BORDERS: Edges, Frontiers, Frames

The exhibitions organized by the art association „concentArt“ are intended as forums for artistic debate on the methods and representational forms that characterize social phenomena and contemporary discourse. Following exhibitions on the subjects of „Security“ and „(Im)Material Art“, it now plans a showing of work on the subject of „Borders“.

The term „border“ has long since become a staple of the German language with a wide variety of connotations, which are themselves practically limitless, thus imbuing its German synonyms  - Rand (edge), Grenze (frontier), Rahmen (frame) – with a heightened significance when they are used in daily intercourse.

We live in an era officially designated as global: frontiers are disappearing; politicians stress the need for new conceptual frameworks; fringe elements in society find themselves pushed out to the edges. The term border refers to all these contexts—and more, such as those taken from psychology (borderline syndrome), economics (cross border leasing) or geography (state border). Recognized sociologists refer to phenomena such as a lack of borders, the dissolution of boundaries, boundary transgression, of lives lived on the fringes of society or lacking fames of reference. We find ourselves contesting the limits of perception, we live confined by invisible boundaries, we cross lines or stand on the brink.

Edges define objects. An edge is part of an object’s natural, spatial quality. Where they touch each other, edges also constitute contact surfaces between different objects. They may not be defined in terms of quantity, but comprise certain spatial characteristics.

Frames, on the other hand, constitute artificially produced confines surrounding a given content and separating this from an exterior space. Such a frame can be used to encase a painting and give it an optical form. Works of art that deliberately overstep this frame (may) achieve a special kind of integration in a certain environment, or integrate these surroundings in the work itself.

The political system that governs a democratic society is expected to create a framework, within which social processes enfold and play out. This process tends to be directed by laws. Citizens are required to act according to the rule of law, thus occupying the space within the framework. Only innovative acts undertaken by citizens can maintain social creativity and mobility.

In his book on „The Frame. How the Brain Perceives the Self“, the neuroscientist Ernst Pöppel posits the frame as an anthropological universal, conditioned by the functioning of the human brain: “The machinery of our brain makes sure that every person is equipped with a frame; what appears within that frame is determined by the individual, and also by current cultural coordinates.” The frame is the sine-qua-non of existence, enabling perception, experience, thought and judgment, and physical action. It is what individuals need to function and adapt to the constant changes imposed upon them: “... what ever we store in our consciousness is contained within a frame: there is no such thing as an empty frame; neither it there any such thing as unframed mental activity.” As sentient beings, we find it hard to identify the frame: “This is the frame’s problem: it’s always there, but we don’t know it.”

The borderline syndrome, also known as an emotionally unstable personality disorder is the most commonly diagnosed psychological/psychiatric disorder. The name of the disorder, borderline, refers to its former identification as a condition between the neurotic and psychotic and displaying symptoms of both. In the field of psycho-traumatology, the catalogue of symptoms identifies this syndrome as one of the complex post-traumatic stress disorders that are on the increase in particular in modern, stress-driven industrial societies.  

Topologically, frontiers may take the form of rivers, mountains or the politically designated edges of regions and societies that were perceived as different from their neighbours. Opening frontiers therefore results in a greater density of exchange: in times of peace, this may take the form of trade and cultural exchange. In times of war, it is accomplished through violence.

In an economic context, frontiers can also mean the isolation of markets. Opening frontiers and allowing free trade enables an exchange of goods and is mutually profitable. Whether or not such processes are part of globalisation remains to be seen: true globalisation means opening frontiers and supporting open trade structures on the basis of equal opportunities for all. In reality, however, such openings tend to be effected by the pressure of capital, which is invested in raw materials, contributing to an advantageous export balance for industrialised nations at the expense of less developed countries. Those wishing to emigrate from the poorer countries face increasingly difficult conditions through the imposition of what amounts to new frontiers.

Cross-border-leasing constitutes a special form of economic exchange. These transactions take place across national frontiers with the result that both participants are subject to different tax laws. The international agreements governing such transactions may enable tax avoidance and have proved contentious. Corporate bodies are particularly attracted by the variety of offers available. In general, cross-border-leasing is carried out to exploit legislative differences and save taxes.  These procedures are especially popular when American enterprises are involved since American tax law provides for a long-term treatment of rented objects as though they were private possessions. Such leasing agreements are generally concluded in New York State where they remain valid, even if it transpires that they actually contravene existing US legislation. The current financial crisis has rendered this procedure somewhat dubious.

Seen from a sociological point of view the dissolution of boundaries signifies the merging of social categories such as the private and the public self, or private and commercial life. This corrosion has rendered the wage earner almost universally accessible and turned him into a kind of modern slave, as described by the American sociologist Richard Sennett (The Corrosion of Character, 1998). The same applies to the dissolution of boundaries effected by contemporary all-pervasive information technology from which escape has become practically impossible.

In an early publication entitled “On Grammatology” (1974), the French social philosopher Jacques Derrida developed theories that shaped much of his later work, including in particular the relationship between the inner and he outer, between what appears to be a secure world structured around a centre and an open sphere of otherness—of that which is beyond. Derrida argues against the dominant gesture, against structure seen as an internal, regulatory connection between elements in a system of signs. “Positing such a centre served not only to orientate structure, to balance and organize it (…) but also to control the structure’s organizational principle, confining what one might call the play of structure.“ Rather than “confirming” the variable motif of a border, it is far more important to demonstrate similarities, differences and cross connections using various visual texts. Derrida regards “practically everything as text. Text is everything. It is present as soon as there is a trace, a differential relay between one trace and another. These relays are never static. There are no boundaries between the differential relays connecting one trace to another.” It was Derrida’s declared aim to transcend the limitations previously imposed on philosophical thought using differential relays: „As a result, this new—limitless—concept of text presupposes (...) that it is never, at any time, possible to locate anything outside differential relays, anything that is a presence or an absence or something that is not itself and marked by textual différance.“

There are however limits to perception that can be transgressed. We see more than the sum of our optical data. Humans err when they perceive matter as space filled with substance. The human eye actually only sees a small spectrum of frequencies. The interpretation of stimuli and thoughts generally takes place on the basis of unconsciously conditioned programs. It is therefore hardly surprising that even scientists find it difficult to investigate a reality that exists beyond these paradigms and their own illusions. It is a scientifically acknowledged given that human perception of the self and its environment is largely based on illusion.

Naturally, there are also invisible borders. We know, for example, that all of life is a game that takes place on metaphorical playing fields complete with aims, desires, and significances. These areas have borders. Not just fences and doors. The invisible borders are the ones that really confine our lives, our realities, our being to a great but barely perceived degree. The biggest prison of all exists inside our own heads: self-imposed borders are the ones we need to transgress.

The term border and the correspondences given in the title of the eponymous exhibition constitute a proposal, an offer made by the “concentART“ association to artists working in all genres, media, in whatever form of representation or expression, to approach social realities, tackling them productively and using artistic means to turn them into sensually tangible correlations to the term border.



Berlin, November 2008
On behalt of the art association “concentArt”
Rolf Külz-Mackenzie


© Rolf Külz-Mackenzie, Berlin 2008