How do you define a country?
History? Its landscape? Its language? Religion?
There are many ways to determine what a country is and where its boundaries and borders are. However, the concept of "borders" is a highly fictional one. And it is in a state of constant flux. For example Kosovo. Is it an independent state? How would a Serb draw the boundaries, how would an Albanian do so? Is Germany still a divided country? When you drive in a car and pass the French-Luxemburgish border, would you even recognise?
In most of the cases boundaries are imagened lines dividing countries (as is mostly the case as an outcome of wars or other historical events). In many cases these lines are not visible but define political areas. Even though it is hardly possible to "see" borders between e.g. France, Germany, the Netherlands, Luxemburg, Denmark etc., as soon as you pass a border you become a foreigner.
Thinking about borders requires a constructivist point of view. It is impossible to focus on an ontological reality. Borders do not define a Reality-as-it-is. They are outcomes of processes and they are processes themselves.
Borders might be irrational constructions, nevertheless some people have to face the brutal "reality" of boundaries. How easy is it for a Mexican to cross the border to the USA?
Many artists constantly play with the notion of borders, their limits and irrationalities.
Javier Téllez, e.g. organised a "circus" of patients from an Mexican health center in 2005. They carried signs, wore animal masks and protested against prejudices and crude views in mental illnesses in today's society.
The protest march culminated in a performance in which human cannonball David Smith was shot ober the U.S.-Mexican border.
The title of this performance was "One Flew Over the Void (Bala Perdida). The titles refers to the Novel "One flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" (1962) by Ken Kesey (and its film adaption, 1975).
The U.S.-Mexico border has one of the highest numbers of crossing (both legal and illegal). There are more than 20.000 border control agents. Important cities in the area (like San Diego) do have border fencing. In 2006, during the Bush administration, the U.S. government decided to erect a border fence. Almost 600 miles were constructed (composed of steel and concrete with infrared cameras and sensor).
Flying over the "void" is an attempt to point to this "death" area, which is an insurmountable border for many Mexican people.
German artist Sigmar Polke made use of the motif too. His painting "Mexikanisch-Amerikanische Grenze" (Mexican-Amercian border) painted in 1984 (daylight luminous paint and latex paint on nettle cloth, property of Frieder Burda, image found on the website of Frieder-Burda Museum, Baden-Baden, http://www.museum-frieder-burda.de) shows a fence.
Four young men are standing "in front" of the fence, another person seems to be "behind" the fence. Polke used a photo from a newspaper, but enlarged the image, so that you can see the pixel array, which blurs the clear distinction between what happens on the one side of the fence and what happens on the other side. The central figure has no head. Is he hovering? Does he stick on the fence (like an insect)? And on which side of the fence are the four young men? Are they Mexican and watch an U.S. simulacrum or are they U.S.-Americans and look at a Mexican citizen trying to cross the border/fence?
It shows the pure construction of the "inside" and the "outside" of a system (Derrida).
In their project "Grossraum (Borders of Europe)" artists Lonnie van Brummelen and Siebren de Haan want to explore the composition of landscapes at the fringes of Europe. Of course, divided landscapes are guarded by official organs (police, military, national security). Paradoxically you can stand on one side of the border and look at the other side. Nobody can forbid that. However, taking photos is forbidden without the permission of proper authorities. The artists wanted to shoot a film of the landscape. Why should anyone prevent photos or a film showing landscapes (an absolutely nonpolitical, noncritical subject)?
The formal trajectory that preceded the film is (in a way) for more interesting than the film itself. Many letters had to be written and the outcomes are sometimes remarkable.
1. Polish-Ukrainian border
The artists received an official permission by Polish authorities. However, they had to ensure that Ukrainian territory would not be visible in the image. "... if the Ukrainian would ever see the film, they could officially indict Poland for violation of an international treaty".
2. Eastern Turkish Border (Van district, bordering Iran, Iraq and Azerbaijan)
All attempts to film the Eastern Turkish border were rejected. "But whatever trajectory we chose and whatever border town we suggested, all requests ended up with the same military commander who rejected every request."
This shows that the reality of borders sometimes depend on the power of a singel person.
For the shoot the artists were accompanied by a delegation of Greek Cypriot military, but at the entry gate of the UN sector it became clear that the soldiers were not allowed to enter. However, they had official orders from their superiors to escort the artists. So the soldiers had to take their uniforms off.
These were just three of many difficulties the artists had to face. The whole project perfectly illsutrates the precarious reality of borders and at the same time show how ridiculous they are. Looking at a border is okay, but taking a photo or shooting a film is a risky business. Images are political issues, especially in divided landscape and in the current social and political climate in specific areas.
Van Brummelen and de Haans work "Monument of Sugar" has a different approach. Is shows borders of international trade. Due to the European Union's subsidy policy, sugar is cheaper outside of the EU than wihtin it. Apparently Nigeria is one of the biggest buyers of European sugar (ridiculous enough). The artists decided to re-import the sugar. Yet, there are trade barriers; it would have been an expensive undertaking. Luckily there is a queer law: Harmonization Code 9703. This means that the passage artworks is duty-free. So they turned the sugar into artworks.
In her project "Blumenschießen" (Shooting seeds) artist Swaantje Güntzel wants to blur the distinctions of borders. The artworks consists of a machine which shoots plant seeds at different locations along the German-Dutch border (mainly fields and open spaces). The outcome of the project is unclear, but will be visible in summer 2012. For most people in that region the border seems to be irrelevant. It is not visible, Dutch people drive to Germany to go shoping, working, meeting friends and vice versa. However, the borders do exist. The countries are seperated by language, policies, . That means the boundaries do exist in the passports of the people, in the mind of the people and are only visible via street signs (welcoming you in either Germany or the Netherlands).
Güntzel wants to question the notion of borders and demolish (or better: further blur) these borders with a flower carpet.