What is art if not a space for Thinking the imposible?
Of Bridges and Borders
For someone like me, who is interested in the concepts of space, territory and place, the ways in which these are constructed in the social imaginary through the artistic practices and how they are affected by the "new technologies" dialectics, it results especially attractive to reflect upon notions like "Bridges" or "Borders".
That's why, when in an exhibition I came across a colleague of this world of art -using the terms of Bourriaud, we could call it a relational encounter- who talked to me about a book called Of Bridges and Borders, a great curiosity stirred up in me.
Of that curiosity arose, days latter, an interesting chat with this collaborator and co-author of the book, who gave me a copy. As I had already suspected, and as I confirmed when reading it -seeing and experimenting it- Of Bridges and Borders was, more than a typical book, an ambitious editorial, a conceptual and artistic project. It was going beyond of the notion of territory that concerned me a priori.
"An exhibition catalogue without exhibition". This was maybe one of the first things that drew my attention on the object I had in my hands. In fact, it is a compilation of works presented or/and documented through images and, in some cases, texts of the same artists. Some of them, among which are Cales Amorales, Liam Gillick, Jorge Macchi o Joseph-María Martín, present works specifically created for this project. Others, like Antoni Muntadas, Chris Burden or Santiago Sierra, present previously developed projects, but that perfectly fit the concepts of "bridge" and "border".
These works are presented in a non-linear sense, without a chronological, thematic or typological organization, which is not new in the exhibitional discourse. Indeed -a clear declaration of principles-, in the introduction of the book, the proposal of Harald Szeemann in his exhibition When Attitudes Become Form (1969) is specifically mentioned. This exhibition, a milestone for north-American post-minimalism, intended to go beyond objects by focusing on behaviours and gestures. It was considered with an interest in "an interactive, open and, above all, live event that would give rise to proposals and attitudes capable of transforming lives and conditions of participants. A return to the ritual of discovery"i. So, this exhibition without exhibition arises with the same vocation of provoking interpretation and generating new senses for the notions of "bridge" and "border". This goes on trough an approach from the margins -the same kind of approach that defines for Vattimo the knowledge rhetoric of Postmodern thinking. Is the kind of look that, in the time of the proliferation of images, follows the way of exhibition and interpretation started by Aby Warburg with Mnemosine Atlas and continued by Visual Studies.
On the same idea of "exhibition catalogue without exhibition", Sigismond de Vajay -editor of the book- said in an interview that one of the advantages of this format is its mobility. "A book makes possible to have your project in different countries and spaces in a simultaneous way. It is also a popular format that people can have and feel part of it. Books allow you to relate to a larger public that exhibition format"ii.
It is an interesting and contradictory statement for a moment in which immediacy and simultaneity of digital communication networks seem to threaten the future of the book as a physical objectiii.
So, this book seems to regain object fetishism -by a quality edition and a curated design. It's not a fetishism for an artistic object, that has become attitude and gesture, but for the object-book. With it, we intend to seize a virtual exhibition experience with a great interpretative potential. The function of the book is still being a knowledge resource, but of a relational knowledge that needs an open reading of its contents. We could think about a dialogue with contemporary culture of immateriality: to recover the physical experience as a means to approach conceptual trough virtual.
But this Project-book goes beyond the idea of how artistic practices can be in its different languages, a means of reflection of certain concepts- bridge or border. As a meta-tale of artistic language itself, Of Bridges and Borders present different examples of how artistic practices can be bridges that cross borders of traditional artistic typologies from visual arts to architecture, cinema, photography, installation or performance. In presents a panorama where artistic practices seem to stablish more bridges that borders. And that's why it's inevitable to think about Arthur C. Danto and his ideas on the "end of art". An "end of art" that is not its death, but the passing from a reflection about artistic language to its use for conceptual reflection. "Everything is possible" in a linguistic and stylistic way. We are within the post-modernist discourses again.
And in order to go deep into the critical and interpretative discourse that Of Bridges and Borders suggests to the reader, we'll have to resort again to the post-modern. So, beyond the book format, the presented works or the explained concepts, I'd like to express some ideas about the notions of "bridge" and "border", that arose from my own experience of the book.
In order to make an approach to the content of the book maybe we should trace a genealogy of the concept of "border". How it's been developed at the eastern culture -from the Roman limes to the territorial borders of the modern National-State and all its implications- and how it becomes a metaphorical term. However, I think it would be enough to approach the concept from the post modernism's perspective, especially from the often quoted idea introduced by Lyotard about the fall of modern meta narratives -which has been mentioned here in relation to Vattimo's "weak thinking" and the fall of artistic narratives.
The border is the limit, the end, the real or imaginary line that separates two elements or territories. And, in this sense, from a modern perspective, necessarily refers to the notion of Identity.
As J.C. Velasco explains, at the end of the XVIII century, the Enlightenment claimed that the important thing was reason, no matter where it was formulated. And insisted in the notion that the State -demarcated by borders- embodied the universality of reason. So, other aspects -as regions, minorities and, finally, cultural diversity- were merely accidental, because they were outside the logic of the Stateiv. So, with the end of the Enlightenment ideology, with the end of the predominance of reason and the supremacy of State -which is, with the fall of the meta narrative- the identity roots and the sense of membership reclaim a new prominence in our society. Is the beginning of the micro-narratives.
But it is also the beginning of a new sense of the term "border". It's not a just a line of separation, but also a point of contact. The border becomes at the same time a point of dissociation and of union, a conflict point where identities are re-negotiatedv. This is how artists like Santiago Sierra in Submission or Antoni Muntadas in Fear/Miedo have seen the subject of borders, and also other artists that don't appear on this book, as Krzysztof Wodiczko, with The Tijuana Projection -three projects that share a reflection about the Mexican border as a point of union, separation and conflict.
Wodiczko, The Tijuana Projection
Because in the contemporary context, the context of Globalization discourses -the Meta-narrative of our time- the supposed disappearance of the borders of the National State and the opening to the multicultural collides with the hardening of protectionist measures of "northern" states. A conflict that is also present in Europe at the Strait of Gibraltar as a natural and cultural border -and present also in many artistic projects.
It is just here where we can introduce the concept of "bridge". Bridges are structures of union between two points; elements that allow us to go through the borders. They can be physical, material, but also metaphorical. And this is the scope that artistic practices can be achieved -as it's shown in this book. In this way, The Journey of Bamba -the shocking tale of a senegalian immigrant's experience that arrives to Spain, collected by Josep-María Martín - intends to be a bridge between two very different cultural experiences. I'd also like to point out the Thomas Hischhorn's Ur-Collage, that link images from the world of fashion with atrocious images from military conflicts. This linked images establish a bridge -that is primarily visual- but that entails a great political and ideological charge around the own borders of reality.
Thomas Hirschhorn, Ur-Collages
This makes me think that the fact of the existence of bridges -those kind of bridges that try to approach and overcome socio-cultural, political, ideological (and also formal within artistic language) borders- is just a symptom of the existence of gaps and borders. Then, bridges can be seen, not only as a union point, but as signs that underneath them exists a breaking-off, a gap. Bridges are, in any sense, marks of border. So, artistic practices alone can be a bridge and can construct bridges for dialogue and understanding -an approach to the "other" from an intercultural perspective. If this is true, logic tells us that we should go on constructing bridges until they won't be necessary.
For the moment, it's enough if bridges and borders -inner, geographical, imaginary, later and endless- are the basis to generate an open space for reflection about our socio-cultural, political and artistic context. And in this sense, Of Bridges and Borders occupies a unique multidimensional and trans-border space...
i DE VAJAY, Sigismond (Ed.), Of Bridges and Borders, Jrp-Ringier, 2009. Pág. 5.
ii Interview to Sigismond de Vajay in Neo2 Blog, December 3rd 2009, in http://www.neo2.es/blog/2009/12/of-bridges-borders/
iii Remembering Nicolas Negroponte, books still remain in atoms World and are not part of bits world.
iv VELASCO, Juan Carlos, El Multiculturalismo, ¿Una Nueva Ideología?, in ALCINA, J., CALÉS, M., (Ed.), Hacia una Nueva Ideología para el Siglo XXI, Akal, Madrid, 2000.
v We should think in oher related concepts as Nomadism, Archipelago and, in a cultural sense, in Multiculturalism and Interculturality.