The following is a short text accompanying a body of work made during the course of last year. All of those works will be posted under “recent works”, elsewhere on this site in the weeks to come. I had initially intended these works to be shown together at some point, but with the passing of Helen and Derek and the close of Gallery Delta, momentum took a slightly different direction. Clay Pot was shown at Artillery, Lines in Space was sold and War Table is currently on exhibition at the National Gallery. So I thought to post this in the meantime, and time will tell what transpires in months to come with regard to the whole body of the work.
Recently (within the last decade), I wrote about the emergence of the materials in these works. I had also written in a little more detail about the first work mentioned Carving Lines. The text below looks more closely at idea of a border and borders in relation to those enclosed or excluded by such a boundary and the implications of this and the works that were created within these ideas.
Harare, November 2022.
This body of work began as an interrogation of the national boundary of Zimbabwe; a questioning of The Border, and borders in general, markers of the limits of political jurisdiction of the sovereign state and its cultural, socio-economicand socio-political conditions. As work progressed, “border” emerged less as a boundary or containing/excluding structure, but as a signifier of the state, insofar as it represented the structures (both physical and ideological) according to which conditions are manifest, becoming mediator or interface between state and citizen.
Both the structures and the relationships that evolve around this border are in a constant state of flux and negotiation, from where the title Grey-Zones emerged. Three interconnected themes became apparent; the nature of the structure itself, the implications and conditions wherein the border acts as mediator between the individual and state, and the ramifications of these conditions at an individual level – what it is to stand (metaphorically) on one side of a structure or another, or to occupy a position of liminality.
Lines in Space
Whilst much of the work employs media commonly associated with borders and boundaries, the idea of ‘border’ should not be reduced to a structure or physical boundary, nor be seen to simply direct a social or cultural response. George Simmel (in Schimanski 2021) argues that the boundary is not a “spacial fact” with sociological consequences, but rather the opposite. Whilst the boundary may be understood as the manifestation of cultural, sociological or psychological phenomenon and might be clarified by being seen as a line in space, reducing it to such undermines the dynamic aspect of the border, and the temporal aspects of meeting and dividing. We understand the border as emerging through the consequence of human agency, and more importantly, our efforts to clarify and delimit the border contradict the fact that borders exists in a constant state of flux, are temporal and in a process of being conditioned by human agency.
Carving Lines (2021, Fig.1) refers primarily to the “line in space”, the marking and codifying the border; an acknowledgement of the violence of the action. The materials and form refer to historical aspects of the process. Images drawn from Google Earth speak to the all-seeing, elevated viewpoint that emerged with the colonial gaze and the removal of that eye from the place of the division, as well as the present structure that identifies the porous and assaulted division between Zimbabwe and South Africa bringing into focus the nature of state boundaries in general.
Whereas the work above calls the physical attributes into question, Lines in Space (2021, Fig. 2) interrogates the porosity of the boundary, questioning both the crosser and those who would construct the barrier. The dismantling of the borderline and the literal opening of the “barrier” allows the spectator to pass through the work, interrogating the process of ‘crossing’. The boundary disintegrates and re-forms according to the spectator’s position, remaining in memory as both a visible line and as loss of form.
The process of crossing is elucidated. Schimanski (2011:3), observes that the splitting of the border (when crossing) compromises its status as a barrier, revealing itself as a passage, consequently affirming and denying the border. The work presents not only the opportunity to consider the boundary, but also the status of crossing. Through this process the relationship to the border (and those who erect/maintain/administer it) becomes dynamic and mutable and exists by virtue of the spectator’s own authority.
The memory of the line formed and un-formed explores aspects of Schimanski’s Crossing and Reading (2010), in which he observes that our crossing allows us to “bring the border with us” (through experience, understanding and memory). Our perceptions of the border may change as we review our theories of the nature of the “structure”. The concept of the border as interface between citizen and state emerges and new narratives of both the border and the border crosser arise.
Mediator and Interface
Within later works, the notion of the state as authority develops, with concepts proceeding from the writing of Houtum and Wolfe (Schimanski and Wolfe, 2019: 131), that the border represents an act of waiting; Waiting in terms of a “‘final border’ which involves degrees of “subjectification” and internalisation of the state by those who are based in a given territorial order, and through which citizens are included and being made…”. One in which two mutually reinforcing forces underline processes of opening and closure, inclusion and exclusion.
Houtum and Wolfe explicate this concept through analysis of Kafka’s Before the Law, as well as Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians. In the first, Kafka portrays and individual waiting before a state authority and the efforts of that authority to subjectify and control the individual. Through the latter, the authors elucidate the manner in which those maintaining the border-as-periphery have agency on those both within and without the structure, and the manner in which that conditions the citizen in regard to the state. Of significance is the term “citizening” which highlights the fact that the relationship between the citizen and the state is not an event but a process involving negotiations between parties with inherent complexities and dynamics.
Before the Law (2021, Fig. 3) brings the spectator face to face with a structure. Unlike Borderlines, access within or through is denied and concepts of inclusion/exclusion become apparent. Through its layers and materials within Before the Law elicits ideas of partial inclusion and shared history are suggested but they are peripheral and speak to a core which has become more than the contributions of the two parties. The concept of “waiting” and the arrangement of stools suggest a surrendering or subjugation to the authority of the structures constructed through time, evolved, unknown and inaccessible.
A similar view of the authoritarian state, one of enforced homogeneity, over-seeing control, artificial order, separation and division is considered in War Table, (2021 Fig. 6). The work recalls not only the plotting tables employed in warfare, but also a social order planned from a removed position, seen from what Scott (1998:57) refers to as a “God’s-eye view, or view of absolute ruler”. In contrast to earlier works, the viewpoint is outside; removed, transcendent, denying interaction.
Nine Buckets (2021, Fig. 7) responds more closely to the human element, drawing from a specific protest in 2021. The objects explore the nature of resources, access, administration and control, considering the basic needs and rights of the individual in direct relation to the structures of the state. The symbolic and functional items reference the impact of decision making and abuse manifest within daily existence.
The means in which authority is enforced is questions within Fences (2021, Fig. 8), looking critically at the relationship between individual and state and the wider apparatus, including the humanity intertwined within this matrix. The work comprises 10 “posts” – hand-held spikes such as previously employed by the traffic police (they were banned on the 13th May of this year, following the death of four people in a spike related commuter bus accident (New Zimbabwe [O]). Insofar as they are less “artistically” than “functionally” created, they are understood as both as found objects and versionswith similar origin to the implements employed by the police: Homemade tools built for control at the whim of the individual. Unlike an object such as a button or handcuffs, mass produced items that are sanctioned by authority, the posts of Fences, both through their unique form and their manner of creation interrogate the nature of the individual who chooses to create, employ such an item.
There is the collective aspect of state organisation of both the authority and the citizenry and the ongoing balance and negotiation between the forces. However, within Fences the individual seems to be brought into question, this is a breakdown of the balance of us and you (pl), becoming me and (vs. against?) you (s), an interrogation of the line that demarcates an established set of behaviour and responses at an individual level, but underlined and endorsed by the structures on whose behalf they operate.
The investigations into borders in the work above recognise the complexity of the relationship between individual and state and the dynamic, mutable conditions of existence. The work considers the nature of the boundaries, the transformation of these through their crossing, and the manner in which they include and exclude on both a collective and individual level. Through media, metaphorical meaning is explored, through the perspectives of both the individual and the state. What emerges is an enquiry into aspects of borders, their origin and the manner in which they condition contemporary existence.
List of References
New Zimbabwe [O], 2022. “Police boos Matanga bans use of spikes”. Available at http://www.newzimbabwe.com/police-boss-matanga-bans-use-of-spikes-by-traffic-cops/ (Accessed 2 November 2022).
Schimanski, Johan. (2010). Border Images, Border Narratives: The Political Aesthetics of Boundaries and Crossings.Manchester: MUP.
Schimanski, Johan. (2011). Crossing and reading: Notes towards a theory and method. Nordlit. DOI: 10. 10.7557/13.1835. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/33417018_Crossing_and_reading_Notes_towards_a_theory_and_method(Accessed 4 February 2021).
Schimanski, J. and Jopi Nyman (Eds). (2019.) Border Images, Border Narratives: The Political Aesthetics of Boundaries and Crossings. MUP: Manchester.
Schimanski, Johan, and Stephen F. Wolfe., 2013. “The Aesthetics of Borders”. Assigning Cultural Values. New York: Berghahn.
Scott, James. C. 2020. Seeing Like a State. London: YUP (Veritas Kindle Edition).