Why the “Porous Borders Festival?”
The process of working on the Porous Borders Festival since initiating the idea in 2013 has been relatively private. Shifting our practice as The Hinterlands during this period – from working in a studio with a small number of collaborators or presenting works from a single artist group in our performance space to organizing a large number of artists of different disciplines, local businesses serving cultural groups other than our own, and moving personal neighborly relationships to ones of collaboration and learning – has been deeply educational. I loved my neighborhood before delving into this project, but I appreciate it now more that I have uncovered some of the lines running underneath my daily experience.
The festival contains pieces proposed by artists responding to a public call (issued in English and Bengali) for work that either a) responded to/made visible the geographic border of Detroit/Hamtramck; b) reflected the stories of the people who work(ed) and live(d) along the border; c) used the geographic border as a metaphor for other borders shaping our community. We got responses that addressed cultural borders, borders within borders created by corporations, environmental destruction that does not adhere to municipal borders, histories of the Hamtramck border, de facto borders erected by highways, and more. We supplemented these responses with commissions of artists, community groups, and businesses within our neighborhood that could highlight elements of daily life/daily work up and down the northern Hamtramck border.
Usually, as The Hinterlands, we make theatrical performances. This is through a long-term process of investigation, both personal and social and incorporates our daily lives, our histories, American popular culture, local culture, and more. Once one of our pieces is created and performed, it goes on to inspire a new investigation. Similarly, the festival is not a culminating project, but the beginning of our more informed and connected life as neighbors and citizens. There is no larger mission of this project: it is simply to start to understand and viscerally experience the spaces and forces that weave through our daily life – and that of our fellow residents – here on the border of Detroit and Hamtramck. Those experiences will be both large (a participatory art parade down Carpenter street with neighbors, friends, visitors, and artists) and small (meeting the property owner of four blocks on Carpenter; talking with an East side neighbor through translation of her daughter).
Why even do something like this? Simply put,
– because I’m curious about cultural and language borders within my immediate neighborhood, as well as what space exists for discussion or collaboration between cultures and wanted an excuse to build new partnerships with the people around me who have had different life experiences in order to change myself and my understanding of the possibilities inherent in the land and space in which I live.
– because my long-term interest as a human is in how/why cultures develop, what the role of borders is in isolating communities to develop very specific cultural output – how this is both a positive (resulting in cultural innovation) and a negative (resulting in exclusion from resources, prejudice, isolation) – to be able to spend time out of the studio and in the world, investigating in reality these abstract notions
– because certain forces – nature, death – operate across human-designated borders and boundaries and can, like a persistent vine, break down the walls between us when least expected
I – well, we – have no false notion that a one-time event can change the oppressive systems that guide our lives, nor are we intending to radically alter the community we live in. Instead, we wanted to understand, to see, and to listen – over not just two days of the festival, but in the two years of making the project happen, and in continuing to live in the community where it takes place, in being accountable to our neighbors for the work and events that are presented. We’re not just busting in, unfurling our banners, and then disappearing as quickly as we came. We live here, we work here, we interact here, we shop here. This project is just a pinpoint view into our geographic community, the start of future exploration, listening, and investigation.