Zones of contact
by Isabel Marcos
Brussels asks London for clarity on the exit bill; Barcelona is in deep conflict with Madrid; Madrid applies Article 155 to Barcelona (1); and speculations about Madrid being sent to The Hague arise. These are a few examples of how a city is commonly used as a metonym for government or official institution. Brussels for the institutions of the European Union, The Hague for the International Court of Justice, London for the Government of the United Kingdom, Madrid for the Government of Spain, Barcelona for the Government of Catalunya.
Our current climate sees the reinforcement of national frontiers; the threat of closure between European borders, a growth in separatist politics, the feeling of mistrust in the Eurozone and an increasing public struggle with local and global power. We see media coverage of conflict playing a crucial role in the development of a social response. The identification of political technologies within a metropolis is not only seen as a figure of speech but as a political device.
Such devices are problematic to individual and collective identities. When ideology synchronises with the city, those related to the pointed territory carry the burden of political meaning and partly lose subjectivity. It doesn’t matter if you are currently based in a foreign city or your connection with it is just the place of birth on your passport. You are Madrid, You are London, You are Barcelona, You are Brussels. This association is dangerous because sociocultural conditions are manipulated, peripheral opinions are silenced and subjects are immediately identified within the ideology of the institution holding government. But what alarms me more is that the stated association is based on being born—therefore belonging—to a bounded territory. To reflect on the problematic of this phenomenon I believe that the first step should be to interrogate the idea of boundary.
On Friday 3 November 2017, Carles Puigdemont, Catalunya's ousted president relocated to Brussels after being persecuted for holding an independence referendum to achieve the secession of Catalunya within Spain. He declared on Belgium broadcaster RTBF that he is ready to be a candidate in the early polls for a new regional government called for 21 December, “We can run a campaign anywhere because we're in a globalised world."(2)
Puigdemont left Barcelona, Catalunya (but not Spain), displaced himself in Brussels, Europe (but not Belgium), 'escaping' Madrid, Spain (but not Europe) whilst claiming to inhabit the Globe. The Independence Plan has been trying to seal Catalunya’s borders, but where are these borders when Puigdemont claims to inhabit the Globe?
With this question, I am not trying to simplify the secession process to the location of Puigdemont, but I think that how he embodies the conflict exemplifies that boundaries are not closed circles and don’t contain space - they are space themselves. Furthermore, this exemplifies how powerful institutions have the means to determine the flexibility, fluidity and changeability of boundaries.
Boundaries are the social space between governments, between neighbours, between negotiators, between groups, between family members, etc. Boundaries need to be understood as the zones of contact where we confront the problem of ‘how to live together’, but when political conflict exploits language, the in-between (3) collapses into a single line that does not permit community relationships outside dictated borders or the overlapping of voices.
If we look at Lygia Clark’s organic line, we can see a proposal for a more flexible way regarding form and border, and perhaps we can transpose her ideas into a new paradigm of being together. The Brazilian artist invented this theory in the early 1950s when she discovered a fascinating space in the connection of two flat surfaces of the same colour.(4) This space, existing but unnoticeable at first sight, “is a line that has not been drafted or carved by anyone, but results from the contact of two different surfaces (planes, things, objects, bodies, or even concepts): it announces a way of thinking beyond the logic of true or false, without awaiting a synthesis of previous counterparts to evolve”.(5)
My first encounter with the organic line was less than a year ago. I was residing in Buenos Aires and had a studio visit with Brazilian curator Tainá Azeredo in the context of the Artist-in-Residency program La Ira de Dios. While talking about architecture, resistance and how Aldo van Eyck’s ideas on the in-between realm could be relevant in contemporary affective spaces, Tainá introduced me to Clark’s organic line. This visual research became the perfect metaphorical space from where we shared our interests in geography, social structures, communitarianism and political fictions. We, born-in-Brasilia citizen of Buenos Aires and born-in-Madrid citizen of Rotterdam, are both affected by the importance of the in-between spaces. Tainá is the co-director of Intervalo-Escola, a roaming experimental school operating in rural areas in Amazonas (Brazil), in isolated communities between the big cities that are marginalised, both geographically and ideologically. Ideological marginalisation is not a phenomenon exclusively from remote locations in the world, it happens in a global scale and I think it is growing through the strategic use of language that accelerates social polarisation.
After this introduction to the organic line, I realised how basic vocabularies that connect form and space together could bring new value and content to my exploration of the in-between sphere.
But as I wrote above, the in-between does not only exist on the formal level, but on a global socio-political level as well. I believe that the organic line - a renewed focus on transitional zones, an appreciation for the way borders blend, merge and disappear organically - is a key way to resisting the current simplification imposed upon us by the political use of language.
By thinking in terms of form, surface, shape and line, we can avoid crises caused by forced ideological polarisation; a visual terminology should be added to the current political use of language. Ultimately, this can involve the in-between again in our globalised understanding of the world, and grant international political discourse the complexity it deserves.
Article of the 1978 Spanish Constitution that allows the central government to take direct control of a region’s affairs if the latter is in breach of the law.
For further information (in French): www.rtbf.be
I appropriate the term from Dutch architect Aldo Van Eyck poetic interpretation of the philosophy of dialogue - the “in-between land an ocean where you feel reconciled in a way you wouldn’t feel if there were a forced dialogue between you and either one or the other of these great phenomena”. For further information: A. van Eyck, The In-between Realm, in: The Child, the City and the Artist. 1962. V. Ligtelijn and F. Strauven (ed.) SUN Publishers, Amsterdam 2008. p. 54-57.
L. Clark. Descoberta da Linha Orgânica, 1954.
R. Basbaum. Withing the Organic Line and After, originally published in english in ed. A. Alberro and S. Buchmann, Art after conceptual art (Cambridge, MA/London: MIT Press, Vienna: Generali Foundation, 2006), p. 87–99.