Mapping Europe’s border art – Part III

Here is the third instalment of Schengen border art, an ongoing project in which I try to map the multifarious ways in which the Old Continent’s (real and imaginary) frontiers have been represented/performed/subverted.

 

Schengen – Helmy Nouh (2013, film)

 

Schengen film

 

 

 

 

 

http://schengenfilm.com/

 

 

Migrants moving history: Narratives of diversity in Europe (2007, documentary)

 

Migrant Moving history

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

http://www.migrants-moving-history.org/documentary.htm

 

 

The list – Banu Cennetoglu (2006, installation)

 

banu_cennetoglu_listamsterdam

 

 

 

 

 

 

http://edno.bg/en/sofia-contemporary-2013/program/759

 

Permanent Waiting Room (2008, Installation)

 

Container

 

 

 

http://www.kitch.si/livingonaborder/node/7

 

Melilla – Flo Razowsky (2007, photos)

 

detentionyard_spain_border_ceti_melilla_1207_BW_small

 

 

http://www.lightstalkers.org/galleries/contact_sheet/9398

 

New Voices from Europe and Beyond’ – ARC Publications/ Literature Across Frontiers (Poetry Anthology Series)

 

Catalan-Poets-front-cover-cropped-493x273

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

http://www.lit-across-frontiers.org/activities-and-projects/project/new-voices-from-europe-and-beyond/

 

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Mapping Europe’s border art – part II

In my previous post I presented the project Schengen border art. What follows are some more examples of creative representations and performances of/about European frontiers. Enjoy!

 

There is no place – Lisl Ponger (2007, photographs)

There is no place

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

http://www.grenzlinien.com/lisl-ponger.htm

 

Foreigners registration office – Ximena Aburto Felis (2007, video)

Foreign registration

 

 

 

 

 

 

http://www.endloop.org/videos.html

 

Blue Wall of Silence – Vibeke Jensen (2007, installation)

BWStuesday3s

 

 

 

http://www.thing.net/~vibekeie/bluewall_index.htm

 

Frontiers – You’ve reached Fortress Europe (2008, videogame)

Fortress Europe game

 

 

 

 

 

http://www.frontiers-game.com/

 

Schengen – Raphael Haroche (2006, song)

Rafael Schengen

 

 

 

 

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m9UG-ejy6g8

Jurmala’s ghosts and the Haunted Houses of Schengen

imagesHalloween. The time when the undead come to town. And when boarded up haunted houses start making eerie sounds and come alive. This year, however, not all of them seem that decrepit and spirited. Some in fact remain relatively quiet. These are the haunted houses of Schengen. Haunted, yet  alluring. Indeed, they can be quite luxurious.  They also do not appear in creepy places (So no Castles in Transylvania – not yet. at least, for Romania is still waiting to join Schengen…). On the contrary, they rise along swanky neighborhoods or exclusive beach resorts. Who lives there? Hmmm, good question. If we had an answer, these houses would not be haunted… A more pertinent question is: why would anybody in their sane mind be so foolish as to own such as a ghostly abode?  Wait a minute: it’s Schengen, stupid! Yes, what makes these architectural ghosts so attractive is that they happen to be in the most sought-after place on earth, namely Europe (Yes, some find the decadent Old Continent still attractive!). And if you are not a European citizen and require a visa to enter Eurodreamland, then why not buy your way into paradise by claiming a fictitious residence there? And here enters Jurmala, the Latvian resort city by the Baltic Sea. In 2010, the Latvian government introduced a program that allows foreign citizens to acquire residency in the country if they are willing to invest at least 71,000 euros. Minimum requirement to maintain residency: have a local address (an apartment in Jurmala sounds good!) and be there one day per year (yeah, the day the haunted houses of Schengen come alive!). And who cares about the sandy beaches (The Baltic sea is not the Caribbean after all). With a local residency in your pocket, the doors of Europe are open to you! No more hassle at EU embassies! No more dealing with these callous and ungrateful European officials! To good to be true. Indeed, in three years, around 7,000 ‘zombies’, mostly well-healed Russians, Chinese and Kazakhs, have taken advantage of this unique opportunity. But like everything else, good things are bound to come to an end. Latvia is now feeling a bit of pressure from its EU partners (should we blame them?) to close this loophole. And they might have another reason to do so. Purportedly, the rationale for this program is to encourage money flows into the country. Yet this money is often laundered and sent back to the ghost’s (ehmm, resident’s) country of origin. So much for Latvia’s gains! None should that surprised then if this year’s Halloween might seal the program’s fate: R.I.P the Haunted Houses of Schengen!

The place to be: Schengen and Europe’s new grand tour

Schengen monumentThe way  ‘Schengen’ has captured the popular imagination around the world does not finish surprising me.   After all, not that long ago the term only referred to a sleepy little village along the river Moselle, known for its wine, and not  much else. And then came the omonimous (and  infamous) treaty that led the way to the creation of a border free Europe. This document, it should be noted, was signed on a cruise ship (the Princesse Marie Astrid), in itself quite an odd feat: how many treaties have been signed on water, and on the move? A rocking treaty indeed! From then, everything was downhill (or downstream, I should say).  Almost thirty years on, Schengen is not just still alive and kicking and an established element in Europe’s political landscape. It has also become part of the collective imaginary among European citizens (NB: that does not mean that everybody is happy with it. On the contrary, there has always been opposition to it, and, of late, this opposition has been mounting. Yet, even for its enemies, Schengen is a real and powerful presence to be reckoned  with. ) Interestingly, this apparently inexorable process of Schengen mythicization is spreading beyond Europe as well. Elsewhere in this blog. I have described this phenomenon, especially through some of its most unexpected expressions in popular culture (see, for instance, my musings on the recently opened Schengen restaurant in Petersburg). I thought I had seen it all. Instead, recently I came across something that pushes the boundaries of the Schengen mythical saga a step further. What I am referring to here is a video, posted  over the summer by a Taiwanese TV channel. The 5 minute clip is a colorful, postcard-like presentation of the town of Schengen as a tourist attraction for a Taiwanese audience. Now, it is true that East Asian international tourism has expanded exponentially in recent years, especially to Europe, and that this new wave of tourists have become more demanding (the classic tour of European capitals does not do it anymore…). Still, visiting a small village in the middle of nowhere?  Why  on earth? Well, as it happens, the main reason to visit is that…. it is the birthplace of the Schengen regime! Of course!  After all, what’s most exciting than visiting the monument that commemorates the agreement, located just outside the town, along the river Moselle (see pic) on a sunny (though the sun is not always guaranteed) European summer day?  Together with the Colosseum, the Tour Eiffel, Buckingham Palace, Schengen is the place to be. Or, at least, this what the TV is telling you. See it to believe it, in your next grand European tour!

What’s on the menu? Schengen as geo-culinary topos

A truly European flavour...

A truly European flavour…

Since last May, Russia has its own ‘Schengen’. It’s a place where you can go for pleasure or business. It’s a restaurant in Saint Petersburg. The restaurant is located not far from the Finnish Consulate, where the owner goes to get “the cherished Schengen visa.” Hence the name. But there is more to it than pure happenstance. The reference to ‘Schengen’ is meant to evoke the cosmopolitan aura that Europe’s area of free movement is supposed to project, together with other related ‘progressive’ notions such as open-mindedness, sophistication, and freedom. This spin is not that surprising. After all, the purpose of any act of ‘branding’ is to sell a product to a customer, and thus the product should be associated with something positive. In the eyes of the management, ‘Schengen’ is supposed to do the trick.

And the trick seems to work. According to one reviewer, Schengen is “a new location for smart people.”. In terms of menu, another reviewer notices how “at first (it) seemed concise to the point of being a bit parsimonious” (these stingy Europeans!), although the overall experience is one of “visa-free satisfaction”. Schengen’s design as well is quintessential European. It has in fact a “slightly Germanic feel” but it “bring(s) together influences from different parts of Europe into an effortlessly harmonious whole”. (Well, “slightly Germanic feel” might be a bit of understatement when we look at Europe today; in turn, the Old Continent is all but “effortless” and “harmonious” these days, but you get the picture…)

From its clientele to its look, Schengen (the restaurant) thus seems to uncannily represent a microcosm of Europe’s border free area, or at least what European policy-makers would like to present outside the region. In this sense, Schengen (the restaurant) is not unique. There are other examples of businesses with topographical names reminiscent of a location that is different from the one where that business actually lies. It is arguably one of the most common practices in the hospitality industry. After all, almost all respectable cities around the world have a ‘London’ or ‘Paris’ restaurant, even if these establishments are located neither in England nor in France. The Schengen restaurant is also not the only bearing a name of topographical entity that does not actually exist. (We should keep in mind that formally ‘Schengenland’ is not a political entity that we can find on a map; in EU legal documents, the reference is still to the territory of member states). Cities are replete with hotels bearing the names of fictional locations, including mythical ones (for example, ‘Paradise’, ‘El Dorado’).

What distinguishes the case of the Schengen restaurant is that it refers to both a real and a fictional entity. The restaurant’s name in fact refers to something that simultaneously does and does not exist. In this context ‘Schengen’ is something real because, according to those who chose this name, its referent object is an existing political entity with defined ‘commonsensical’ features; however, it is also  fictional, because this political entity does not formally exist, or at least it does not necessarily exist in the way the management of the restaurant thinks it does. Ready to go to Schengen? Check its menu first, there might be surprises…

Schengen blues: critical (musical) notes on Europe

Schengen bluesThere’s something about Schengen that makes it a favourite subject of creative types of all stripes.  What this ‘quid’ consists of may elude us non artistically inclined mortals. After all, what can be so exciting about an utterly dry catalogue of rules regulating travel in and about the Old Continent? Apparently, a lot. The reasons why Schengen has become a source of artistic inspiration, however, are not necessarily as benign as some European policy-makers (especially those who still hail this policy initiative as one of the finest achievements of European integration) would like us to believe. Indeed, Schengen is often the artistic target of trenchant criticism, especially because of its exclusionary practices vis a vis selected individuals (i.e. the unwanted non-Europeans). This critical streak permeates the entire spectrum of the performative art scene. Musicians play a big part in this anti-Schengen chorus. Europe’s free travel area seems to touch a (metaphorical) cord with this category of artists. After all, is there a better way to voice your opinion (and be heard from afar) than through your own voice, especially if screamed out of your lungs? The latest example of this increasingly popular musical genre (‘Schengen blues’?) that I have recently come across is from the Spanish crooner Raphael (by the way, why would the author of 60s’ hits such as “Cuando tú no estás”, “Mi gran noche”, “Tema de amor”, would pen a song – in French, alas! –  on a topic such as Europe’s border control regime is a question that definitely warrants further investigation…). The song, simply titled ‘Schengen’, poetically evokes the painful experience of the typical migrant living in the Old Continent. The result is a rather depressing portrayal of Europe…

(…)

Tellement de nuits sous la paupière
Tellement de forêts abattues
Même sous la mitraille et le fer
Moi je leur ai rien vendu
Et que même dans l’espace Shengen
Ils ont pas voulu de ma peau

Ce que j’ fais là moi
Je sais pas
Je voulais juste marcher tout droit
Ce que j’ fais là moi
Je sais pas
Je pense à toi depuis mille ans

(…)

(NB: full text and English translation are available here)

Nobel vs. Schengen: reflections on the EU, the peace award ceremony… and John Terry

Awarding the most coveted peace prize to the European Union was no doubt a well-staged coup de théâtre. Not surprisingly, the decision has infuriated the (ever growing) battalion of Euro über-skeptics, who have cried foul. Crowning a freshly minted US president with little to show for as peace-maker (as the Nobel committee did in 2009), baffling as it might sound, can be written off as naive wishful thinking . But the EU? The new leviathan that is currently taking the continent down the drain? The Devil impersonated?  Come on!  The Nobel committee, however, has managed to achieve another, and arguably more difficult, feat, that is to embarrass the pro-EU crowd, especially those in the halls of power who still (claim to) support the European project. They might not dare to say it openly – after all, this prize is a recognition of the positive impact that the Union has had on putting the continent’s history of conflict and destruction behind. In normal circumstances, these kinds of awards are the best you might wish for. But these are not normal circumstances. It is an understatement to say that the EU has gone through better days. A prize now? Awkward…  Indeed, EU leaders might feel the same type of unease that surrounded (then) English football captain John Terry, who in 2009 won a prize as ‘dad of the year[i],  although he was cheating on his wife…[ii]. (In fairness, revelations about the footballer’s extra-curricular activities came ex post facto, unlike the EU case, where the award committee was well aware of the recipient’s current record…).  Intriguing as it might be, this story does not end with the controversial decision taken back in October in Oslo.  Even around the time of the actual award ceremony (known as ‘Nobel days’), the spectacle continues – now taking on the features of the comedie de l’absurd.  As a precautionary measure, Norway – the host country – has decided to reinstate controls at its frontiers to prevent possible troublemakers to ruin the event.  The irony is not lost in this move. Norway, a non EU member who is a member of Schengen – Europe’s border free regime – temporarily has suspended EU rules regarding freedom of movement to celebrate  the Union’s achievements, including – ehm – cross continent freedom of movement. So, while frontier controls are supposedly not an effective tool against cross border criminal activities – as the EU mantra goes –  they are indispensable to protect EU leaders attending a ceremony in which they hail themselves as beacons of freedom. Worth repeating: awkward!

Contradictions are an integral part of politics. After all, politics is the art of the possible,  of rendering the absurd normal and the unacceptable tolerable. Which makes me wonder: might be John Terry heading to Oslo next year (and not for a football game)?

The Schengen visa…and jesus

Getting a Schengen visa on time? It is often beyond the control of us mortals. So maybe somebody up there can help….

http://www.prayerrequest.com/topic/124176-let-me-get-a-schengen-visa-this-week-i-ask-in-christ-jesus-name-amen/

How (popular) music reproduces the ‘Schengen myth’

Can music, and popular music in particular, contribute to the reinforcement of the myth of Schengen as emblem of ‘freedom, security and success’, as EU officials often claim when referring to Europe’s border control regime? I think it does, although this suggestion needs some clarification (and a certain leap of faith, I would add) [1].  Let me start with some general thoughts about the myth-music connection in general. Most people would agree that music has historically played a central role in the creation of myths, including political myths. Through the articulation of social values in specific musical repertoires, this performative art has in fact often functioned as means of transmission of a dominant ideology. The relation between music and myth is apparent not just in musical compositions (e.g. the mythical figures in Richard Wagner’s works), but also in the socio-cultural milieu in which music is created and performed. Music has been influenced by existing social standards and norms, and in turn it has influenced the society surrounding it. At the same time, music and society interact with and mediate one another within and across socio-cultural boundaries. This is not just the case for a society’s high culture, but also its popular expressions. This has always been the case, but contemporary music is one of the domains in which the blurring of distinction between ‘high’ and ‘popular’ culture has been more marked, especially in the West.

Not let’s turn to a concrete example involving Schegen. The subject that I consider here (a contemporary British band) carries with it an explicit reference to Europe’s border control regime. It is in fact called (you guessed it) ‘Schengen’. On their website, the band members explain the origins of their name by writing that they “stumbled across it in reference to the Schengen Treaty”[2]. Thus there is a direct link between the band and the ‘original’ Schengen. This ‘marriage’, however, seems rather casual. The band carries this particular name because its members “liked the sound of the word”: there is no apparent conscious attempt to link their music to the Schengen regime, or to make any particular political statement. The genre of music the band plays seems to support this claim. Reviewers have described the ‘Schengen sound’ as “lush, relaxed, gorgeously atmospheric electronic…” and “(s)eizing, atmospheric and unique” (all quotes are from the band’s website), characteristics that seem far removed from those we might experience when visiting Europe’s bustling and chaotic external frontiers. In what sense then is it possible to argue that the band helps to support the establishment of the myth of Schengen?

What follows might seem a bit far fetched. But let’s see if I can persuade you about this unlikely connection. The contribution of Schengen (the band) to the construction of the myth of Schengen (the border regime) can be better understood if we move away from the emphasis on music per se and its textual dimension, and shift to its performative dimension. This is the kind of move that a growing number of authors in Performative Studies (musicology being one of its sub-disciplines) have recently suggested. Traditionally, music and performance were often presented in music literature as separate. The new practice-oriented paradigm advocated in contemporary Performance Studies stresses the extent to which signification is constructed through the act of performance, between the performers themselves, and between the performers and the audience. Performative meaning is thus a process and cannot be reduced to product.

In the present example, when Schengen (the band) is playing (‘performing’), it is contributing to the reproduction of the Schengen myth. The same could be said of other rituals surrounding the band, such as selling music, touring, interacting with fans, etc. As with the hotel in Beijing, these activities represent a microcosm of Europe’s border regime. Through them, the band is indirectly ‘promoting’ the Schengen regime, helping cement its standing in popular culture. Although the band’s sound does not seem to echo the Schengen regime’s script, arguably the band embodies a music genre that indeed reflects a borderless Europe, a cosmopolitan blending of (European) sounds. After all, the band can freely (that is, without visas) tour across Europe, and the fans (if holding an EU passport) can freely follow them. This would not happen in the same way if the band and its fans were not from the EU.

The political implications stemming from Schengen (the band)’s existence and the rituals surrounding it do not end here. It should be noted that the band’s members, as British citizens, are actually not part of Schengen (the free travel area). Thus, when playing outside continental Europe, ‘Schengen is outside Schengen’, as it were. Since Schengen is a British band, its members are allowed to travel to the Schengen area, because the (Schengen) visa for British citizens is waived. Still, the band’s members need a passport to enter Europe’s free travel area. In these circumstances, what we see is an instance of ‘Schengen entering Schengen’. As in a case of transubstantiation, the band is both Schengen and in Schengen. The most ironic aspect of this situation is that the band is British, and the British government (and the majority of the population in the UK) is notoriously skeptical (if not outrightly opposed) to the Schengen regime, especially the idea of abolishing national border controls, which the regime supports. Hence, although the choice of the band’s name was not strictly speaking ‘political’, its implications clearly are. Is this enough to convince you about the link between music and Schengen myth?


[1] NB: the following ruminations (shamelessly) borrow from an essay I have published some time ago on the subject of Schengen myth making. Here is the link to the full article .

[2] The band’s website can be found here.

Schengen macht frei?

images (2)

 

 

 

 

 

Does Schengen really makes us a free? The performer Sarpinto does not think so, and he sings it out loud. Schengen does not always sound good, it seems…

Sarpinto – Schengen Macht Frei

http://soundcloud.com/sarpinto/sarpinto-schengen-macht-frei

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