Border policy in Europe is in a mess; that is at least the impression we get from media coverage of recent events. Of course, there do exist many sustainable policies on mobility, security, migration, cooperation, etc. However, we clearly need new thinking on the design of European borderscapes. How should we be ”borderscaping” our societies in the face of current needs?
Border policy must involve knowledge, imagination and creativity. It needs knowledge based on research, it has to imagine possible futures and the consequences of actions, and it has to be creative in coming up with solutions.
This is where cultural production comes in. Cultural production is a kind of social laboratory, a space in which problems may be made visible and potential risks and solutions can be acted out. Because art, literature and other forms of cultural production are semi-autonomous activities, they allow us give expression to our experiences and to try out ideas without fully commiting ourselves.
At the same time, art and literature are obviously part of the world which people spend time producing and consuming. The sheer amount of art, books and films about borders in recent years poses the question: what does this production mean for the way we imagine and negotiate European borders today?
Participating in Policy and Research
Cultural production is also very much conncted with subjectivity, an important factor in social and political life. Indeed, art and literature provide an arena for ”policy-from-below”, essential in democratic societies if they are to remain open and allow for dissensus and innovation. ”Policy-from-above” cannot dictate artistic bordering, but it can create spaces in which critical forms of culture can thrive, forms connected to the everyday experiences of many different people.
For researchers on borders and cultural production, such as those in our working package in the EUBORDERSCAPES project, art may provide a key to future research activities in such an ethically fraught field as border studies. How can we research the subjective, everyday experiences of for example migrants and refugees – without appropriating them as informants or reproducing repressive forms of border surveillance? The sort of participatory art/sci collaborations which some of us have been working with suggest future possibilities in which researchers collaborate with for example illegal migrants in creating art works and films about border-crossings.
London Policy conference: presentations and films
These questions became very visible at the recent EUBORDERSCAPES policy conference held at the University of East London. Here, Sarah Mekdjian and Anne-Laure Amilhat Szary presented their participatory cartographic art workshops held with illegal migrants in Grenoble, detailed in Sarah’s post in this blog. Jopi Nyman and Stephen Wolfe discussed how ”sonic”, musical borderscapes have helped formed public spheres among migrants in Great Britain, also through contemporary novels. Ágnes Németh analysed migrant bordering and debordering at festivals and in writers’ organizations in Finland. Johan Schimanski assessed the public impact of different border concepts in Norwegian migrant writing. Chiara Brambilla emphasized the cultural and aesthetic dimensions of the borderscape in her keynote.
Three striking films by work package participants were premiered at the conference. Chiara Brambilla’s Houdoud al bahr / The Mediterranean Frontiers: Mazara – Mahdia reenvisaged two closely-connected towns on each side of the Mediterranean as a common space. Renen Yezerski’s The Invisible Enemy Across the Wall: Israeli and Palestinian Children’s Perspective of the “Other” opened a double conversation across a splitting divide. And Keina Espiñeira’s The Colour of the Sea: A Filmic Border Experience in Ceuta allowed African migrants in the Spanish border enclave of Ceuta to script their own cinematic meditation on their experiences there.
The Policy Agenda: Preliminary Points
So what policy recommendations can we make on the basis of our research? As yet, these have not been fully formulated, but at a meeting some of us had in London, we came up with some very preliminary suggestions:
- Cultural production helps make visible an extended borderscape over the long term, beyond such immediate issues as the current refugee crisis in Europe.
- Extending the borderscape is a way of critiquing the reduction of the border to the line of control implied in e.g. the Dublin convention.
- Cultural production can suggest strategies for an ethics of representation (avoiding spectacle, victimization & surveillance) when dealing with border-crossings
- The extended borderscaping perspective with a focus on the future rather than the past provides keys to creating new ways of thinking the bordering of public spheres delinked from national identities.
- Researchers should be encouraged to interact with the creative sphere emerging around borders by engaging in art/sci activities.
- The potential of cultural production is to produce new borderscapes precisely without formulating policy.
- Further research into cultural production and borderscaping would benefit from an improved research infrastructure, for example a participatory database platform registering cultural production connected to border-crossing.
Johan Schimanski, UiT The Arctic University of Tromsø/University of Oslo
Report in the Times Higher Education Supplement on London conference.
Programme and abstracts for the London conference
The Invisible Enemy Across the Wall: Israeli and Palestinian Children’s Perspective of the “Other” (2015), director Renen Yezerski (2015), 30 min., in cooperation with Work Package 5. online video
Houdoud al bahr / I Confini del Mare / The Mediterranean Frontiers. Mazara – Mahdia, directors Chiara Brambilla and Sergio Visinoni (2015), 60 min., in cooperation with Work Package 5
The Colour of the Sea: A Filmic Border Experience in Ceuta, director Keina Espiñeira (2015), 28. min.
Out of the Border Box with Gladeema Nasruddin, with involvement of Centre national de la recherche scientifique/Pacte (forthcoming).