I imposed upon myself.

Travelling Home,

Mixed Media (Slide Viewers), Size Varies, 2010

Roman Road, Bethnal Green, London, E2 0LT (images captured with a camera phone)

Looking at my photographic images as souvenirs that embody the imagined city, I realise that the play of desire in the photographs is a fantasy about home. Home is a private and intimate space that provides one with a sense of security. Personal belongings in a home demonstrate the occupier’s identity. Home is an image of shelter that envelops, wraps and protects the inhabitant, and it is also the base from which one sets out to experience the city. This recognition informs my photographic practices in this project, in which I have investigated how city life shapes my memories of home, how the interior and the exterior interact with each other to construct the imagined city, and how the spaces of home bear the traces of memories. I use mise-en-scène to stage a series of photographs that explore the articulation of desire and narrative embodied in the souvenir. First, I searched for the addresses at which I had lived on Google Street View, using the interactive software to find the image that corresponded to my memories of the specific locations. Second, I placed the constructed miniature interior spaces in front of a laptop screen, and photographed the set with the camera phone. I specifically chose doll-house elements to create an iconic stereotype of an Anglo-American idea of a cosy home, as a projection of my fantasised ‘ideal’ privacy. The process of constructing the set gave me a chance to scrutinise my memories, and the use of the camera phone gave me more freedom to explore my relation to the miniature spaces. Third, the same elements (furniture, personal belongings…) were staged and arranged differently in each image. This process worked as a filter to purify my personal perception of the home(s). Finally, I printed the photographic images on slides, and mounted them on slideviewers, calling to mind the idea of the souvenir. The purpose of constructing the miniature settings was to deliberately invoke the flash of memory, and to disturb the fixity of time and space. By constructing and photographing the miniature settings, I have finally packed and moved the home(s) with me.

Rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine, Paris, 75011 (images captured with a phone camera)

Ang Mo Kio, Ave 9, Singapore, 560620 (images captured with a phone camera)

16 My Home Away From Home Artistic Reflections on Immigration to Germany Burcu Dogramaci

In the mid-1950s the Federal Republic of Germany began concluding labour recruitment agreements with countries such as Italy, Greece and Turkey in order to supply the German labour market with workers. This employment of foreign citizens was considered a temporary phenomenon, since the goal of these workers was to obtain a temporary work permit, in which their foreseeable return to their home country was included (cf. Yano 2007: 1–7).1 Even though more and more guest labourers remained in Germany and sent for their families, the Federal Republic, for decades, explicitly refused to refer to itself as a country of immigration. This contradicted the reality of the major cities, which, at least since the early 1970s, had been shaped by the diversity and plurality of cultures, nationalities, languages and religions. It was not until 1998 that the government reacted; the incumbent red-green administration finally recognised Germany as a country of immigration for the first time. The influence migration has had on German culture can be seen not only in the growing number of visual artists of non-German decent (cf. Dogramaci 2011), but more specifically in the topics, motifs, approaches and practices of artistic creation as well. Until now, hardly any attention has been paid to the fact that, since the 1970s, immigration has become a topic in contemporary German art that reacts to the realities of large cities. It can thus be viewed as a direct reaction to the large waves of immigration. In this respect, what stands out is that, in their treatment of migration, many artists deal particularly with (metropolitan) locations and (interior) spaces. At the same time, the artists have approached the terms ‘homeland’ and ‘home’ from two perspectives: on the one hand, as a microcosm of immigrants in Germany and, on the other hand, as


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a space of memory or projection for the immigrants. This chapter will focus on this double semantic meaning by looking at a selection of artistic projects dealing with the living spaces of immigrants in Germany. Places of Transit In dealing with migration, many artists focus particularly on metropolitan areas – areas where the results of migration are most apparent. By implication, it can be concluded that it is precisely migration that constitutes large cities. As the emigration from the country to the city was the central requirement for the development of the big cities of the nineteenth century, it was the labour migration in the second half of the twentieth century that changed the face of, in particular, the metropolises. In his writings, the sociologist Erol Yildiz emphasises the fact that migration is a central element of the development of cities – ‘[the] city is migration’ (Yildiz 2009: 20). He comes to the conclusion that metropolitan structures are shaped by a high degree of heterogeneity and diversity: ‘In this respect, metropolitan societies are not shaped by homogeneous living conditions, but by radical contrast and incompatibility; they are a form of society in which various differences have their place, and that are possible in various localizations’ (Yildiz 2004: 23). These localisations of migrants imprint themselves on city structures, overlap existing traces and meanings and become ‘multilayered places’ that must be decrypted like a palimpsest (Assmann 2009: 151–7). Social appropriations of space can take place through architectural as well as urban models that are stacked on top of one another in ‘layers of time’ (Koselleck 2000) and that point to a plurality of history and stories. These ideas are exemplified in Czesław Miłosz’s autobiographical remarks on cities such as Königsberg, Wrocław and Vilnius, which have been shaped by changing political systems, nationalities, languages and cultures (Miłosz 2001). The migration researcher Rainer Ohliger cites the example of Berlin’s Maybachufer market, which has transformed from a Brandenburgian farmers’ market into a ‘Turkish market’, and, ultimately, into a culturally diverse space and organic market: ‘the meanings of places change; these meanings are determined, not least of all, by the perspective of the question posed to this place as well as by the respective historical narration that is assigned to a location because it is considered meaningful or dominant’ (Ohliger 2011: 15). Migration can thus inscribe itself in the texture of metropolises through the appropriation and reinterpretation of city squares, neighbourhoods and quarters. These changes can

My Home Away From Home

already make immigration apparent even if, due to political reasons, the destination, in this case the Federal Republic of Germany, is debating whether or not to be a country of immigration. Already in the first years of labour migration to Germany, women photographers brought into focus the changes that manifested themselves in the cityscapes as a result of migration. In her photographs taken between the late 1960s and 1980s, which were commissioned by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the photojournalist Barbara Klemm 2 showed West German society in its most diverse forms – this included the arrival and settlement areas of immigrants and the altered topographies of the big cities that came along with this: areas surrounding central train stations, which were becoming more and more shaped by immigrants, and parks, in which immigrant families would gather on weekends. The photograph of the woman who seems to effortlessly balance the tied up suitcases on her head was taken in 1971 at Frankfurt’s central train station and embodies all of those collective images that migration and endless travel bring to mind (pictured in Klemm 1999: 180). The suitcase, like the passport, is an object that is often associated with immigration and something one comes across in exhibits at migration or emigration museums.3 It is, however, also a common motif or symbol in fictional as well as scholarly treatments of the topic of migration. Over the past several years, train stations, as central points of arrival for immigrants to Germany, have been artistically reflected upon many times. As ‘Nicht-Orte’ (‘non-places’) (Augé 2012) – in other words, spaces or zones of transit in which, due to the short length of stay, it is nearly impossible to form lasting relationships – train stations are particularly suited as places to reflect on delocalisation or the uncertain transition between country of origin and destination country. Beginning in the 1960s, Munich’s Central Train Station, for example, was a central terminal in West Germany for the arriving migrants who were registered there and who would subsequently be directed to their various destinations. In the bunker beneath arrival track 11, the Federal Labor Office established a transfer station (cf. Dunkel and Stramaglia-Faggion 2000: xx). The play Gleis 114 (Track 11), produced by the Munich Kammerspiele (premiered on 5 June 2010) and written and directed by Christine Umpfenbach, was performed at the historic site in Munich’s central train station. The piece played with a documentary approach: audience members were issued suitcases and working papers and experienced the various stages the immigrants went through upon arrival in the bunker under track 11. Several immigrants, as contemporary witnesses, articulated their memories and were accompanied by photographic material or music.



The Culture of Migration

Experiences were re-enacted by the contemporary witnesses and actors, in part, in a grotesquely exaggerated manner. Gleis 11 wove together reliving and re-experiencing, narrative and alienation of memory, audience participation and the incorporation of immigrant actors in a collage with documentary elements. At almost the same time as Gleis 11, the artist Dörthe Bäumer formulated another perspective on Munich Central Station (2009) as a point of arrival and transit. Her starting point was the ethnologist Simone Egger’s research on Munich’s Central Station. For the research and exhibition project Crossing Munich (2009), which sought to develop a different narrative perspective on migration, Bäumer conceived of an installation that reflected the Munich Central Train Station as a place in which history and stories combine. The chequered plastic bags with tags such as ‘Gleis 11’, ‘Bunker’ or ‘Bahnhofsmission’ (train station mission) refer to the mobility and transit of, above all, migrants. Inside these bags are boards with accounts of the train station, descriptions and marginal notes. Karl Schlögel’s adage, ‘Events have a location at which they take place. History has its venues’5 (Schlögel 2011: 9), can be adapted to describe the interaction between migration and metropolis and the specific point of arrival – the central train station. Voices of the City In dealing with big cities, artists who deal with immigration, mobility and cultural diversity bring a space into focus in which the past and memories accumulate as much as visions of the future. The people who live in a city, the architecture and squares that shape cityscapes, but also places where buildings that no longer exist once stood, empty spaces, which are protected or have been sacrificed to development, refer to their own story or history, which in turn stands in a relationship with other stories or histories. These connections, however, are not linear, trapped within a sphere of time, but point backwards and forwards, thus interlinking the past with the present and future. As early as 1903, Georg Simmel, in his ‘Sociology of Space’, pointed out that space is a processual dimension by integrating mobility and migratory processes into his considerations on space. In the process, he analysed the social relationships between individuals and groups in terms of space-defining criteria (Simmel 1903). In this context, Foucault’s reflections on spaces as expressions of a ‘set of relations that delineates sites which are irreducible to one another and absolutely not superimposable on one another’ (Foucault 1967) can also be incorporated. The ‘spatial turn’ in the field of cultural studies of the

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past few decades has increasingly focused on space as a cultural dimension and, as opposed to a linear concept of time, has seen the concept of space as a dimension of simultaneity (Soja 1989; Schlögel 2003; BachmannMedick 2006: 284–348). Furthermore, over the past several years, conceptual and imagined spaces have repeatedly been referred to in the context of searches for identity and self-design in both post-colonial as well as post-migrant discourses: noteworthy in this regard are Stuart Hall’s reflections on cultural identities that are modelled by places and times (past, present and future) (Hall 2008). For the German artist Nevin Aladağ, urban space, in its heterogeneity, is a point of reference and venue for her work – she sees it as a ‘space for the negotiation and representation of different interests, as a space full of traces and poetry and as a space in which subject and community constantly encounter one another’ (Hoffmann 2011: 108f.). Aladağ collects the voices of the city in works such as City Language (Istanbul 2009) or Voice Over (2006). The latter video piece (running time: 14 minutes) begins with a car ride through a city during which a harmonica is held out of the car window. The airstream causes the instrument to sound. In what follows, several young immigrants in Berlin meet up at night and sing Turkish folk songs. Set against these scenes is a drum being struck by falling drops of rain – the voice of metropolises can hardly be limited to one nationality; the city itself becomes the producer of sounds and music, incorporating the residents as well as the various voices and languages. Dirk Snauwaert accurately described Aladağ’s sampling or sound collage practices: ‘In one instance, it is the slow flow of nature that accentuates their background, in another instance, it is hectic movement; but both are signs of a cultural (and social) identity, in which neither appears to be limited to a specific territory nor allows itself to be limited to this. Instead, the mode of their manifestation (music, language) points to their potential to be formed, to be able to be transported through the entire city, not to be limitable to a given geographic territory, to be able to cross city limits’ (Snauwaert 2011: 118) In Hochparterre Altona (2010, pictured in Aladağ 2012: 23), Nevin Aladağ operates like an artistic ethnographer with the methods of a field researcher. The field of operations was Altona, a neighbourhood in the northern German port city of Hamburg. Historically, Altona was a city of workers and, since the mid-twentieth century, has been a favoured place of residence for immigrants, who have created their own infrastructures with restaurants, clothing and grocery stores (Dawletschin-Linder and Dietert 2010: 167). Over the course of major changes in the city’s structure, this neighbourhood has undergone a radical metamorphosis in the past several



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years, which has directly affected its heterogeneous population. Aladağ had conversations with residents of Altona’s main shopping street, Große Bergstraße, and talked about their experiences of the neighbourhood and their desires. Later, recordings of these, often contradictory, statements were collected and, in the form of a performance, were ‘put in the mouth’ of an actress, who lip-synched along with them. In doing so, the diversity of the voices with different idioms and accents was given a single ‘white’ face, and identities were erased. This also obscured who was speaking and whose story was being told. By allowing a confusing discrepancy to form between the actress’s outward appearance and the languages she speaks or her accents, Aladağ hinders hegemonic practices of attribution. In public dialogue, the description of migrants as ‘others’ is effected by means of external characteristics, such as physical appearance, language and behaviour. Julia Kloppenburg talks about a Fremdmachungseffekt (‘foreignizing effect’) (Kloppenburg 2012: 134), when migrants are repeatedly portrayed on television as veiled, passive and voiceless. In Hochparterre Altona, Aladağ prevents undifferentiated stereotyping by editing the different statements together into a speech that is then performed by an actress. In this way, the individual statements are placed side by side, regardless of the protagonists’ ethnic backgrounds. At the same time, the text-collage is transformed into something new through the actress’s physical interpretation. In her study, The Transformative Power of Performance, Erika FischerLichte talks about ‘specific processes of embodiment’, which go along with ‘presence’ and ‘representation’: ‘When an actor portrays a character, they are not replicating what is already given elsewhere, say in a text, but creating something entirely new and unique which can exist in this manner only through their individual corporeality’ (Fischer-Lichte 2008: 148). In this way, Hochparterre not only discusses the heterogeneity of urban bodies, but also asks questions of identity, which is not a clearly decipherable constant. At the same time, all three works are unified by the locus: the ‘Hochparterre’ (raised ground-floor apartment) is situated only slightly above the sidewalk. The windows temporarily become a stage and frame the actress, who pushes the curtain to the side before her performance. Here, in many ways, the city becomes a performatively experienced space, whereby the apartment located behind the window, which remains barred from the audience’s view, is a projection surface. Aladağ also created variations of this work in the contexts of other large cities, such as Hochparterre Vienna (2010) and Hochparterre Berlin (2009). In Hochparterre, the artist exposes the multi-voicedness, heterogeneity and diversity of big cities by giving everyone equal opportunity to speak

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without immediately being assigned a certain role: for example, ‘BioGermans’ or Turkish or Greek migrants. In this way, drawing upon Homi Bhabha’s thoughts on the ‘Third Space’, one can speak of the ‘synchrony of different voices’ (Bhabha 2009: ix). Home and Homeland – Türken in Deutschland by Candida Höfer While Nevin Aladağ’s Hochparterre remains on the doorsteps of the city-dwelling protagonists, over the last decade, artists have confronted themselves again and again with the immigrant microcosm of the ‘home’. Examples include conceptual works by the photographer Candida Höfer from the 1970s and by the artist Mischa Kuball from the 2000s, who both sought out and photographed immigrants in their private and work environments. Höfer photographed Turkish immigrants in Cologne while Kuball looked at immigrants from 100 different countries in the Ruhr area. In 1972, when the photographer Candida Höfer returned to her hometown of Cologne after a two-year absence, she noticed transformations in the city. It had been changed by the immigration of Turkish guest labourers (Ganteführer-Trier 1999: 10). Höfer began a sixyear-long photography project, for which she visited locations inhabited and shaped by Turks, including teahouses and streets around Cologne’s central train station, but also public parking lots. In Candida Höfer’s photographs, the topoi of waiting, wallowing and idleness are intertwined with public spaces: the immigrants photographed – women, men, children and families – sit on park benches or stand in groups on the street. The Orientalisation of public spaces is perhaps expressed most clearly in the picnic pictures from the series Türken in Deutschland (Fig. 16.1): here people rest and recline on blankets or on the grass; they have taken their shoes off and use the park as a space for social and recreational interaction. Here it is not only striking that Höfer’s representation and objective perspective were influenced by art historical models such as Édouard Manet’s Lunch on the Grass (1862–3), but that iconographies of Orientalist painting of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries have also been preserved as a meta-image. In this photographic observation of migrants, the photographer concentrated on behaviours that differ from those of the native inhabitants. Here, divergence becomes an indicator of ‘otherness’, which emerges from the differentiation of ‘the familiar’ and ‘the foreign’. Describing the other ‘in the categories of the self’ (Agai



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16.1. Candida Höfer, from the slide projection Türken in Deutschland, 1979.

2010: 13) inevitably leads to asymmetries between the observer and the observed. This practice is a fundamental figure in Edward Said’s muchdiscussed book Orientalism (Said 1978), which describes the so-called Orient as a Western ideological construct. While Said focuses primarily on a Western literary analysis of the ‘Orient’, pictorial representations reveal themselves to be especially powerful. In this context, the Recueil Ferriol prints based on portraits by Jean-Baptiste Van Mour (Van Mour 1714) are particularly noteworthy. The Flemish Van Mour travelled to Istanbul in 1699 and, at the urging and with the support of the French diplomat Marquis Charles de Ferriol, painted around 100 portraits of members of the Turkish court, which provided information about the way of life, clothing and mannerisms of the Ottomans. Besides Turkish men, Van Mour also painted portraits of noblewomen playing games, making music, at their needlework, and smoking, sitting and laying down on soft pillows. At times when Orientophilia was abundant in courts in Europe, the Recueil Ferriol became an important source for artists such as François Boucher and Francesco Guardi. In particular, the numerous portraits of reclining Turkish women reinforced an erotic and exotic image of the Orient (Kopplin 1987: 166–8). These stereotypes were and are very powerful. It can be assumed that Candida Höfer’s perspectives were influenced by the same pictorial inventions that had already shaped Western conceptions of ‘Orientals’

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for years. This does not mean that the photographer recreated existing pictures. Rather, one can assume that views and perspectives can be informed by perceptions as well as imaginary ideas, which are influenced by pictures, literature, reports and prejudices. According to Michael Pickering, ‘representations consist of words and images which stand in for various social groups and categories. They provide ways of describing and at the same time of regarding and thinking about these groups and categories’ (Pickering 2001: xiii). From Candida Höfer’s perspective as a young photographer, the act of wallowing in the park seemed to be a form of behaviour glaringly different from Western European or genuine German codes and, in this way, stood out to her as peculiar. The fact that these pictorial inventions reinforce stereotypes and Orientalisations is shown by a discussion of Höfer’s series Türken in Deutschland (Turks in Germany), in which these park pictures were projected back onto the behaviour of the immigrants in the 1970s. In his quite one-dimensional analysis of Höfer’s series, Paul Tanner writes: ‘Above all, in the area near the central train station, more and more Turkish families had settled or had opened Turkish shops there. They had taken possession of the aforementioned park by sitting down, so to speak. This is how an extended Turkish family can claim space and take possession of a park by merely showing up, or perhaps one should say, by sitting down’ (Tanner 2008). One also encounters observations of a cultural difference in pictures by the photographer and photojournalist Barbara Klemm: like Höfer, Klemm directs her camera at migrants and shows them in public city parks in Frankfurt in 1984 (pictured in Klemm 1999) and Berlin in 1998, among others. In her photographs, Klemm puts differences in clothing into perspective – the people captured are often wearing headscarves or have their shoes off – as an element of difference in the same way she captured free-time activities and described the groups or extended families as forms of community preferred by immigrants. Consequently in the park photographs by Candida Höfer and Barbara Klemm, the perspective is determined by the photographers’ own experiences, which, however, are influenced by certain notions and ideas. While Klemm, as a photojournalist, works essayistically, Höfer’s photographs taken between 1972 and 1979 are based on a conceptual, serial approach that she would later develop further. Türken in Deutschland had been created even before Höfer was accepted into Bernd Becher’s photography class at the Düsseldorf Academy of Art. She later became known for her largeformat series of deserted, quite rooms and spaces: libraries, museums and zoological gardens. This interest in spatial situations, however, was already apparent in her early work, Türken in Deutschland. Höfer not only



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16.2. Candida Höfer, from the slide projection Türken in Deutschland, 1979.

photographed outdoors, but was also particularly interested in the interior spaces in which immigrant Turks spend their time, live and work. In a serial and typological approach, she captured her subjects’ grocery stores and apartments from a distanced, rather documentary perspective (Fig. 16.2): the decorated rooms, full of Oriental pictures and furnishings, are depicted as a surrounding space for the subjects. For the most part, these subjects pose in these rooms for the photographer and, in this way, are captured as self-reflective individuals. Höfer showed her series Türken in Deutschland for the first time as a slide show in the Konrad Fischer Gallery in Cologne in 1975. This presentation was later extended and, in 1979, was presented for the first time as part of a double-projection called Türken in Deutschland und Türken in der Türkei, a collection of 80 small colour slides, in the exhibition In Deutschland, curated by Klaus Honnef in the Rheinhessisches Landesmuseum in Bonn. The location as well as the style of the presentation are, in many ways, equally striking: along with Höfer’s work, the show In Deutschland – Aspekte gegenwärtiger Dokumentarfotografie (Aspects of Contemporary Documentary Photography), which presented a photographic perspective of the Federal Republic of Germany in the 1970s, approached the topic of immigration as a reality of the Republic and immigrants as members of German society – even if their outward appearance and the way they decorate their apartments tags them as ‘foreigners’. With her double

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slide projection, Türken in Deutschland und Türken in der Türkei, Höfer herself emphasised comparative viewing; the rigid dramaturgies of the compositions place her work in the context of conceptual art – a path she continued along with subsequent series dedicated to libraries or other public spaces. In the mid-1970s, Höfer travelled to Turkey, where she noticed that there was a resemblance between the furnishings and decor of the locals and that of the emigrated Turks (cf. Tanner 2008: 262). In the German butcher shops, the new owners of Turkish descent brought with them their own idea of a butcher shop, ideas about the array of merchandise and the furnishings, which had been shaped by their own experiences. They superimposed elements from their homeland onto what they found in Germany; the German butcher shop thus became the Turkish butcher shop in Germany – a hybrid space, which can be one or the other and maybe even the door to something new. Here, hybridity, in the sense of a no longer essentialistic or dualistic side-by-side or across from one another, is a permeating of various life designs and cultural provenances by all of their contradictions and differences that cannot be undone: ‘Hybrid is everything that is caused by a mixture of traditions or chains of signifiers; that links different discourses and technologies; and that has been created by the techniques of collage, sampling, and assemblage. In these kinds of hybridised cultures, national identity can, at best, be one among many’ (Bronfen and Benjamin 1997: 14). In Candida Höfer’s photographs, one finds spaces shaped by people’s imaginations, expectations and memories, but which also reflect the present state of the wandering people. In these rooms, the past, present and future intertwine, and the cultural character of the country of origin and the experiences in the destination cannot be clearly differentiated. In these interiors designed by migrants, time and space converge. For these and similar configurations, Homi Bhabha developed the term ‘beyond’, ‘where space and time cross to produce complex figures of difference and identity, past and present, inside and outside, inclusion and exclusion’ (Bhabha 1994: 1). While in the butcher shops and grocery stores, public and private spaces merge, in her visits to private homes, Candida Höfer also penetrated into the immigrants’ most intimate cosmos: she photographed them in their living rooms (Fig. 16.3). Her subjects posed in front of cabinets and decorated walls, which not only display the insignia of their Turkish homeland – a portrait of Atatürk, a flag, a wall hanging – but also reveal a supranational, collective 1970s interior, through wallpaper patterns, rubber plants and living room suites.



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16.3. Candida Höfer, from the slide projection Türken in Deutschland, 1979.

Höfer’s photo series clearly shows that migration also connects places in which the intermediaries are the actors. In this context, I find Arjun Appadurai’s term ‘ethnoscapes’ (Appadurai 1998) useful – a term that denotes precisely these transnational spaces, which model cultural identity and reach from the homeland to the selected destination and back. It is thus a matter of complex spatial structures and relationships, the configuration of which changes according to perspective. Of the ethnoscapes and the related coinages ‘technoscapes’ and ‘ideoscapes’, Appadurai writes: ‘These terms with the suffix -scape also indicate that these are not objectively given relations that look the same from every angle of vision but, rather, that they are deeply perspectival constructs, inflected by the historical, linguistic, and political situatedness of different sorts of actors’ (Appadurai 2010: 33). With this, Appadurai points to the ‘unfinishedness’ and ‘multi-layeredness’ that characterise ethnoscapes and that can also be seen in the rooms photographed by Candida Höfer. In their reflections on migration, Arjun Appadurai and the sociologist Stuart Hall (cf. Hall 2008) assume that immigration and emigration do not take place between closed container spaces, but rather between spaces that are open and permeable. They emphasise the flow, the processual nature, the constant change and point to the fact that identities construct themselves through self-perception and projection, that spaces of the present and spaces of memory play a role, like blueprints for the future.

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Global Home – Mischa Kuball’s New Pott Forty years after Candida Höfer was motivated by the still young labour migration to create her series Türken in Deutschland, Mischa Kuball portrayed the Ruhr area, in honour of its distinction as the European Capital of Culture of 2010, as a globalised region: When I think of the Ruhr area, I can clearly see how my pictures of it have changed: out of the puffing smokestacks and the nightly fire at the tapping of the blast furnaces, a new era has long since emerged, an era that also establishes a new home for people from over 180 nations – that is a fact; but how does it feel? How do all of these many people and families live in the new foreign land that has become their home? And how have their living spaces changed? That is what I wanted to investigate in the context of a very personal expedition in the Pott [from Ruhrpott, a colloquial term for the Ruhr area]. (Kuball 2011: 10)

Höfer and Kuball’s work is similar in two ways: their concept as well as their serial structure; furthermore, both encounter their immigrant subjects in private spheres. Beginning with the question of how a region informed by multiculturalism and a coexistence of various ethnicities and nationalities could express itself artistically, Kuball decided on an interview project combined with a photographic piece as well as a video piece. He met to talk with people from 100 different countries of origin. In doing so, he was mainly interested in the participatory aspect; he would bring an object with him that was intended to convert the private rooms of the families and people that Kuball met (Fig. 16.4) into a space with a different connotation. Kuball talks of a ‘stage’, which is dramatised by the lamp and lighting they brought along – similar to the project Private Light/Public Light, which Kuball created for the 24th São Paulo Biennale in 1998. At that time, the artist talked with 72 families (Kuball 2011: 12–13). Etched on the glass globes of the floor lamps Kuball brought to the people he met with in the Ruhr area is the Latin inscription ‘lux venit in mundum et dilexerunt hoines magis tenebras quam lucem’ (‘The light has come into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light’), which conveys ideas of illumination and change. Since Kuball left the choice of the interview’s location to the interviewees, he placed the responsibility for the setting, at least to a certain extent, in the hands of others. Still, the frequently chosen living room was to a certain extent predetermined by cultural traditions as the



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16.4. Mischa Kuball, New Pott, Family Saeed, Irak.

most representative room in a home. The direction of the conversation was also not entirely determined by Kuball, but was equally determined by the interviewer and the interviewee. The project’s intention to chart a globalised nation, however, dictated the selection of interview partners according to the criteria of nationality or ethnicity and also prefigured certain topics of conversation. Due to the fact that both the interviewed subjects as well as the interviewer, Kuball, kept the direction of the project in mind, the conversations inevitably touched upon topics such as escape and arrival, assimilation and resistance, as well as national and cultural idiosyncrasies. In the same way, the interviewer’s presence is always inscribed in the photographs: even though the photographer does not appear in the photographs, the stance of those captured is oriented towards him; the furniture was probably rearranged for this special occasion and the decorations arranged with particular care. Egbert Trogemann, who accompanied Kuball on his interviews, photographed and filmed the events, some in black and white and others in colour. Here as well as in other aspects, one finds references to Candida Höfer’s early work: Höfer also developed black and white prints of her colour slides and exhibited these separately. In doing so, she was able to expand the projection’s approach and exhibit the photographs as prints, which allowed for a more sequential way of seeing. Along with the photographs, 40 hours’ worth of video from the interviews was recorded. Although some of the interviews were later shortened for the

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16.5. Mischa Kuball, New Pott, Family Turmes, Luxemburg.

catalogue, they can be viewed in their original length in an electronic archive on the internet.6 On the one hand, the photographs show the interviewed families, couples or individuals in their living spaces, and on the other hand, they show the rooms devoid of people (Fig. 16.5), which only reveal traces of those who use them. In the empty rooms, the focus can be placed more directly on the furnishings; the photographs act as still lives and are even more removed from the passage of time. In her series Türken in Deutschland, Candida Höfer also captured spaces without their users. In these photos of interiors, an ornamental aspect is created: festoons and spare ribs, counters and scales seem picturesque; salami and sausages hang in a row – spatiality is offset in favour of a two-dimensional effect. Here, the photographer’s focus is predominantly determined by phenomenological questions as to outward appearance in the same way it is determined in her later series by deserted libraries. In Kuball’s series, which is precisely not focused on one particular group of immigrants but instead points to the multitude of cultures as an instigator of a straightforward definition of what is German, interiors and people are mutually explanatory factors. In the living spaces, after years or decades of experience as immigrants, a certain level of hybridisation has long since been formed – in the words of Bhabha, a mimetic assimilation of the culture of the country of immigration, which, to a certain extent, however, is always different: ‘the ambivalence of mimicry (almost the same, but not quite)’ (Bhabha 1994: 86). The foreign land and the homeland no



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longer complement each other in any clearly recognisable way and can no longer be separated from one another, but have grown together. Iain Chambers pointed out that migration inevitably brings with it ‘a different feeling about “home”, about existence in the world’7 (Chambers 1996: 5). The double meaning of the English word ‘home’ – ‘house’ and also ‘home country’ – can be found in Kuball’s project New Pott as well as in Höfer’s Türken in Deutschland. In different ways, both series show how immigrants in Germany live, the image they have of themselves, their home and their homeland, and how they are seen by the photographers. The artistic positions introduced in this chapter are concerned with spaces of migration in private as well as public spaces, which, in their own ways, are both modelled and shaped by immigrants, but, in public perception, are visible (public urban space) and invisible (living room). The artistic and photographic positions in this chapter have taken on both metropolitan topographies. It is evident that the dynamism and hybridity of lifestyles that is attributed to public space – ‘Streets are the transporters of urban life. They move, they connect, they negotiate, they communicate, they manifest’ (Krasny 2011: 8) – can also be found in migrants’ private spaces. In works by Candida Höfer or Mischa Kuball, which focus on the immigrants’ most intimate cosmos – their home – ideas of what is familiar and what is foreign converge, and memories of the native culture come together with the present in the new homeland and hopes and desires for the future. Artists were quick to observe and reflect upon immigration to Germany in the second half of the twentieth century and the societal changes it brought with it. Since then, however, artistic and photographic analyses of migration have hardly attracted any attention in Germany. In 2003, the early series Türken in Deutschland was still not mentioned extensively in the catalogue Candida Höfer – A Monograph (Candida Höfer 2003). Barbara Klemm’s photographs of Turkish migrants as well as Christoph Henning’s series Türken im Ruhrgebiet from 1978–9 were only published again in detail recently (the latter in the exhibition catalogue At Home, 2012). With the projects mentioned here in mind, as well as many others not touched upon,8 it can be said that immigration brings with it other (national) narratives and recollections and, at the same time, leads to new topics and artistic modes of expression. Translated from German into English by Hayley B. Haupt.

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Notes 1 On German-Turkish labour recruitment policies, see Hunn 2002. 2 The author Durs Grünbein describes the photojournalist Barbara Klemm as a chronicler of the old Federal Republic of Germany and attributes to her some of the most influential photographs spread by the media (cf. Grünbein 2011). 3 Cf. the homepages of the German Emigration Center in Bremerhaven (http:// or the BallinStadt Emigration Museum in Hamburg ( 4 Information on the play and cast is availabale at: (accessed 18 November 2012). 5 Quotations are my own translations (Schlögel 2011: 9). 6 See: (accessed 14 September 2013). 7 Chambers 1996: 5. 8 In this context, works by Anny and Sibel Öztürk, Ergül Cengiz and Nezaket Ekici could also be mentioned.

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Van Mour, Jean-Baptiste, Recueil de Cent Estampes représentant différents nations de Levant gravées sur les tableaux peints d’après nature en 1707–1708 par l’ordre de M. de Ferriol Ambassadeur du Roi à la Porte. Paris, 1714. Yano, Hisashi, ‘Migrationsgeschichte’, in C. Chiellino (ed.), Interkulturelle Literatur in Deutschland. Ein Handbuch. Stuttgart and Weimar: Metzler, 2007, pp. 1–17. Yildiz, Erol, ‘Metropolitane Gesellschaften im Zeichen der Globalisierung’, in E. Yildiz and M. Ottersbach (eds), Migration in der metropolitanen Gesellschaft. Münster: Lit, 2004, pp. 21–33. —— ‘Migration bewegt die Stadt’, in Bayer, Natalie et al. (eds), Crossing Munich. Beiträge zur Migration aus Kunst, Wissenschaft und Aktivismus. Exhibition catalogue. München, 2009.

17 The Migrating Earth Cinematic Images of Haiti after the 2010 Earthquake Mads Anders Baggesgaard

In one film a woman is pierced by a large slab of concrete, held in an upright, peaceful pose by the debris supporting her, and associated with Jesus on the cross through a match cut from one martyred figure to another. And in another a woman is running into a courtyard only to be thrown to the ground by the violent trembling of the earth, the scene ending with her lying between small pieces of bouncing rubble. These are two powerful images of the devastating earthquake that hit Port au Prince and the rest of Haiti on 12 January 2010 from two Haitian documentaries portraying the catastrophe and its consequences. The first scene is from Arnold Antonin’s short 2010 documentary Chronique d’une catastrophe annoncée, ou, Haïti : Apocalypse Now, produced in the months after the quake as an appeal for international help and national unity in face of the disaster. The second is Raoul Peck’s 2013 production, Assistance mortelle, which views the catastrophe from a later vantage point, critiquing the devastating effects of the international aid that Antonin pleaded for. These two films present us with two very different interpretations of the political effects of the earthquake and thus two different interpretations of the position of the political space of Haiti within a globalised world. In political thought, in literature and in film the earthquake has become an opportunity to readdress the already extensively debated question of the political history and future of the Haitian Republic. Either celebrated as the heir to the revolution of 1791–1804, the first successful revolt against colonial forces, or denounced as the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere, the Haitian state is at the centre of discussions of the possibilities and limitations of Third World states in a new global economy. The earthquake, which made both the suffering and the


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17.1. Frame grab from Chronique d’une catastrophe annoncée, ou, Haiti: Apocalypse Now. Directed by Arnold Antonin, Haïti, 2004.

17.2. Frame grab from Assistance mortelle. Directed by Raoul Peck, France/Haiti/ USA/Belgium, 2013.

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resilience of the Haitian people visible to the world, has only emphasised the actuality of these discussions. In this chapter I will explore the different approaches of Antonin and Peck and the different configurations of the Haitian political space that they are an expression of, in light of two central questions. On the one hand, I will explore how the earthquake and its political prehistory and aftermath highlight the instability of the relationship between state and people in Haiti as a national state born within the African diaspora created by transatlantic slavery, and existing in relationship with the diaspora of Haitians over four continents created by subsequent waves of migration during the last decades. On the other hand, I will examine how different filmic approaches to the devastating earthquake allow for two very different interpretations of these unstable relations in a transnational setting. Exposing the Haitian Body The earthquake hit Port-au-Prince on the afternoon of 12 January 2010. Measured at 7.0 M W, the seismic moment of the quake was only a fraction of, for example, the 500 times more powerful 8.8 M W earthquake that hit Chile only a month later killing 500 people, but due to the density of population and the poor standard of construction in the capital the earthquake in Port-au-Prince is estimated to have resulted in anywhere between 100,000 and 316,000 deaths.1 It was of course a natural disaster, but it was as much, as underlined by both Antonin and Peck, a disaster created by human neglect and political malfeasance both before and after the event. It is this double character of the catastrophe that provides the space of reflection in both documentaries, which, however, interpret this space in very different ways. Despite their apparent similarity, the two images mentioned in our opening illustrate some of the key differences between the two documentaries, differing not only in their temporal and political vantage points, but also in the way they approach their topic – the earthquake and its effect on the people of Haiti – in their cinematic practice. It is hardly controversial to present Antonin and Peck as the two premier Haitian filmmakers, taking into consideration that the competition is very limited. In a short chapter, Antonin sketches the very slim pickings that make up Haitian cinema, placing himself as the only Haitian filmmaker with a considerable number of titles (Antonin 2008). Antonin has made a variety of feature films, shorts and TV



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productions, both within the realms of fiction and documentary, over the last 40 years, receiving prices at the film festivals in Cannes and Ouagadougou. He is firmly based within the Haitian community as a university teacher in the social sciences and film studies and the main force behind the l’Association Haïtienne des Cinéastes and the cultural centre Centre Pétion Bolivar and a regular commentator on the political destiny of Haiti (Antonin 2005; Antonin and Hanke 2011). In Antonin’s account, Peck is only mentioned briefly as a diasporic sideline. Peck, however, presents himself as Haitian despite having spent his childhood in the Congo, received his education in Paris and Berlin and presently dividing his life between Paris, New York and Port-à-Piment in Haiti; he is also clearly the most internationally renowned filmmaker. His credits include about ten feature films all with a critical focus, highlighting matters of Haitian and African politics, all produced for international production companies and screened at various film festivals across the world. Antonin and Peck are thus two filmmakers of very different backgrounds and with very different production styles. Arnold Antonin’s cut from Jesus on the cross to the Haitian woman caught in the rubble is paradigmatic of his method, metaphorically equating the destiny of the Haitian people and the sufferings of Christ. Throughout his film, Antonin’s style is unapologetically metaphorical, using all available imagery to achieve maximal symbolic and affective impact. He uses plenty of footage of disfigured and bloated bodies caught in the rubble, and does not refrain from using the most expressive images repeatedly, notably the image of the woman described above and an image of a whitened arm of a corpse extending towards the sky, in order to maximise the effect of his call for help and in order for him to intensify his portrayal of the Haitian people as a ‘pure’ victim, bare life exposed to the forces of destruction, but also, as it turns out, with the potential for reinvigorating the Haitian nation. This last point becomes clear not least in the contrast between the destroyed and impotent state apparatus and the portrayal of the vigour and spontaneity of the Haitian people, a recurrent trope throughout the film. The film opens with a long series of still shots of official buildings destroyed in the earthquake: the presidential palace, the parliament, the Haitian Supreme Court, the headquarters of the international peacekeeping force MINUSTAH, and so on. The opening demonstrates the destruction of any political and juridical order in the country, utter destruction that nevertheless clears the slate for Antonin’s portrayal of the resilience and potential of the Haitian people in face of the disaster. This resilience is depicted by the use of footage of people singing improvised

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songs about the earthquake in the streets; improvised rhythms are used as an underlying score for the footage of destruction; and imagery of children, many orphaned, playing in the destroyed streets of Port-auPrince recurs throughout. Juxtaposed to the footage of the destroyed city, these images of resilience evoke a feeling of rebirth, but also, and just as importantly, a feeling of being after the fact. It is as if we are witnessing the birth of a sense of political unity – but a unity that required the earthquake to bring it into being. This figure is a well-known trope in Haitian and Caribbean literature. The production of the film started immediately after the catastrophe, and Antonin’s use of documentary images from the days of the earthquake displays the complexity of the situation as it was felt there and then. But it does so in a way that draws upon a long tradition of political reflection in Haitian and Antillean literature and thinking, perhaps most famously in the opening lines of Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks: ‘The explosion won’t take place today. It’s too early … or too late’ (Fanon 1952: 59; my translation). Fanon points to the hopeless situation of living under colonial domination despite being 150 years after the shedding of colonial rule, turning the dream of a revolution into a paradox. Life in the Antilles is on the wrong side of the revolution. Nick Nesbitt describes the situation as one of antinomy: ‘The antinomical status of Antillean existence itself: insofar as this subjective experience is always-already constituted by the objective social forces determining its dependency, it can never attain its own ideal of freedom perpetuated as a negative image in the memory of slavery’ (Nesbitt 2003: 47). The image of freedom as freedom from slavery, such as it is enfolded in the memory of the Haitian revolution, has in fact in the course of 200 years of Haitian history served to hinder the formulation of political alternatives based on class or more radical ideas of equality and acted as a guise for the establishment of a series of corrupt regimes backed by the former colonial powers and the US. The dream of revolt against colonial rule has appeared as yet another thread in the webs of colonial and post-colonial domination spun by the economic forces of globalisation, making the very act of dreaming of a better future difficult. Antonin’s title, Chronique d’une catastrophe annoncée, marks the duality between looking back and ahead in the contrast between ‘chronique’ and ‘annoncée’, which collapses the narrative tension: the film tells the story of an event already foretold, both through the scientific anticipation of the event and through the series of political upheavals that has characterised Haitian politics from the revolution until today. The earthquake is repeatedly described as a historical event with more or less



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direct reference to the revolution, but it is of course not a political event, but in a sense its negative, highlighting the continued political impotence of the Haitian people. Haitian history is a history of missed opportunities, or of the repeated rising of political resistance in the name of soon to be lost causes, and Antonin shows how the earthquake replays this figure in a tragic form. However, the impotence is not only temporal in nature, but also related to the position of the Haitian territory between two diasporic geographies. On the one hand, Haiti is of course, as the rest of the Caribbean, part of the black diaspora resulting from the deportation of slaves across the Atlantic, the Black Atlantic, famously described by Paul Gilroy, or the set of cultural practices described as black transnationalism more recently by Brent Hayes Edwards (Gilroy 1993; Edwards 2003). On the other hand, massive waves of political migration from Haiti from the 1960s onwards have led to the creation of a substantial Haitian diaspora in mainly Canada, France, the US and the neighbouring Dominican Republic. We can discern two or three main waves of migration. The first wave set in around 1960 when the political oppression by François ‘Papa Doc’ Duvalier sent many highly educated refugees not only to countries in North America, but also to francophone Africa. Thus spurred, a steadily growing stream of migrants targeted the Dominican Republic and the US, including waves of boats heading for Florida, peaking in the early 1980s with more than 40,000 migrants per year in the last years of Duvalier’s regime. Another wave of migration was spurred by the ousting of Haitian president Aristide in 1991, but since the tightening of US immigration laws in 1995 the numbers have drastically diminished, excluding a wave of migration after the earthquake, mainly in the form of American nationals returning (Jackson 2011; Wah 2013). As a result, an estimated 3 per cent of Haitian nationals live outside Haiti, and the diasporic community is today a dominant factor in Haitian culture, politics and economy. Haitian president Michel Martelly has his roots in the diasporic communities of south Florida, while a number of the most prominent Haitian authors are part of the diaspora in the US and Quebec. Remittances from the diaspora today account for more than one fifth of the national GDP according to the World Bank (World Bank 2013). As a result, the diasporic communities are today a determining factor in Haitian politics and together with the massive importance of US trade and international aid, the diaspora has arguably contributed to the continued dominance of an internationally oriented ruling class in Haiti, virtually excluding the voice of the Haitian people from political life.

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Antonin’s film is explicitly formulated as an appeal to local intellectuals to stay in Haiti and take part in rebuilding the nation, with hints to the many well-meaning ‘outsiders’ flying in to show support in the days following the earthquake. This appeal articulates the difficult relationship between the Haitian territory and the world surrounding it. There is a complex lineage of political formulations in the relationship between homeland and the outside world going back to the ideals of indégienisme and noirisme promoted by authors like Jean-Price Mars as a protest against the American occupation of Haiti in the 1930s; the subsequent usurpation of these notions by François Duvalier as a means to expel the mulatto class from government; and the renunciation of globalised neoliberalism by President Bertrand Aristide in the 1980s (Trouillot 1990: 130–6; Hallward 2007: 54–5; Dupuy 1997: 93–113). These different formulations all try to perform the difficult political task of formulating a space within the double diaspora, albeit with very different political agendas. Inhabiting the Haitian space has been a central task in Haitian history from the revolution to today, creating a functional link between state, nation and territory. However, as many have pointed out (e.g. Hallward 2007; Dash 2001; Trouillot 1990), it is a task that has shown itself to be virtually impossible for at least two reasons. First, because of the constant interference in Haitian matters by external forces: from the French colonisers, claiming an indemnity of FRF 150 million for lost property during the revolution; colonial charter companies; four US invasions; increasing demands for liberalisation by international organisations; and the general pressure of a globalising economy. The second reason is the political class which has resisted identification with the nation and veered towards international recognition on an executive level rather than focusing on the establishment of coherence, stability and growth in Haiti. This has resulted in a fundamental split between an impoverished people and a secure governing class, a split which manifests itself as a certain hesitance in elite classes towards the very idea of inhabiting the land, as Martin Munro emphasises in his Exile and Post1946 Haitian Literature: The term abitan is often used disparagingly to denote country people; terms like abitan lan mòn (hill-dwelling peasant) and abitan gwo zòtèy (Big-toed peasant) are used by city dwellers to suggest the earthy odors and cultural backwardness of the abitans, those who are closest to the land, and who have most literally and most successfully put down roots on Haitian soil. (Munro 2012: 4)



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The Kreyol term for inhabitant, abitan, is associated with backwardness rather than belonging, a fact that becomes even more telling bearing in mind that the primary claim made by slaves in the run-up to the revolution was the demand for the right to grow their own crops on their own plots of land. In the political life of Haiti these differences are mobilised in different ways, Aristide’s Lavalas movement basing itself upon the poor in the slums of Port-au-Prince, whereas the current president Martelly, despite his international connections, boasts an alliance with the rural parts of the nation. As has been the case throughout Haitian history, these internal divisions articulate themselves in the form of different interpretations of Haiti’s relation to the world and different interpretations of Haiti’s revolutionary history, adding to the complexity of the relationship between the Haitian nation and its territory. The political space of Haiti is thus constructed across what Martin Munro calls a ‘temporal loop and a spatial void’ (Munro 2012: 3), placed in a time that is suspended between the utopianism of the revolution and its relegation to a memorialised past, on an island which is at once a place of exile from Africa and home to the Haitian diasporic community. In Chronique d’une catastrophe annoncée this difficult relationship between past and present in a globalised world is represented in different ways, but perhaps most interestingly through the cinematic treatment of the soil. The soil is presented as the medium that manifests this story, from the demands of slaves, over the erosion of arable land caused by the failed policies of the Duvaliers and the import of crops fitted for sale on a global market, to the devastating consequences of these developments in the form of uncontrollable urbanisation and a very poor quality of construction. The concrete, often made from sediments, takes the place of the soil that was washed away – and, in that way, the image of the young woman caught beneath a large slab of concrete takes on a double meaning. Now it is not just an image of the suffering of the Haitian people, but also a demonstration of a history of the systematic imposition of violence, a history that is incarnated not in the body of the woman, but in the unrelenting hardness of the concrete. Viewed in this perspective, Chronique d’une catastrophe annoncée may be unabashed in its search for suggestive imagery, but this imagery is always part of a historical investigation of the possibilities of a Haitian state placed within the particular historical and spatial void that characterises it. Even in the most gruesome images the suffering is always framed by the debris, picturing Haiti in the convergence between two bodies: the collective body of its suffering people pointing towards the future, and the earthy body of the Haitian territory in the form of debris

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and concrete, incarnating the weight of history upon a nation unable to inhabit its land. In Antonin’s film the earthquake becomes a chance to reestablish a relation between the Haitian nation and the reality, the land and the people that constitutes it. Against Humanitarianism Antonin’s strategies differ on a number of points from the ones employed by Raoul Peck in Assistance mortelle. Whereas Chronique d’une catastrophe annoncée has the destiny of the nation as its frame and topic, the scope of Assistance mortelle is from the outset international. Peck’s film features two narrating voiceovers, one representing the Haitian voice, the other the foreign voice of the benevolent world coming to the rescue. In its first appearance, the Haitian voice directly opposes the catastrophic imagery on the grounds of it being overly used in the media, and because it contributes to the victimisation of the Haitian people, voiding the Haitian state and the Haitians of agency. As a consequence, there are no images of the catastrophe in the film, no bloated bodies and very little rubble, with the opening scenes as the obvious exception. In the opening sequence, Peck presents us with four short shots of the actual earthquake, all in the form of footage from surveillance cameras. In none of these shots do we clearly see death or any form of injury or dismemberment. The shot in the courtyard is ambiguous: we see a woman falling to the ground, without being able to tell whether she is hurt, or whether she is simply lying, waiting for the trembles to cease. The use of surveillance videos suggests a desire to avoid the pitfalls of voyeurism that attaches itself to the many media images of destruction that travelled the world over in the days after the earthquake, in favour of a more neutral registration of the events, a registration in which the Haitians appear not as victims surrounded by destruction, but as subjects or people trying to cope and act in the short time span between normality and destruction. Peck’s strategy is thus far removed from the historical account made by Antonin, but it is in line with a widespread critique of the use of disaster imagery for humanitarian purposes. In a recent book the French sociologist Didier Fassin thus diagnoses an ‘inflation of suffering’ (Fassin 2012: 26–9) in discourses on and images of the Third World which leads to a psychologisation of disaster, putting it within the domain of the moral rather than the political. However, Fassin takes his analysis a step further, exploring how suffering has in fact in recent decades found its way into



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politics, acting as a trigger for the engagement with political issues that would otherwise be untouchable. Images of suffering thus place themselves at the centre of a political culture that may seem incongruous, but which is nevertheless a very real social configuration. A related point has been made by media historian Sharon Sliwinski. Building on Susan Sontag’s argument for the ability of images of suffering to engender reflection, Sliwinski argues for the circulation of images of catastrophes, notably the earthquake in Lisbon in 1755, as central to the historical formation of the idea of human rights, exactly because they force us to consider the way in which we consider the other in its most fundamental form, as a body in the midst of destruction. Sontag famously stated that ‘watching up close – without the mediation of the image – is still just watching’ (Sontag 2003: 117), but Sliwinski points to the fact that this consideration is not only mediated, but that it often takes place from a geographically distant position, making the question of what action to take not only difficult, but also constitutive: When faced with such terrible images, there is doubt about what there is to know, about what the good of such knowledge might be, and whether knowing will have any effect on the other. Yet this turbulent encounter – the moment in which external and internal reality collide in our engagement with aesthetic representation – appears to be as significant to human rights discourse as any social or political border. For in the midst of this vexed meeting the spectator is allotted a fragile but critical task: that of judgment. Indeed, in that constellation of feelings that arise in such encounters, there opens the possibility for the recognition of the other as human and thus deserving of a measure of dignity. (Sliwinski 2009: 32)

Through the powerlessness of the distant encounter with images of pain and death we constitute our conception not only of the other, but of mankind through the recognition of universal suffering. Sliwinski and Sontag argue for the ability of the images to engender reflection through the impotence caused by distance, but as Didier Fassin has shown, and as they are both very well aware, this reflection may or may not occur. In a recent reflection on the Haitian earthquake, Fassin presents this in more pessimistic terms: ‘humanitarianism therefore provides the illusion of a global moral community that may still be viable’ (Fassin 2013: 37).2 Seeing the suffering of others may cause political reflection, but most often it does not; it rather serves to reinforce the global inequalities under the guise of humanitarianism.

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In the case of Haiti this question of judgement is clearly put to the test, and Peck’s verdict is clear: the humanitarian view of the West does not see the Haitians as dignified humans, but on the contrary as victims to be subjected to an administrative humanitarian logic very akin to the strategies employed in earlier colonial systems. He backs this claim mainly with interviews with government officials and NGO workers, demonstrating the futility and inefficiency of the humanitarian efforts caused by a lack of knowledge of local conditions and the volatility of the streams of aid. Peck draws a picture of a humanitarian effort driven by the domestic interests of NGOs and politicians, their need to be promoted in national and international news media, and their need to have tangible results to show at home, rather than the attempt to make long-term improvements for the Haitian population. Peck may not use images of suffering, but from a position three years after the quake, his film states clearly that it aims to reflect exactly how judgement in the face of disaster is made in a global world order; how and to what extent the humanitarian industry recognises the needs and dignity of the Haitian population.3 Viewing the Diaspora The paradox underlying Peck’s film is that being a diasporic filmmaker he is to some extent placed in a situation similar to the one held by the NGOs he is depicting. Peck surely has strong ties to Haiti: he was born there, has a home there, owns a cinema theatre in Port-au-Prince and was Minister of Culture under René Préval’s first presidency in 1996–7.4 But since leaving Haiti with his parents at the age of eight he has, as mentioned, lived in Zaire, the United States, France and Germany, and he is currently the president of the leading French film school La Fémis. His films are produced mainly on the basis of funding from French sources, and Assistance mortelle is produced in collaboration with the French and Belgian TV networks Arte and RTBF. Peck is Haitian because he is part of the Haitian diaspora, a fact that is thematised in many of his previous films, notably Haitian Corner, which depicts the émigré communities in New York, and L’ homme sur le quais, which is set during the rule of the later Duvalier, and which addresses the condition of exile within this totalitarian regime. In the context of the earthquake it becomes apparent that the distance of the diasporic gaze shares fundamental traits with the humanitarian gaze that Peck criticises. Seeing the homeland from the diaspora implies the same choices, judgements and pitfalls, when it comes to accepting



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and understanding the ones left behind as humans and citizens. A certain degree of humility is required at the same time as there is a demand for political action, despite the distance separating diaspora and homeland. Looking at Peck’s film in this perspective, the lack of voices from the ground suddenly seems significant. The fundamental form in which Peck constructs his argument is through the use of classic documentary-style interviews – talking heads. This is a format that allows for official representatives to take the stage, supplemented with a small on-screen text showing their name and title as guarantors for the validity of their claims. It should therefore perhaps not be surprising that the handful of people who come to take the role of heroes in Peck’s tale are the officials of the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC), the international organisation responsible for the coordination of the international aid; the then Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive, the joint leader of IHRC alongside former US president Bill Clinton; a few NGOs working on the ground in Haiti; and one or two representatives of the Port-au-Prince municipal services. It is these officials who carry the voice of Haiti, who vocalise local dissatisfaction with a tendency to disempower and neglect the Haitians themselves in the reconstruction process. Peck’s confidence in the Haitian authorities combined with the diasporic viewpoint leads Assistance mortelle to be a film that seems somewhat distant from the problems it engages.5 In a recent chapter, Toni Pressley-Sanon argues in relation to Peck’s earlier films that the distance implied in the condition of exile, which is the prerequisite for the existence of these films, allows for a particular form of viewing: ‘the fact of exile is also a form of witnessing. After all, if life were safe and writers and intellectuals were not threatened with death for speaking out, the Haitian diaspora would not have swelled as it did during the Duvalier era’ (Pressley-Sanon 2013: 50–1). In the earlier films the very existence of a diaspora provides a political alternative, which leaves its mark on the films stylistically. Today this relationship is in many ways turned upside down: the people of the Haitian diaspora are no longer exiled but living comparatively comfortable lives far from the difficult financial and political realities of the homeland. This being the case it would be easy to conclude that the diasporic vision has lost its relevance and that a local engagement is what is needed instead, as emphasised by Antonin. However, the American Haiti scholar Jana Evans Braziel has pointed to the fact that it is exactly the distanced engagement with the mistreated Haitian body that gives diasporic approaches, including Peck’s earlier work, a particular critical edge:

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The drowned refugees, massacred cane laborers, stillborn infants, and raped girls in Danticat’s narratives and the decapitated reporters and dissident zanmi [friends] in Laferrière’s (like Wyclef ’s or Boukman Eksperyans’ chan pwen, or Peck’s filmic critiques of global capitalism …) form lines of deformation eroding the despotic body of the state as well as state or police violence, discriminatory immigrant policies, and neoliberal agendas of international financial institutions. Violated, mutilated and dead bodies – as presented within these diasporic cultural forms or trans-American arts of resistance – de(face) not only the visagéité duvalieriste and post-duvalieriste, but also post-Namphy, post-Avril, post-Cédras, post-Bush, post-Clinton, post-Préval, and even post-Aristide Arts of resistance expose the material, economic, and political constraints imposed on efforts at achieving equality in nation-states and in diasporic locations, yet these diasporic cultural forms also envision possible alternatives to such oppressive global measures. (Braziel 2010: 39–40)

It is exactly because of their diasporic viewpoint that these representations are able to show the global and transnational framing of structural violence that is the background for Haitian politics today. The diasporic body is no longer a testament to totalitarian violence in Haiti but to the globalised reality, within which the difference between the diaspora and those left behind is produced. And the artworks produced in this diaspora are able to show the complexity of this reality. The present day Haitian diaspora is in this sense a concrete reality in opposition to the idea of a black or African diaspora which in Haiti presents itself as yet another problem directly related to the complex history of the Haitian revolution. The revolution serves as a foundational myth not only for the Haitian nation but also for other Caribbean nations and is an integral part of the whole idea of a black transatlantic diaspora as a politically viable alternative to European modernity. However, paradoxically this has not led to the development of Haitian political thought in the context of a Caribbean or transatlantic universalism, advanced elsewhere in the Caribbean, but manifests itself in political discourse emphasising Haitian exceptionalism (Asselin 1999; Clitandre 2011; Dash 2010). This kind of thinking has been immanent in almost all legitimising strategies employed by various rulers throughout the last centuries and can of course be refound in the rhetoric concerning the resilience and the political will of the Haitian people that we see in Antonin’s film.



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In Assistance mortelle this issue is directly addressed by Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive when he addresses the Haitian obligation to make good use of the donations given from all over the world: ‘We cannot fail. Because if we fail, the consequences will affect all poor countries’ (Peck 2013). And towards the end of the film Bellerive turns the same logic against the West: ‘If you cannot solve Haiti, what can you solve elsewhere?’ (Peck 2013). The strength of Peck’s film lies in the scenes where he shows exactly this construction as the problem. In affirming its own importance, Haiti paradoxically positions itself as an ‘other’ to be dealt with by Western benevolence. Here Peck argues for a more relative position acknowledging the difficult place of Haiti between national history and transnational engagements of both a positive and negative nature. Both Antonin’s and Peck’s films thus aim at showing a more complex image of Haiti. The surveillance images used by Peck allow for a certain degree of agency, but, more importantly, they show us that the events taking place in Haiti are part of an everyday reality. The surveillance images are not produced to create images of devastation, nor grandeur, but are matter-of-fact representations made to secure life in a difficult political and social reality. Even though Antonin’s use of disaster imagery seems excessive and ill conceived at times, it allows him not only to show the political background of the catastrophe, but also to use the events to draw up a complex picture of historical problems and concrete challenges. In both cases the documentary film allows for the complex interrogation of relations of domination within the transnational framework that is the Haitian nation, on the basis of a contrast between the realities of Haiti and the complex networks surrounding it. The two films mediate between local realities and their placement in global and international frameworks, showing the continued difficulty of building a Haitian state and nation in a post-colonial, globalised world. Notes 1 United States Geological Survey (2010a and 2010b). The official death toll is 316,000, but this has been challenged. Some report casualties as low as 50,000, but these numbers have been largely dismissed as politicised – see e.g. Nienaber 2011. 2 See also Fassin 2012, 181–99. 3 In a short article published in a collection of views on the earthquake, edited by Martin Munro, Peck describes the same problems as they were visible in the

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immediate international reactions to the earthquake (Peck 2010). Peck was not in Haiti during the earthquake, but arrived as one of the first to Port-au-Prince on a plane sponsored by the French foreign ministry. 4 Peck has later described his experiences in Haitian politics in the book Monsieur le Ministre … jusqu’au bout de la patience. He left office after only two years, when Prime Minister Rosny Smarth disbanded the government in protest against expresident Aristide’s continued influence over the government (Peck 1998). 5 This criticism should, however, not be overstated. In his highly debated work on the rule of Bertrand Aristide, Peter Hallward dismisses Peck as a ‘francophiliac intellectual’ and ‘reactionary’ due to his opposition to the popular foundation of former president Aristide and his Lavalas movement (Hallward 2007: 114, 194). This is clearly going too far. Peck has a clear and nuanced view of the challenges facing Haiti and addresses the very real structural problems hindering a proper engagement with these challenges.

Bibliography Antonin, Arnold, ‘El difícil comienzo de la era pos-aristidiana’, Nueva Sociedad 196 (2005): 4–17. —— ‘Cinema in Haiti’, small axe 27 (2008): 87–93. —— Chronique d’une catastrophe annoncée, ou Haïti: Apocalypse Now. DVD, FOKAL/Le Centre Pétion-Bolivar, 2010. —— and Stefanie Hanke, ‘Haití: el presidente inesperado: Crisis y escenarios poselectorales’, Nueva Sociedad 234 (2011): 19–31. Asselin, Charles, ‘Haitian exceptionalism and the Caribbean consciousness’, Journal of Caribbean Literature 3:2 (1999): 115–30. Braziel, Jana Evans, Artists, Performers and Black Masculinity in the Haitian Diaspora. Gainesville: University Press of Florida 2010. Clitandre, Nadège T., ‘Haitian Exceptionalism in the Caribbean and the Project of Rebuilding Haiti’, Journal of Haitian Studies 17:2 (2011): 146–53. Dash, J. Michael, Culture and Customs of Haiti. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2001. —— ‘Rising from the Ruins: Haiti in Two Hundred Years’, in Martin Munro (ed.), Haiti Rising: Haitian History, Culture and the Earthquake of 2010. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2010, pp. 63–9. Dupuy, Alex, Haiti in the New World Order: The Limits of the Democratic Revolution. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1997. —— Haiti, From Revolutionary Slaves to Powerless Citizens: Essays on the Politics and Economics of Underdevelopment, 1804–2013. London: Routledge, 2014. Edwards, Brent Hayes, The Practice of Diaspora: Literature, Translation, and the



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Rise of Black Internationalism. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003. Fanon, Frantz, Peau noire, masques blancs. Paris: Seuil, 1952. Fassin, Didier, Humanitarian Reason: A Moral History of the Present. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012. —— ‘The Predicament of Humanitarianism’, Qui Parle: Critical Humanities and Social Sciences 22:1 (2013): 33–48. Gilroy, Paul, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness. London: Verso, 1993. Hallward, Peter, Damming the Flood: Haiti, Aristide, and the Politics of Containment. London: Verso, 2007. Jackson, Regine O., Geographies of the Haitian Diaspora. New York: Routledge, 2011. Munro, Martin, Exile and Post-1946 Haitian Literature: Alexis, Depestre, Ollivier, Lafferière, Danticat. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2012. Nesbitt, Nick, Voicing Memory: History and Subjectivity in French Caribbean Literature. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2003. Nienaber, Georgianne, ‘Flawed Earthquake Report a Bullwhip On the Backs of Haitians’, LA Progressive, 1 June 2011. Online: http://www.laprogressive. com/flawed-haiti-report/ (accessed 21 February 2014). Peck, Raoul, Monsieur le Ministre … jusqu’au bout de la patience. Port-au-Prince: Éditions Velvet, 1998. —— ‘Dead-end in Port-au-Prince’, in Martin Munro (ed.), Haiti Rising: Haitian History, Culture and the Earthquake of 2010. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2010, pp. 43–8. —— Assistance mortelle. DVD, Velvet Film, 2013. Pressley-Sanon, Toni, ‘Haiti: Witnessing as Revolutionary Praxis in Raoul Peck’s Films’, Black Camera, An International Film Journal 5:1 (2013): 34–55. Sherwood, Angela et al. (2014), Supporting Durable Solutions to Urban, PostDisaster Displacement: Challenges and Opportunities in Haiti. Washington and Geneva: Brookings Institution/International Organization for Migration, 2014. Online: Durable_ SolutionstoDisplacement_Haiti_Feb2014 _Brook ings.pdf (accessed 21 February 2014). Sliwinski, Sharon, ‘The Aesthetics of Human Rights’, Culture, Theory and Critique 50:1 (2009): 23–39. Sontag, Susan, Regarding the Pain of Others. New York: Picador, 2003. Trouillot, Michel-Rolph, Haiti, State Against Nation: The Origins and Legacy of Duvalierism. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1990. United States Geological Survey, ‘Magnitude 8.8 – Offshore Bio-Bio, Chile’ (2010a). Signicant Earthquake Archive. Online:

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earthquakes/eqinthenews/2010/us2010tfan/ (accessed 21 February 2014). —— ‘PAGER – M 7.0 – HAITI REGION’ (2010b). Signicant Earthquake Archive. Online: index.html (accessed 21 February 2014). Wah, Tatiana, ‘Engaging the Haitian Diaspora: Emigrant Skills and Resources are Needed for Serious Growth and Development, Not Just Charity’, Cairo Review 9 (2013): 56–69. World Bank, ‘Annual Remittances Data, inflow’ (2013). Online: http://siteresources. RemittanceData_Inflows_Oct2013.xls (accessed 21 February 2014).


18 Paying Tribute Migrant Memorial Walls and the ‘Nation of Immigrants’ Eureka Henrich

In November 1997, the Australian National Maritime Museum (ANMM) announced their plans to build a welcome wall along the museum’s northern boundary on Sydney’s Darling Harbour. A fact sheet explained that the wall would ‘provide settler and immigrant Australians with the opportunity to honour members of their families and friends who travelled to Australia by sea or air and contributed to the growth of our nation’. At the cost of $100 per listing, all names would have ‘equal prominence’ and be added ‘in order of receipt’ (ANMM 1997). Kevin Fewster, who was the director of the ANMM at the time, later wrote: Inspiration for the project came partly from a similar initiative at Ellis Island, New York, and from the many approaches I had received over the years from migrants who had first landed from ships berthed at the wharves adjacent to the Museum and now, as they grow old, wished to mark the start of their new life in Australia. ( Fewster 2000: 43)

The first bronze panels of the Welcome Wall were unveiled in January 1999, and more than 25,000 names have been engraved on the memorial to date.1 The American Immigrant Wall of Honor at Ellis Island Immigration Museum in New York, which opened in 1990, also continues to amass registrations from Americans eager to memorialise their own names, those of their family or their immigrant ancestors. The relationship between these two ‘sites of memory’, each symbolising recent revisions of their nations’ pasts, is the concern of this chapter. How did the ANMM adapt the American memorial for an Australian audience? What social, historical and institutional contexts shaped these adaptations? And


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what can these ‘migrant memorial walls’ tell us about the ways that people understand migration as part of their family histories, personal identities and their place in the nation? Nations of Immigrants The appearance of migrant memorial walls at museum sites in the last two decades is part of a larger trend in museums worldwide, whereby institutions which have traditionally reflected a core national culture and history have responded to community demands and government policy directives to become more representative of their nation’s migrant, multicultural or multiracial populations (Ang 2011: 88–9). Immigration history has been a key theme of these transformations, as it allows for the representation and celebration of many different groups within a cohesive chronology of arrivals. In post-colonial settler nations such as Australia and the United States, this ‘nation of immigrants’ story has become a powerful national narrative, underpinning entire museums and pervading public discourses on immigration policy, citizenship and national identity. Even in Europe, the historical continuity of immigration is now used as a way to explain the ever-changing national identities of countries which have until recently preferred to locate their collective history in a shared ethnic heritage. The controversy surrounding the opening of a national museum of immigration in France in 2007, only two years after widespread civil unrest erupted in the poor banlieues of Paris (home to many immigrants and their Frenchborn children), speaks to the complex social and political roles that these institutions are expected to play (Green 2007: 239). A movement is currently underway in Britain to establish the nation’s first migration museum, which aims to cast the country’s history as one of movement, mobility and cross-cultural encounters. In many countries throughout the world, then, the answer to ‘who we are’ as a nation is increasingly sought not within the nation’s borders, but without – by explaining ‘where we came from’.2 While a small body of scholarly literature has recently emerged that examines the history of immigration and emigration themes in museums, the memorialisation of migration which has accompanied them remains peripheral to analyses of exhibitions and collections (Henrich 2012; Witcomb 2009; Baur 2009; Goodnow 2008; McShane 2001). Migrant memorial walls, when mentioned, appear as part of broader considerations of museum sites as heritage landscapes, rather than the main subject of

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research (Desforges and Maddern 2004). In the much larger literature on commemoration and memory, it is the memorialisation of the major wars of the twentieth century which have warranted the most scholarly attention and thus they dominate our ways of understanding public commemorative practices. This imbalance has inspired recent work on post-1960 ‘non-war’ memorials in Australia by public historians Paul Ashton, Paula Hamilton and Rose Searby. Their four-year study of almost 400 memorials identified two ‘overarching themes’ – a growth in ‘spontaneous’ or ‘vernacular memorials’ as a response to sudden bereavement, such as roadside memorials; and the appearance, particularly since the 1980s, of ‘retrospective memorials’. They explain: Retrospective commemoration refers to the effort of state authorities at all levels to express a more inclusive narrative of the nation as a result of, among other things, multicultural policy, by retrospectively commemorating a wider number of communities and people who have been officially identified as having contributed to Australia’s ‘national development.’ (Ashton, Hamilton and Searby 2012: 14)

As the authors note, retrospective memorials (much like migration museums) denote a changing version of the national story, symbolising an attempt to bridge the gap between the official or dominant vision of the nation and the increasingly divergent reality. For individuals or groups seeking a place in the national narrative, involvement in these memorial projects is part of the process of ‘fitting in’ (Ashton, Hamilton and Searby 2012: 24–5). This template for understanding contemporary memorials offers a starting point for grappling with the recent phenomena of migrant memorial walls. However, the relationships between the museums that build these walls, families who pay to be included and government policies of multiculturalism which underlie them require closer examination. If, as Ien Ang has argued, official narratives of nations expressed through ‘heritage’ can obscure the complex and transnational identities of ‘diasporic communities’, migrant memorial walls may conceal continuing ties to homelands, even as they express a desire to ‘fit in’ (Ang 2011: 87). In order to know more about who seeks representation through these memorials, and what meanings they bring to them, we first need to establish the context in which the memorials were constructed, the functions they serve and the meanings they were designed to convey.



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The American Immigrant Wall of Honor Ellis Island in New York Harbour has been described as an ‘almost mythological site’, represented in film, fiction and music, and visited by thousands of tourists every day (Hoskins and Maddern 2011: 151). During the island’s peak period of operation as an immigration station it was prospective immigrants, not tourists, who arrived daily by the thousands to live and work in the ‘land of the free’. Twelve million people were granted entry into the United States through Ellis Island between 1892 and 1954, and by the 1980s, when plans to restore the island as an immigration museum were gathering momentum, it was estimated that 100 million Americans could trace their family history to one of those Ellis Island immigrants (Desforges and Maddern 2004: 447–8). The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, led by the famous American businessman Lee Iococca, devised the ‘American Immigrant Wall of Honor’ as the focus for a national fundraising campaign that had the site’s potential familial connections at its heart. The memorial wall was advertised to the public as a chance to pay tribute to their forebears ‘whose hard work and high ideals made this country great’ (Smith 1992: 86). But it was not only descendants of Ellis Island arrivals who were invited to contribute – the memorial (and of course, the museum itself) was to be a national space in which the immigrant ancestries of all Americans were honoured and celebrated. At the price of $100 for a standard inscription, or $1,000, $5,000 or $10,000 for a longer two-line inscription ‘placed specially on the wall’, the Foundation expected that between 20,000 and 30,000 Americans would take part. They were overwhelmed when over 200,000 people responded, raising more than $21 million in the process (Heimbuecher 1990). Daniel Walkowitz (2009: 139) has noted that Ellis Island represents more than just a collection of many migrant stories – it has ‘symbolic meaning to its visitors as a site of national citizenship’. This idea was no doubt shaped by the huge fundraising campaign for the museum, and the commemorative activities that accompanied it. On the museum’s opening day, 10 September 1990, 50 immigrants were sworn in as American citizens: ‘raising their hands and giving up their allegiance to their homelands’ (Sheils 1990). Two of these newly-minted Americans, tenyear-old Anthony Boyle from Australia and 12-year-old Shalini Dookhie from Guyana, also helped Lee Iococca to unveil the American Immigrant Wall of Honor. Much of the media coverage of the day centred on elderly Americans, who remembered arriving at Ellis Island as children. These stories played on the poignancy of their return to the site and dramatised

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the moment when they found their name inscribed on the Wall of Honor (Glave 1990; Shields 1990). The inclusion of two new, young citizens in the unveiling ceremony points to the choreographed continuation of the ‘nation of immigrants’ story. Having just renounced any ties to their ‘homelands’, they, like those who arrived at Ellis Island before them, were born anew. Similarly, although details including ‘country of origin’, ‘year of arrival’, ‘port of entry’ and ‘name of ship’ can be entered into the database of the Wall of Honor, all that is inscribed on the physical wall is the ‘honoree’s name’, emphasising their American identity and their rebirth as American citizens. The process of registration for the Wall of Honor has remained virtually unchanged since the late 1980s, with the exception of the move to an online format where internet users can search names and purchase commemorative gifts with the click of a button. However, the physical wall has altered over the years. The first panels, made of copper, were attached horizontally to the top of an existing 951-foot sea wall, about waist height, immediately outside the museum building (Heimbuecher 1990). All of these names were arranged alphabetically, so those who had registered an immigrant ancestor could easily find their inscription. But even before this wall was unveiled, the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation had decided to extend the fundraiser. Museum design firm Ralph Applebaum Associates was contracted to create a new structure, which transformed the memorial from a sympathetic addition to the existing site to a dominant feature of the landscape. Located near the original memorial and next to the museum, the ‘wall’ takes the form of a huge circle with four-foot high shiny steel panels on both sides. Since 1993, when it was opened, new ‘editions’ of names have been added every two to three years, and there are currently more than 700,000 inscriptions on 749 panels. The memorial’s growing size is reflected by its popularity as a visitor attraction in its own right. Erica Rand (2005: 159) has written about her interview with one of the park rangers working at Ellis Island, who told her that after ‘Where’s the bathroom?’, ‘Where is the Wall of Honor?’ was the most frequent question visitors asked. The popularity and high visibility of the American Immigrant Wall of Honor has sparked concerns about how it presents or ‘produces’ history. Some researchers have observed that the authoritative appearance of the wall, like a war memorial, leads many visitors to believe it is a full and historically-accurate list of immigrants who arrived through Ellis Island during its years as an immigration depot, or, conversely, a record of all arrivals to the United States (Rand 2005: 161–2; Walkowitz 2009: 144). Cultural geographers Luke Desforges and Joanne Maddern have



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18.1. The original Wall of Honor at Ellis Island, 1990.

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18.2. The current Wall of Honor at Ellis Island, first unveiled in 1993.

pointed out that the Wall of Honor echoes the version of immigration history used in the fundraising campaign headed by Iococca – where ‘the figure of the immigrant is used in an heroic manner to portray American identity in terms of aspirations towards national liberty and the creation of social mobility through self-sacrifice and hard work’ (Desforges and Maddern 2004: 448). As they demonstrate, many exhibits in the Ellis Island Immigration Museum challenge this simple conflation of migration with American national identity. However, it is the effective mobilisation of family history or ancestor-worship underpinning the American Immigrant Wall of Honor that makes it such a powerful and popular part of the museum landscape. For Australian museums who wished to attract a greater number and diversity of visitors in the 1990s, Ellis Island’s American Immigrant Wall of Honor thus represented an exciting opportunity to foster a new audience. Immigration History at the Australian National Maritime Museum The circumstances surrounding the construction of Australia’s first national memorial to migrants differed in many ways from those surrounding the opening of the Ellis Island Immigration Museum in New York. Most obvious was the nature of the host institution as a maritime,



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rather than an immigration, museum. Even though immigration history had been an important theme of the museum since it opened in 1991, the types of narratives curators were able to present through a maritime lens were necessarily limited. Objects and stories in the permanent gallery ‘Passengers’ related to the journeys of migrants, rather than their experiences of settling, living and working in Australia, their ongoing ties to ‘home’, or the ways different individuals and groups have shaped Australian society and culture. However, one important theme to emerge from the emphasis on sea journeys was the experience of refugees or ‘boat people’. The ANMM’s acquisition of a Vietnamese refugee boat, ‘never owned or sailed by Australians’, indicates that curators saw the continuity of the sea journey in Australian history as an opportunity to widen the concept of ‘national heritage’ (Fewster 2000: 46; Lawton 2006). The resettlement of thousands of Indochinese refugees in Australia in the late 1970s and 1980s had occurred with bipartisan support, amidst the rise of multicultural policy and rhetoric. However, curators were keen to challenge the views of ‘ignorant social commentators’, whose attitudes, ‘fuelled by prejudice’, had found expression in some popular newspaper coverage.3 These attitudes bubbled away under the surface of multicultural Australia, re-emerging with renewed energy in the late 1990s. When the ANMM announced the building of the Welcome Wall in late 1997, it was in the process of constructing a major new temporary exhibition of Australian immigration history which would cover journeys by sea and air from the first convict arrivals of 1788 to the present. This ambitious project was made possible by funding from the Sydney Organising Committee of the Olympic Games, who chose the exhibition as the major event of their 1998 A Sea Change Olympic Arts Festival. A Sea Change was one of four festivals held in the lead-up to the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, designed to ‘leave a legacy of greater awareness and appreciation of Australian culture’ (Sydney Morning Herald 1998). Its theme was ‘transformations in Australian culture’, which chimed perfectly with the story of immigration and increasing cultural diversity that the ANMM wished to tell. The grand unveiling of the Welcome Wall was planned to coincide with this exhibition, Tears, Fears, and Cheers: Immigration to Australia 1788–1998, however delays securing sponsorship to offset the construction costs saw the opening shifted to January 1999 (Fewster 2000: 45–6). The institutional and ideological connection between the exhibition and the memorial warrants a closer look at the context in which both were developed. Exhibition curator Kevin Jones told the audience at a national museums conference in May 1999 that Tears, Fears and Cheers was ‘an

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attempt to produce a major history of immigration to Australia over 210 years and was, I hope, a contribution to Australia’s current wrangle with multiculturalism and immigration issues’ (Jones 1999: 2). The ‘wrangle’ he was gesturing towards had erupted in late 1996 following the maiden parliamentary speech of Pauline Hanson, an independent elected to the seat of Oxley in Queensland. Hanson challenged the broad bipartisan support which the policy of multiculturalism had enjoyed in Australia since the mid-1970s, claiming that ‘reverse racism’ was disadvantaging ‘mainstream Australians’ and that the nation was in danger of being ‘swamped by Asians’. She went on to found the political party One Nation, which reached its electoral peak in the Queensland State elections of 1998 with approximately 22.7 per cent of the vote (Scalmer 1999: para 3). During the late 1990s, when One Nation’s racially-fuelled rhetoric was splashed across the national news on an almost daily basis, those with a keen eye to the nation’s past pointed out that Hanson’s grievances sprang from an older conception of Australia as a racially homogenous white British nation (Cochrane 1996). To cut through the media-hype of Hanson’s crude rhetoric, and to assert their position as an impartial, non-partisan and trustworthy institution, the ANMM changed the advertising campaign for their new exhibition to the slogan ‘Migration: Get the Facts’ (Fewster 2000: 42). The main message of the Tears, Fears and Cheers exhibition was that ‘most Australians are descended from immigrants’ (Jones 1999: 4). It was informed by formative audience evaluation conducted by the museum in May 1997, which revealed that the public tended to equate ‘immigrants’ with postwar, non-British arrivals. Earlier arrivals were thought of as ‘settlers’ – a dichotomy that was concerning as it perpetuated notions of ‘Australians’ as descendants of white pioneers, and ‘immigrants’ as being somehow less Australian (Fewster 2000: 39). Curators decided to stress the historical continuity of immigration to Australia, and cast the story as ‘one of history’s great migrations’, in order to gently challenge these assumptions and lend equal legitimacy to all eras of arrival.4 In adopting this ‘nation of immigrants’ approach, curators used the Ellis Island Immigration Museum as a model. The opening ‘Profiles of Australia’ part of Tears, Fears and Cheers drew heavily on the statistical presentation of immigration history through three-dimensional graphs that had been used in Ellis Island’s Peopling of America exhibition. The second part of the exhibition, featuring recreations of migrant ships and accommodation, included some interactive elements that were adapted from Ellis Island (Henrich 2012: 248–53). The other place where Ellis Island’s influence was evident was in the decision to build a migrant



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memorial wall. Given the immediate social and institutional context, it is easy to see why this idea was so attractive – an American Immigrant Wall of Honor-style memorial would fit perfectly with the message of Tears, Fears and Cheers, visually ‘equalizing’ all arrivals, both ‘settler’ and ‘immigrant’. It also complemented one of the exhibition aims – to attract more families and visitors of a non-English-speaking background to the museum (Jones 1999: 2). The Welcome Wall Unlike Ellis Island, Australia does not have one major port of arrival for its immigrants in any one period. Those searching for Australia’s equivalent of Ellis Island often settle on Station Pier in Melbourne, which has the longest continuous history of use as a passenger pier in Australia. Nevertheless, there were some site-specific connections that strengthened the commemorative power of a migrant memorial wall at the ANMM. The location of the museum on Sydney’s Darling Harbour, opposite the docks where passenger ships arrived during the peak period of Australia’s postwar migration programme, was important to many who paid the $100 registration fee to have their names or their family’s names included on the memorial. Darling Harbour is also around the headland from Sydney Cove, the place where the first British penal settlement was established in 1788, so the descendants of those early settlers (both convict and free) also had potential connections to the site. Following the announcement of the Welcome Wall project, people identifying with both of these groups approached the ANMM to request a special reference to their history on the memorial. But as Fewster has written, ‘rightly or wrongly’, no group was given ‘special treatment … by treating all migrants, regardless of ethnic origin or date of arrival, as equal we hope the Welcome Wall can help us all realise and accept that Australia is a nation of migrants’ (2000: 45). The ‘nation of immigrants’ story was not only conveyed through the rows of registered names, but through 31 quotes inscribed onto the bronze panels at various points. These personal insights, ‘from travellers of many nationalities, including the people who already lived here’, function to communicate the human dimension of migration through emotions of grief, loss, apprehension and disappointment, as well as excitement, relief and joy.5 A central plaque on the 100-metre-long wall sets the story of immigration to Australia within a longer history of indigenous ownership of land, stating that ‘more than six million people … have come from

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18.3. The Welcome Wall at the Australian National Maritime Museum, Darling Harbour.

most countries on earth to the lands of the Cadigal, the Burraburragal and beyond’.6 Australia’s Governor General, Sir Willian Deane, told the crowds at the Welcome Wall’s unveiling that this inscription ‘invites us to reflect on the effects of dispossession’ and ‘reminds us that long before the 211 years of European settlement this land was occupied’ (Richards 1999: 10). At the time, legal battles to secure Aboriginal land rights, the uncovering of past government practices of child removal, and an ongoing reconciliation movement urging a national apology to Australia’s Indigenous peoples had all ‘unsettled’ the proud, nationbuilding narrative that many settler Australians had grown up believing (Attwood 2005: 34). Of course, by representing Australia as a ‘nation of immigrants’ the Welcome Wall could also be seen to convey a positive and comforting tale, one that perpetuates, rather than challenges, notions of Australian history as ‘progressive and benign’ (Ashton 2009: 381; Pugliese 2002). To address this tension, the ANMM incorporated an Indigenous perspective on immigration where possible. At the opening ceremony it was a representative of the original inhabitants of the Sydney region, Colin Gale, who welcomed guests to the site. Matthew Doyle, an Aboriginal musician and dancer, performed a song in Tharawal (an



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Aboriginal language), which ‘welcomed all people who have come to Australia from across the seas’ (Richards 1999: 10). And one of the quotes inscribed on the Welcome Wall is from a local Aboriginal family, representing ‘the people who already lived here’. Whether we see these gestures as tokenistic or valuable in their symbolism, they do indicate an important adaption of the American migrant memorial wall – not all Australians were cast as descendants of immigrants. The decision to establish a ‘Welcome Wall’, rather than an ‘Australian Immigrant Wall of Honour’, encapsulates the distinction. Another important adaptation was listing names in the order they were registered – or ‘first in, best dressed’ – rather than arranging them alphabetically or privileging those who could afford to donate greater amounts. This organising principle worked to infuse the memorial with celebrated ‘Australian’ values such as the ‘fair go’, easing the shift in the national story away from the defence of homogeneity and towards an acceptance of diversity. Newspaper coverage of the opening ceremony in January 1999 echoed these values, by juxtaposing family stories of discovering convict ancestors with personal accounts of migration. One article (Lee 1999) focused on the story of Salomea Mandla, who migrated to Sydney from Silesia in Eastern Europe in 1952. Her daughter had registered Salomea’s name for ‘one simple reason: “Because I love my mother and I don’t know a more patriotic Australian.”’ Patrick Keighran, a convict transported to Sydney in 1796, was also registered on the wall as a gift from daughter to parent ‘by his seventimes removed great granddaughter as a birthday present to her father, Joseph, who has taken to tracing the family history in his retirement’. The article concluded that each inscription represented ‘just another Australian story’. The Virtual Welcome Wall and ‘Micro-Family Histories’ On the surface, the process of registering a family member, friend or immigrant ancestor on the Welcome Wall appears identical to that of the American Immigrant Wall of Honor. In both cases all that is necessary to complete a registration is a name and payment of $100. Families have the option to include more details of the person they are commemorating, including their date of arrival and country of origin, and this information is stored on a database that is made available at computer terminals in the museum and online. But the Welcome Wall registration process includes an ‘optional extra’ – the chance to submit a 50-word story about the person registered.

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This marked a significant departure from the American model. By allowing subscribers to add a story to the name, the Welcome Wall became more than a physical memorial – it also became a tool for the collection of family histories. Writing in 2000, Fewster envisioned the database becoming ‘a veritable cyber cemetery’ (Fewster 2000: 44). Browsing the entries online today is, in a sense, akin to wandering through a cemetery whilst reading gravestone inscriptions. In both cases, it is the family of the person memorialised who give meaning to the person’s life though their choice of words. However, the Welcome Wall also includes people who have registered their own names, those of their children and those of living parents and grandparents. Rather than sombre tributes, these ‘micro-family histories’ are confident expressions of identity and belonging. Not all subscribers choose to submit a story, but those who do reveal not just historical details of the person or family named, but clues as to why memorialising that person’s migration was important to them. In the text-based online version of the Welcome Wall, a keyword search by surname, given name, country of origin, place first settled or occupation, will bring up a list of names – clicking on one opens up the record of all the details submitted during the registration process. The newer ‘Virtual Welcome Wall’ allows the internet user to zoom in on a representation of the wall itself, making it easier to browse the panels and access stories without entering a search term. Searching the surname ‘Jones’ predictably brings up pages of records, including the story of Edwin, who was transported to Australia in 1833 along with his brother for housebreaking.7 All available data fields of the entry are carefully filled out, suggesting a family historian has decided to make a lasting and accurate historical record of their ancestor. Another entry tells a story of repeated return migration: Frank and Kathy Jones arrived in Sydney with their daughters, Carolyn and Rhian. They returned to Liverpool in 1968, had their son, Dafydd, and returned to Sydney in 1972. They now have 6 Australian grandchildren …8

Such a non-linear migration experience, typical of the ‘ten pound poms’ who came to Australia through assisted passage schemes in the post-war period, defies the simplicity of the migrant memorial wall system. But whoever submitted this story felt it important to explain the multiple arrivals and departures, as well as naming all six grandchildren, ‘Australian’ by virtue of their grandparents’ decision to return.



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The themes of migrant success and commitment to Australia run through numerous entries in the Welcome Wall database: ‘he always applauded his migration to this country and embraced the Australian way of life’ … ‘they lived in migrant hostels, worked hard and advanced in their careers until they achieved their dream’ … ‘six second generation grandchildren. Proud Aussies one and all!’9 Sometimes the very act of registering a name reveals a desire to belong. One entry states simply: ‘This is for my wife who has been in Australia 4 years and it will make her feel part of Australia.’10 Many others record a migrant’s contribution to Australia through their involvement in community organisations and maintenance of cultural traditions. In her entry, Azam Sagvand wrote about the Persian Cultural and Social Association that she founded with her husband, and of her daughters who were ‘raised as “True Blue” Aussies, while aware of their Persian culture and heritage’.11 But other entries make no mention of migration at all: Charles Ah Ching and Agness Crang married in Townsville in January 1886. They had ten children. One died in infancy. Agness and her five youngest children were murdered on their farm in Alligator Creek near Mackay. The murderer was hanged at Boggo Road Gaol in April 1912.12

This family story of unimaginable loss and grief, memoralised by a grandson almost a century later, sits uncomfortably within the positive ‘nation of immigrants’ style of the Welcome Wall. But, like the previous examples, Ah Ching’s entry is evidence of a desire to commemorate a family’s history, a desire which was fulfilled through the memorial project. The commemorative practices enacted around the Welcome Wall also differ from those at the American Immigrant Wall of Honor. The American memorial operates on a much larger scale, accumulating registrations sometimes for a number of years before adding them to the wall, and the 1990 unveiling and accompanying citizenship ceremony has not been repeated for subsequent additions. Conversely, the ANMM organises unveiling ceremonies for the Welcome Wall twice a year, where those who have registered a name are invited to attend. Each ceremony features a well-known Australian who speaks about their immigrant ancestry or their own immigration experience alongside one of the participants who has registered a name. There are musical interludes, speeches from community representatives and at the conclusion of the proceedings, everyone is asked to stand as the national anthem, ‘Advance Australia Fair’, is sung. These occasions are

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18.4. A Welcome Wall unveiling ceremony in 2002.

important public events for the museum, and for many families. At a recent ceremony in November 2012, one man who came with his family to see his father’s name added to the wall told journalists: ‘It’s nice that so many people who would otherwise be covered with a cloak of anonymity have their story and their name unveiled. It’s a personal thing … it probably means more than anything’ (Australian Associated Press 2012). The Welcome Wall ceremonies are certainly celebrations of a modern, multicultural Australia which retrospectively commemorate those who have contributed to the nation. By inviting immigrants and their descendants to add their names to the national story, albeit a ‘newer’ version, the project assimilates an imagined ‘them’ into a communal ‘us’, reiterating national boundaries and the role of the national state in shaping identities. But the addition of publicly accessible ‘microfamily histories’ online has enabled the wall to play host to personal and familial stories that inadvertently push the limits of the ‘national’. As many entries on the Virtual Welcome Wall attest, migrating to a new country does not imply a linear transition from one nationality or identity to another (quite unlike the shedding of allegiances described at the Ellis Island opening ceremony). Rather, as oral historian Alistair Thomson has written, the ‘physical passage of migration from one place to another’ is just ‘one event within a migratory experience which spans old and new worlds and which continues throughout the life of



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the migrant and into subsequent generations’ (Thomson 1999: 24). For those who choose to participate in the memorial, these links to ‘home’, or ‘homelands’, are not incompatible with a desire to belong as Australians. Conclusion The American Immigrant Wall of Honor and the Welcome Wall at the ANMM are both participatory memorial projects which visually represent a celebratory ‘nation of immigrants’ story. They share the fundamental limitation of only being able to represent those who identify positively with the story, and are willing and able to pay for their inclusion. There are lessons here for the new migration museums of European nation states, especially regarding migrants who pass through temporarily, arrive unwanted, or face deportation. Are they too part of the story of immigration? Can those who left, or never safely arrived, be memorialised alongside those who stayed? While there are community memorials in Australia that aim to represent these people, they remain separate from migrant memorial walls, and tell a different and unsettling story (Gibbings 2010; Finnimore 2006). Beyond their shared aspects, there are important differences between the two migrant memorial walls analysed here which reflect the priorities of their institutions at the time they were constructed. For the Ellis Island-Statue of Liberty Foundation, the priority was to raise money for the establishment of a new national museum by encouraging Americans to discover their immigrant ancestries. An uncomplicated story of nationbuilding by immigrants transformed into citizens was thus employed for its wide appeal. But for the ANMM, the Welcome Wall was not purely a fund-raising activity. It was a project that aimed to attract a new audience to the museum by promoting a positive idea of Australia as a nation of immigrants, while acknowledging the special place of Indigenous Australians as prior owners and ongoing custodians of the land. Along with the Tears, Fears and Cheers exhibition that accompanied it, this memorial was also designed to gently challenge prevalent assumptions about who is Australian, who is a migrant and who ‘belongs’. Most importantly, the adaptation of the Ellis Island migrant memorial wall for an Australian context almost ten years later gave participants more room to tell their own stories. As a result, it reveals the ongoing intergenerational impacts of migration, and how migrants and their descendants tell and retell family histories in order to make

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sense of their personal identities and their place in the nation. The Virtual Welcome Wall has the potential to express identities that extend beyond geographical boundaries or national narratives. Yet it also allows people to write themselves into those narratives of nation, by articulating their own ways of being Australian. Notes 1 The Welcome Wall is not alone in Australia’s memorial landscapes. A Tribute Garden opened as part of Melbourne’s Immigration Museum in 1998 features the names of 7,000 immigrants, paid for by family members or descendants. The Western Australian Museum began a welcome walls project at Victoria Quay in Fremantle in 2004, initially planning to display 2,000 names. However, public interest was so strong that the initial project was extended twice, and by its conclusion in December 2010 more than 21,000 inscriptions had been accommodated (see And at the Bonegilla Migrant Experience, a museum and heritage site interpreting a former postwar migrant hostel in north-east Victoria, relatives of ex-residents are currently being invited to ‘help build a wall of memories’ by purchasing a memorial plaque for a tribute wall (see whatisit.asp). 2 See the Migration Museum Project website: (accessed 3 April 2013). 3 Sue Effenberger, ‘Note to Interactive Committee, Voyage from Vietnam subtheme’, 6 July 1990, File E02.0386 Exhibitions: Passengers, Development of Audio Visuals and Computer Interactives, Australian National Maritime Museum. 4 The phrase ‘one of history’s great migrations’ was used in the introductory panel of the Tears, Fears and Cheers exhibition in 1998. Australian National Maritime Museum, ‘Tears, Fears and Cheers, final theme, story and object labels’, Draft 4, 4 March 1998, File 2099.0580/3, ANMM Archives. The same phrase is still used on the Welcome Wall website. See (accessed 8 April 2013). 5 This description is quoted from an unauthored photo caption in the museum’s magazine. See Signals: Quarterly Newsletter of the Australian National Maritime Museum 38 (March–May 1997): 2. 6 The Cadigal (or Gadigal) and the Burraburragal (also Birribirragal) refer to Aboriginal groups who occupied areas around Sydney Harbour at the time of British colonisation, and whose descendants are now recognised as the traditional owners of those lands.



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7 ‘Edwin Jones’, Panel 27, Column 2, Line number 48, Welcome Wall database. Online: (accessed 8 March 2013). 8 ‘Frank Owain Jones’, Panel 24, Column 2, Line 39, Welcome Wall database. Online: (accessed 8 March 2013). 9 ‘Vittorio Cecchin’, Panel 67, Column 1, Line number 138; ‘Bernard Machin’, Panel 63, Column 1, Line number 80; ‘Ann Whibley-Jones’, Panel 9, Column 1, Line number 73, Welcome Wall database. Online: http://welcomewall.anmm. (accessed 8 March 2013). 10 ‘Zulitah Barail’, Panel 47, Column 2, Line 6, Welcome Wall database. Online: (accessed 8 March 2013). 11 ‘Azam Sagvand’, Panel 28, Column 2, Line 106, Welcome Wall database. Online: (accessed 8 March 2013). 12 ‘Charles Ah Ching’, Panel 2, Column 1, Line 10, Welcome Wall database. Online: (accessed 8 March 2013).

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