Mobile borders and territorial projects

by Claudia Zanfi

After strongly debating with myself whether to write a theoretical essay investigating the subject or else a more general look at the choices and motivations emerging from the second edition of Going Public, I have preferred to offer a series of reflections, leaving space for the various contributions which reveal so strongly the current problem of the mobility of territorial borders. The authors who have been chosen to represent the phenomenon of borders and new geographies write of nations, of social differences, of ethnic-nationalist conflicts, of occupied territories, of flexible lines and vertical points, of new occupations of urban space, of frontiers, of boundaries, with their barriers and their bridges. This collection of essays (mostly unpublished in Italy) and of critical texts allows a multiplicity of perspectives and viewpoints, from which emerges not so much an exhibition catalog as a genuine editorial project.

Good Art Moves Forward
Or rather, interesting art is always a step ahead (1). Going Public, an event conceived by the cultural laboratory aMAZE in collaboration with the Province of Modena, is a mobile and open platform, constituted in 2001 as a production network for cultural reflections and exchanges. The event aims at developing a propensity to intervene in social questions and in the most hidden labyrinths of public policy, of the lower orders, of popular activism, of nomadism and of present-day precarious and temporary settlements.
As often happens, art foresees and anticipates cultural events and social happenings. Already in the 2003 edition, in parallel with the Festival Filosofia, Going Public (2) aimed at an exhibition project of widely international scope, taking into consideration and uniting cultural aspects of different countries of the world - with particular emphasis on Latin America - which were then related to the territorial and urban culture of Modena. On that occasion attention was focused on the concept of MOBILITY in contemporary society. This typology of artistic contribution created a genuine territorial laboratory, giving birth to a series of workshops with the people of the city and with local communities. We need only think of Giornale sul Binario (3), a publication realized by the Colombian artists Chaves+Mantilla together with the commuters and workers of the Modena-Sassuolo railway line. Even the diversified use of public spaces, such as the entrance halls of railway stations, buses, squares, cinemas and schools was conceived to involve the most varied realities of the territory.
It is not surprising that awareness of an innovative project of this kind should have created emulation and a series of contributions, also on the part of critics, which take as their starting point the theoretical structures born on the occasion of the previous debate on mobility, multiplicity and multitude, purposely produced for Going Public.

Maps and territorial junctions
The act of modern mapmaking begins from the concept of state, initially immobilized then made literally schizophrenic by the transformation of space into postmodernity and by the discovery of the mobile nature of the subject (4).
The second edition, Going Public'04, Mappe, confini e nuove geografie, is based on the analysis of urgent and pressing themes such as the worldwide problem of borders, of their apparent "mobility and flexibility", and the new geographies. The international debate, geopolitical reflections and the mass-media heavily influence the new concept of "map", which is often difficult to outline. An abstract idea, then, rather than a real and possible drawing on paper. The limits of the borders and the major international conflicts prove difficult to define today, in a nebulosity of strategic programs which most people find incomprehensible.
Geographies, walls, borders, demarcations, barriers - physical, but also mental and cultural. From the end of the cold war, with the fall of the Berlin Wall to the building of the Israeli wall; from the narrow human straits of Gibraltar to the situation in Cyprus. These are some of the scenarios open to possible interaction through artistic, poetic, urbanist, literary and cinematographic, as well as political and geographical, elaborations. On this specific occasion three geographical areas have been identified, zones that might be defined as "hot". The Mediterranean area, with the narrow Straits of Gibraltar, a funnelshaped boundary which divides the African from the European coasts; the Middle East, the central node of the present-day territorial conflicts, of arbitrary geographical demarcations and illegal occupations; and the case of Tijuana, a city on the border between Mexico and the United States which symbolizes the movement from Latin America to the rich territories of the North, the scene of innumerable atrocities and at the same time of powerful alternative movements.

The concept of "border" can be based around a political notion, as expressed in Deleuze and Guattari's "border theory" (5). Borders represent "arbitrary dividing lines" that are political, but also simultaneously social, cultural and psychic; territories to be patrolled; forms of demarcation, where the very act of prohibition inscribes transgression; zones of fear. There exist conventional borders, which divide the same state into two (or more) parts, as in Ireland, Macedonia, Kashmir and Sudan. There exists natural borders - rivers, seas and deserts - which effectively represent available routes for the mobility of illegal immigrants. There exist militarized borders, such as checkpoints, arbitrarily raised barriers, walls and control towers. There exist borders created by urbanization, means of power because they are instruments of control (6). There also exists the concept of a "fluid" world, without the traditional separation of borders, a place in which frontiers are only boundaries to be passed, as in the adventure of the new Europe (7). But the most devastating seem to be the cultural borders. A hundred immigrants between Modena and Sassuolo were asked to describe their idea of "border". "Life is hard beyond the border: without the family, without a house, work is hard to find" (8). These replies concentrated for the most part on the difficulties of integration and assimilation, hardly ever on geographical or territorial concepts. Border, then, as a limit and a shared area, as a place which separates and at the same time unites. "The more imaginary these borders are, the more ferocious they are!" (9).

Public Sphere
Contemporaneity is the end of our control over the territorial map; it is the end of the idea that the world is composed of objects and not of relationships, processes and dynamics. The work of art, therefore, is to be understood today as a "social sculpture", no longer as a monolithic object, immobile on the wall or at the center of a square; not a work with a merely "monumental" intention but one that is relational. The emergence of new means of representing the urban space through documentaries, photographs, videos and maps, crosses the path of artists who are working towards urbanist schemes in which the public participates. Going Public' 04 therefore proposes a series of international architects and artists, many of whom are in Italy for the first time, from Israel, Palestine, Cyprus, the Lebanon, Mexico, Russia, France and Italy, producing ad hoc works on the chosen theme, with workshops, to be developed together with the people of the territory and the local communities, involving the public, the schools and the productive realities of the area. Having dissolved the borders between political action and culture, the public sphere must now open to social narrative (10). An Arab woman from the Parisian "Banlieue" is perhaps not able to explain why she uses (or does not use) the veil; she is however able to tell how the tradition was born, what the roots of her culture are, and to narrate the custom of the covered face with her own personal story. These testimonies to the reality of origin, the deconstruction of the individual identity in favor of the social identity, formed of relationships with others and narrative construction, represent new opportunities for the public sphere to neutralize multicultural conflict and move towards a universality of differences. The complicity between representative practices and new social protagonist aims, the bringing to light and awareness of reality, are therefore concrete starting points for the growth of inew ntercultural projects.

1. A phrase quoted by H. U. Obrist in a recent conference at the Centro Culturale Svizzero of Milan.
2. Presented at, among others, the exhibition "Mobilitaly", at the DARC, Roma; at the conference "Come comunicano i linguaggi visivi oggi", at the Triennale, Milan; at the ARCO '04 Madrid; "Resistere", Libera Università di Bolzano; "Raimond Chaves", Spazio Mirta Demare, Rotterdam; "A Public Art Project", Middlesex University, London; Urban Planning and Projects Center, Nicosia, Ciprus; "Paradigmi", Padiglione della Grecia, IX Biennale di Architettura, Venice.
3. For further information on the project:
4. Franco Farinelli, text written for Going Public'04, June 2004.
5. Gilles Deleuze, Felix Guattari, 1986.
6. Jeff Halper, "I confini: l'altra faccia della globalizzazione", a conference on the condition of the Palestinian villages, Casa della Cultura, Milan, March 2004. Halper, an anthropologist from Jerusalem, sustains that the Israeli occupation has made massive use of urbanization as a matrix of control. The illegal wall, the more than 120 permanent checkpoints, the 100 additional ones improvised daily and the Israeli settlements which dominate the territories from the tops of hills, islands and archipelagos are none other than a desire to suppress a people through the dividing up of its territory.
7. Zygmunt Baman, "Le nuove frontiere della convivenza. Un'avventura chiamata Europa", Milan, Casa della Cultura, 2004.
8. During one of the laboratories set up for Going Public'04, in the Arab communities of Formigine, Sassuolo, Modena.
9. Paolo Virno, testimony for Going Public '04.
10. Giacomo Marramao, Universalismo della differenza, Lezione Magistrale, Sassuolo (Modena), 2004.