Don't save art, spend it!
Without borders nothing can exist, or at least we can not
know of it. At the border, something ends and something else
begins. Or can begin. A difference thus exists the moment
we become aware of a border. Border creates order. There are
numerous shades of meaning in the 'border' concept. In its
unmarked sense the term 'border' indicates a more or less
humdrum, barely emphasised dividing line – something we can
merely step over. We know there are differences between the
domains on either side, but take no exception to this fact.
Border controls have been abolished. The 'frontier' on the
other hand is an evasive, mobile border, one we are forever
about to reach but never quite reaching, something we still
have to work towards. An unconstrained ambition pushes this
frontier ever further even as we strain towards it. Frontiers
are there to be advanced. Finally, there is the 'limit', an
almost metaphysical boundary beyond which lies the eternally
unknown. The limit is absolute, an impenetrable shell. Beyond
the limit all is either sacrosanct or taboo.
These are the three variants of the concept that figure large
in the current discourse on the border. This discourse has
now become omnipresent. Wherever we raise our lantern, be
it in culture, economy, biology or psychology, we stumble
on not just the vocabulary but the symptoms of the borderline
syndrome. Sometimes it seems as though an entire new branch
of science has been created to tidy up the boundaries of identity
and meaning. It is pretty difficult to find any serious field
of cultural research nowadays, not being infected by the basic
idiom of self relativity. Its idiom swarms with terms like
'dismantling', 'disjunction', 'transgression', 'mutation',
'hybridisation', 'hyper-reality', 'semantic instability',
'virtually', 'de-centring', 'fragmentation', 'excess', 'deconstruction',
'juxtaposition', 'interdisciplinarism', 'fuzzy logic', 'deterritorialization',
'multiculturalism', 'cyborgization' and so on. Were there
no intrinsic coherence to be detected in this post-humanistic
paradigm, we should think ourselves dissolving in some final
entropy in which communication had become an a priori impossibility.
Taking into account developments in transport, telematics,
genetics is due to the fathomless crisis of the border itself
(assuming the term "crisis" is still appropriate in this new
The border is not only to be understood as the final station
of the visible but also as the framework within which institutions
and disciplines operate. Practice, training and even much
criticism hamper discussion on that framework or moralise
it into something dubious. It is acceptable to dress up the
border or even discuss it in depth – but keep your hands off
the social and economic actuality! In a world in which everything
has become in-between, where there appear to be no borders,
there are in fact certain vanishing points beyond which silence
reigns. It is in the area past these vanishing points that
micro-politics, macro-politics and possibilities of change
have their domain. My concern here is with the dominant mechanisms
of repression, the invisible limits. By enthroning the border
as the primordial subject of culture, we run the risk of losing
sight of the differences that really matter; whereas our aim
should be to throw some light on them. This aim at least is
my energy of defence. The classical world view respected the
border. The modernist world view ignored it. The post-modern
world view has made it problematic. We no longer face a border
that surrounds us but carry the problem of the border within
us. Our present culture is a borderline one, in which the
border is simultaneously a problem everywhere and a philosophical
imperative nowhere. The only border that receives collective
support seems to be the one that is supposed to shield Western
prosperity from interested parties elsewhere. Meanwhile, value
judgements are becoming increasingly interchangeable. In the
schizophrenic border traffic between the true, the beautiful
and the good and their respective counterparts, antinomies
between irreconcilable extremes turn into related modalities.
Standpoints vary effortlessly from hyper-futurism to eco-activism,
from virtual reality to the limits to growth. It is hardly
surprising, in this situation, that the grotesque has become
the most popular literary and visual device. He who is not
grotesque is nothing, he simply no longer counts.
Our consciousness of border is supposed to have given us an
eye for differences. But in as far as differences actually
exist, they are chiefly prized for their form. United Colors
of Benetton, for instance, glorifies purely outward diversity.
Differences in mentality, calling or social class are smothered
with a dense cosmetic layer. The tension between the actual
and the possible is fudged into the superficial cliché of
formal conciliation, a "promesse de bonheur" attenuated into
a form which can conveniently be assimilated by production.
At the same time, a homogenising ideology is propagated: consume
and behave like us, or else... The result towards which this
works is a pasteurised plurality in which people cease to
take an interest in one another – the United Colors of Indifference.
It thus becomes clear how form, as a critical intervention,
allows itself to be sidelined and is forced to retreat behind
the borders of its own domain. Form is emasculated as a means
of creating and revealing boundaries. The borders are thereby
reinstated with redoubled force. Material borders are growing
indistinct, it is true: the Berlin Wall has fallen. But electronic,
administrative and economic borders are continually being
strengthened – borders that hinder unification, channel movement
and help preserve countless forms of dependency. Borders tend
to fade within the privileged cultural disciplines; here,
distinction ceases to matter. Yet at the same time we disregard
the borders that form the hidden preconditions for our privileged
One of the recurring features of Borderline Syndrome is a
chronic feeling of emptiness as a result of an excessive concentration
on the self. Becoming over-conscious can lead to a paralysis
of all productive capacities. The result is a fatal state
of mental inertia, a navel-gazing on ones own conditions,
a creator's block. Although one has to be very careful when
using psychiatric metaphors for cultural phenomena, this feature
can easily be transposed to culture in general, and visual
arts in particular. The last quarter of the last century we
have experienced what some people have called the 'theoretical
turn', in which there is no escape from the tendency to contextualise
one's work to a meta level of thought. Some uprisings of 'engagement'
could not avoid culture becoming extremely self reflexive.
What started as a new wave of emancipation from the shackles
of self evidence, become a new shackle of the locked up identity:
acknowledged as identity, neglected as a social force with
serious consequences. Finally, everything could and should
be thought on its own terms. The ideology of difference led
to a practice of indifference. In short, culture became obsessed
with 'the other' in some sort or another. The search for a
legitimacy from without ended up with culture being correct
but interchangeable. The invasion of self reflexive Teorija
spoiled the capacity for surprise. Curiosity gave way to endless
processes of justification.
The aforementioned tendency is by no means restricted to the
level of the individual. The same could be said of entire
fields of culture, such as science, politics and economics.
Today it is all about trans-disciplinary research, team-working,
strategic coalitions, company mergers, synergy and so on.
In a globalized network society, there is no reason to stick
to one's identity, except for reasons of 'branding' and 'profiling'.
Which means identity without a substance. More and more identity
has become a form of economic value and strategy, less and
less it is the core of self-acknowledgement. The ultimate
value of the corroded character is to be flexible, flexible
and again: flexible.
However: if the highest achievement is to be flexible and
to be able to cope with anything, to adopt any role and to
incorporate any value, where do you draw the line? If the
energy of defence is focused on the protection of one interests
these questions are frequently answered by dangerous Odzivi.
People fall back upon some kind of tribalisation and xenophobia
in which racism and ethnocentrism may become paramount. Spatially
one sees a world-wide tendency to re-territorialize ones personal
domain through the erection of walls and gates, armed with
guns and cameras. The most explicit energy of defence today
is the culture of enclaves, a capsule civilisation in which
people withdraw upon their isolated position that they can
control. Wired or not, they are cut off from a social reality
that only seems to be threatening.
The big issue is whether this reality can be matched by more
positive energies of defence. These are focused on the reconstruction
of self esteem and self respect, without risking vulnerability
and curiosity. The question remains whether we can hold a
personal and professional quality that makes the difference.
For art this means an exploration of new mandates. Protecting
the old borders of the discipline is useless; inventing new
ones to regain relevance as visual creativity plus talent
to communicate will be extremely important. Don't save art,