Waterways are essential components of the living and non-living world. They shape landscapes and serve as demarcation lines – as ‘natural borders’ – between states in many parts of the world. In addition to being lines that separate, rivers and streams are also lines that connect, and borderland territories are often particularly rich places of life, interaction, passage, porosity, cross-pollination and exchange.
Organised in the context of Zoe Leonard’s exhibition Al río / To the River, a series of lectures and the study day Riverine Borders: On rivers and other border materialities will focus on the materiality of these river borders from a territorial, geographical, and political point of view, and also from a metaphorical perspective, as arbitrary places where interests and ideologies overlap and clash.
A number of scholars and researchers in the fields of visual arts, cultural studies, history and geography will consider the riverine border in the North American and European contexts. Their interventions are both part and a continuation of contemporary debates on the status and the (symbolic) meanings of borders. These questions of borders have gained particular momentum in recent decades. The significance of borders as a response to the rise of burgeoning nationalisms or the ongoing migration management crisis in particular, has led to a forced digitalisation of border regimes, an increase in physical and digital surveillance and the multiplication of border installations worldwide.
This programme has been developed in conjunction with Zoe Leonard’s exhibition Al río / To the River (26.02–06.06.2022, Mudam Luxembourg – Musée d’Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean) in collaboration with partners of the UniGR-Center for Border Studies: University of Luxembourg (Geography and Spatial Planning), Universität des Saarlandes (North American Literary and Cultural Studies) and Universität Trier (Trier Center for American Studies).
Schedule of the study day (20.05.2022):
09h00: Possibility to visit the exhibition, to discover the student project Borderland stories at Mudam Studio, and small breakfast at Mudam Café
09h45: Welcoming and small introduction
10h00: First section on the materiality of the river: #Rebekka_Kanesu, Dr. #Ifor_Duncan, Dr. C. J. Alvarez (30 minutes each + discussion)
12h30: Lunch break, possibility to visit the exhibition, and to discover the student project Borderland stories at Mudam Studio
14h00–16h30: Second section on the river as a metaphor: #Elisabeth_Lebovici & #Catherine_Facerias, Dr. #Daniela_Johannes, Prof. Dr. #Astrid_Fellner (30 minutes each + discussion)
17h00: Closing and final discussion
Liquid lines – an exploration of hydrosocial borders
In this talk, I question when and how a river is made into a ‘marker of division’, ‘an engine of connectivity’ or no border at all. Rivers as borders challenge common understandings of seemingly static (political) borders. Rather than building simple cartographic lines for territorial separation, rivers are constantly in motion and shift their shape according to seasonal changes and their hydromorphology. In addition to their role as visible demarcation, they simultaneously serve multiple functions, such as infrastructure for navigation and energy production, as source of fresh water, recreational space, wastewater discharge or aquatic ecosystem. Rivers are hydrological and social entities, which complicates their use as border. By analysing the hydrosociality of the Mosel River, the border river that crosses and builds the borders between France, Luxembourg, and Germany, I argue for a more dynamic and complex perspective on borders. The discussion of different examples of material-discursive practices that shape(d) the Mosel as border will show the tensions, connections, attempts of control and forms of resistance that are negotiated between different human and non-human actors in the process of border making. By looking at the Mosel as a three-dimensional liquid space and by considering its directionality and materiality, I will explore the contingent forms of hydrosocial border making that may open up new understandings of border spaces.
Rebekka Kanesu is a PhD candidate in human geography at the Department of Spatial and Environmental Sciences at Trier University. She has a background in social and cultural anthropology and is interested in topics that encompass human-environment relations, political ecology, and more-than-human geographies in connection to border studies. In her PhD project ‘Liquid Lines – on rivers and borders in the Anthropocene’ she studies the relation between people, fish and the transboundary Mosel river as infrastructure from a political ecology perspective.
Dr. Ifor Duncan
Weaponising a River
This talk investigates the production of the Evros, Meriç, Martisa river – ‘land’ border between Greece, Turkey and Bulgaria – as a border technology. From its main course to its delta, this fluvial frontier is weighted with the crossings of asylum seekers and systematic pushbacks. I conceive of this technology as incorporating the entire hydrology of the river ecosystem, from the deadly velocities of the central course, through its muds, fogs, and flood defense walls that mark the military buffer zone that surrounds it (Zoni Asfaleias Prokalypsis (ZAP)). State impunity is in part produced by the ZAP’s enfolding of the excess of floodwaters into the excesses of sovereign territorial power. After a century of fluvio-geomorphological change since demarcation in 1926 the borderised river simultaneously riverises the border. In this way the river border is a dynamic archive of the military calculations and geopolitical decisions that make its properties treacherous in the production of increasingly perilous migration routes. Here beatings are customary, mobile phones and official documentation are thrown into the river, and, after seasonal floods, bodies wash up in the delta. In its waters and in its sediments the river border is both a weapon and an archive of the reproduction of deadly exclusionary policies enacted at the watery edges of the EU. This talk includes hydrophone recordings, interviews with asylum seekers, legal scholars, environmental scientists, and uses other time-based media.
Ifor Duncan is a writer, artist and inter-disciplinary researcher who focuses on the overlaps between political violence and water ecosystems. He is postdoctoral fellow in Environmental Humanities at Ca’ Foscari University, Venice. Ifor holds a PhD from the Centre for Research Architecture, Goldsmiths, entitled Hydrology of the Powerless and is developing a book project Necro-Hydrology, a concept which exists where the knowledge and corresponding management of water – in its multiple forms – is produced as adversarial to life and positions human and environmental justice as intrinsically connected. Ifor is also a visiting lecturer at the Royal College of Art.
Dr. C. J. Alvarez
Three Ways to Think about River History with Examples from the Rio Grande
The #Rio_Grande is a very long river without much water in it. Yet even though sections of it often run dry, it nonetheless plays an important role in multiple kinds of historical narratives because of the great distance it travels from the high, snow-covered Rocky Mountains, through the arid desert, and down to the subtropical Gulf of Mexico. Over more than 3,000 km it moves through radically different environments and cultures and this complexity is compounded by the fact that part of the river has been converted into a political border. During my years of research about the United States-Mexico divide and the Chihuahuan Desert I have spent a lot of time on the banks of the Rio Grande all along its length. From those experiences I developed three largely distinct ways of looking at the river. Each point of view has led to different research questions about it. Here are the three questions: What is the river’s nature? How have people interacted with it? How have politics been superimposed upon it? Sometimes there is overlap between the answers to these questions, but in general they produce different kinds of narratives and help us develop different ways of seeing the nonhuman world. This talk is designed to familiarise you with a particularly fascinating North American river, but it is also intended to pass along a set of intellectual frameworks that can be applied to any other waterway on the planet.
C. J. Alvarez grew up in Las Cruces, New Mexico. He studied art history at Stanford and Harvard and received his doctorate in history from the University of Chicago. He is currently an associate professor in the department of Mexican American and Latina/o Studies at the University of Texas at Austin where he writes and teaches about the history of the U.S.-Mexico border and environmental history. He is the author of the book Border Land, Border Water: A History of Construction on the U.S.-Mexico Divide, the first broad-sweeping history of building projects on the border. He is currently writing a book about the history of the Chihuahuan Desert, the largest and least known desert in North America.
Catherine Facerias & Elisabeth Lebovici
Crossing over with Borderlands/La Frontera
‘What if I take this space that I’ve been pushed to as a lesbian, as a Mexican, as a woman, as a short person, whatever, and make this my territory... What if I start pushing to enlarge that crack so that other people can also be in it?’ (Gloria Anzaldúa, in BackTalk, Women Writers Speak Out, 1993). Thirty-five years after the publication of Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, Gloria Anzaldúa’s legacy is still vibrantly meaningful. Borderlands has become a landmark in various disciplinary fields, from literature to border studies, from Chicanx and Latinx anthropology to ecocriticism theory. A native of the Rio Grande Valley, Anzaldúa formulated the land of the border as a formative space in terms of language and identity, as well as the site of/for political and cultural resistance. Our talk will focus on the frontier as a living, shifting, ‘bridging’ and ultimately productive space for minorities cultures and subjectivities.
Catherine Facerias is an independent researcher and writer, trained as an urban anthropologist at École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS) in Paris. Her work focuses on the modes of production of public space in a built-up environment, on the terms of access to the public space and to the city in general, and on the conditions of existence in the interstices of the urban space.
Elisabeth Lebovici is an art historian and critic living in Paris. She has been a culture editor for the daily newspaper Libération (1991–2006) and produces for her blog le-beau-vice. Formerly a HIV/AIDS activist, she is, with Catherine Facerias, a founding member of the LIG/ ‘Lesbians of General Interest’ fund. Since the 1990s, she has been involved in writing on feminism, activism, queer politics and contemporary arts. She is the author, with Catherine Gonnard, of a history of women artists in France between 1880 and the 2000’s Femmes artistes/Artistes femmes: Paris de 1880 à nos jours (Paris: Hazan, 2007). Her latest book Ce que le sida m’a fait. Art et Activisme à la fin du 20e siècle. (Zurich: JRP Ringier, ‘lectures Maison Rouge’, 2017 and 2021) (What AIDS Has Done To Me. Art and Activism at the End of the 20th century.) has received the Prix Pierre Daix 2017 in art history. Elisabeth co-curates (with Patricia Falguières and Nataša Petrešin-Bachelez) an ongoing seminar at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS) in Paris titled ‘Something You Should Know: Artists and Producers’.
Dr. Daniela Johannes
Cry me a River: Water Affects and Womanhood in Borderlands Chicanx Literature
The central archetype of the cautionary tale of La Llorona – the weeping mother-ghost of the Mexico-US border folklore – is the woman who failed at role-modeling motherhood and is thereafter condemned to cry for her lost children at the riverbanks. The image of the flowing river, once a symbolism of the never-ending flow of life, is here a symbolism of death, drowning and depth, in a confluent relation with the woman’s tears that flow in an out-of-control manner. This way, the archetype serves not only to instill the urge of motherhood, but to talk women out of the unwanted womanhood, associated with the stereotypes of being overtly emotional, irritable and irrational. In contemporary borderlands literature, archetypes of womanhood such as La Llorona are re-envisioned, as Simerka asserts, ‘to re-define and expand the role of women beyond the traditional focus of motherhood and marriage’. Moreover, this presentation deals with how this literature re-defines the emotional responses of women in relation with the affective agencies of water, which symbolically and materially retro-permeates womankind. The affective interchanges between territorial landscape and women’s bodies reignite what Cherrie Moraga called a ‘theory in the flesh’, now inscribing borderlands geo-imaginations in women’s bodies as well as in bodies of water. While rivers serve as a tool of bordering to establish political boundaries nationhood and gender, bordering as an affective act in literature has the potential to dismantle them within the intimate territory of the body.
Dr. Daniela Johannes is an Associate Professor of Latinx Studies at West Chester University of Pennsylvania. Her research focuses on the significance of the Sonoran Desert environment as a crucial aspect of US southern border securitisation, which propels a politics of nature as means to control life and death within the space of the nation. At West Chester, Dr. Johannes is currently the director of the Latin American and Latinx Studies Program and the Chair of Multicultural Faculty Commission within the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Office. At the regional level, she recently assumed the direction of the Greater Philadelphia Latin American Studies Consortium.
Prof. Dr. #Astrid_Fellner
Bridging Rivers/Undoing Borders: Queer Border Practices on the US-Mexican Border
How can borders be undone? How can the watery surface of riverine borders shift solid demarcations and contribute to an undoing of borders? In which ways can cultural practices that bridge rivers constitute powerful counter-formations to the view of borders and #border_regimes as infrastructural events or technological operation, that is assemblages of various human actors, technology, and surveillance apparatuses? Taking into account the importance of border processes in the 21st century, this talk highlights new border epistemologies that draw on the creative potential of riverine borders to undo fixed lines. Focusing on the subversive potential of artistic border practices which queer and destabilise borders, this contribution zooms in on instances of overlapping, crisscrossing, merging, layering, and clashing of riverine borders.
Astrid M. Fellner is Chair of North American Literary and Cultural Studies at Saarland University, Germany. She is Co-Speaker at the German Research foundation and Canadian Social Science Foundation-funded interdisciplinary International Graduate Research Training Program ‘Diversity: Mediating Difference in Transcultural Space’ that Saarland University and University of Trier are conducting with the Université de Montréal. She is also Project Leader at Saarland University of the EU-funded INTERREG Großregion VA-Project ‘University of the Greater Region Centre for Border Studies’ and is Action Coordinator of a trilingual Border Glossary, a handbook of 40 key terms in Border Studies. She has been involved in a DAAD-Eastpartnership project with Petro Mohyla Black Sea National University in Mykolaiv on the topic of ‘Bridging Borders’ since 2014. Since April 2021 she has also been a member of the interdisciplinary BMBF-project ‘Linking Borderlands,’ in which she studies border films and industrial culture of the Greater Region in comparison with the German/Polish border. Her publications include Articulating Selves: Contemporary Chicana Self-Representation (2002), Bodily Sensations: The Female Body in Late-Eighteenth-Century American Culture (forthcoming) and several edited volumes and articles in the fields of Border Studies, US Latino/a literature, Post-Revolutionary American Literature, Canadian literature, Indigenous Studies, Gender/Queer Studies, and Cultural Studies.
Schedule of the online series of lectures:
13.05.2022 | 18h30–20h00: Carlos Morton (University of California at Santa Barbara), The tao of Mestizaje: multiple borders, multiple bridges
(More information and subscription: Universität des Saarlandes)
22.03.2022: Fabio Santos (Aarhus University) | Bridging Fluid Borders: Entanglements in the French-Brazilian Borderland
12.04.2022: Ana Gomez Laris (Universität Duisburg-Essen), on the symbolic meaning of borders and their effects on identity, considering phenomena of passing by (undocumented) migrants to the United States.