Against the global backdrop of migration, Leonhard Emmerling and Kanika Kuthiala, curators of the exhibition "getting across", discuss the making of a transnational view on borders.
1. Why did you feel the necessity for doing the show?
Since 2012 one topic overshadowed all other political issues in Europe: the influx of refugees seeking shelter from murderous civil war, as well as well as from social and political injustice, oppression and atrocities executed in the name of religion. Perhaps it would be extreme to say that we felt that it was a necessity, rather we wanted to explore how different cultures have dealt with such situations in the past and where Europe should look when seeking answers to these pressing questions. The idea was to address the issue and to raise questions through various mediums and to provide varied avenues for these questions to be answered. It felt right to address the issue in a non-discursive way; as a different kind of meditation about migration, or to be more precise, about borders.
2. The show focuses on borders, both visually in the art works, and in the way the show is framed. What do you believe are the leading issues that the exhibition examines?
We thought a lot about borders and about what kind of borders we want to talk about. Every single entity
is, as long as it is an entity is circumscribed by a border. We thought about spiritual borders, religious borders, psychological borders, the desire for transgression, the desire for the spiritual etc. The curatorial process is one of elimination and as curators we needed to define our focus. So we focused on the arbitrariness of political borders. There is simply no possibility that any national border can be called “natural”, or any national body it encompasses “natural” or necessary. So there is an element of the absurd, the gruesome, the ridiculous which hopefully was sufficiently reflected in our selection of works.
3. In dealing with subjects like migration how do you think artists have arrived at their art works? There seems to be a strong emphasis on figuration and text, and much less on conceptual works. Would you agree that there is an emphasis on the figure/ body of the migrant? How do you think it has been conceived, with reference especially to issues of pain or bodily harm?
It is impossible to say, how the artists arrived at their works, however it would be incorrect to say that most of the works refer specifically to pain or bodily harm. A majority of the works that were on display at the IIC and VAG were rather conceptual.
For instance, Francis Alys does very conceptual and painterly work- he definitely shies away from the body and any kind of theatricality. Mike Parr on the other hand dives head first into the absolute horrifying re-enactment of the torture some migrants in the camps in the Pacific inflict upon themselves.
4. Again in curating the subject of the border across cultures what is the view of the state/s that you project. Is it that because the refugee/migration problem is an overarching one, the state uniformly represents an unimaginative territory of resistance?
The exhibition does not specifically address the view of any state, but is about the delineation of manmade boundaries and its political implications and ramifications. How different cultures deal with these circumstances and the response of the native and migrant populations towards these situations. There are commonalities inherent within varied political scenarios cutting across geographical boundaries; this is something that can be applied to nations and states no matter where or who they are. We need to examine whether we move towards a world that is increasingly globalised economically, but at the same time, compartmentalised ethnically, religiously and politically. Do we move towards a world of cosmopolitanism, or do we face a world of isolationism and nationalism.
5. How do you see curators and curating from the global south being received in Europe at a time when there is a shift to the right in several countries across the world?
Nothing exists in isolation and the cultural scene that we enjoy globally is an amalgam of various influences. The art fraternity around the world is very welcoming to curators and artists regardless of their origins. As a general observation it seems that most cultural professionals are opposed to the populist and right-wing movement that dominates the politics in Europe at the moment. We would be hard pressed to find a voice in the museum field, in the field of curating, publishing or cultural exchange that would welcome nationalist movements anywhere.
6. The exhibition brings forth the conditions of suppression, loss of identity, race, even torture. The tone may be ironic documentary or dark in its commentary. Would you lie to refer to these different registers and how they enhance exhibition making?
There is no exhibition more unproductive than
the one s where the visitor is exposed to pictures of facts one already knows through the media. It wouldn’t really make you think ;, rather it makes you numb. This brings us back to the problem of arbitrariness, which implies the absurd. Roman Signer’s work is the perfect example of how to address the absurdity of drawing borders in an absolutely striking and light-handed manner. Lin Yilin’s ‘Safely Maneuvering Across Lin He Road’ is probably similar, a totally nonsensical exercise of building an ephemeral version of a “Small Chinese Wall”. Santiago Sierra’s work pushes the absurd to its limits; becoming unbearable because of the injustice and cruelty it represents . Viewing Adrian Paci’s work, you don’t know whether you want to cry or laugh.
We hope that ‘getting across’ had the effect of waking the minds and sensibilities of viewers, offering a gamut of emotions and sensorial experiences.