All posts filed under: Articles

Suturing the Borderlands: Postcommodity and Indigenous Presence on the U.S.-Mexico Border

By Matthew Irwin. For three days in early October 2015, the art collective Postcommodity launched a temporary art installation that reached fifty feet above the desert and two miles across the U.S.-Mexico border. I watched that weekend as they anchored twenty-six helium-filled balloons to the desert floor and let them ascend to create a visual and conceptual link between Douglas, Arizona and Agua Prieta, Sonora.(fig.1). Each yellow, ten-foot diameter balloon had been inscribed with four sets of concentric circles—red, blue, black, and gray, with a black center—to form two pair of “scare eyes” (fig. 2). Postcommodity repurposed a ten-inch consumer bird repellent product known as a “scare-eye” balloon, which is meant to repel birds from fruit trees, gardens, awnings, fences, and everywhere else they are unwanted.1 In fact, Postcommodity’s Kade Twist discovered the product while trying to break-up a “bird party” on his backyard fig tree in Phoenix.2 After the birds figured out that the balloons are harmless within a couple of days, Twist shared the experience with then-Postcommodity member Steve Yazzie, and Yazzie joked that …

Smooth Cruising: Bicycling across (In)Visible Boundaries

By Daryl Meador. In January 2015 I visited the border city of Brownsville, Texas, driving eight hours south of my hometown of Dallas with a friend to visit his father. During this brief winter visit I was unexpectedly introduced to the Doble Rueda (Double Wheel) bicycling collective operating within Matamoros, Tamaulipas, the Mexican city that shares the border with Brownsville. I joined a social bicycle ride within Matamoros, the first of many, full of unexpected turns and encounters which profoundly shifted my own perception of the place. This introduction spurred a year-long collaboration between members of Doble Rueda and myself, a collective research endeavor that methodologically took the form of many exploratory bicycle rides, lots of hanging out, a few formal interviews, and various modes of filmmaking. This essay compiles varied lines of inquiry that emerged from these collaborative experiences on the bicycle in Matamoros. The text journeys through personal prose, ethnographic observations, socio-political history, and spatial border theory, unraveling in sometimes unexpected ways that mirror the experience of bicycling as an inherently aleatory form …

The Nomad’s Baggage: Imagining the Nation in a Global World

Written by Ahyoung Yoo. The Nomad’s Baggage of History in Navigating the Empire An architectural fabric sculpture, made of silk, hangs from the ceiling (Fig. 1). It looks like a bottomless tent at first sight. Despite the blowy material it is made of , the sculpture is eerily serene as it hangs still. Upon closer inspection, the fabric sculpture reveals meticulous attention to details and patterns one could find in traditional Asian temples. The fabric is called eunchosa in Korean. This type of thin silk is from China, mostly used in making airy and lightweight summer clothes. The tactile quality of thin silk may be least associated with the building materials of architecture, to say the least. The way Home hangs aloof adds to the regal, majestic, and even ghostly calmness the work exudes. A material once so prized, associated with the highly covetable noble life style, the fabric evokes to the first historical trade route connecting the East and West: the Silk Road. What was once the material that symbolized the trade routes connecting …

Shilpa Gupta: Art Beyond Borders

By Christine Vial Kayser The Indian artist Shilpa Gupta (b. 1976) was born and educated in Mumbai, where she also lives and works. Having entered into global art market very early in her artistic career, she uses a global vocabulary is related to formal and conceptual vocabulary of Western Conceptual, Minimalist, and Relational art.1 Yet her use of local hand-made paper, fake Indian administrative forms, hand-woven fabrics, and local medicine, as well as the narratives embedded in her works, ground her practice in a South Asian context. Her aim is somewhat to foreground the preconceptions which we tend to project on our environment rather than engaging liberally with it. Many of her works confront essentialist and nationalist notions of identity in the context of the violence that predates intercommunity and family life in the Sub-continent. Her work is particularly concerned with the estrangement between India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, which cultivated by nationalist governments. She works against essentialist notions of identity as defined by social and political forces: gendered and religious narratives, and the nation-state’s logic of …

Intimacy and Annihilation: Approaching the Enforcement of U.S. Colonial Rule in the Southern Philippines through a Private Photograph Collection

By Silvan Niedermeier A blurred grey-tone photograph. Probably taken from a boat. We see lightly rippled water, a landline with several mountain peaks, and billowed clouds in the sky. Whiteness emanates from a point behind the clouds in the upper midst of the picture indicating the position of the sun vis-à-vis the photographer and viewer. At first glance, one might guess that the photographer took this picture to capture the sublime scenery in front of him or her. Yet, why did she or he keep this photograph despite its apparent visual deficits? Maybe, the photographer wanted to remember the situation in which she or he took the picture or keep it as a memorabilia of the very view depicted. Or else, the taker of the image attached a certain aesthetic value to the picture as such. Our guessing continues until we view the backside of the slightly curled photograph. Suddenly, while reading the handwritten words, the image on the front side makes more sense; that is, its connotations begin to unfold, start to pierce and …

Visual Unreliability and the Questioning of Security Measures in Homeland

By Greta Olson Having just begun its sixth season, Showtime’s spy thriller Homeland was greeted by television critics as a new type of critical post-‘9/11’ text when it premiered to great fanfare in 2011. The series has documented the United States’ sense of its continuous vulnerability to terrorist threats as well as the country’s ongoing obsession with security in the post-attack era. In this sense Homeland bears similarities with earlier ‘9/11’ texts such as the series 24 and the film World Trade Center. Nonetheless, the series appeared to provide critique of some post-‘9/11’ anti-terrorist policies and incursions on civil rights. The novelty or, as I will argue, the post-ness of Homeland as compared to dominant ‘9/11’ texts like 24 or the film Zero Dark Thirty was demonstrated by the series’ comparatively critical depictions of torture as a form of gathering intelligence. Rather than effective, torture was shown to be inferior to more humane and psychologically refined forms of learning about security risks. For instance, in “The Weekend” (SE 01 E07), CIA Division Chief Saul Berenson …

Fashion of Fear for Kids

By Barbara Sutton and Kate Paarlberg-Kvam Bullet-resistant apparel for civilians has emerged as a symptom of fear in the contemporary world– one in which a preoccupation with “security” pervades public policy, media images, and even intimate aspects of the self. Common security discourses range from concerns about national security and the threat of terrorism to freedom from robbery and street crime. In this context, garments known as “bulletproof” 1 function within a spectrum of tactics aimed to produce security in everyday life, including gated communities, surveillance cameras, and armored vehicles. Among these, bulletproof fashion operates the closest to the body, blending a feeling of increased security with concerns around bodily appearance. Bulletproof garments have crossed over from the domain of military, police, and security forces and have begun to find a place in everyday civilian life. They are examples of privatized security tactics functioning in line with the neoliberal imperative to find solutions in the economic marketplace, and to construct the “self as enterprise.” 2 This militarized security approach cannot be separated from the politics of fear …

Hans Richter’s Rhythmus Films in G: the Collective Cinematographic

Written by Erin McClenathan Filmmaker Hans Richter was one of the founding contributors to G: Materials for Elemental Form-Creation (G: Material zur elementaren Gestaltung) and the only to stay his tenure as editor through the journal’s entire six-issue run from July 1923 to April 1926.1 The G-group did not intend for their Berlin-based publication to uphold the tenets of a particular style or movement but to model a process through which the reader might recognize—and ideally gain the ability to shape—a unified aesthetics of the everyday. The collaborators’ mission, according to the statement embedded in the masthead of G’s first issue, was “[t]o clarify the general situation of art and life. We choose materials with that in mind. Articles and works that seek clarity—and not merely expression. Everything can be of use to creative work and the creative worker.”2 The diversity of topics that the multinational and multilingual panel of contributors submitted to G during its relatively short lifespan attests to the collectivist genesis of the project, from articles by Mies van der Rohe on “Industrial Building” …

A Stranger in the Gallery: Conceptions of the Body Through Art and Theory

Written by Sarah W. Abu Bakr Objects of Horror and Desire The Western gallery has historically been the pedestal for notions of the classical body, perfected in the Renaissance through the hands of White masters such as Da Vinci and Michelangelo. To this day, in this postmodern moment, the Western and Western-influenced gallery’s welcoming of the grotesque body, and the body of the stranger, remains problematic, and historically charged. The gallery in this paper is a conceptual space. While it may manifest in actual gallery spaces—white walled rooms inside white cube museums—what truly matters here is the act of exhibiting, in other words, who has historically been object to be viewed, and who is the viewer? Historically, when an image of the Other is placed in a Western gallery, it is there to mark its difference and strangeness.1 A clear example of this is the display of South African Sarah Baartman’s living and later deceased body (commonly referred to as the Hottentot Venus) as an object to be viewed by White spectators. Baartman’s body was …

“Bold German graphic design”: Arts et métiers graphiques and New Typography

Written by Kristof Van Gansen In this paper, I consider the way the French graphic arts magazine Arts et métiers graphiques (Graphic Arts and Crafts, 1927-1939) responded to New Typography, a form of typography that had its origins in the Central European avant-gardes and that strove for maximal clarity, submitting the form of printed matter to its function, and how this response is typical of the magazine’s cautious stance towards international avant-garde art—a position characteristic of France in the interwar period. A central work of New Typography is Die neue Typographie (1928),1 written by the German typographer Jan Tschichold, who is generally seen as one of the most important designers of the first half of the twentieth century. While other artists such as László Moholy-Nagy had already published on this new conception of design, Tschichold distilled and elaborated their ideas in what he wanted to be a theoretical and practical handbook for printers and designers that was in tune with the modern age of the machine and the engineer. In France, New Typography never really took off, …

Amending Rachel Whiteread’s Water Tower: Infrastructure as Art, Art as Infrastructure

By James Middlebrook Some commissions are obtained by indirect or unusual means. Several years ago, luck and other factors resulted in the author of this paper obtaining a design commission that was not sought after. Of particular note, in this case the commissioning client did not foresee that the commission would add on to a famous contemporary art installation piece. This scenario involved an artwork that intelligently works in a surreptitious manner – so much so, that client and viewers alike may not have recognized the work’s extents. Not only is it unclear just where the artwork ends, but the client initially did not acknowledge that working on the project’s context meant working on the artwork itself. The additions to this particular project were diminutive in physical scale, consisting mostly of four ladders, a number of steel railings, and an expanse of metal grating. It started as a simple work order from the Building Services Department at the Museum of Modern Art, but in retrospect, the conceptual depth of this project far exceeds that of …

Examining Amsterdam RealTime: Blueprints, the Cartographic Imaginary and the Locative Uncanny

Written By Ned Prutzer In Human Machine Reconfigurations: Plans and Situated Actions, Lucy Suchman argues that all plans or blueprints are contingent upon different modes, styles, and visions that precede the plan itself. Plans are rendered “abstractions over action” rather than final, complete, or faithful articulations of action.1 There are myriad contexts, actors, institutions, and agencies producing effects that are unanticipated by the blueprint. The ways in which plans often fall short is thus a worthwhile site of analysis. I want to focus on this notion of blueprints’ failure in precision to identify broader modes of representation underpinning locative art projects while critiquing their faith in precision and objectivity. For Amsterdam RealTime, an early locative art project from 2002, locative artist Esther Polak traced subjects’ movements with geospatial technologies as they walked, biked, or drove through Amsterdam. An animation of each subject’s traces results. When aggregated onto a screen, these traces draw out the Amsterdam city grid as the subjects have enacted it. Amsterdam RealTime was displayed as the final installment of the Maps of …