İlhan Ozan recently wrote on 1+8—an eight-screen video installation about Turkey and her eight neighbors, stemming from/forming the base of a feature film of the same name. It is challenging to articulate the at times sentimental, at times palpably ominous nature of the footage that the artists had gathered over the course of their research. After all, for me, the voyeuristic impulse is too strong and I couldn’t help but think about the difference between the experience of viewing the film and the raw material that was used to make the film. The laying bare is an element to be appreciated; the idea of exposing one’s research quite intimidating—especially in the medium of film, in which many viewers can probe at the inclusion and exclusion of the different segments. On the other hand, there is somewhat of a democratization, an opening up of the process, that problematizes the finished work of art; if the work of art has a position, then, why is the archive opened up? To provide alternative positions? To enable us to form our own position? Just how much of “open” is too open?
What do borders designate? How are they determined? How and when do they transform? In which cases do they become a realm of danger? What kind of economy does a border create in the borderland? 1+8 is an eight-channel video installation by Angelika Brudniak and Cynthia Madansky that focuses on the borders of Turkey with her eight neighboring countries: Armenia, Bulgaria, Georgia, Greece, Iran, Iraq, Nakhichevan, and Syria. In the installation structure, the projections are placed in geographical locations as in the real order of the map. The borders of eight neighbor countries surround the viewer as each border is screened separately, so the viewer is situated among eight countries. The footage runs simultaneously on the screens, governed by an algorithm that plays something different each time, instead of repeated loops. Accordingly, it gives the viewer a unique experience of viewing the installation each time with an unlimited combination of eight screens.
The artists, Brudniak and Madansky, have filmed people and landscapes in adjacent towns on both sides of each border. The videos in the installation depict daily life and social reality through a series of performances, rituals, and interviews. The viewer witnesses the personal narratives and testimonies of borderlanders in the installation that allow the viewer approach the issues from the standing point of the borderlanders. Following the scope of 1+8, I would like to discuss the subject of borders as the frontiers of nation, state, and identity.
The term ‘border’ has many connotations: it avoids, stops, fastens, determines, defines, explains, and marks.[i] When used to define a nation state, the word ‘border’ is implicitly loaded as describing a potential site and source for conflict. The borders that enclose a state become social facts from the very moment they are drawn. National borders, whether it is the approach to the identified members of society inside the borders, or to the other people who remain outside the borders, depart from the supposition of a kind of ‘imagined community’. It is socially learned, taught and accepted that people divided by the border belong to different nations. While the names, regimes, borders and politics of neighboring states may change, an attitude always remains fixed in this process: Outside of the border is the ‘other’. This politics shows us the fact that the demarcations between nations and peoples are not primarily determined for the outside and such a division cannot be made without both physical and symbolic borders. Consequently, there appears a position that the self can only be described by means of separating itself from the ‘other’.
The impact of borders in the daily life depends on which state is encountered along the border. The politics in these regions is also shaped according to the international relations with the encountered country. However, the lives on the both sides of a border are never simply a point of intersection of the two states. The relations between two states with their other borders of neighboring states are also carried toward another border. Therefore, the multiple relations of the states shape the area, which is in the position of a threshold, the ‘third space’. Although the borderlands seem to be stuck among national borders, they are determined beyond the locality of the region and the surrounding states; they are rather determined by the impacts of transnational systems. When looked over the geography 1+8 is dealing with, EU in the west, former USSR in the northeast and much more complex international interventions in the southeast, reflect the impact of the transnational dimension in such regions.
National borders do not only divide the geography but also separate people. In 1 + 8, one of the interviewees from the Syrian border points out that the border was drawn under French occupation after World War I. He also adds that the route of the border had divided the town into two parts, leaving the hospital and one of its nurses on opposite sides. The nurse was therefore not allowed to go to the hospital because she didn’t have a passport. In this situation the passport functions as a control mechanism of the state. It defines a constructed identity by designating sex, age, address, or citizenship, all of which necessarily restrict freedom. Without this definition, it becomes impossible to pass the border. Similar other statements in 1+8 assert that such borders constitute obstacles and constrain people by keeping them in, or out.
When approached in terms of the relationship between border and state, neither the enclosing borders of a state nor the identities brought by these borders are fixed. On the contrary, they are constantly being formed. 1+8 shifts the viewer’s perspective of the accepted construction of the map, over the countries on which it focuses, by raising questions deriving from existing classifications that determine a ‘nation’, such as identity, nationalism and border politics.
The divisions created by the national borders have different effects on every borderland. The interviews, represented in 1+8, show the differing impacts of divisions created in border areas. Social life all around the borders of Turkey is regulated distinctively by the peculiar conditions of the individual regions. For example, poverty appears to be a fundamental problem for people living within a borderland zone. In any borderland zone, there is no investment based on production. Economy depends on different kinds of trades and influences of poverty depend on the permeability of the local national border. The economy of border-towns is focused on the border gate or gates that act as transition points. The opening and closing of a border gate is closely related to national attitudes and diplomatic relations. For example, the permeability of a national border, as shaped by state relations, is explicitly observed on the border between Turkey and Armenia. Although Armenia has a long border with Turkey, legally people are forbidden to cross over because of past and unresolved conflict between the two states.
On the southeastern borders of Turkey excessive violence appears as another major problem alongside dire poverty. More than in other border regions, inhabitants here are subjected to much more extreme forms of oppression in everyday life. Mainly deriving from the complexities of ethnic diversity, the rights of citizenship and basic liberties are ignored all along this border. In this region, the attitude of the state for the outside of the border is carried inside the border and the inhabitants here are seen identified with the people who conceived as the ‘other’ because of being on the other side of the border. This situation shows us that the politics of othering by the state also exists in the state’s ‘legal’ system beyond barbed wire and mines. Besides ethnic oppression, as expressed in 1+8, economic difficulties were exacerbated in Silopi when the Habur border gate was closed, resulting in the town almost emptying. When people are constrained in these borderlands with no support and not even legitimate means to sustain their lives, they are left with two choices; they either have to smuggle goods across the border and risk their lives negotiating minefields, or they have to immigrate, which is not a step toward the improvement of local life conditions at all. They may die attempting the former, or continue to be subjected to discrimination by the latter. Of course, such risks do not always stand the same way for everyone. Those that pass through the border by the state permission, though they are forbidden; those that cannot pass through the border though they are legally allowed; those neither forbidden nor allowed and out of any of existing classifications.[ii] Thus, borderlands appear as the perilous places where power relations are explicitly present and these dominant power relations regulate everyday life. It is never known what happens when. While borders reproduce the ongoing inequalities, at the same time, they also produce new inequalities. [iii]
In addition to the political relations, migration and border economy, 1+8 approaches the borderlands from a cultural perspective as well. 1+8 displays ten different languages with the cultural structure of each border area it presents and reflects the pluralistic cultural structure of the geography. When looked from a cultural context, it is seen that a ‘unifying’ regime has turned this geography that has hosted various cultures into the cemetery of dead languages in the last century. The use of language by the inhabitants in daily life reveals all the conflicts. The relation of language and border is intertwined with the politics in these regions. As Prof. Neşe Özge states in her works on the borders that every border has at least three names: name in the native language, name in the language of the country, and the ancient name. Every border citizen knows at least three languages: the native language of the family in which one is born, the language of the country in which one is born and the language of the other side. No exception. Everybody has at least two names: name in the native language of the family and name in the native language of the state. It holds a crucial importance to know when to hide, or to use which one of these languages.[iv] As a result, language appears as the main representation of cultural difference. The ways and the times it is used in daily life reveal the condition of cultures today in and around Turkey that stands as the country in the center of 1+8.
These are the scenes on the borders and, almost all of the borders of Turkey share, more or less, the same characteristics although some of them have more restrictions in particular. Apparently, when we think about the borders, we also think about the state, politics, nation, citizenship and basic rights and liberties.[v] By functioning as a platform 1+8 gives us a political and intellectual opportunity to critically rethink for a world where political and ideological borders are erased and to reveal more democratic and pluralistic potentialities oppressed among the borders.