Panel 1

The Border as Interface, or, Adventures in Reconceptualizing the Borderlands

Francisco Monar
Brown University

This proposal is based on a seemingly modest premise: what does it mean to think of the Mexico/U.S. border as an interface? This semantic alteration, I argue, is one that both destabilizes common conceptions and is indicative of artistic practice today. Recently, much has been done much to invigorate debate about the idea of national borders, with questions not only about how they play important roles in geopolitics but also what it means to think of them as such. To give but one example, the limitations of our border thinking have been expressed lucidly in Sandro Mezzadra and Brett Neilson’s Border as Method. Here, arguments of borders giving way to the forces of globalization are shown to obfuscate new forms of power and control. Instead, in the present there is a proliferation of borders, functioning like never before in overlapping, omnidirectional, dynamic, and multi-scalar ways. I will push these ideas further and I will investigate various works that conceive of what we call the borderlands as something more than just a “border”—that is, as an interface. These will include the works of Krzysztof Wodiczkov and Alex Rivera, “The Tijuana Projection” (2001) and Sleep Dealer (2008), respectively. In these works the border is also among other things high-tech apparatuses, and with them come new forms of interactions and encounters. But an interface—the most commonly known form that arbitrates these encounters—is an effect and not an object, as argues Alexander Galloway, not just a mediation but a process and translation or “fertile nexus.” While Galloway focuses on digital media, he shares an epistemological understanding of his theoretical conceptualization with Mezzadra and Neilson, and so his ideas are ripe for thinking about borderland artistic practice. Ultimately I will align my work with a recent movement in thinking about political concepts. Following Adi Ophir one can understand how discourses of politics, economics, and globalization themselves become mediated by (key) concepts understood not just as components of Foucaultian discourses but effects of discourses of a special kind, with conceptualization as a privileged and open performance. By shaking up our thinking of borders perhaps we can find new expressions of understanding the politics of our age, and, most importantly, new expressions for agency.

 Screening the Revolution Across the Mekong Delta: Guerilla Cinema and Vietnam’s Cultural Policy

Thong Win
University of California, Santa Barbara

On March 15, 1953 the President of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh, signed decree 147/SL that established Vietnam’s National Cinema and Photography Enterprise within the Ministry of Information and Propaganda. The decree formally institutionalized and consolidated various Viet Minh filmmakers under the auspices of the Communist Party and likewise drafted its services for an ongoing anti-colonial revolution against France. Cinema’s formal telos within the Communist Party’s cultural policy is the result of two separate historical trajectories emerging in the 1930s and whose intersection in 1953 established the definition and cultural relevancy of Vietnamese revolutionary cinema for the next three decades. This paper explores the beginning of Vietnam’s revolutionary cinema period by tracing intellectual debates regarding history, nationality, and art within Vietnamese modernity and the production of guerilla cinema in South Vietnam along the Mekong Delta.

Drawing upon archival documents, revolutionary documentaries, and newsreel footage I examine the ways in which Vietnam’s Communist Party’s cultural policy dictated the parameters of an emerging cinema in the 1940s and 1950s. I examine the influence of Party theorist Trường Chinh on the construction of a cultural policy whose guiding principles were “patriotism, mass consciousness, and scientific objectivity,” and the Party’s seamless adoption of guerilla cinema in the military zones of South Vietnam into this new policy. As the historian Kim N. B. Ninh remarks, the core of Trường Chinh’s cultural policy “emphasized that it was important to remember that the ideological struggle could not be separated from the political, military, and economic struggle, especially when the French colonial authorities and their Vietnamese collaborators continued to mesmerize the masses with their degenerate culture.” (2002, 45). If Vietnamese intellectuals were in the process of defining a modern Vietnamese character both politically and within the arts, the emergence of a new art form disconnected from centuries of traditionalism was undoubtedly appealing since cinema’s production and reception could be tailored to meet Party demands during wartime. As an art form whose formal and aesthetic qualities were still being negotiated, I argue that cinema was granted a privileged position within the Party in a cultural struggle against colonial and imperial forces. By extending the core tenet of Trường Chinh’s cultural policy I open a space to discuss the historical development of guerilla cinema outside and within the Party’s cultural policy and the interrelations between revolutionary politics, Vietnamese modernity, and technology.

Encountering Rosa Parks in Palestine:A Report from the Palestine Freedom Bus, March 2015

Greg Burris
University of California, Santa Barbara

In March 2013, a group of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron organized a demonstration timed to coincide with Barack Obama’s first presidential visit to Israel. Carrying banners and Palestinian flags, they crossed into a forbidden zone, boldly walking into the section of the street designated for Jews only. On their faces were masks of Martin Luther King, Jr.; in their hands were portraits of Rosa Parks; and on their shirts were four English words: “I have a dream.” For a few fleeting moments, these demonstrators effectively turned a segregated street into a desegregated stage, temporarily interrupting the status quo and transgressing the rules and regulations of the Zionist order. As a result, they were swiftly descended upon by Jewish settlers and apprehended by uniformed members of the Israeli Defense Forces. As if to reenact a scene from Birmingham or Selma, the settlers ripped the banners and flags out of the protesters’ fingers, and the soldiers placed handcuffs around their wrists. With the MLK masks still on their faces, the demonstrators were loaded onto trucks and quickly taken out of sight.

Importantly, such protest spectacles should not be viewed in isolation. Far from being some strange aberration, this demonstration belongs to a larger tendency in the Palestinian liberation struggle which has also included the desegregation of the West Bank’s segregated bus lines and the production of political hip hop by Palestinian artists who explicitly link their music to that of Black performers in the United States like Chuck D and Tupac Shakur. I argue that such imaginative articulations of transnational racial solidarity constitute examples of what Jacques Rancière calls equality—not a future goal but a disruptive presupposition. That is, these Palestinians were not merely asking for equality; they were demonstrating it. The encounter between them and the Zionist authorities was not merely a confrontation between oppressed and oppressor; it was an encounter between equality and inequality.

As part of my ongoing research on Palestinian protest and media, I will be participating in the fifth Palestinian “Freedom Ride” in March 2015—an annual event in which international activists join local performers for two weeks of cultural activities throughout the occupied West Bank. Through observation, conversation, and direct participation, I will examine how the performances, media coverage, and cultural activities generated by this Freedom March relate to other articulations of transnational racial solidarity, and I would like to report my findings to the Media Fields Conference.

Encounters at the Margins: Bhowani Junction and the Politics of Location Shooting

Kate Fortmueller
USC School of Cinematic Arts

Since the 1950s, location shooting has been a hotly debated reality of Hollywood film production. Below-the-line workers have fought to keep jobs in Los Angeles, while studios have contended that the high price of filmmaking necessitates moving production abroad. Yet the economic imperatives of location shooting do not account for the encounters that occur (and fail to occur) on the ground when Hollywood moves into foreign nations. This paper will interrogate the effect of location shooting in Bhowani Junction (1956) to introduce a discussion of such encounters within the specific context of foreign location shooting and casting practices in the 1950s. Bhowani Junction involved collaboration between the United States, England, India and Pakistan and generated different points of contact. While it is tempting to read location shooting as a conscious act of American imperialism, the reality of Bhowani Junction’s production reveals that the laws and regulations that drive production finance are not always reflective of an ideologically coherent or clear imperialist drive. In particular, the production of Bhowani Junction illustrates how the fracturing of one particular colonial relationship (between England and India/Pakistan) generates and enables other uneven relationships – whether they are one-time interactions or ongoing partnerships, exploitative or cooperative.

In this paper I consider encounters at two stages: during Bhowani Junction’s production in England and Pakistan in the early 1950s and many years after its release as family members search for traces of their relatives in the film through online forums. The film’s extras serve both as a textual and contextual presence to anchor the discussion of encounters in this paper. My work draws on post-colonial and subaltern scholarship in order to demonstrate how the encounters enabled by the film industry produce ideologies via cultural negotiations rather than strict imperialism, a point that complicates the assumption that Hollywood texts impose a monolithic ideology.