立場新聞 Stand News

Borders drifting through body experience

2019/1/23 — 8:38

【Text by Wanqiu Zeng】

The project was a series of experiments, web publications, forums, workshops, performances, screenings, and exhibitions exploring nation, identity, and the individual. All the works within the six special events organized over four days pounded the didactical concept between Common and Community. Common is held by or applicable to a majority of the people, and Community is a group of people sharing a common interest and relating together socially. All the artists though originating from different backgrounds, shows the from minority and set a conversation from the majority to the minority.

The project Drifting Borders opened just a few days before National Day of China. China is celebrating “Golden Week” as the country marks the 69th anniversary of the establishment of the People's Republic of China on October 1. As domestic tourism surges year-on-year, highways are packed, and tourist attractions overcrowded during the week-long national holiday. All across China, special events are, and tourist businesses are running at full capacity. Hong Kong marked China’s National Day with official celebrations, a surge of visitors from across the border using the new, high-speed rail service, and protests challenging a government crackdown on independence advocacy.


For the opening ceremony From Forever Minorities, three artists caught between different borders presented their performances. Their works deeply influenced by national identities that are complex to define. From their unique life experiences and ways of thought, these artists brought various issues from their social situations and individual predicaments, inquiring into national identity through language, history, social movements, and personal encounters.

Mexico-born artist Paola Paz Yee is a Chinese minority in her country.  In her performance, PENSUM (2018), the audience enters a dark room with a spotlighted white table in the center. There is a piece of wood board and some puzzles on the table.


Paola Paz Yee, PENSUM (2018), Photo by Wanqiu Zeng

Paola Paz Yee, PENSUM (2018), Photo by Wanqiu Zeng

A ball of barbed wire hangs from the ceiling, create a root-shape shadow casting on a large piece of board. Paz Yee walks out from the darkness into the spotlight and begins to move the board around the table, playing with the shadows. After a while, she reveals puzzle pieces and invites the audience to join her in completing the puzzle. The spiked ball resembles earth, represents the borders and boundaries between countries; she also invites the audience to join her with the journey back to oneself and experience the retrospective memory of individuals. When the puzzle completed, the map of Paola’s family tree shows under the spotlight. The light is invisible but necessary, like oxygen, and makes the root-shape-shadow on the board, which is the invisible link gluing the border between the countries, as well as the artist’s ancestry. The moment when one is gasping for breath and unable to breathe, she compares this feeling to the struggle in finding her own identity. Identity, as a significant topic in her artwork, always a confusion to her. The border between the United States and Mexico has been fraught with conflict since its line created. Border art is a contemporary art practice rooted in the socio-political experience of those on the U.S.-Mexico borderlands in the mid-80s. It has influence artists to practice the development of questions surrounding homeland, borders, surveillance, identity, ethnicity, and national origins. This work with the Drifting Borders project is her very first time coming to China, also opening her journey of exploring her identity.

BAB (2018), Rokko Juhaze, Photo by Wanqiu Zeng

BAB (2018), Rokko Juhaze, Photo by Wanqiu Zeng

Border art as a conceptual artistic practice, however, opens up the possibility for artists to explore similar concerns of identity and national origins but whose location is not specific to the U.S-México border. Following artist Rokko Juhaze who was born in a village under socialism in Czechoslovakia. Four different countries had occupied the Village in the past one hundred years. Juhaze’s cultural considerations are evident in his installation project BAB (2018). His installation inspired by the universally known folktale Jack and the Beanstalk. It begins with seed cultivation hundreds of bean seeds are separated into three groups and prepared through a special ritual where the audience is invited, ahead of time, to bring a handful of soil for the performance: soil brought from a hometown or residence. During the exhibition, a variety of tunes such as national anthems and protest songs played to the beans as a way to display their non-identical backgrounds, coming together as a new community. This entire process of cultivating documented and shared on social media in the form of a video as a way to invite discussion and collect opinions.

Bálint Szombathy, Break Though (2018) , Video

Bálint Szombathy, Break Though (2018) , Video

The last performance Break Though (2018) by Serbia-based artist Bálint Szombathy, was similarly based on his own experience as a minority. In his performance, Szombathy stands in front of a projection of a video about his journey by train between the border of Serbia and Hungary and his experience in urinating in the toilet bowl while on the train. He performs with a strip of string, fidgeting with it until he cuts it in two with his teeth, before tying them together again while the song ‘Imagine’ is playing in the background. He wants to portray his understanding of border and boundary. “I am always a minority no matter where I am,” Szombathy said. His past work Deconstructing Yugoslavia (1974-2014) with one of the colors of the tricolor flag missing, deconstructed the elements of the original flag, anticipating, as they were, a subsequent historical event: the falling apart of the Yugoslav Federation in 1990 embodying Szombathy’s experience of having lived as a minority in that community. The meaning of border to Szombathy is the pure restriction. He celebrates his freedom to shift and change with his country uprooted, as can be seen from his previous work showcasing the fading. What leaves the audience with uncertainty, however, is his ambiguous song choice in the closing act.

In Drifting Borders, several of artists concerned with ideas of spatial boundaries that unite and bring communities together, while others engage with personal borders that have challenged notions of their identity, gender, ethnic or national background; still, others confront geographical borders, conceptual and physical walls. Many offer bridges for the sake of humanity. The exhibition seems to be in full context, and there seems to be some connection between the audience and the artist. Although their performances are all presenting the concept of “boundary,” there are subtle differences in their respective contexts, especially the background of the United States in Mexico and Europe. Curator intentionally opens up the space of perception and discussion to the audience and artists. However, based on the differences in cognitive context, "Border" and "Boundary" should be interpreted more respectively to avoid misunderstanding. Especially when the exhibition chooses to discuss identity issues for such a particular period, the curator ambitiously providing many presuppositions and materials, which is likely lead to over-interpretation of the context. Balancing the degree of artistic interpretation is also the art of curating.

The performance art as the opening of the entire exhibition reminds and guides the viewers and uses the body to perceive art. With "now" as a reference, "past" and "future" are infinitely extended. The past is a memory; the future is hope, and people are limited in this mental level. As a long-standing mental activity of human beings, art has always demonstrated how individuals respond to this changing world with its unique imagery. This is probably the most original meaning of art. Returning to the body also means returning to the origin of art.

Maurice Merleau-Ponty said that the body is our general medium for having a world. Because we exist in the world by our own body, we must reawaken the body's experience of the world. When we reconnect with our body and the world, we will rediscover ourselves by the body perception. Drifting Borders builds a bridge between what artists and audiences perceive they feel, to reveal the state of the socio-historical conditions every bound. In doing so there is a shared space created, not a literary space but rather an opportunity for conversation. Individuals and communities are in a tug of war with themselves and with each other, establishing boundaries, pushing the limits of borders and attempting to bridge differences.


Drifting Borders
Nation, Identity and the Individual


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