BorderXing: Heath Bunting, Sissu Tarka

Sissu Tarka

Tags: Artists at Work

Artists at Work / 19.03.2009
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Taken by Heath Bunting on Sunday 26 August 2007 on the border between Kormend, Hungary and Gussing, Austria 'Invisibility is normally the preserve of the elite'
- Heath Bunting


In August 2007, the artist Heath Bunting and I agreed to exchange SMS messages during a performance by Bunting in which he illegally crossed the border between Hungary and Austria. This performance is part of his ongoing investigationBorderXing, which aims to provide a guide for crossing borders illegally, both for activists and for those lacking appropriate documents.1

On 1 May 2007, Heath and I meet in central London. Sitting on the lawn in Soho Square we could see helicopters flying above the city. A metropolis, on days like these, seems to be in a severe, precarious state. It is the first of May, or May Day, declared by the organisation The Second International (SI) in 1889 as International Labour Day. With New Labour in power in Britain, the political situation has lead to protests from the left, criticising the party for operating within the existing capitalist economic system and limiting many social reforms. On May Day in 2000, for example, violent demonstrations around Trafalgar Square in London took place, and 95 anti-capitalist demonstrators were arrested by the riot police.

Thus 1 May 2007 sees a number of government measures to prevent activism. The sound of the helicopters and the bright orange uniforms of the security forces accompany Heath and me while we walk to an Internet café near Tottenham Court Road underground station. There, Heath accesses the online platform for BorderXing - a platform which itself reflects the limited access of nation-states, as to enter the site one either has to physically travel to one of the locations listed, or apply to become an authorised user.2 The site already mirrors the logic of the border: an 'open', transparent window that one needs authorisation to access.

We discuss BorderXing and Heath's treatment of the economy of governmental policies and restrictions, as well as his own experience of borders and encounters with power structures. Heath leaves that day for Glasgow, where he is involved in another project. Late at night he texts me to tell me he has been stopped, searched and questioned under the Terrorism Act at Stansted Airport for acting suspiciously.

Over the following weeks, while Heath refines the contract with the Galerie im Taxispalais, Innsbruck, who has commissioned him for this project, he prepares for his performance.3 Exchanging emails during this time, Heath invites me to accompany him to practice navigation and orienteering for the actual crossing, rehearsing in the countryside somewhere in between London and Bristol, where he is based. Instead, because of bad weather conditions, we decide that I will participate virtually in his actual performance on 26 August. I begin to text Heath on a rainy day in London on my journey on bus number 29, from Finsbury Park to Camden Town. His response arrives shortly after, a short message from Reggio Emilia, Italy on his way to Hungary via southern Europe.

Throughout the exchange of text messages, I write notes and research papers on site-specificity, performance and animation. I notice that our textual communication provides the means to explore the experience of a site, one simultaneously close and remote. This conversation, however, can only take place because our locations or sites are both remote in some way. This notion of site is not geographically defined, but rather appears as a 'discursive field of operation', described by Miwon Kwon as functional, '"intertextually" coordinated, [and] multiply-located'.4 This is a site removed from any association with a specific and fixed topos, as well as from a fixed and stable meaning.

There is perhaps a search for an authentic encounter in my participation in Heath's performance, but the 'out of sync' character of our dialogue confuses any notion of authenticity. An ambivalent 'interzone' has been created: a zone where there is connection, disconnection and re-connection; where there is both the particularity of a place and nomadic movement; and where there is a focus of activity and distribution of actions. In our 'out of sync' communication Heath's and my experiences are virtually crossing. And as an audience, however detached or distant, I also realise that I am always inside the project, that there is no outside to it.

Our dialogues are semi-interrupted, sometimes delayed, affected by external circumstances: security issues occasioned by Heath finding his path safely through the border zone and taking photographs as a record; or everyday issues, such as my work duties. For a number of hours the connection established via our two mobile telephones was abandoned due to security measures while crossing the border, as in this zone mobile telephone signals are tracked. Other, geographical issues arise: in one of our conversations Heath tells me that it is important not to walk along lines of drift, or lines that indicate the easiest way to get from one place to another. Heath's 'unknown' path is thus created on the basis of orientation tactics for negotiating unknown terrain, and the awareness of others who are potentially close, but un-seen by him. Implicit to our conversation is this unstable, fragmented nature of my involvement in his performance and its following of two remotely exercised paths, as well as the potential to experience an intimacy with the event.

When entering the border zone, a place/space is accessed that defies a precise mapping and reveals a resistance to free entry and mobility. Supposedly, the border is a fully regulated location, a totality of control, authority and codes. However, it seems that this rural border zone that Heath is crossing, between Kormend, Hungary and Gussing, Austria, presents a paradox in that it cannot be mapped but is at the same time controlled and regulated. Though the border is invisible among the grass and trees, the terrain remains subject to modes of regulation, such as mobile telephone signal interferences. As the perpetually changing environment and the movement of people cannot be accurately mapped, complete control and regulation becomes impossible. So the border is a manifold site: it constitutes the location for a certain multitude, in the sense coined by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri in their account of the Western narrative of globalisation, understood as moments of enormous migratory movements facilitated by the mobility of labour power.5 'The borders of national sovereignty are sieves', Hardt and Negri write, 'and every attempt of complete regulation runs up against violent pressure.'6 It is in these borders where a controlled, authoritative and concrete site, potential wilderness (wild unmapped nature) and an unexplored and challenging territory all merge with the 'non-place of globalization, with its technological networks',7 as well as the geopolitical parameters of two nations. A manifold site of relations and increasing conflicts is created by the crossing of various immaterial territories (in the form of global technological networks) and material ones (actual movement across the land). In this perpetual redefinition of the territorial, a site of potential emerges. This site creates the possibility of negotiating, analysing and tracing forms of shifting territories from within, and is therefore a position from which one can experience more than one particular territory.

This site might be considered in relation to an expansion, similar to the extremity of the poles as characterised by Josephine Berry Slater: 'Like a negative image, the poles afford an expanded sense of place and time in which to contemplate these intractable codes and conditions.'8 Attributed to the border zone that negotiates two different, often oppositional and diverging sites, this sense of place and time that widens up to forms of imagination and contemplation by incorporating territories 'yet to explore' (either virtual or actual), and governs a topographical duality (north-south), is here interestingly developed. Opening onto socio-political processes, the border is not just a static device (as could be assumed from a more traditional point of view); it becomes a heteronomous site in which contradictions inhere, as well as a 'privileged place on which processes of mixing and transferring, and amalgamations'9 take place - a site where the border manifests itself as a centre of shifts or displacements.10 In its expanded nature as a set of relations in flux, this border makes for a distinct order of experience, incomparably more complex and animated (less differentiating, topographical and functional) than it would be if considered merely in terms of oppositional sites or poles.

In her book One Place after Another (2002) Miwon Kwon describes the emergence of a 'doubleness of experience', which she identifies as a way to confront and resolve ruptures in 'parallel experience', understood as a state of two contradictory experiences existing at the same time for the subject - similar to the ones suggested by our project geographically- and as acknowledging the need to recognize the gaps in communication if we want to be truthful to present experiences of mobility.11 At stake is how to deal, on the one hand, with the fluidities and continuities of space and time in our society in flux, and on the other, with the ruptures and disconnections that are caused by this mobility and experienced in specific places.12 Kwon suggests the possibility of a 'double mediation' inherent in some contemporary site-specific practices, which involves 'finding a terrain between mobilisation and specificity - to be out of place with punctuality and precision'.13 These means of combining and sustaining apparent contradictions (that is, the digital interface implicating any space whatever, and the handshake associated with a particular place)14 could similarly work as a solution to having 'no access' to certain information, sites and places - for instance, by acknowledging the disorienting affect of technology. Besides implying a site of technology that internalises its own limits or ambivalent qualities, Kwon comments on these liminal 'cultural practices that have this relational sensibility [and that] can turn local encounters into long-term commitments and transform passing intimacies into indelible, unretractable social marks…'15 What becomes important is not the sequence of sites, where each site becomes generic and where one site is potentially replaced by the other, thus suggesting a relation that is only always short-lived and finite. Instead, it is the sometimes antagonistic, uneven relations between people and places next to others generating specific sites. For Berry Slater, only an internal structure allows someone to operate from within 'to take hold of the strategic relations within biopower and create the maximum flexibility and reversibility within them, whilst also insisting on a minimum domination within all power relations'.16

As a writer, I am trying to operate beside the various topics that BorderXing has been discussed in relation to elsewhere (among them, web activism, mobility, political precariousness, environmental art and performance). All of these seem more valuable in the contextualisation or critical analysis of the artwork than the idea of a virtual audience does. For me, however, what is intriguing is the way in which my role shifts (curator - artist - co-operator - participator - friend) as Heath's travels take him to the virtual interzones of power, law, geography and friendship. In this sense, the doubled narrative and mediation of the project operates as a key to the actual manifestation of the work, with the two poles of inversion and exclusion morphing into each other.

Record of Text Messages
From Sissu to Heath during BorderXing (26 August 2007), crossing the border of Hungary / Austria

(incomplete)



Message 21 08 (9.05am)
To: +447970597032
Any preparing 4 b.xing?
Proceed?

---

Message 21 08 (9.07am)
To: +447970597032
mental physicl state?
Proceed?

---


Message 21 08 (9.10am)
To: +447970597032
food? dreams?
Proceed?

---

Message 21 08 (12.06pm)
To: +447970597032
does weather. Climate.
Temperature affect u.
+ how?
Proceed?

---

Message 21 08 (12.08pm)
To: +447970597032
wat about local politics
or radionews.etc
Proceed?

---

Message 21 08 (12.10pm)
To: +447970597032
italy?
Proceed?

---

Message 21 08 (12.26pm)
To: +447970597032
physical distance not
much of an issue or!?
Proceed?

---

Message 21 08 (12.30pm)
To: +447970597032
All alienated
environments.?
Proceed?

---

Message 21 08 (12.31pm)
To: +447970597032
Sci-fi research. cash put
into that?
Proceed?

---

Message 21 08 (12.33pm)
To: +447970597032
satellite images a
safer mapping?
Proceed?

---

Message 21 08 (12.47pm)
To: +447970597032
speed issue. what ex.
Does it mean
Proceed?

---
---
---


Message 21 08 (12.39pm)
To: +447970597032
Love the idea of
silence
Proceed?

---

Message 21 08 (13.10pm)
To: +447970597032
Silent (travel) silent
il-legal
Proceed?

---

Message 21 08 (17.18pm)
To: +447970597032
becoming invisible also
a matter of speed?
invisible crowds?
Proceed?

---

Message 22 08
To: +447970597032
Tools 4 xing a.
Austria hungary?
Proceed?

---

Message 22 08
To: +447970597032
How do u recog nise
(signs of) danger
Proceed?

---

Message 22 08
To: +447970597032
The role of senses?
Proceed?

---

Message 23 08
To: +447970597032
Does b.Xing affect
your "other life" +
how?
Proceed?

---

Message 23 08
To: +447970597032
What problems at
uk borders?
Proceed?

---

Message 23 08
To: +447970597032
is walking (always)
politic. 4 u…….or what
does it provide? is it
eg a site of
potentials.
Resistance. Love?!
Proceed?

---

Message 24 08
To: +447970597032
Heath do you sleep on
your trip? Hr there
"safe"
places/moments?
Proceed?

---

Message 24 08
To: +447970597032
is your activity also
2 some degree a
performance?
Proceed?

---

Message 25 08
To: +447970597032


Proceed?


incomplete


Message 25 08
To: +447970597032
anything to report
Heath?
Proceed?

---

From Heath to Sissu


01-May-07 22:28
From: +4479705970
32
(Second time!)Nice
to meet you also.
Stopped searched
and questioned
under terrorism act
at stansted. For
acting in purposefull
manner with
rucksac. Changing
direction when
walking. When on
way to glasgow for
meeting.
Proceed?

---


25-May-07 16:32
From: +4479705970
32
In London tomorrow
at hackney sport art
event. Would be
good to see you.
Heath.
Proceed?

---

21-Aug-07 10:14
From: +4479705970
32
Yes. Eating and
sleeping.
Proceed?

---

21-Aug-07 10:15
From: +4479705970
32
Waking up in regio
emillia.
Proceed?

---

21-Aug-07 10:16
From: +4479705970
32
Rice and nuts
breakfast.
Pornographic music
video dream.
Proceed?

---

21-Aug-07 12:10
From: +4479705970
32
Yes. In italy.
Proceed?

---

21-Aug-07 12:12
From: +4479705970
32
I am affected by
genetically modified
pollen blown on wind
from the united
states.
Proceed?

---

21-Aug-07 12:32
From: +4479705970
32
Big issue is level of
security required
during crossing. Dog
patrols can slow
speed by ten times.
Proceed?

---

21-Aug-07 12:33
From: +4479705970
32
One question at a
time please.
Proceed?

---

21-Aug-07 12:37
From: +4479705970
32
Big issue is level of
security required
during crossing. Dog
patrols can slow
speed by ten times.
Proceed?

---

21-Aug-07 12:44
From: +4479705970
32
To travel silently
and invisibly requires
much energy and
effort.
Proceed?

---

21-Aug-07 13:31
From: +4479705970
32
Invisibility is normally
the preserve of the
elite.
Proceed?

---

21-Aug-07 12:44
From: +4479705970
32
To travel silently
and invisibly requires
much energy and
effort.
Proceed?

---

22-Aug-07 15:29
From: +4479705970
32
I will be taking a
google map and a
plastic bag with
food.
Proceed?

---

22-Aug-07 15:31
From: +4479705970
32
There are many
methods of
invisibility. I prefer
not to use
predictable paths.
Proceed?

---

22-Aug-07 15:31
From: +4479705970
32
There are many
dangers and fears
but only one
courage.
Proceed?

---

23-Aug-07 12:04
From: +4479705970
32
Industrial estate.
Calm. Mosquito
weather.
Proceed?

---

23-Aug-07 14:17
From: +4479705970
32
My border crossing
project creates
problems for me at
uk borders.
Proceed?

---

24-Aug-07 07:26
From: +4479705970
32
There are many
methods of
invisibility. I prefer
not to use
predictable paths.
Proceed?

---

24-Aug-07 08:22
From: +4479705970
32
I am flagged as a
security threat on
euro star. They like
to arrest me as a
terrorist and copy
my telephone.
Proceed?

---

24-Aug-07 10:12
From: +4479705970
32
Will arrive in
crossing zone by
sleeper train. Will
probably stay with
and be assisted by
local friends.
Proceed?

---

24-Aug-07 10:15
From: +4479705970
32
Much of my work is
performance.
Proceed?

---

25-Aug-07 11:34
From: +4479705970
32
At a castle in
hungary with many
children.
Proceed?

---

26-Aug-07 17:39
From: +4479705970
32
Crossed
successfully.
Proceed?

---

27-Aug-07 07:20
From: +4479705970
32
Sore feet in vienna.
On way to west
Bahnhof.
Proceed?

---

27-Aug-07 07:25
From: +4479705970
32
Yes. Where are you
?
Proceed?

---

29-Aug-07 11:40
From: +4479705970
32
Yes. Three is good.
Proceed?

---

29-Aug-07 13:19
From: +4479705970
32
Can we do four
instead?
Proceed?

---

02-Sep-07 11:13
From: +4479705970
32
In innsbruck .
Proceed?

---

02-Sep-07 11:15
From: +4479705970
32
Depends on
weather and work.
Both troubled.
Proceed?

---

02-Sep-07 11:33
From: +4479705970
32
It was a great gig all
round.
Proceed?

---

25-Sep-07 17:13
From: +4479705970
32
Fyi. Was arrested at
gatwich airport
yesterday for
refusing to answer
questions whilst
detained under
terrorism act and
suspicion of planting
a hoax bomb. Out on
bail after 24 hours in
custody during
which my home was
searched. I was
returning from a
short holiday.
Proceed?

- Sissu Tarka

Footnotes
  1. Bunting is member of IRATIONAL.ORG, an international system for deploying 'irational' information, services and products for the displaced and roaming. For a detailed description of the project in collaboration with the artist Kayle Brandon, and Bunting's practice in general, see, Heath Bunting and Kayle Brandon, 'BorderXing Guide', in: Mark Tribe and Reena Jana (ed.), New Media Art, Cologne: Taschen, 2007, p.34. Interestingly, Tribe and Jana mention Bunting's self-description 'as an artivist - contracting the words artist and activist to form a neologism that connotes the politically engaged nature of his work'. BorderXing links: http://duo.irational.org/borderxing_slide_show/; http://irational.org/heath/borderxing_exercise/; http://duo.irational.org/botantical_guide_to_borderxing/

  2. BorderXing guide - clients: http://irational.org/cgi-bin/border/clients/deny.pl

  3. 'There is no border, there is no border, there is no border, no border, no border, no border, I wish', September-October 2007, Galerie im Taxispalais, Innsbruck

  4. Miwon Kwon, 'The Wrong Place', in: Claire Doherty (ed.), From Studio to Situation, London: Black Dog Publishing, 2004, p.29. On site and site-oriented practices appearing as discursive narrative, see also: Miwon Kwon, One Place after Another: Site-specific Art and Locational Identity , Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2002. I also want to refer to an interesting project by C5, 'The C5 Landscape Initiative', and the exploration of the 'other path' in the context of performance, the changing conceptions of landscape and new technologies, such as Spatial Data Systems and GPS (Global Positioning System). See: Steve Dietz, The Path More Or Less Taken, http://www.yproductions.com/writing/archives/c5_and_the_path_more_or_less_t.html. A version of his essay is published in Camerawork: A Journal of Photographic Arts, Spring/Summer 2005. Also available at: The C5 Landscape Initiative http://www.c5corp.com/projects/landscape/index.shtml; The Other Path http://www.c5corp.com/projects/otherpath/index.shtml; Brett Stalbaum, A Short History of Virtual Hiking http://www.paintersflat.net/virtual_hiker.html

  5. Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire, Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press, 2000, p.213.

  6. Ibid.

  7. Josephine Berry Slater, 'Un-Deleting the World: Art at the Poles', in: Jonty Tarbuck and Matt Hearn (eds.), This Will Not Happen Without You. From The Collective Archive of The Basement Group, Projects UK and Locus+ (1977-2007), Sunderland: University of Sunderland Press, 2007, p.186.

  8. Ibid. The poles don't pose the problem of two nation-states divided and simultaneously linked by a demarcated border. When I am using the poles in relation to borders I am taking up aspects of oppositions (geographical, metaphorical, geopolitical, operative social codes) and Berry Slater's elaboration on the poles as 'easy places to enter by way of the imagination, preceded as they are by tales of their legendary extremity' (Ibid.). A similar phenomenon might appear with the border zone defined as place and non-place, a remote and not yet fully explored location that allows a kind of authentic experience that is lacking in times of global travelling.

  9. Karl Schlögel, Im Raume lesen wir die Zeit. Über Zivialisationsgeschichte und Geopolitik, Munich: Carl Hanser Verlag, 2003, p.145.

  10. K. Schlögel further elaborates on this doubled quality of the border with regard to the 'original' ('the hybrid as the superior') (p.145, emphasis added). Imaginary borders aside, on how the dissolution of topographical borders is linked to the self's relation to space, and in particular to the project BorderXing discussed here, see: Maja Fowkes and Reuben Fowkes, 'The Art of Making Do with Enough', in: Maggie Smith (ed.) the new art, London: Rachmaninoff's, 2006, pp.104-15, esp. p.110 on Bunting's project BorderXing. Berry Slater also analyses the artist's artistic strategies of a kind of mimicry, of internalising the structure of currently predominant dynamics of 'flows' and biopower (J. Berry Slater, 'Un-Deleting the World', op. cit., pp.190-91). Contrasting the notion of place as affect the artist might instrumentalise and dematerialise the place to the point of being 'lost'. Not only does the border zone indicate a site of doubling, multiplying and a becoming, indeed there are also lines at play here that have a tendency to cross, merge, traverse. I am describing the line or itinerary the artist takes/marks while crossing as opposed to the existing authorial line that separates and connects the two nations/countries. (See the artist's journey plan.)

  11. M. Kwon, One Place After Another, op. cit., p.166.

  12. Ibid.

  13. Ibid.

  14. Ibid.

  15. Ibid.

  16. J. Berry Slater, 'Un-Deleting the World: Art at the Poles', op. cit., p.191. J. Berry Slater discusses a recent activity by Marko Pelijhan's Makrolab (http://makrolab.ljudmila.org/) to create research stations in the Arctic and the Antarctic, and the dynamics of the 'deliberate and intensive opening of the makronaut to the flows, codes, strategies and techniques of power' (pp.190-91).