Technologies: Compass, lightness, map, stealth
Keywords: globalization, migration, network, performance
"I do consider myself a combatant. The artist doesn't just gaze. It's not just the perception of reality that is up for grabs, it's reality itself."
The fantasy that we live in a global village, a worldwide community connected across geographic distances by an electronic network, is an appealing one. The realities of globalization are far more problematic. Access to technology and to mobility is limited to the privileged, while others are excluded -- for political, economic, or social reasons -- from networks of communication and transportation. In the post-9/11 age of terrorist attacks and reactionary responses, international travel was tightly controlled. British artists Heath Bunting and Kayle Brandon address these issues in BorderXing, an online guide to crossing European borders surreptitiously. The site is addressed primarily -- or at least conceptually -- to activists, asylum seekers, and others who lack the requisite government documents to pass legally from one nation to the next.
Sponsored by the Tate Gallery, London, and Fondation Musée d'Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean (MUDAM), Luxembourg, the guide is built around a database-driven Web site that contains information about routes between various pairs of countries, and documentation of the artists' attempted crossings. Instructions on how to cross specific borders undetected and without a passport are accompanied by hiking maps and lists of necessary tools ("LED torch, Hiking Map, Pen, Compass, Notebook..."). Their directions for crossing from Pigna, Italy, to Soarge, France, are typically terse: "Spring and Autumn crossing recommended. Route has been used by refugees before successfully. Take enough food for 10 hour walk."
The artists patrolled the boundaries of the BorderXing project by limiting access to some of the Web site's texts to authorized users, thus prompting site visitors to consider how access to information and locations is controlled. In this way, BorderXing subverts not only the integrity of national borders, but also our expectations that the Internet is a space of open access for all.
BorderXing is exemplary of the activist nature of much New Media art; Bunting has described himself as an artivist -- contracting the words artist and activist to form a neologism that connotes the politically engaged nature of his work. Following in the footsteps of political artists like Hans Haacke, Bunting and Brandon adopt an unadorned, functionalist aesthetic in this project, as if to emphasize that their work is not about decoration or visual pleasure. Yet the beautiful makes a strong showing in BorderXing in the form of photographs taken by the artists as they travel illicitly between countries. These often-stunning images, traces of the artists' experiments in illegal migration, reveal liminal landscapes of surprising beauty.
In 1999, Bunting collaborated with British artist Rachel Baker on SuperWeed, a project that also bridged the virtual and the physical. In this work, Bunting and Baker posted online instructions for a do-it-yourself kit for planting herbicide-resistant seeds. These seeds are intended to be used as a "genetic weapon" against large biotechnology firms that produce genetically modified plants and foods. SuperWeed, like BorderXing, suggests a metaphorical practice of "hacking" reality by infiltrating powerful institutions and their systems and defying corporate or governmental controls. Like other hacktivist artists, Bunting and his collaborators utilize new media more as means than as ends in themselves.