BORDERS Us and Them

From March 7th to May 30th, 2017, New York University Shanghai Art Gallery is proud to present “Borders: Us and Them,” an exhibition that probes the emergence and transformation of contemporary global borders, and their socio-political implications.

Taking its title from aneponymous song by English progressive rock band, Pink Floyd, the exhibition taps into the separations, discriminations, armed conflicts, and dehumanizing forces bred into existenceby borders. The first ever group exhibition at this gallery, “Borders: Us and Them” extends its field of vision beyond the confines of Shanghai and China, drawing together five international artists from three different continents — Rasmus Degnbol (Denmark), John Craig Freeman (US), Lorenzo Pezzani (Italy) & Charles Heller (Switzerland), as well as Reena Saini Kallat (India)—to examine the existential conditions of living between borders in a world increasingly marked by rising nationalism and populism, crumbling democratic values, and sweeping backlash against globalization; and how artists—as critical agents—can alter bordered reality through their practice.

These five artists that make up this exhibition share a devoted concern of the negative impacts of geopolitical borders that have haunted both the past, and present. Crease/Crevice/ Contour (2008), by Reena Saini Kallat, consists of ten photographs. Kallat retraces the evolving L.O.C. (Line of Control) between India and Pakistan from October 1947 to December 1948, on the back of a female body, documenting its movement by camera. This collection of images connotates the armed conflicts between these two newly independent nations over the region of Kashmir at the time. Her deliberate gesture of inscribing on the female body provocatively exposes us to its continued vulnerability, while as the same time, portraying the branding of territorial claim.

In Border Memorial: Frontera de los Muertos (2016), American public artist John Craig Freeman boldly applies virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technologies to a documentary video shot in Southern Arizona, early 2016. This resultsin a visual effect of life-sized, three dimensional geometric models of a skeleton effigy, or calcaca, floating off into the sky on the US-Mexico border. Calcaca, an archaic Aztec imagery, is here invoked by the artist in commemoration to the thousands of migrant workers who have died along the U.S./Mexico border since the 1990s, in the attempt to cross the desert southwest in search of work and a better life. Freeman resurrects their souls, allowing them to float freely above this border in the virtual, public site. A memorial to those passed, his work also amounts to a vehementcritique of American values on the other side of the border, built upon an economy sustained by these very migrant workers.

The collaborative work of filmmaker Charles Heller and architect Lorenzo Pezzani has a long-standing focus on the politics of migration at the borders of Europe. Presented in this exhibition are the pieces Liquid Traces—the Left-to-Die Boat Case (2014) and Death by Rescue (2016), two experimental video creations that critically investigate a couple of episodes of mass refugee deaths and their connections to the militarized border regime in the Mediterranean Sea. By combining testimonies of human rights violations with digital technologies such as satellite imagery, vessel tracking data, geo-spatial mapping and drift modelling, Heller and Pezzani actively support the quest for the justice of migrants and their families, while exploring new ways of documenting human rights violations in the age of surveillance on an aesthetic plane.

In early summer, 2015, Danish artist Rasmus Degnbol began working on a series of photographs which later grew into Europe’s New Borders (2016). Employing a controversial technology developed by the military, the drone, Degnbol tracked mushrooming new borders across the European continent. The evolving frames in the slide show evokes a sense of scale for the dehumanized border crisis unfolding in Europe over the last two years.

From blood-stained lessons along historical borders, soaring migrant diasporas and militarized border regime in today’s Europe, to forthcoming fences and barbed wire, “Borders: Us and Them” lays out chilling images and documentation as evidence of the rising ethical crises across the globe wrought by the politics of borders. As an academic institution devoted to preserving and maintaining the educational import of art, New York University Shanghai Art Gallery hopes to spur among NYU-Shanghai students, as well as the public, a devout engagement with the issue at hand, and together critically examine the arbitrary border between “us” and“them” in the hope of redeeming a loss of our collective empathy.

About the exhibition

Opening: Mar 7, 2017 – May 30, 2017

Opening: Mar 7, 2017, 17:30, Tuesday

Venue: NYU Shanghai Art Gallery

Courtesy of the artists and NYU Shanghai Art Gallery.

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