Is there a line? – Ludmila Ferrari, Juan Leal, and Félix Zamora on Index of Inaccessibility

May 9, 2015 Artists

The following is a guest post from artists Ludmila Ferrari, Juan Leal, and Félix Zamora about their Porous Borders Festival project, the Index of Inaccessibility. Enjoy the writing, then check out the piece on Saturday and Sunday at 11628 Conant or pick up the publication at an Information Hub! –Liza

The Porous Borders festival crossed our paths (and our borders) while working on a curatorial project on social movements. Our show explored forms of political activism that would cross, and therefore defy, the assumed logic of the demonstration as the sole method for political action. We wanted to research on the subtle expressions of politics, expressions that would render porous the differentiation between artistic and political practices. While the exhibit reached distant geographies of conflict such as: Chile, Spain, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Algiers and France; It also touched on local struggles in the Detroit area. Thus, our inquiry into the larger context of political practices developed alongside with a project on Hamtramck, a small city threatened by the unstoppable spatial development of industrial capitalism. We were fascinated by its mere spatial singularity: a city within a city, a jurisdictional demarcation that sustained a municipal structure, an economy, and even a multiplicity of cultural identities within an area of 5.5 kilometers.

“We were fascinated by its mere spatial singularity: a city within a city, a jurisdictional demarcation that sustained a municipal structure, an economy, and even a multiplicity of cultural identities within an area of 5.5 kilometers.”

What Makes Borders ‘Real’?

Soon the questions emerged. How does a border come into existence? What makes it ‘real’? And what makes it porous? Given that the cartographic representation of a border is a line, conceiving the porosity of a linear projection constituted an extremely abstract endeavor. But the line always stands for something else. As a graphic convention it speaks the language of the Law, of nomos: the principle of measure, division and creation of territory. The visible line invisibilizes previous crossings of immigrants; the visible line hides the historical collision of industrial capitalism’s coming into being. However, and despite its will for geometrical abstraction, the line is charged with a multiplicity of indexes, with a materiality that exceeds, escapes and remains beyond the legal/graphic conventions of cartographic representation. Would these indexes account for the porosity of the border? Maybe that question deserved an exploration.

GM Assembly Plant in Hamtramck, MIWe chose to work on the border segment contained by the GM Assembly Center. The current GM plant was built in 1985 over the demolished Dodge Main plant, one of Chrysler largest factories in the Detroit area. Built in 1910, Dodge Main was intimately related to the economic growth and cultural diversity of Hamtramck and the neighboring Poland Town. During the 40’s at its production peak Dodge Main employed 40.000 workers; forty years later the working force was reduced by an 80%, in 1980 right before it’s foreclosing the plant was only employing 5000 hourly workers. The GM plant signals the implementation of a mechanized mode of production, which also demanded the annexation of a larger territorial base. While GM’s plant took care of the millionaire demolition of Dodge Main, it also required the dismantling of 1200 homes in Poland Town and engulfed the Beth Olem cemetery within its grounds.

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Our chosen segment was termed as ‘inaccessible’. What was the nature its inaccessibility? We wondered. In 1922 Hamtramck attained the denomination of “city” —replacing that of “village”— reinforcing the legal borders that protected its territory from Detroit’s annexation attempts. Thus this particular segment became a jurisdictional border inside Dodge Main; in other words our inaccessible limit was legally born inside a factory. Today, the border still remains inaccessible. Its inaccessibility is predetermined by the massive event of the assembly plant.

Therefore, we found ourselves at an aporethic situation: exploring the porousness of an inaccessible limit. Thus, finding the exact point where to cross the 1922 border would constitute at least a nostalgic quest for a legal differentiation that was never fully accessible. If a border is inaccessible, meaning, if it cannot be accessed, traversed, crossed, trespassed, nor it needs to be reinforced, marked, remembered. What is it left of the limit? An inaccessible border is an abstract border, for concrete borders are porous: they face the possibility of permeation. There is no border without the attempt of crossing.

“An inaccessible border is an abstract border, for concrete borders are porous: they face the possibility of permeation. There is no border without the attempt of crossing.”

This set of paradoxes made us decide to explore the limits of the border’s container: the GM assembly plant. We were not attempting to trespass —and therefore recognize—the 1922 segment, but rather to trace the actual physical border of the GM plant perimeter. This new border is not just a line on a map, it is a thread: a repetitive aluminum fence weaved around the edge of the factory. A fence that signs —indexes— the expansion of postindustrial capital on space. Tracing, following, redrawing this line was our humble attempt to resolve the initial aporia (a-poros: no path). Now we have a path, a walking route around the factory.

A Porous Border

Borders 054At this point we can restate our initial question: Is the border porous? The word implies more than its functionality as communicant vases. “Porous” has an epithelial remain that draws us towards the bodily —not abstract— notion of touch. For Aristotle, touch was essential to the sensitive and locomotive life of the animal; might it be for us as political animals? Since the boundary is not only the place at which something ends, but also the site where something begins. We know that something will always happen at the limit. Hence we wait, we walk and touch; we make the border porous by mobilizing its metallic atoms, by indexing the length of the fence and by investing human time to the industrial space.