In 1998, students in the University of Rochester’s Visual and Cultural Studies graduate program founded InVisible Culture as an open-access, online journal, featuring peer-reviewed scholarly articles, artworks and other creative projects, book and exhibition reviews, and other short writings. This spring, InVisible Culture proudly publishes its 25th issue. To celebrate this milestone, we present a double issue of the journal—Security and Visibility and Border Crossings—along with a number of special contributions from University of Rochester faculty. This special insert includes short essays by Visual and Cultural Studies Graduate Program Director Rachel Haidu, Chair of the Department of Art and Art History Joan Saab, and Director of the Film and Media Studies Program Jason Middleton, as well as an interview with renowned art historian Douglas Crimp about his memoir Before Pictures. Additionally, members of InVisible Culture’s Editorial Board collaborated with the George Eastman Museum in Rochester, NY to curate a film series that expands Issue 25’s theme into a cinematic register. The series, titled (In)Visibility was screened at the Dryden Theatre in the Fall of 2016.
Issue 26: Border Crossings
When we put forth the theme for Issue 26 in the fall of 2015, we were responding to the acute refugee crisis that was unfolding at the borders of Southern Europe as refugees from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan were crossing the Mediterranean in their attempt to flee war and persecution. The largely inadequate responses of nation-states and international organizations to the plight of the refugees highlighted the inflexibility of borders and the effect of nationalistic ideologies on the lives of the most vulnerable.
The photographs that emerged from the crisis confronted us with the power of images, their affective potential, and the politics of representation. More than a year later, we are contending with the ever growing rise of populism and the continual threat of military escalation, leading to a renewed sense of urgency and precarity.
While the contributions we received for this issue covered a broad range of geopolitical contexts, Christa Joo Hyun D’Angelos video work Past, Present, Tense is the only work that confronts the current realities of the refugee crisis. Instead, most authors and artists sought the engagement with US-american border regimes and their material, social, affective, and psychological manifestations. Many of our contributors invariably defy the idea of the border as “no man’s land” and instead focus on the lived experiences of those who inhabit and indeed cross the borders.
Issue 26 examines how border crossings can challenge the stable, ontological distribution of power, capital, and resources along constructed lines of demarcation. Contributors consider how border crossings can be a conceptual tool to understand the inclusion and exclusion of not just bodies and materials, but of ideologies and cultures. Against the backdrop of multiculturalism and neoliberal democracy, the contributors examine how racial, class, and gender borders undermine the possibility of a unified political project, how borders produce stateless subjects to perpetuate precarious conditions of labor, and how can we think of borders as a form of infrastructural control and networked artificial intelligence. And if a visual object is a material manifestation of globalization, how does it negotiate borders through its circulation?
In “Suturing the Borderlands: Postcommodity and Indigenous Presence on the U.S.-Mexico Border,” Matthew Irwin provides a deeply localized reading of “Repellent Fence,” a temporary art installation launched by the Southwest-base art collective Postcommodity. Through the lenses of border art history, postcolonial theory, and border studies, Irwin argues that “Repellent Fence” is an intervention in the particular location of the Douglas/Agua Prieta border. More specifically, by engaging with Miwon Kwon’s study of site-specific art and Mark Salter’s interpretation of borders as “sutures,” he suggests “Repellent Fence” has evaluated the conditions and structures of coloniality and prompted localized decolonial activities. Indeed, local readings of the project as a “suture” between Douglas and Agua Prieta activated existing cross-border social networks and formations, which José David Saldívar refers to as “trans-Americanity.” These networks defy cultural articulations of the border as a “no-man’s land” and reject the totality of the nation-state form as expressed by geopolitical borders more broadly. Postcommodity demonstrated the efficacy of these networks and the actuality of trans-Americanity when local customs workers helped transport helium across the border, despite the official policy that labels helium as HAZMAT (hazardous materials) and prohibits such a transfer.
In “Shilpa Gupta: Art Beyond Borders,” Christine Vial Kayser looks at the works of Shilpa Gupta, an Indian artist who confronts essentialist notions of identity and of subjectivity on which premises South Asian cultural, social and political principles are based, and argues that these notions induce and legitimize violence and coercive policies against individuals and groups targeted for their nationality, religion, and gender. Gupta instead offers an understanding of identity as multi-layered and relative to time and space, having to do with the memories, subjectivities, and affects that daily activities and human encounters map into the mind through the peripatetic movements of the body produced by walking. Upon encountering Gupta’s work, spectators are invited to walk toward the art object or vicariously experience a walk presented by a performer and accompanied by textual narration. The commonality between the various situations presented by the works is that the walk is always performed by an anonymous individual simultaneously submitting to and resisting powers outside of their control. Using Irit Rogoff’s concept of “inhabitation” and Michel de Certeau’s practice of everyday life, the article attempts to show that the sometimes vicarious, sometimes kinaesthetic encounter with Gupta’s works communicates to the observer the subjective power of banal gestures, while the immateriality of the works resist oppressive forces.
Daryl Meador’s “Smooth Cruising: Bicycling across (In)Visible Boundaries” explores the politics, affects, and ethics of group bicycle riding on the US-Mexico Border, through auto-ethnography and collaborative research with the Doble Rueda Bicycle Collective in Matamoros, Tamaulipas. In a context of entrenched violence and corruption, Doble Rueda utilizes the visceral and connective capacities of group bicycling to build community across borders within their city, both spatial and social. Meador’s essay explores how the bicycle’s inherent nature as an aleatory and affective form of mobility fosters the capability to re-mediate and re-narrate space, challenging the increasing securitization and discursive divisions imposed by the United States.
In “The Nomad’s Baggage: Imagining the Nation in a Global World,” Ahyoung Yoo suggests a more geographically situated reading of the nomadism exhibited in Korean artist Do Ho Suh’s works. By closely examining the histories of Japanese colonization, American imperialism, and Hardt and Negri’s definition of Empire, Yoo looks for how various imperial forces are revealed by works like Uni-form and Some/One. She argues Suh’s Home series, which is emblematic of his personal biography and international trajectory as a celebrated cosmopolitan Korean artist, is not only a symbol of nostalgia for home, but also a manifestation of the non-fixity of home for a contemporary nomad. Yoo situates the Home series at the intersection of critical discourses generated by Miwon Kwon, James Meyer, and Carol Becker and identifies Suh’s nomadism as a crucial aspect of Korean contemporary art. Even though Suh’s works are generally not viewed as “political” art, she argues that they are in fact fraught with tumultuous Korean national politics and history. Therefore, Yoo treats Suh’s works as a case study in which the geographical context can be used to understand the global politics of the increasingly cosmopolitan outreach of contemporary Korean artists. In so doing, she parses out the signifiers of Korean identity and national consciousness which appear to be historical and political baggages buried underneath the signs of global capitalism.
“Past, Present, Tense,” a video work by Christa Joo Hyun D’Angelo, examines the question of German identity and its relationship to racism in the past and present. Through various interviews the viewer observes social and political transitions in Germany, from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the current refugee crisis. The protagonists in the video work, mostly Germans of color, recall how their own education failed to recognize and address German colonialism, the 1990 pogroms across Germany and the fraught history of multiculturalism, contributing to a cultural amnesia, in which past tragedy is all but forgotten in the present. At a time when massive right wing tendencies threaten and repel democratic institutions, the video work poses critical questions on how to define the borders of European identity beyond ethnic belongings and on how to reckon with white privilege and responsibility amid ongoing global shifts and local transformations.
“Doing Time” by Kristian Vistrup Madsen is a video work based on a book project of the same title. Through correspondence with a Californian prisoner, “Doing Time” is a personal, critical and investigative reflection on the conditions for the political, the politics of solidarity, and the nature of difference.
In “Borderline,” Andreas Rutkauskas photographs particular locations along the U.S./Canada border where official crossing points used to exist. The photographs establish a pastoral landscape that is typical of the North American frontier. These pictures stand in contrast to our collective imagination surrounding the term “border,” which conjures up imagery of more heavily militarized zones of separation such as Israel’s Green Line, the Indo-Pakistani Line of Control, or the De-militarized Zone (DMZ) between South and North Korea.