Ursula Biemann, Performing Border (1991)


Performing The Border is a video essay made by Ursula Biemann in 1999. Set in the Mexican-US border town Ciudad Juarez, where people cross borders to work in maquiladoras, Bienmann focuses on the construction of border both mentally and spatially, including gender relations, working conditions, and performance. Bienman’s practice of documentation is rather different; instead of archiving or traditional documenting, she structures the moving image and the notions as a video essay. This is an attempt where she was involved in the process as herself. Before the 2010s, the main focus of the artist was on space and mobility. Therefore works of curation, texts, and lectures like  “Geography and the Politics of Mobility” and “The Maghreb Connection” become very important for the scope of this thesis.

In Performing the Border, a car moving in the Mexican desert, heading to Ciudad Juarez, we hear Bertha Jottar’s, the director, comments as follows:

“You need the crossing of bodies for the border to become real, otherwise you just have this discursive construction. There is nothing natural about the border; it’s a highly constructed place that gets reproduced through the crossing of people, because without the crossing there is no border, right? It’s just an imaginary line, a river or it’s just a wall…” (quoted in Biemann,  2001)

She takes the attention away from the performative characteristic of the border; rather than being only discursive, the border itself is an applied/made border with a crossing. This kind of use of notion links the video essay with the human cannonball sculpture, as in both cases transgression of the border turns it into a physical that can be altered.

Adding another level of knowledge to the video, Bieman produces and experiences the border personally by crossing it herself. This coincided process reveals the collective experience by real gestures, departing from her own jests. In addition to the circulation of women bodies, from South to North, the work includes her own body’s circulation. This intervention opens up how the border metaphor is materialized in architecture, structure, and corporate and social regulations that fell on gender.  

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