Sunday, July 29, 2007

Hydrologic border suture

This looks like the ultimate project right now to be a part of in the Middle East – the kind of border zone diplomacy that should be mimicked in regions across the world. Amidst all of the vicious turmoil and violence that grips the Arab community, this is a truly refreshing effort. And in light of the recent underground lake discovered in Darfur – which some say could help lead to a massive pacification of genocide there stemming in part over a scarcity of water resources (not to mention the water wars that may ensue as a result of climate change in regions all over soon enough) – this highlight between Israelis and Palestinians has resounding implications.
Thanks to my architectural storian buddy Orhan who sent word my way, we learn about two mayors on opposite sides of the Israel/Palestinian border who have signed a joint agreement to clean up the heavily polluted Wadi Abu Naar river that runs through both of their towns.

In short, the article explains how Israel’s Baqa al-Gharbiya is “building a sewage system and treatment plant to combat the diseases borne by the river,” while the Palestinian town Baqa al-Sharqiya with little funds will soon extend a pipe into the Israeli plant “when it is completed in the middle of 2008.”
It is a kind of hydrologic border suture.

Water in this part of the world is not only scarce but more tragically it serves as a continual dimension of war. We are reminded by Eyal Weizman in his classic essay, The Politics of Verticality, how the Mountain Aquifer under the west bank, the largest reservoir in the area, has been co-opted by Israelis through an informal subterranean sovereignty over most of the aquifer.

“The 1995 Accord transferred responsibility for the water sector from Israel’s civil administration to the Palestinian Authority. But in practice, the scope of Israeli control of this sector did not change. A Joint Water Committee (JWC) was set up to oversee and approve every new water and sewage project in the West Bank.”

Palestinians, essentially, need to get approval from this committee for any water related action they take, while Jewish settlements can tap the aquifer in any way at any time without requiring the same permission. There is also the physical terrain to contend with, and the hydro-politics of the conflict which Weizman described as allowing both sides to sabotage sewage structures and deliberately spill their waste into each other through valleys and over hillsides: a war of shit.

“Sewage is a political weapon when dislocated from the bowels of the earth to the overground. When shit is invisible underground, it is merely sewage, running through a technically complex system of public plumbing. But let it only break loose over the surface, and sewage becomes shit again.

The latitudinal co-ordinates affirm the nature of the substance. When sewage overflows and private shit, from under the ground, invades the public realm of the street, it becomes simultaneously a private hazard and a public asset – to be used as a tool by the authorities.”

Makes you realize how significant this little joint-mayors water-works agreement is, and hope it can have an even more significant ripple effect.
The "Good Water Neighbors" (GWN) project was initiated by Friends of the Earth (FOE) Middle East – a tri-national environmental collective of Jordanians, Palestinians, and Israelis who work together on environmental and hydrologic border issues in attempt to resolve the conflict, reclaim the spaces of hydrology as an arena for healing rather than war.
Environmental Justice, logic over politics, progressive border suture. Sounds revolutionary to me.
Like the article suggests, it is taking a green approach to the Green line. But not just green in that generic eco-centric superficial/commidified kind of way, but in as far as it has retooled the political basis of the area’s access to water, achieving a new diplomatic model in addition to a system for sharing water across borders - real green geopolitics.
Anyway, I’m cutting this post short, but want to leave it with these final statements from the two mayors in the west bank.

Hussein said issues of health and the environment are borderless problems that require a borderless solution. "The sharing of air and water requires co-operation between the two sides." Wald agreed. "It is for the people ... without any political circumstances."

Once the environmental project is completed, Edelstein said the cross-border partnership will have a series of positive knock-on effects. "The environment is a lot of things. It's health, it's sustainability. It's not just making your town green, it's co-operating on very real issues."

Wald said: "The idea is that such projects can push politicians to understand that co-operation gives you the opportunity to go further toward peace here in the Middle East.

"We start with small steps and these small steps can lead us to much wider and longer steps later on."

Why aren’t there more examples of this kind of grassroots commitment along the U.S./Mexico border? Or, are there? I know there have been others in the Middle East and other places I am sure, but this seems like a perfect example of using environmental justice as a launching pad for greater political change and conflict zone resolution.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Stacking Fear

There is a massive new real estate project quietly rooting itself along the U.S./Mexico border just south of San Ysidro where San Diego and Tijuana officially share a border crossing – the busiest in the world, by the way. While it is not exactly a border fence its ultimate effect I imagine going on to serve just as much the same once it is completed and persists in its lifetime. It is I think a wall by another means, if you'll excuse my skepticism.

After all, were talking about one of the world’s richest cities neighboring one of the world’s poorest. Nowhere else can the economic disparity between two nations, within just a few miles reach of one another, nonetheless, be made more visible. Nor, I suppose, can we expect that any construction along the border at this scale would not somehow serve as a sort of de facto barrier, given the conservative political climate right now and its dismal depiction of the border.
And if all continues to go according to developer Moisés Abadi’s plan, it will end up being the tallest set of structures not just on the border, but in all of Tijuana. A new epic landmark to be sure.

“New City”, as the project is unsurprisingly called, is a cluster of seven 25-story tall condominium towers currently rising less than a mile south of the border in Tijuana's Zona Río neighborhood. You could say they are high-rise resorts for the “crime-weary middle-and upper-income buyers who can't – or don't want to – move across the border to San Diego,” as one writer for the Union Tribune has put it. In this case, it’s probably just as accurate to say – instead of going to San Diego, San Diego has come to them.
Essentially, it is a massive urban gated community boasting 500 units with access to luxurious swimming pools and private tennis courts, unique business spaces and hotel-like sky lounges with views of downtown San Diego, the bay, and the Pacific Ocean. It goes without saying, of course, that New City will also provide protected parking and an 11-foot-high wall encircling the entire 7.5-acre privatopia, its own network of video surveillance cameras, special electronic passes for residents, and the usual suspects of round-the-clock security guards.
Could this be a new form of border zone panopticon? The urban vertical gated community?

In the end, I wonder if these towers, which will redefine the Tijuana skyline, will open up to a more affordable spread of housing development, or just preside by themselves there over the 2.5m people living in TJ like a new set of fortress gates further enforcing the barriers of geo-economic exclusion that quintessentially defines the space between the U.S. and Mexico.
Even though Abadi is a Mexico-based developer the clients are just the type of mix you’d expect, and “range from retirees looking to simplify their lives, to cross-border businessmen searching for a pied-à-terre, to young families starting out, to anyone who can afford units selling from $150,000 to nearly $800,000. San Diegans looking to lower their housing costs have also been buying.”
It all adds to the complex and intricate joint flows of migration that occur between the two nations, as more and more money from both sides of the border begin to move back and forth, resettle and huddle along the border in oddly reciprocal and ironic geographic shifts. Mostly all you hear about is the great burden of Latin immigration to the U.S., but rarely enough about the opposite droves of retired American couples pouring down south to buy up vast swaths of Mexican real estate – just look at the incredible gringo squat that is the Baja peninsula.
Even if New City houses a middle/upper class mix of Mexican residents, the convergence of all these different populations from both countries on the border and ultimately how the border is being planned and constructed fascinates me. The towers are really just giant stacks of money mostly bridging an upper class exodus from Mexico City with the moneyed highways of commerce running in all directions through out San Diego, pressurizing the nexus of one of the busiest and already most economically polarized borders in the world.

And the developer makes no qualms about catering and capitalizing off of the main impetus for this new housing trend in Tijuana, either. The San Diego Reader reported last year how increased kidnappings of upper society people in both Mexico City and Tijuana have opened up new movement patterns and security businesses.

Two years ago, Total Shield, an automobile-armoring business from Mexico City, opened an office in Tijuana. Fear of kidnapping and carjacking fuels the business they've been doing since. Abadi feels the same fear of crime will help him sell another Mexico City concept to Tijuanenses.

And so, as you would suspect, these residential fortresses are starting to pop up left and right in Tijuana. From the same news sources we learn that “Tijuana first went vertical in 1982, with the completion of the 295-foot Agua Caliente towers, now a well-known emblem of the city.” But, New City will surpass that milestone. In addition, “Mexico City-based Keco, is investing $21 million in a tower overlooking the golf course of Tijuana's Club Campestre” – known as the Green View Towers. And “in Colinas de Agua Caliente, developer Luis Mario Islas' company, Habitamex, is planning Bosque de Agua Caliente, a gated community aimed at upper-middle-income buyers.”

Maybe all of this just represents a greater growth pattern in what is cementing the larger global divide – altogether, in essence, defining the defensive outline of a global “wall of capital”, as Mike Davis would call it.
But, particularly interesting to me is how border real estate itself is devised, by what collisions of formal and informal space? The spatial politics of the border exists in such a matrix of contrasting layers and opposing landscapes; from a pervasive para-militarism to the unarmed huddle of millions of impoverished people, from more natural bi-national boundaries like the Rio Grande to the blatant NAFTA-induced pollution disasters that riddle the southern borders of Texas and California where maquiladoras get away with environmental murder, from rampant gentrification in certain pockets to the overall absence of any real urban planning at all - where condominiums are surrogate border walls and the border wall itself becomes an architectural form of detention.

It’s as if all of the forces and counter-forces of globalization converge on the border to constitute the ultimate geopolitical fortification, through some indiscernible spatial logic that organizes the physical dimensions of free trade, national security, selective migration, and different forms of civilian occupation into a single border space. I mean let’s face it, this isn’t the contrasting typology of a future global urban landscape, this is the present complexion: fundamentally distilled into gated communities that soar in the air, checkpoints and border fences, and an immeasurable expanse of favelas tumbling over the landscape.
In the end, what if the border becomes completely lined with these towers, side by side - a run-on wall of towers - altogether creating the world's longest as well as tallest gated community, as Teddy Cruz might remark? That would be freaky. Not sure any ladders would be able to hop that fence.
Talk about uneven capitalist development.

[All images of the project New City via For all you lucky spanish speakers out there, here are some additional disscussions to check out on SkyscraperCity (1 & 2).] (Story via Planetizen)

Monday, July 23, 2007

Re-urbanizing the Homeless

Recent obsessions with the border have made me neglect so many other layers of what I think make up the composite of a Subtopian landscape. One of which is homelessness - global urban homelessness. In fact, it was my early concern with the homeless issue here in San Francisco that got me to rethink my interests in architecture again a few years ago, searching to relate social policy and spatial practice through a type of architectural activism.
From there, my fascination with the political domains of architecture grew, as well as my need to learn more about the spatial dimensions of politics. Two sides of the same coin, perhaps. Via the prison issue and my own experiences wandering around India’s squatter societies, all these layers sort of took off and fused together in the exploration of military landscapes and looking more closely at the disciplinarian nature of institutions and state power. About a year and a half ago Subtopia, and the search to define ‘military urbanism’, was born.

Be that as it may, I came across this project not too long ago, which again takes a temporary approach that in the end I think might not really help resolve the crisis of housing the homeless at all. While it cleverly addresses the needs of persons who might choose to remain in the streets, or of some global nomads where shelter is simply unavailable, the main problem I have with these types of solutions is that they don’t challenge the political structure of municipal housing markets to provide the necessary supply of supportive, transitional, or affordable housing that is really required to get people off the streets in cities.
Of course, I understand solutions are needed for an interim period where cities may have no viable means of housing or sheltering their homeless people at the time. But, I would still like to see more innovation in the ways architectural solutions can write themselves into other existing places that may be overlooked in the city, or to chart new ways that design can re-write the housing code in some way, or alter construction methodologies, recycle urban scraps, perhaps approach adaptive reuse or historic preservation in a unique and revolutionary manner. But I will speak more about that in a moment.

The Ownless unit, as it is called, however, when we read the philosophical statement that describes it, seems more like a space for a sadhu rather than the victim of homelessness or a forcibly displaced person deprived of access to a home. [For those who don’t know, a sadhu is a holy man in India who has wittingly given up all of his worldly possessions in order to wander the country in search of enlightenment, or spiritual fulfillment.] And while I can relate to that (as I spent many months wandering the planet in my own sort of quest for enlightenment – I am even writing a book of travel narratives on the topic of an urban sadhu), I still find this proposal a bit philosophically cutesy and pseudo-utopic.

Geotectura, the Israeli firm who designed the compact housing vehicle, implies this is a solution for the urban environment, and builds upon the psychological notion that a person can positively start from scratch in life, with nothing, and therefore exist in this space with a certain political environmental conscientiousness in mind. The two designers, Joseph Cory and Jacob Eichbaum say:

The Ownless unit is transforming the homeless terminology into a hopeful term. On the same tone of the modernist sentence: less is more the Ownless unit is declaring that less is home. And indeed - why not consume less if we can maintain the basic needs and freedom of mankind. Ownless unit is first and foremost a psychological state of mind saying that being in this situation is not the end of the world but rather adjusting with optimistic approach to a new situation. You can restart from nothing and build yourself again by hanging onto the important values and letting go the wasteful style of living.

Granted, the design is pretty cool. It has a pull out bed, special outer advertisement space for potentially making money, adequate storage space, lamps and lights, a hitch that allows it to be pulled by other vehicles; it allegedly provides security (though I wonder how these mobile cubicles on the street all the time can really be expected to be secure); the rooftop is lined with photovoltaic cells that charge batteries so it is not only pedal-driven but can move as a non-polluting vehicle, as well. It’s nifty, to be sure! But I am not sure that homeless people need nifty. Or to be urged to just zen-out and accept the minimalist essence of their homeless existence as a base spiritual clarity, or state-of-mind, I don't know - it gets a little wacky for my blood.
A few months ago Design Boom organized the shelter in a cart design competition. There were some very cool ideas and projects, don’t get me wrong. It’s a seductive context: nomadic urbanism. Especially when we think about all of the millions of people on the move around the planet right now, which is perhaps where I see these types of homeless coaches being more useful. Maybe in Darfur, or India, or along migration zones through out Africa. But I still have trouble trusting their efficacy in a truly urban environment like San Francisco or New York City.

[Image: the street cart named survivor, design by : ing-tse chen from china.]

Cameron Sinclair chose one design from the competition as particularly noteworthy, but said this as a general reflection:

“The brief set out was fairly controversial given the fact that the criteria was to develop a ‘cart’ system to support those who chose to stay on the streets, rather than the housing shelter approach. During the review the one thing that worried me was that many entries ignored two basic needs – protection of ones valuables and a self-sustaining economic engine.”

“The competition and these initiatives are not the answer to issues of homelessness but they force the design community to begin to ask serious questions. What is the role of the designer? Who is the designer? Should we support these communities? Is homelessness a solvable issue?”

While I agree with him, is this really the strategy for addressing any part of the urban homeless issue? Not really. His questions towards the end get at the crux a bit more, but I think they need to be re-aimed and more specified? Of course designers have a role in solving homelessness, and yes I believe homelessness can be solved. But what specifically does the designer have to consider? Band-aid solutions like shelter-carts are too easy for architects, too detached I think, as much as they seek to engage the problem.
How can the designer force municipalities to re-calibrate their strategies for providing more efficient affordable housing? What types of innovative programs can designers instigate to provide both housing and jobs in a single planning scheme? How can designers force local government officials and planning departments to take advantage of already pre-existing wasted space? Unremdiated space? How can designers partner with non-profs more infrastructurally and determine new funding mechanisms in partnerships with the city to fund these types of projects regularly? The solution itself has to forge a new municipal housing model for all of these actors to come together and work politically.
With all of these groovy sidewalk shelter designs and homeless chariots on the drawing board, I still think the First Step Housing design competition back a few years ago was on a more pointed and realistic trajectory with all of this. Real quick, the goal was to remake an existing flophouse in New York City’s run down Bowery neighborhood and propose ways of converting and re-using the building for housing the homeless. One of the winners was a project by New York City-based firm Lifeform, who I invited to join us at Postopolis! to discuss their project.

You can read coverage of Monica Hernandez’s presentation at City of Sound, but in essence they had proposed a very modular and flexible kit of parts system for a floor in the building with three different types of living spaces that could be configured to more specific needs and unique personalities. Look at the design right here. Read more here. It became symbolic as a way attention to the homeless population could also help remake the building, even the neighborhood in some way. That to me seems like a much more progressive mode of using design to address urban homelessness, to address the broader context, to revitalize some part of the city.
In San Francisco, a couple of years ago housing rights activists helped pass the Surplus Property Ordinance, which effectively secured several city-owned sites and parcels of land that have sat vacant, unused, or simply unconsidered in terms of any real development, for the sole purpose of building housing for the homeless. I was involved with this for awhile, but sadly have fallen a bit out of the loop. But, even more disappointing is that I don’t think much real housing has come out of this yet, though there have been some tangible results. But the ordinance is a great one. It forces different departments like Park and Rec. & the Fire Dept. to periodically transfer some of their underutilized parcels, and even some odd slivers of seemingly uninhabitable real estate dispersed through out the city, to the Mayor’s Office of Housing. Some of the sites are vacant office buildings that have been used merely as storage for bureaucracies for years, or that have been kept in holding simply because certain departments didn’t want to give up entitlements to their real estate even though they have not been able to put it to any solid use in ages. Here is a chance for architects to partner with non-prof developers and try to work with these conditions; odd lots, nook and cranny spaces around town, separate floors in old office towers, sloped and narrow park space, etc. Authoring productive space into the dead fabric of the city - recontextualizing dead space.
Like everything else in San Francisco, particularly housing development, and even more particularly homelessness, progress is always impeded by contentious politics. In this case, the allocation of money in the city’s affordable housing kitty and to which developers those funds will go, into which neighborhoods, and for which specific projects, all play into the unfortunate political factional divide that gets in the way of getting actual housing built. Of course, NIMBYism is always a factor, too (especially in SF), and when it comes time to proposing a homeless supportive housing project in certain neighborhoods, well - that always opens another can of worms.
Nevertheless, I keep thinking of strategies of adaptive reuse as a means for architects to write themselves into the solution around housing the homeless. I think of successful design initiatives like the Accessory Dwelling Units (ACUs, or Granny Flats), which have also forced a re-examination of building codes to allow micro-units into existing housing fabrics and neighborhood densities.

[Image: Rainbow Apartments and the New Carver Apartments and run by the nonprofit Skid Row Housing Trust, Michael Maltzan Architecture. Photo via NYT.]

And the more I think about the erosion of social welfare in the United States, the decline in the institutions of health care and education, the gap and inaccessibility that is increasing for the middle and lower class populations of this country who are looking at a dire future of basic needs deprivation, the more I see models like supportive housing serving greater purposes than just housing the homeless. [For those who aren’t familiar with supportive housing, it is housing specifically designed for homeless people that includes certain health care, vocational, educational, services provided on–site, programmed into the design of the building. Considered the only viable solution to really tackling the chronically homeless, it has proven incredibly successful. Read this book review I wrote awhile back on the subject.]
What if a melding of supportive housing, co-housing, transitional, elderly and low-inc family housing, became the ideal model for affordable housing in general across the country? And an optimal urban building recycling practice as well? Whereas the state continues to let people down by not providing adequate institutional provisions like public health care and education, and by letting affordable housing stocks dwindle, perhaps the new green urban housing model of the future will account for this by programming these necessities on-site, building upon new models of community and alliances with local non-profits who begin to pick up the slack?
We become this bad-ass tribe of bottom-feeding city-scraping architects and builders, filling in the cracks, helping the homeless to house themselves.
Who knows, maybe in planning for specific housing models and solutions for the homeless we stumble upon solutions for a greater housing and social welfare crisis looming at large?

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Tent City Surveillatopia

[Images: This article on the National Guard in New Mexico stationed along the Mexican border says these tents house around 300 NG members and can withstand winds up to 85 mph. Like nomadic deployable future desert shells what strikes me most though is their similarity to the tents used to incarcerate illegal immigrants in nearby Raymondville, Texas. Unlike those detention circus canopies which take a day, these are up in 72 hours. Maybe it's just me but they look like they could double up, so when the NG finishes their mission the tents could easily be re-purposed for detention.
Not that I am suggesting that, of course. It's just an incredibly grim observation.

Aside from some descriptions of the National Guard's Operation Jump Start duties supporting the Border Patrol with surveillance infrastructure and logistics, this is the quote of the article: “I thought there was going to be more action, more challenges,” she [a National Guard troop] said. “I thought I was going to capture undocumented immigrants or that I was going to be able to use my rifle, something like that.”]

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Rat-Proof Fence

In a story that could only come out of China (or India, perhaps), we read about plans in the Hunan province to build a new 24-mile long fence aimed at preventing – no, not an invasion of migrants from North Korea, or mini-tides of refugees from Afghanistan – hardly, this time it is to wall off a land rush of 2 billion scattered mice and rats that have been uprooted since water has been released from the Three Gorges dam in order “to ease pressures on rivers and plains” that has been caused by some of the worst flooding in central China in 50 years.

[Image: An unrelated painting by Dan Witz of an interminable landscape of rats. Photo via Art Moco.]

So, apparently the water release is a normal occurrence, as is the subsequent rat exodus around nearby villages and across local terrain. But, this time, the magnitude was unparalleled.
The water was released into Dongting Lake that had experienced drought for months. This sudden flogging of the plains has forced millions of rodents from their holes in the ground to flee for their lives.

The story was first reported I believe in PanAsianBiz, but this Guardian article provides some crazy details.

“Local villagers described their migration in terms of an army on the move, eating everything in their path. Entire crop fields were reportedly devoured in a single afternoon.

According to domestic media, the munching was so loud that it could be heard inside villagers' homes.”

No doubt the makings for a creepy subtopian landscape horror show, the same article also reports that due to China’s current flooding crisis 3 million people have also been uprooted from their homes and forced to evacuate.
A grim scene to be sure: millions of villagers wandering the countryside starved, while the “roads and hillsides” have been “turned black” with the mass exodus of a plague of rats fleeing the same area. Meanwhile, restrateurs from Guangzhou are scooping up the rats with nets to prepare them as pricey little delicacies for businessmen craving something exotic, though some reports deny this.

The infestation has been exacerbated partly because of the construction of various dams recently in China, which has exposed and decreased the populations of normal predators (snakes and owls) more to the villagers who then eat them as popular dishes, and because the “proliferation of dams has lessened the downstream waterflow, widening the habitable territory of the rodents.”
The Guardian also reports that locals have been beating thousands of mice to death with sticks while also using ferrets and poison, but in the process have killed fresh supplies of livestock as well. So far, it sounds like nearly 2 million rats have been exterminated and buried weighing close to 90 tons. Wow - mass grave mounds of dead buried rat refugees.
So now, according to this article, to protect villagers from future infestations, “the Lujiao Township along Dongting Lake in northern Hubei is ready to shell out $792,000 to build the one-meter-high rat-proof wall,” while the “provincial government of Hunan has allocated $1.05 million to repair rat-proof walls” (I assume that means some already existing barriers in place). Not much more seems to be said about how the rat wall will be constructed or how it will work, how deeply underground it would need to go, or where the rats will flee in the face of such a barrier. Of course, I am only curious of the repercussions or natural consequences of any barrier!

And, just what you were hoping for – we’ve got a video for you right here, compliments of Reuters.

But perhaps the whole scenario is just a grotesque symbol for the kinds of human displacements that are happening on other various levels and scales. Not only for how these types of mass hydrologic projects are evicting people from their own communities, or how the force of dam building booms may be even altering the earth’s rotation in some way, but metaphorically the dam as a symbol of global gentrification, borders and the military hydrologic control of the flows of global migration; and the mass displacements that are caused by institutionalized border levees, flood gates and selective international filtration.
What if we looked at global migration as being controlled by a military hydrology of border enforcement infrastructures? If eventually global borders operated and functioned much the same way these massive automated superstructures of hydrology do, re-flooding certain zones while drying up others; directing migrants to certain labor plains while exposing others for the exploitative taking; forcing migration routes underground while raising other subterranean zones to the surface; allowing certain flows in while preventing others – dams analogous to a massive reshaping of the landscapes and geographies of migration.
Okay, I admit, this isn’t that well articulated yet, and maybe this metaphor is a stretch, but when I think about 3 million people being driven from their homes by flooding, and 2 billion rats on the move, and the dam as an ecological border (and being the incessant border freak that I am!) I can’t help but to draw comparisons between these rats on the move, a rat-proof fence, the Three Gorges Dam, and global migration.
Anyway, over and out!

(Thanks Rob for the story!)

Saturday, July 14, 2007


Well, of all the conferences, exhibitions, art shows, Biennales, funky parties, boring ass lectures, academic/pseudo-academic love/hate nerd-fests out there; of all the ridiculously cool underground and even annoyingly pompous events happening at this very moment [not to mention the No Borders Camp social action gathering coming up and all the other cross-border cultural stuff going on this summer that I have absolutely no idea about still at this point] – of All that stuff, The ONE I dream of being flown out to right now, right NOW -- in order to cover for Subtopia (somehow, someway) -- I have to say, the one I’d be going to is in Barcelona, Spain, called simply enough "Fronteres,” or (as you probably guessed) “Borders.”
Yup. A big old installation dedicated to the geopolitical ramifications and complex patterning of the world’s contested border zones. Photos, videos, multimedia installations, guided tours within the gallery of different political fault lines as depicted by large scale images and maps, writers and researchers, there is an even a section dedicated to exploring border music in Istanbul. Download the catalog here.
Regardless, I am going to repost the “Fronteres” press release and exhibition outline below for my own future reference. For now, I'll just have to sit back and hope that some of our lucky Spanish located readers will take the time to kick back with us a few afterthoughts on this one.

The Press Kit for "Fronteres":

The Centro de Cultura Contemporánea presents the exhibition Borders, a reflection on the concept of the border, its types and a review of some of today’s geopolitical borders (the boundaries of Europe, US-Mexico, Israel-Palestine, North Korea-South Korea, Kashmir, Miami-Havana, the case of Melilla...).

The exhibition is designed as a journey through different worlds, in a movement that brings together history and geopolitics, the gaze of photographers and eye-witnesses, sounds and maps, general reflections and field studies.

As visitors make their way round the exhibition they’ll find photographs by Patrick Bard, Olivier Coret, Marie Dorigny, Olivier Jobard, Nicolas Righetti, Frederic Sauterau, Eric Roux-Fontaine and Michel Semeniako, and the reflections of Roger Bartra, Zygmunt Bauman, Georges Corm, Manuel Cruz, Francisco Fernandez Buey, Michel Foucher, David S. Landes, Tzvetan Todorov and Eyal Weizman. Also taking part are the creators Frederic Amat, Enric Massip, Angel Morua and Josep Niebla.

Borders, curated by the French geographers Michel Foucher and Henri Dorion, is a co-production of the CCCB and the Musee des Confluences de Lyon (Departement du Rhone), which was presented from 3 October 2006 to 4 February 2007. It will run at the CCCB from 4 May to 30 September 2007.


In the labyrinth

The border, as Claudio Magris said, is an idol at whose altar many lives have been sacrificed. Borders define an inside and out, one of them us and one of them the other.

There are many types of border: physical, political, cultural and even psychological. A border creates an interior space which seeks to be homogenous and purposely different from the outside one. Frontiers are also invisible barriers which come between people, even in personal relationships. We live in a time of flows: of the permanent and potentially unlimited movement of people, goods, money and ideas. And, nonetheless, we talk about borders more than ever. Governments find it easy to respond to any conflict – bloody or otherwise – by building or reinforcing borders, even though they know that it will be increasingly difficult to lock the door.

We are at a time of change between old and obsolete certainties and new references to be discovered. The physical, political, cultural, ideological, psychological and spiritual demarcation lines are on the move and the world is a choppy sea. The fall of a physical border doesn’t automatically mean overcoming psychological and cultural barriers. At the same time, borders are constantly being built which are difficult to mark out physically but have an undeniable social efficiency (or perhaps this isn’t the meaning of the discourse of the clash of civilisations?). In any case, the convenience of homogenous spaces, bounded by a single large border and with internal divisions, which under no circumstances questioned the unity of the national framework, is passing into history.

Any individual identity is a small space protected by physical and mental forms which separate us from the other to make us into an autonomous subject. Using these as a starting point, with the interplay between passions and interests, we emerge from ourselves and establish interrelations with others. Personal pronouns remind us of this in each sentence.

The same thing happens in the collective sphere. And in this regard, Zygmunt Bauman is right to present the border as the third element between cultural diversity and the unity of the human species. The border is exclusive, but it is also constructive.

Borders rise and fall. Today they close, tomorrow they open. It is this interplay between the apparent regulation of flows which won’t prevent a growing global interrelation.

This exhibition looks at borders by exploring the edge territories which, in some way, express the contradictions of a world that moves between hypercommunication and deep fractures. The more we join together, the more labyrinthine the world becomes.

Josep Ramoneda
Director, CCCB

Guided visits to the exhibition “Borders”

Guided visits to the exhibition “Borders” by writers, journalists and experts who have worked on it and analysed the subject and who, with their knowledge, give us greater insight into the theme.

This cycle of guided visits is organized in the conviction that crossing borders helps us to see and understand. With the help of people who have worked on, studied and experienced in depth the borders they present, it sets out to teach us something more about them.


The contemporary world is crossed by over 226,000 kilometres of land borders. The European Union has long been engaged in a process of devaluation of these barriers, and, during this time, “without-border” organisations have become legion, globalisation has called for the removal of obstacles that prevent the circulation of people, products and images, and border issues have never been so widely discussed. But, why? This is what the exhibition Borders explores, using an approach linking history and geopolitics, photos and eye-witness accounts, sounds and maps, general reflections and field studies.

In turn, fronts and frontiers, links and separations, stitches and cuts, caesuras and interfaces, these lines which map out borders contribute to identity. For an “inside” to exist, it must open on to an “outside” which can accommodate it. Everyone must take on their role as Hestia, the keeper of the hearth, and their role as Hermes, nomad, wanderer, master of exchanges, waiting for encounters, the god of paths and guide of travellers.

Crossing borders helps us to see and understand. Looking beyond means taking the risk of venturing on to a foreign continent, of facing up to a different horizon, of being surprised by new faces and finding oneself without a home, without identity or, at least, implicated. A mirror effect. The exhibition Borders has been conceived as a journey, through different worlds. We know how to enter them. What will we know at the journey’s end, once we have crossed the final boundary?

The exhibition begins with a mural by Josep Niebla : Patera no. 1


The borders of Europe and the question of its boundaries: from the Aegean Sea to the Barents Sea. Screening of photographs by Frédéric Sautereau who, together with the journalist Guy-Pierre Chomette, undertook a journey between June 2000 and August 2003, during which they followed the borders of Eastern Europe.

"The maritime and terrestrial borders of the expanded European Union stretch from the Canary Isles and the Straits of Gibraltar to the Aegean Sea, the Black Sea and Barents Sea. The Turkish question has triggered a salutary debate about the borders of Europe. Classical geography has marked the boundaries on the continent inappropriately (the Urals split Russia in two and the Bosphorus connects both sides of the city of Istanbul, although, by convention, it separates Europe and Asia). Europe as a civilisation defined a secular cultural identity, Europeanness, the feeling of cultural belonging, the legacy of Christianity and the Enlightenment. Since 1957, Europe also denotes an idea, a project founded on a European identity and awareness which have resulted in an organisation: the European Union. The integration of Poles, Hungarians and Balkans in 2004 amounted to history encountering its geography.

Although there is no definitive answer to the question of Europe’s boundaries as a continent, the question of the political borders of a Union of States sharing a common project depends on the choice of its citizens and their powers of attraction to their borders. Since 2004, the Union has brought together countries at the heart of Europe. With Turkey, Ukraine and the Balkans in crisis, we would need to include those countries which, for centuries, have been on the periphery of Europe, at the edge (the word Ukraine means borderland). Hence the current uncertainty. Without a geography given once and for all by nature, Europe must rely on its history and project in order to define the relationship it wishes to build between its inside – the heart – and its outside – its periphery. In view of the fact that geography doesn’t come to the aid of politics, it is up to the Union of States to determine its political geography, by public debate. "

Michel Foucher

From the Aegean to the Barents Sea, a journey along the eastern borders

"Among the ten countries that joined the European Union on 1st May 2004, six were on its eastern marches: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia. Bulgaria and Romania were to follow in 2007 or 2008. The European Union thus acquired a new eastern border, and with the new border, came new neighbours. Turkey, Moldavia, Ukraine, Belarus and Russia were now on the other side.

A new division of the continent? Even if it is in no way comparable with the Iron Curtain – a painful split which set the west and east of Europe against one another for 40 years – the new eastern edge of the European Union raises new stakes and a great many questions. In certain remote regions, it highlights, in particular, the division of people scattered here and there, and disrupts the relations between neighbours which have been gradually re-established since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991. From the river Evros, between Greece and Turkey, to the desolate landscapes of the Arctic tundra on the Kola Peninsula, via the Trans-Carpathians and the Estonian rivers of Lake Peipus, who are the border inhabitants of the Union? What is their history? What is their day-to-day experience of living with this new European architecture? How are they affected from a moral and psychological point of view? By gathering eye-witness accounts on the west and east sides of the border, Guy-Pierre Chomette and Frederic Sautereau are trying to answer these questions by combining their editorial and photographic approaches. They went on seven journeys between June 2000 and July 2003, along this border, which runs for over 7,000 kilometres from the Aegean to the Barents Sea. These are described in a book, Lisieres d’Europe (The Edges of Europe), published by Autrement."

Frederic Sautereau
Oeil Public

Guy-Pierre Chomette


The challenges of migration in the world (the European case): images of Kingsley’s journey around Cameroon, Niger, Nigeria, across the Sahara, Algeria, Morocco, the Western Sahara and across the Atlantic. Photographs by Olivier Jobard with voice-over by Kingsley


"There are an estimated 185 million migrants – men and women – worldwide, according to the latest report by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in Geneva. The main destinations are North America (35 millions immigrants in the United States), Europe, the Middle East and South East Asia. Latin America, Sahelian Africa and the most heavily populated countries of Asia are the main regions of departure, while Mexico and North West Africa are zones of departure and transit. Almost two thirds of the world’s immigrants and refugees come from nine countries in Asia (Bangladesh, China, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand), the departure and arrival zone for economic migrants. People escaping a conflict or poverty (the Middle East and Africa), looking for seasonal employment (in Southern Europe, the United States and South East Asia), temporary employment (in Asia and the Middle East) or a more permanent job (North America, Asia, Europe), wanting to go into higher education (China, Vietnam and India encourage people to return home once they have received their qualifications). If people aim to leave their country of origin for good, they tend to choose to settle in the United States, Canada, Australia or the United Kingdom. The IOM estimates that remittance flows to the countries of departure are in excess of 120 billion euros."

Michel Foucher

Kingsley: Travel journal of an illegal immigrant.

"It was in the year 2000, while I was producing a report on the Red Cross centre in Sangatte, northern France, that I became aware of the consequences of all the conflicts I had witnessed: Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Kurdistan, Chechnya, Somalia, Sudan, Liberia, Sierra Leone... The population exodus.

Before, while I was working on my reports, I was quite happy just to pass people by, focusing only on the event itself.

In Sangatte, the last caravanserai for many illegal immigrants before the final stage, England, I made time for them.

While I was working on two so-called “topical” reports, I went back to visit these men who, from one day to the next, abandoned a past, a culture and a family for a new life which they dreamt would be better.

I listened to them talk about their journeys, their suffering, their hopes, their fears. Sometimes I was able to give them news about their country. It was through these exchanges that I felt the need to share their experiences in order to put a name to, and tell the story of those people commonly referred to in France as “sans-papiers”, or “without papers”.

So I decided to follow the route taken by one of them.

I met Kingsley in Cameroon while I was working on a report about illegal immigration. This young man of 22 had already set off into the unknown two years earlier but had been forced to turn back due to a lack of money. Since this abortive attempt, he had saved up and gained a great deal of support from his loved ones. His best friend and former workmate, Francis, had managed to emigrate to France legally by marrying a French tourist, and was waiting for him there. So, Kingsley was ready to set off again.

He left his country in May 2004 and travelled illegally through the whole of Nigeria and Niger, crossing the Sahara Desert to Algeria. Finally, he reached Morocco. It was here, after three months of waiting and two spells in prison, that he set out on a makeshift boat provided by people traffickers, together with some 30 other illegals, bound for the Canary Isles.

Six months after he left Cameroon, after changing identity five times and nationality three, he landed on European soil at last ... escorted by members of the Civil Guard.

At the beginning, our relationship was based on a common interest to take our enterprise as far as possible. When he suggested I be present when one of his friends handed him some money, I realised straightaway that I was his moral guarantee. Later, he asked me to look after his money so that he wouldn’t be robbed while crossing the different borders. I agreed, knowing that if I kept his savings, he would do his utmost to find me again if we were separated from one another.

Stronger bonds were gradually forged as a result of the difficult times we had shared. An almost unshakeable trust was established. The experiences we had lived through and the mutual respect we had for each other bound us together. I admit that I often vacillated between the role of observer and the role of actor throughout this story, until the time Kingsley obtained his residence permit.

Because he trusted me, he allowed himself to be featured in the newspapers while he was still illegal. I told him that this media coverage would possibly allow him to put together a solid dossier which would secure him special dispensation to remain. This is what happened. He now lives in France, where things are just about ticking along.

At a time when merit is a virtue that is much bandied about by politicians, when “risk-taking” and “putting oneself in danger” are raised to gold-standard levels, I would like to expose, through this report, the difficulties of such journeys and bring to light everything these migrants give – sometimes even their lives – in the hope of a better existence."

Olivier Jobard
Sipa Press


Borders that remain closed: North Korea is one of the last examples of an isolated world, hermetically closed by militarized borders that are almost impassable to its inhabitants, where the regime maintains an autarchy characteristic of bygone days and reserves the benefits of foreign contact for a minority. Screening of photographs by Nicolas Righetti

A theatre where the box office is closed

"Here is one of the latest examples of a closed world, hermetically sealed by militarised borders which are almost impossible to cross by its inhabitants, where the regime maintains an autarky from another age, while reserving, for a narrow caste, the benefits of outside contacts.

The Korean Peninsula, which was united for many centuries, has been divided into two states since the war in 1953, in which five million people were killed. This was the aftermath of the Cold War. In the south, a modern, democratic State, a world- ranking economic power which jealously guarded its independence from China and Japan, supported its American ally. In the north, the world’s most reclusive regime, overarmed, calling for nuclear status but unable to protect its inhabitants from risks of famine, and keeping its population in a giant labour camp presented through the theatrical fiction of a communist paradise. The People’s Republic of North Korea is supported by China to counterbalance the military presence of the United States in the region and the ambitions attributed to Japan. The inter-Korean border comprises a demilitarised zone, 4 km wide and 239 km long, which is guarded night and day. The world’s 6th and 7th armies – or 1.7 million soldiers – face each other at the border. We no longer count the tunnels built by the troops from the north. The capital of the south, Seoul, 40 km from the border, is vulnerable. Talks have been held between the two Koreas. The unification of Germany has been analysed by the South Koreans. But the isolation imposed on North Korean society doesn’t lead us to expect an outcome comparable with the one in the former GDR."

Michel Foucher

The last paradise: North Korea

""We are happy", an enormous slogan written in Korean: white script on a red background. The first sentence translated for me when I arrived on the tarmac in Pyongyang. I am happy too. I feel moved to be here, to have finally managed to set foot in one of the most reclusive states in the world. It has only taken nine years of manoeuvring to get a visa and four invitations extended through official channels. Four trips there and back, each proving to be more alike each time. The earthly paradise created by the charismatic leader Kim Il Sung is quite unlike the one imagined by Christian society: you can go there and leave.

As you come out of the airport, the world is turned upside down. No advertising, no movement, no sellers, no noise, no animals, no Asia. The country lives in isolation, and the prevailing atmosphere is that of a citadel under siege. On the road taking us to the capital there are only silent, uniformed pedestrians, walking in their hundreds on the verge. The many soldiers, standing straight in full military gear, are ready to intervene against the imperialist threat.

Han, my official guide, is always there to keep me on the right path. We are still happy. He is convinced of my unconditional love for the regime. I have to capture the propaganda on my film. He presents me with the same schedule for my stay. The same itinerary. The same timetable. Taken aback, I point this out to him. “Yes, it’s true, but people seldom visit twice”, he says, with some surprise. Daily visits here are put on record, hour by hour, because each foreign delegation staying in the paradise is treated in the same way. And I’m a foreign delegation in my own right. They’ve given me such a heavy schedule that I can’t get out of it. I’m irrevocably tied to this glossy piece of paper. The house where Kim Il Sung was born, the triumphal arch, the Museum of International Friendship, store number one, the Juche Idea Tower, the Children’s Palace. There is no show of power without the appropriate setting. The capital is a vast communist Hollywood. The same attractions for the same emotions. As I travel the city by bus, I pass quickly from one scene to another. Interior, exterior, everything seems false.

During my second trip, I realise that the important thing is not to reveal what lies beneath a totalitarian stage set, but to show the country as you see it. I decide to film the artificial happiness of the ceremonies I am invited to. Just like Alice in Wonderland, I finally go through the looking-glass. I make reality out of fiction. Unless, of course, fiction is the reality.

The whole experience fills me with unexpected joy. The happiness at discovering a simple, clean, tidy and flawless world. The great strength of the North Korean visual universe lies in being uniform, homogenous and repetitive. All these "I love Comrade Kim Jong Il, the strongest man in the world ", "Think, speak and act like Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, our beloved leaders", and the portraits that embellish each apartment, official building, dining room, are very real. To see and be seen: this is the function of these effigies which take pride of place in every home, like a placid Big Brother with slanting eyes. The people pin onto their chests a badge bearing their image. Nobody escapes the authorities’ gaze. I am a child in the Garden of Eden, and the figure of God the Father is my guide. Even though he’s dead, “Kim Il Sung still lives among us”. This is where life begins. There is no other. Kim Il Sung is everywhere. Kim Il Sung is God. His son, Kim Jong Il is the Messiah. Pyongyang, their heaven. On posters, in books, on banners, on television and the radio, father and son are omnipresent and omnipotent. These two patriarchal figures often appear side by side. They are portrayed as being the same age, they become timeless and similar, like one and the same divine icon. As I stand in front of their image, I no longer know if I am looking at them or they are looking at me.

I arrive in the capital, Pyongyang, "pleasant place” in Korean. “Heaven is here”: Han translates another sign for me. Shops and metro station exits are also christened “Heaven”. The regime views the capital as the perfect archetype of this Eden. It only remains to duplicate it throughout the country. Propaganda injects it into the countryside. The "farmer-comrades” have a duty to work hard in order to establish “heaven” where they live. And, in turn, the inhabitants of the capital are supposed to support the farmers during their “difficulties”, famines and floods.

The streets are clean. The people are disciplined. The children line up “naturally” in single file to get on board the school bus. The people are both spectators and actors. They act and look on, but only the leaders have the power to alter the setting. And, since we are in heaven, one celebration follows another. It’s official. The public always have a prominent presence so that they can applaud mechanically.

I still have the feeling of emptiness and fullness. A deserted boulevard. In a second, the square is filled with a crowd of young people. The choreography to the glory of the regime can commence: 200 red T-shirts and trousers dance and sing the praises of Kim Jung Il. Majorettes wave red flags. Suddenly, they all depart just as they have arrived. The square reverts to its empty, silent reality.

“Long live peace in the world!”, my guide blurts out, to fill in the silence. There’s something touching about him, but I get the feeling that he is troubled by anything that disturbs this wonderful equilibrium. He wants to convince me of the superiority of communism, Korean style. He frequently peppers our anodyne conversations with slogans. I get used to it. Nobody in the street speaks to me apart from my guide. Even when I’m on my own, no contact is made. Nobody seems to take any notice of me, everything happens as if I didn’t exist. Neither the police nor the army risk approaching me. Fear pervades us all.

On the bus, Han describes each building untiringly. Here you have the museum dedicated to the founding of the party. Over there, you have the bronze statue of Chollima. Elsewhere, the Liberation War Museum, an exhibition about the timeless exploits of Comrade Kim Il Sung: "This great leader drove back the invasion by the imperialist allied forces, for the country and its people..." Han always has an answer to my questions.

I have had to return there several times to realise that it’s all true. And that what is false is also true."

Nicolas Righetti


Territorial conflicts—forgotten paradise. The war in Kashmir is probably one of the oldest territorial conflicts. Since the partition of India in 1947, it has seen the confrontation of Pakistan, India and Kashmiri separatist guerrilla movements. Photographs by Marie Dorigny.

Dying at the front

"Even if the number of open or latent conflicts between states or within states is tending to decrease, we can still compile a register of critical situations. A by no means comprehensive list includes: Africa, between Ethiopia and Eritrea, between Chad and Sudan, between Congo and Rwanda; in Europe, in the southern regions of the former Yugoslavia and in Moldavia, in the Caucasus, between Russia and Georgia, between Armenia and Azerbaijan; in the Near East, between Israel, the Lebanon and Syria, as well as the Palestinian territories; in the Kurdish regions, between Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran; between Afghanistan and Pakistan; between India and Pakistan, between the two Koreas, between Japan and Russia, between Japan and China, not to mention the relations between China and Taiwan.

The war in Kashmir is no doubt one of the oldest territorial disputes. Since the partition of India in 1947, it has brought into conflict Pakistan, India and the pro-Kashmiri Indian guerrilla independence-seeking and separatist movements. The high valleys and mountains of Kashmir have been divided since 1949 by a cease-fire line, known as the LoC (or Line of Control), which is heavily militarised on both sides and the scene of recurrent bloody incidents and infiltrations. The conflict is also taking place on the Siachen glacier, which stands over 5,000 metres above sea level, near the Chinese border. Admittedly, as the result of the commotion caused by the earthquake in October 2005 (73,000 victims), the first bus route was opened between Srinagar and Muzzafarabad, which soon became accessible to lorries; four other routes are planned.

Attempts at a peace process between both states have been under way for at least two years, in order to improve economic exchanges, but commercial transactions between them account for less than 1% of their overall trade. The concept of a “soft border” has been put forward by the Indian side: not to change the actual borders but to make them free territory, by organising an Indo-Pakistani cooperation strategy in Kashmir, for instance as a condominium. For the time being, the only hope for the Kashmiri people lies in the pursuit of a “cold peace”. So it seems the blockade will last for some time to come."

Michel Foucher

Kashmir, the forgotten paradise

"We have been visiting Kashmir for about 15 years: a region bloodstained by a conflict which has its origins in the birth of the two independent states of India and Pakistan in 1947. The border separating these countries has cut the region in two and divided the families on either side of what we refer to today as the “Line of Control”.

We quickly fell under the spell of this mythical region and it seemed to us that a simple journalistic report of bomb attacks and military operations, which attract reporters from all over the world, would be terribly reductive. We both felt that, in this valley, where death and pain are prevalent, there was another Kashmir, either dreamt or fantasy. It was within reach of anyone who knew how to recognise it. In order to do so, you only had to take the time to let the chance encounters and desires of the moment come into play.

Without us knowing it, we were following in the footsteps of two great writer- travellers of the 19th century, who were the first to describe, with wonder, the gentle beauty of the place and its inhabitants. The reflection of the foothills of the Himalayas in the waters of Dal Lake, and the ospreys swooping down at sunset. The call of the muezzins at dawn in the old town of Srinagar and the warmth of a cup of tea, placed into the hollow of the hands, while sitting on the steps of a Sufi shrine. The chatter of the women departing for the fields and the calm expression on the men’s faces as they gathered around a narghile. The straight-backed horsemen who accompanied the flocks of sheep, and the shawl draped over the shoulder of an old man. The delicate taste of saffron and cardamom too, with which they perfume tea and rice...

Thus, year after year, thinking we were blending softly into the intimacy of the Kashmir of legend, we let ourselves be possessed by its humanity, its spirit of tolerance and the splendour which demand respect."

Marie Dorigny

Marc Epstein


A unique case in the world of the physical formation, before our eyes, of a cement boundary, reinforced by passing places with sophisticated equipment, the prelude to a border between a state and an institution that aspires to statehood. Photographs by Olivier Coret with the background sound from around the wall.

Borders that are neither safe nor recognised

"This is a unique case of the physical formation, before our eyes, of a concrete wall, reinforced by passing places fitted with sophisticated equipment, which is a prelude to the establishment of a border between a State and an entity which has the vocation to be a State.

The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians has a central territorial dimension: where and how to trace the border between both States from the time when the principle of the formation of a Palestinian State has been acquired? From 1948 to 1967, an armistice line – the green line – separated Israel from the West Bank. After 1967, the strategic border was moved to the River Jordan and the Golan Heights, and, according to law, the areas in between became the occupied territories where Israeli settlements were placed, but they were also home to three million Palestinians. This made it impossible for a Jewish majority to live permanently in a space to the west of the Jordan. Hence the acceptance of a Palestinian State by the Israelis. This option, which is also dictated by security concerns and breaches of trust between both societies, is expressed by the unilateral building of a wall separating Israel and the West Bank, and the return of the Gaza Strip to the Palestinian authorities. The wall doesn’t follow the green line but runs parallel to it, including settlement blocks and enclosed villages and, at its boundary, the Jerusalem conurbation, which is another point of contention. This wall is a barrier and border which can serve as the basis for a demarcation between two separate entities. As the Israeli geographer David Newman points out, it is not a wall between good neighbours: “first of all, we create the events on the ground and then we expect the whole world to align itself with the new situation”."

Michel Foucher

Life by the wall

"Since the start of the second Intifada, I haven’t stopped travelling backwards and forwards between Europe and the Near East. The situation has got worse with each report I’ve filed. Six years ago, you could cross from Israel to Palestine without realising. Concrete blocks of particular colours at the side of the road indicated that we were entering one zone or another. And then there were the checkpoints, up to three of them on the 15 kilometres between Jerusalem and Ramallah. And these checkpoints were transformed into permanent structures, with barbed wire, watchtowers, endless security checks, random openings. It became a nightmare to move around. People’s lives were restricted.

Before beginning this report on the wall, I had stopped travelling to Israel. I couldn’t see the point of going to take a look and showing people over here what was going on over there. When I used to do reports on the Israelis, I was branded a Zionist. When I worked on reports about the families of the Palestinian kamikazes or Hamas, I was viewed by others as a pro-Palestinian militant. My work unintentionally fuelled the already established points of view, whereas I was working so that people would ask questions and feel empathy with mankind.

Building work on the wall began in 2003, and magazines published photos of the structure. They were beautiful photos, often showing panoramic views, with lovely colours. The wall was reduced to an aesthetic, cynical game. The role of photography came down to providing a graphic illustration of the subject. Because of this, I then decided to get back on the road to Jerusalem. I wanted to go and see people who were going to live with this wall and not the wall itself.

As I began working on this project, I expected that I would have to face dangerous, very violent situations, as is often the case in Palestine. However, over the course of a year, I’ve met with more resignation than rebellion, and that’s what has struck me the most. A people who have had themselves enclosed without even having the strength to rise up. I asked the inhabitants questions. They replied that they couldn’t do anything, not any more. I have never felt so useless but I carried on regardless. The Palestinians told me to stop, that these photos were of no use and I almost agreed with them. These photos are of no help, but they show how a border is created. I had wanted to condemn what was happening, but all I had done was to document history.

I feel the wall is part of the sense of history. For 50 years, the Israelis have been gaining ground, gaining space on this territory. This wall stops a border, it marks the end of an encroachment, and it may also be the beginning of a Palestinian State.

I would like to thank Beatrice Guelpa, Agnes de Gouvion Saint-Cyr and Jean- Francois Leroy for their unfailing support."

Olivier Coret


The economic challenges of borders as a result of globalization. Unemployed Mexicans aspire to a better life on the other side of the border and American companies exploit cheap labour on both sides of the line. But this is an age in which differences between neighbouring societies generate migratory movements, which some people consider too large. And it is at this point that the border becomes a wall. Photographs by Patrick Bard and screening of a film by the same author.

The grass is always greener on the other side

"Are we on the brink of a world without borders? One border vanishes, and two others appear. It is as if man had an irresistible need to break up the world and to etch lines of fracture on the land between territories subjected to different rates of development. Borders remind us of the face of Medusa, whose gaze protects and attacks at the same time: they attract populations and businesses which seek to take advantage of difference, yet can end up preventing the much sought after contact and exchange.

The Mexico-US border illustrates this situation more and more clearly. Unemployed Mexicans aspire to a better life across the border and American businesses take advantage of cheap labour on both sides of the line. However, a time is approaching when the gap between neighbouring societies is engendering migratory movements which are deemed to be too large by some. And this is when the border becomes a wall. Two figures express the importance of this phenomenon: today, the US has a population of 20 million Hispanics; for ten years, the Mexico-US border, which is about to become another iron curtain, has seen the death of more than 3,000 people in search of a new homeland."

Henri Dorion

El Norte

"El Norte. The border separating the United States of America from the United States of Mexico is some 3,200 km long, and stretches from the Atlantic to the Pacific. News reports frequently put the spotlight on the immigration problems that crystallise there. The NAFTA accords, which allow the free movement of goods between Mexico, the USA and Canada, came into effect at the end of 1994, at the same time as Operation Gatekeeper. The latter focused on stepping up border patrols in order to stem the flow of illegal immigration from Mexico and Latin America: the building of a wall which is a material representation of the border in all urban areas, an increase in personnel, an ultra-sophisticated surveillance and detection system. The America-Mexico border is the world’s most frequently crossed line, both legally and illegally; it represents an important economic wager. Even more so if we consider that it is the longest shared border between an emerging country and a rich country. The richest country in the world. A place where everything, or nearly everything, is enlarged as if under a magnifying glass, on a continental scale. George W. Bush recently stated his intention to send 6,000 soldiers from the National Guard to the border. At the same time, the US president announced the regularisation of several million migrants. Contradictions of a country that cannot do without cheap labour and has to pander to its most conservative wing, who are concerned about the 30 to 40 million Spanish speakers who live in the USA.

A low-intensity zone of conflict for the Pentagon, an economic laboratory for globalisation, a place of economic and social violence, the object of all kinds of peripatetic industries, the US-Mexico border is an obstacle for migrants who aspire to a binational vocation. However, the border is also a third country, between Mexico and the USA: an “Amexica” where two nations, two cultures, two peoples are summoned to meet, in a state of chaos, no matter how high the walls."

Patrick Bard


The world of landless peoples: gypsies scattered throughout Europe. Photographs by Éric Roux-Fontaine.

Scattered throughout Europe

"We know about the sad fate of the so-called landless nations. But are they deprived of borders because of this? Doesn’t the juxtaposition, without osmosis, of societies rooted in their territories and scattered societies, underline the fact that the sedentary world imposes its social, economic, anthropological and cultural borders on its transient neighbours? Others will say that the travelling population carry with them in their meagre luggage their community borders, which mark out ephemeral territories, at each stage of their journey.

These are two contemporary realities which turn their backs on one another by drawing on their origins in different times and contexts: on the one hand, a sedentary world which is modelled on the new mobility codes stemming from globalisation and, on the other, a world which, for centuries, has taken its roots and identity from what is perceived as an eternal wandering. Could this exclusion be responsible for the astonishing vitality of these flexible societies? Because we can say that these societies, of which the Roma are a classic example, are protected, to a certain extent, by the invisible borders which surround them and follow them on their journeys: borders that are just as invisible as their territories."

Henri Dorion

Rromano than

"When asked, “What does being a Romany mean to you?”... the man answered me, “It means living here, or anywhere else on earth, and knowing that, whatever happens, no government will stand up for us ...”

This prompted me to follow the journeys taken by these families, who have to juggle endlessly with requests for asylum, notifications of expulsion, and forced repatriation. Month after month, I encountered friends in Sarajevo who I had met in Vaulx-en-Velin, when they would come knocking at my door, and other families who had been “escorted” out of the country by the border police some time earlier, who paid me a short visit before setting off again in secret for England or Montenegro.

Rromano than is the result of “geopoetical” wanderings through a country that nobody ever reaches. A journey through travel, to meet the Europeans who are exiled in Europe, to meet a landless nation.

The photographic project was carried out over a period of about four years, mainly in France, Romania, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and India, the historic country of departure for those who would later be called Manus, Roma, Kalderas, or Sinti."

Eric Roux-Fontaine


Permeable and hard borders: the exile of refugees. Photographs by Michel Séméniako.

Exiles and refuges

"Borders break up time and space in equal measure. Initially, they are lines, either imposed or agreed, which mark out a more or less watertight solution of continuity between the territories where the candidates for voluntary exile hope to make their new homes, and those which impose on them living conditions that are deemed to be unacceptable and which they seek to leave. This line also marks out long periods of time: the time of waiting to travel to a second life and then, after the crossing, the time of the expected welcome, of a job, of inclusion. But the border is often a purveyor of illusions. The image of a better world beyond the line holds an attraction which doesn’t always keep its promise.

Getting past the border guards is no guarantee that you have made it. Once crossed, a new version of the border can weigh heavily on the shoulders of these travellers for a long time. Solidarity between refugees often shows itself in the shadow of the factories or blind walls, much more so than inside these worlds which are often closed to them. Nevertheless, borders spring up there too: the taggers also need to mark their territory 19 which they feel is under threat or to make their presence felt in other people’s territory. But would physical borders, no matter how much barbed wire they contain, be less watertight than social borders?"

Henri Dorion



"One day in the year 2000, I came across the spectral, greenish image of a group of illegal immigrants in the press. It distressed me deeply.

A hitherto buried family memory, as fragmented and disorderly as a graveyard, was suddenly reactivated by the news.

This image of human beings, hunted down like wild animals by heat-seeking cameras, expressed the overriding violence of the powerful, equipped with sophisticated technology, on the poor unfortunates who are fleeing war and poverty. By using infrared film, I divert this “cold” surveillance technique. I invert the process: heat no longer outlines a target, but expresses the aura of living bodies, their energy to survive.

The close links which connect recent dramatic events (Sangatte, people without papers, the Mediterranean boat people) with my family memories have given rise to this project.

The origin of migrants has always marked out the map of conflicts and poverty in the world.

There is no other way out for illegals other than to break away from their family, material and cultural roots: their flight forces them to hide their uniqueness to the point of invisibility. They incorporate this obliteration as a condition for their survival and their exile takes the shape of a dream-nightmare.

The denial of the past wreaks havoc. This questioning, which touches on memory, history and the sources of artistic creation, runs through Louise L. Lambrichs’ literary work. Her texts, which were written to accompany my photographs, trigger a dialogue with them and generate a realistic fiction. Spoken writing, an inner dialogue as if in suspense, links the character-images to the reader and imbues my stray ghosts with vibrant humanity."

Michel Semeniako, summer 2004


"Exiled in their history or language, foreigners in their own land, isn’t it the writers who always start with a point of view from which they seek 20 to make understood what cannot be seen? From this point, they question the world, clarify, shine forth, have encounters, connect with others.

Michel Semeniako’s work on exile, at the time when I had just completed We will never see Vukovar, awoke familiar voices in me. Doubtless because I myself had just relived the same story, – the story he told from his own origins – by other paths."

Michel Semeniako

Louise L. Lambrichs


An installation designed by Enric Massip and Ángel Morúa contrasts the seafronts of Havana’s Malecón and Ocean Drive, Miami Beach, forming a “border street”.


"OceanMaleconDrive is a new category of urban planning, comprising two linear, sea-facing faccades, separated by 300 kilometres of ocean. Two faccades, the Malecon in Havana, and Ocean Drive in Miami Beach, which are, in turn, the urban icons of their cities, their paradigmatic images.

And each side of the street has its own neighbours, who despite facing the difficulties of a border in order to cross the 300 kilometres of liquid road, think about their neighbours across the way, neighbours they dream of but can’t see. So, the inhabitants of Havana lean out of their windows or sit on Antonio Maceo Avenue to talk and dream about life on the other side. Meanwhile, on the other side, their neighbours sit on the terraces in front of Lummus Park to imagine their lives over there, a return or a visit made possible just by crossing the road.

But this street already existed at the beginning of the 20th century, although then it was a physical not an emotional border. And the way of crossing it has changed over the years, depending on where Paradise or the Enemy are. Perceptions of each of the two Cities, of each of the two Worlds.

The 300-kilometre wide street, shaped from the feelings of its neighbours, seems to be the ideal setting for building OceanMaleconDrive."

Angel Morua and Enric Massip-Bosch


The fence in Melilla: three successive rows of wire fencing. The tallest is seven metres high. On one side, the Moroccan army controls the perimeter, on the other lies the sea of wildest dreams. Beyond the fence, on the outskirts of the cities of Morocco and Algeria, improvised camps hide people who, one day, set out on a journey in search of a decent life.

Europe: an island?

"Heaven lies behind a fence. For many years, Berlin divided Europe in two. Its wall enshrines the tragic memory of the thousands of people who tried to jump it, always in the same direction. Today it is just an icon, but then it was a border and a metaphor for two worlds: heaven and hell. Everything hidden on the other side was suspect and uncertain. And although the wall finally fell, the idea behind its existence is still prevalent today. It seemed there were no walls left in Europe, yet what form of short-sightedness can overlook the 12-kilometre fence in Melilla? The world hasn’t changed so much when it is able to maintain a deep divide between those who enjoy it, with all their rights, and those who are condemned to view it from the barrier.

This fence, which also separates two worlds, represents the imposed and compulsory repetition of ideas that have proved to be archaic. However, its aesthetic instils fear and the barrier is real. There are three successive rows of wire fencing, the highest standing 7 metres. Between them, a labyrinth of cables and barbed wire has been designed to destroy, one by one, all the parts of the human body. On one side, the Moroccan army patrols the perimeter and shoots to kill, and on the other side, lies the land of milk and honey. Does the fence serve any purpose? Its presence is so imposing that, every day, it prevents us from seeing the bodies being torn apart. However, the problem it is trying to halt hasn’t disappeared, it has just moved a little further away, towards a place in silence. Does anybody think they can stop immigrants coming in? Immigration continues, at a slow and constant pace, despite border closures, because there is no hope of change, in the near future, in most of the countries the immigrants come from.

The fence is certainly impressive, but what it tries to conceal is even more so. A reality as overwhelming as its height. Its presence has fostered the development of real human traffic networks which use the closure of borders as a resource. These networks now decide the fate of the thousands of stateless people with no papers, and no income, who, one day, set off on a journey in search of a decent life and are now hiding in makeshift camps on the outskirts of cities in Morocco and Algeria. Some have been in this situation for years. The journey to the European dream is a journey with no way back. They have no alternative: they will reach Europe or die. Today, their body is the only border that separates them from heaven. Nobody stands up for them and, what is even worse, in the limbo they occupy, nobody feels compelled to do so. They are so far removed from the European conscience that they can wander until they vanish, without us even being aware. We know they exist, but our watertight society doesn’t want uncertainties. The fence thus becomes a way of alleviating collective responsibility: those on the other side don’t matter to us, their drama no longer has anything to do with us. They are shipwrecked people, outside the island. Our main concern, on this side of the fence, is to know how long we can remain cut off from them."

Rafael Vila San Juan

11 - Audiovisual installation with original work and artistic direction by Frederic Amat. Produced on the basis of the lectures given as part of the “Borders” cycle, which took place at the CCCB from 12 January and 29 March 2004 in the framework of the 7th Barcelona Debate, with the participation of the following speakers: Roger Bartra, Zygmunt Bauman, Georges Corm, Manuel Cruz, Francisco Fernández Buey, Michel Foucher, David S. Landes, Tzvetan Todorov and Eyal Weizman.