“BorderXing, a 2002 commission for the Tate Gallery in London, in which Mr. Bunting, 37, and Ms. Brandon, 28, documented illegal treks they made across European borders.
“I’ve always wanted to be nomadic — to beg, borrow, find things,” Mr. Bunting said. He travels light, often with no change of clothes and only a few basics: a penknife, a diary, a passport.
The BorderXing Web site, available for individual use by request (at irational.org/cgi-bin/border/clients/ deny.pl) offers pictures, suggested routes and tips for evading the authorities. A vacation slide show of the couple’s journey is on view at the New Museum, as well as online, without registration, at duo.irational.org/borderxing–slide–show.
Despite the political provocation involved, the project retains the aura of a pilgrimage — to be close to the land, to throw off the weight of nationality and statehood, simply to put one foot in front of the other and go.
“A 5,850 miles walk from Addis to Scotland and back > a 26 mile walk celebrating the human pace
Slow Marathon began in 2012 in collaboration with Ethiopian artistMihret Kebede who attempted to walk from her home in Addis/Ethiopia to Huntly. The Addis to Huntly and back walk, was abandoned as visa restrictions, border controls and deserts got in the way. Instead, Mihret decided to walk the total 5,850 miles distance with many people to reach the distance metaphorically.
In order for her to accumulate the 5,850 miles from Addis to Huntly, Mihret calculated that she would need a total of 225 people to walk a marathon of 26 miles – each way. To achieve this goal she organized with us a Slow Marathon around Huntly, with a parallel walking event in Addis Ababa on the next day to bring her back home: 225 people x 26 miles = 5,850 miles distance
In the run up to this, and in collaboration withNorma D Hunter, she organized training sessions and other walking actions that brought people locally and from all over the world together to contribute to the total distance target. A shoelace exchange between Huntly and Ethiopian walkers was part of the process: Multiple world record holder and patron for the event,Haile Gebrselassie’s shoelaces traveled to Huntly for an exchange with one of the participants.
Since the first event,Slow Marathon became an annual weekend event composed of a conceptually led, 26 mile walk, expanding upon a theme or an idea related to our curated programme, concluding in 2020. It was followed by a day of talks, films, food and discussion, in relation to the chosen project. Celebrating the human pace, Slow Marathon was both an endurance event as well as a poetic act that brought together friendship, physical activity and the appreciation of our landscapes in their geo-political settings.
You can see all Slow Marathon routes below:
Under One Sky:2020
Dufftown to Huntly:2018
Tillathrowie to Huntly:2017
Along the Deveron – with and against the flow:2016
Portsoy to Huntly:2015
Glenkindie to Huntly:2014
Cabrach to Huntly:2013
Around Huntly:2012 I2019”
“Wherever you are in the world, we are all under one sky
Iman Tajik is a Glasgow based artist and photographer originally from Iran. Borders and the movement of freedom are his key subject matters – influenced by his personal experience of crossing borders. He was working with us over the summer on a mass worldwide border-free walking project.
The Coronavirus pandemic has adopted an increasing fear of the outsider into our lives and homes. Some of our politicians’ rhetoric about Covid-19 being a ‘foreign virus’; subsequent border closures – they all play into existing xenophobia. The virus however, doesn’t acknowledge borders. A pandemic affected us all. So, what can we do to show that we all live under one sky?
Iman Tajik explored global solidarity through the reimagining of our annual Slow Marathon walking event. Instead of our annual place-based mass walk, this year’s Slow Marathon: Under One Sky took place collaboratively – by myriad participants around the globe. Cumulatively, mile by mile, we wended our human trail across the surface of our planet and through as many borders as we could. To do this, Iman forged a digitally collaborative relationship with many walkers, exploring the ideological interplay/conflict of borders and the virus; the lines we humans create traversing the landscape when free to do so; and the plight of those being denied that freedom – by the virus or by socio-political means. For this he collected images from walkers of the sky they saw while walking, to be brought together in a massive artwork of all of us Under One Sky.
The Under One Sky project and its event, Slow Marathon 2020 supported Scottish Detainee Visitors, who provide friendship and advocacy for residents of Dungavel House, Scotland’s only immigration detention centre.
In total, the Under One Sky project included 320 global walkers, who walked 41,725.46km – that’s 104.12% of the way around the Earth!” [credit]
The Midnight Run is a registered social enterprise. Like traditional businesses we aim to make a profit but what sets us apart is that we aim to – reinvest or donate those profits towards creating positive social change.
The Midnight Run is a walking, night-time, arts-filled, cultural journey through a city and a typical Midnight ‘Runner’ has a healthy sense of adventure and seeks experiences beyond the mainstream. It is partially influenced by The Situationists – a political and artistic movement between 1957 & 1972 – started in France. Founders of the movement were tired of the commercialism of art and consumerism and wandered city streets in typical post-war bohemian fashion seeking REAL experiences.
Accordingly, The Midnight Run seeks to negate the frenzy and hysteria of mass media, pop culture, hype and reality T.V. for actual reality, for the simplicity and intimacy of walking and talking. Our idea is to reclaim the streets of a city, to dispel the idea of ‘danger after dark’ instead to ‘discover after dark’. It is to grow urban communities, situate meetings of strangers, for relationships to blossom, to inhabit the confines of glass, concrete, steel and structure as a child does a maze: with natural play and wonderment.
“During those early Midnight Runs, I’d run writing workshops and poetry exercise specific to locations we visited. After, I’d ask participants to share their writing and I noticed how it created new spaces for communication and conversation. Essentially, I stumbled across a simple way to deepen group dynamics and our appreciation and understanding of each other.”
“Over time I invited artists/activists of various disciplines to run workshops thereby widening the scope of this interaction. Artists/activists are often plugged into fascinating networks and know great spaces worth visiting for playful or aesthetic reasons. Searching for outdoors spaces to compliment their art forms made planning Midnight Run routes vastly more interesting… the artists work on several levels.” — Inua Ellams, Founder
But WHY JOIN A MIDNIGHT RUN?
50% of the world’s population live in urban environments. Despite growing population density we face issues of loneliness, depression and economic polarisation… because of global immigration and gentrification, many cities are rapidly losing their local, historical and communal identities in a land-grab for commercial space. These new paradigms favour younger, faster, richer members of societies, paradigms that are increasingly hostile to the youth and older members of societies.
The Midnight Run experience counters these issues by slowing urban life to talking, playing and creating within various urban spaces. Because the event is for one night only with strangers, participants are afforded anonymity and can attend without any danger of judgement or consequence. By inviting artists of diverse practices, we encourage participants to step out of comfort zones and exercise their creative muscle. By inviting local artists who inform the route, we ensure what is experienced on the night is specific and true to the locality, the inhabitants and their environment.
The ground-breaking idea behind the Midnight Run is a return to simplicity, to entertain without entertainment, to trust in community and conversation, to rediscover our essential creative selves.
Born in Nigeria in 1984, Inua Ellams is an internationally touring poet, playwright, performer, graphic artist & designer. He has published three pamphlets of poetry including ‘Candy Coated Unicorns and Converse All Stars’ and ‘The Wire Headed-Heathen’. His first play ‘The 14th Tale’ was awarded a Fringe First at the Edinburgh International Theatre Festival and his third, ‘Black T-Shirt Collection’ ran at England’s National Theatre. In graphic art & design (online and in print) he tries to mix the old with the new, juxtaposing texture and pigment with flat shades of colour and vector images. He lives and works from London, where he founded The Midnight Run.
Inua hails from the Hausa tribe in Northern Nigeria, a people synonymous with a nomadic tradition. The Midnight Run came from this tradition, his search for a community to belong to, the transience and transformation of travel, and a belief in the bridge-building ability of arts and artistic interaction.
The Midnight Run was found in 2005 by award winning poet and playwright Inua Ellams. In 2011 The Midnight Run embarked on a collaborative partnership with CCT-SeeCity, founded by Elena Mazzoni Wagner in Prato, Italy. This marked the beginning an expansion across Europe. To date Midnight Run events have commissioned in Manchester, London, Leeds, Milan, Firenze, Barcelona, Madrid & Auckland.
WHO WE WORK WITH.
Midnight Run events speak to themes of enhancing group communication, making different art forms accessible, supporting local artists and exploring cultural dynamics within urban environments. Events are typically commissioned by arts organisations, cultural festivals, community groups and corporate organisations. Organisations worked with include Southbank Centre, Contact Theatre, PUMA, Tate Modern, The Royal Society of Arts, Bush Theatre, Lomography, Create Festival + many more.
Live Performance by Kubra Khademi
16 Feburary 2016, Paris, France
“PE: When you moved to France, you continued to put on walking performances. For Kubra & Pedestrian Sign (2016) you walked through Paris in a black dress and high heels with a pedestrian crossing lightbox tied to the top of your head, except the green sign in the box was a female figure. I’m curious about how you found the experience of reclaiming public space in this new European context.
KK: The challenges are different here: the texture and sense of the landscape, the cityscape, the people around me. Public space in France and the Parisian art scene are still very masculine, but in a far more subtle and sophisticated way. No one harasses me in Europe like they do in Afghanistan. I don’t need an armor to walk here. The city is like that blank white page again. That was the first performance I put on in a public space after then one in the Kabul. It was a few months after I arrived. The image of me is almost funny. I was looking into people’s eyes and allowing them to talk to me. Most of the reactions were similar, but one woman screamed at me from the other side of the street, “That is sexist! Skirts are sexist!”” [credit]
“Since 2015, the Afghan artist Kubra Khademi has been based in Paris. Khademi moved to France due to the violence she faced in the wake of her 2015 performance Armor, for which she walked through a busy area in central Kabul dressed in custom-made metal armor: an artistic gesture meant to highlight how women are sexually and verbally harassed in public spaces. After studying fine arts at the University of Kabul, and later at the University of Beaconhouse in Lahore, Khademi committed herself to the continuous reflection of the condition of women’s lives in Afghanistan. Her work spans performance, painting, and drawing. In the last year, Khademi finished a series of large-scale paintings and drawings. They are inspired by the way Afghan women express their sexuality through a coded and subversive poetic language that remains unrecognizable to men. The art critic and editor Philomena Epps met Khademi for V/A and spoke to her about the assertive and unapologetic presence of women in her work as a form of resistance against the patriarchal order. Their conversation is published here as a contribution to our current thematic focus “disappearing.”
PHILOMENA EPPS: I wanted to begin our conversation with the concept of “disappearing.” I’m thinking about how your work might be framed as the antithesis to this theme, because it insists on the presence of women. There is an insistence on the body, on being seen, and a profound emphasis on the female subjectivity, all as a form of resistance. Could you, as an artist and as a woman, speak about this refusal to disappear in relation to physical presence as a political act?
KUBRA KHADEMI: Much of my work comes from my personal life experience and stories about the women I know. I talk about them; I talk about myself, about my mother, about my sisters. Someone once asked me, “Where are the men in your family?” This question was asked out of curiosity, but I received it very violently; I was disturbed. I thought, “Why are you repeating what my society, where women don’t exist, has done to me? Why should I reproduce what it has done?” My work is becoming more and more feminine. These stories can’t be told another way. It’s all about liberty; it’s about saying whatever I want to say.
PE: Your artistic practice has been engaged with the condition of women’s lives and questions of violence and repression. Both issues are historical as well as deeply personal to you.
KK It reflects the heart of popular Afghan society: the men are outside, and the women have to be in the kitchen. Women have to serve the soldiers; they have to cook for them. That is how they get their value. Religion plays a big role in serving the patriarchy, or perhaps it is patriarchy that serves religion. And women also practice patriarchy. People tell me that men are also imprisoned by patriarchy, that it is also violent to men, that it tells them they should not be soft, they should not be feminine – of course, but I don’t care. I have five sisters and four brothers. When my father died, my brother took over. If it wasn’t him, it would have been another man: an uncle, a neighbor. This isn’t a theoretical argument – it all comes from my life experience. I’ve grown up in a culture and society where being an artist and a woman is a terrible thing, because art is all about self-expression. When I was a child, my mother took us to bathe in a public, woman-only hammam. It was a very secure and trusting environment; I saw so many free, female bodies. It was there that I saw the adult female sex for the first time. I didn’t understand what I was feeling, but when I got home, I was looking for paper. I was already drawing a lot then, so I took my sketchbook and started drawing what I had just seen: all these female figures. I then hid my drawings. I tore them up and hid them under a carpet because I had this fear. My mum was cleaning and found the drawings a few days later. I was so scared. She got the electric fire and hit me with it. I’ve forgotten the pain of it, but I haven’t forgotten the feeling of guilt she gave me. I hung my head in shame for months; I could not raise it. My mum didn’t buy sketchbooks for me again, and I didn’t draw for a long time. Paper was very expensive anyway. When I draw today and leave expanses of white space, it is such a celebration for me, that I can buy these big sheets of white paper. I draw sexually liberated women, and I also practice leaving all this white space that I wasn’t afforded when I was a child.
PE: It’s interesting that your primal instinct was to record what you were seeing, even when you were so young, because this formative moment ended up shaping the direction of your work as an artist.
KK: I am so happy that there is no guilt anymore. We have to celebrate living without any guilt. The guilt was more painful than that electric fire on my body. I remember so clearly how my head was down for months, the feeling of pain in my neck. I was paralyzed. I could not draw.
PE: The physical toll shame takes on the body is unsettlingly overwhelming.
KK: No one spoke about it. When I came to France in 2015, after twenty-six years, I started talking about these experiences. I tried to re-draw that image from the hammam. I won’t forget it. I put colour on their bodies, and I called it Twenty Years of Sin. When people see that drawing, they do not fully understand what it means to me, neither back then nor now.
PE: I’d like to go back to 2015, to the performance piece Armor that led to you moving to France: you walked through a street in central Kabul, a public place in which you were highly visible, dressed in custom-made metal armor that emphasized your breasts, belly, and bottom. You had made it in response to the violent patriarchal politics of Afghanistan, particularly to how women are sexually assaulted and harassed in public spaces. Could you say more about what motivated the development of that performance, but also how the impact and severity of the performance’s fallout ended with you fleeing the country.
KK: I’m an artist who finds public space very inspiring. It’s fluid and free, the world as my studio. Before Armor, that was how I was working in Afghanistan. But I also come from a world where I should not be present. I have been sexually harassed like millions of other women in Afghanistan. We live in a culture of systemic sexual violence. If you’re raped, it’s your fault. It’s your destiny because you’re a girl. It’s taboo to bring this up. Very few women feel able to talk about it. I find that so disturbing. While I was performing Armor, the number of men around me increased every few seconds. I felt fear but also assured. That was what the performance was about: this is the way it is. I was prepared to be mocked, insulted, laughed at – those are daily things we experience as working, active women. That’s everywhere; I was ready for that. However, my performance was not an image that people saw daily. After I arrived at the end point, where my friend was waiting for me in a taxi, people started jumping on the car. The driver was frightened because he was in danger, so he started driving without looking back. When I turned on my phone the next day, I saw that it was all over the news and social media. My image was shaking the country. I assumed that it soon would be forgotten, but that was naive. It didn’t die down. The performance was presented as a project of the United States against Islam values, as blasphemy, as encouraging female prostitution. The image then started circulating internationally, which made it worse because people in the Western world admired it. It was out of control. The world was in shock; my country was in shock. Once again, local media spoke about it, as I was being criticized for being a spy and a puppet of the United States that wanted to gain the attention of the West. And outsiders perceived my work as activism. That was painful for me. This wasn’t activism; I’m an artist. By the time I moved to France, I was in significant danger. I was lucky I stayed alive. To this day, I still receive messages of hate on Instagram from Afghan people.
PE: I see it as an artistic work. The suit of armor, the costume of war, creates a striking image of protection and aggression, but it is contrasted with this enhancement of the female form, exaggerating the softness and vulnerability of the unclothed body. The act of walking is also reminiscent of female artists who used their body as artistic material in the 1970s. I’m thinking about performances and images made by women such as Valie EXPORT, Marina Abramović, Anna Maria Maiolino. These artists developed revolutionary ways to speak about violence against women, about censorship, or harassment, through a performative language and by provocatively staging feminine vulnerability and endurance in the act of spectacle. Seeing your performance only as a protest piece minimizes the depth of these artistic considerations and intentions. Of course, there are gestures within the work which could be thought of as activism, but it is art.
KK: Seeing it as an activist project implies judgement. It is an art piece. When I was a child, I already used to say, “I am an artist.” That is unbearable for my society. My society wanted to imprison me, make me a wife, a mother, but I wanted freedom. I am unmarried. I do not care about it.
PE: When you moved to France, you continued to put on walking performances. For Kubra & Pedestrian Sign (2016) you walked through Paris in a black dress and high heels with a pedestrian crossing lightbox tied to the top of your head, except the green sign in the box was a female figure. I’m curious about how you found the experience of reclaiming public space in this new European context.
KK: The challenges are different here: the texture and sense of the landscape, the cityscape, the people around me. Public space in France and the Parisian art scene are still very masculine, but in a far more subtle and sophisticated way. No one harasses me in Europe like they do in Afghanistan. I don’t need an armor to walk here. The city is like that blank white page again. That was the first performance I put on in a public space after then one in the Kabul. It was a few months after I arrived. The image of me is almost funny. I was looking into people’s eyes and allowing them to talk to me. Most of the reactions were similar, but one woman screamed at me from the other side of the street, “That is sexist! Skirts are sexist!”
PE: Earlier this year, Galerie Eric Mouchet in Paris presented your solo exhibition From the Two Page Book. The gouache paintings depict a matriarchal society, in which nude women engage in sexual and vulgar acts. I’d like to ask you about the erotic dimension of these paintings. The series draws on the writings of the poet Rumi in a homage to the particular form of language that Afghan women use when they discuss their sexuality.
KK: I have a clear position toward the women in my drawings. This is how I show femininity. These women in my paintings are not nude. To me, they are not naked; they are just bodies. If I was to clothe them, then in what clothes? Which identity? Do I dress them in the clothes I wore in Afghanistan or the European style I wear now? Clothes are dictated by geographical and religious borders. When I was a child, I drew what I saw, and I still see women this way. I chose Rumi to set up a parallel with the dialogue between women I know. All of these drawings come from a feminine universe that exists within Afghan popular culture. It’s fascinating how religion has divided women and men into two specific spaces. What women have constructed in their own space is another world that is poetic and liberated, where they trust one another. Men occupy space in a very brutal way. With my mother and her friends, when they come to talk about things, they are constantly laughing. This doesn’t mean they are happy or naive. They talk a lot about sexuality. If you were to arrive in an Afghan village, you would think, “Oh my god, the women are so repressed here,” but you would be wrong to think they don’t know anything about their sexuality. It comes out in another very beautiful way. We talk about fetishes and sexual fantasies, but it is not rooted in pornography. We talk about sex in a very funny way. When women talk about their sexual experiences, which they do woman to woman, they do not name their husbands. A friend of my mother’s calls her husband “a donkey,” which both mocks him and raises his sexual power. We use a lot of metaphors. This humor is so present in our society, but it is invisible to men. In my paintings, the body of the donkey has been removed, leaving only his sex. We say, “Cut it and keep it under the bed so it can serve you whenever you want,” because we do not want anything else. Men are just useless creatures.
PE: It’s like another dialogue or even a code. Your painted images are another manifestation of this coded language in visual form.
KK: Yes, it’s all about code. When I showed these works to my sister and my mother, we all knew what they were about. It wasn’t anything new. These are daily conversations. It’s fluid among us, we practice it. It was necessary for me to create a feminine universe. There is one work called Frontline (2021): women end up on the frontline very easily. One woman is pregnant, the other woman next to her is shitting. Women are called dirty, yet they have to be pure. The choice of being pregnant doesn’t exist in Afghan culture. I’m navigating between all of these issues. It’s a fight against the history and a system protected by religion. All the images are deliberately huge. These women have to be bigger than men. They are all two meters, and the drawing itself is 6 meters by 2.5 meters.
PE: They dominate the space. They are larger than life. This month, as part of The Enchanted exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in Paris and an offshoot of the events programmed by Nuit Blanche, you will destroy a series of recent drawings in a public performance. Titled Power and Destruction, these images depict sexually liberated warrior goddesses.
KK: Last year, I made a lot of drawings. It was fascinating to express myself in this way. The medium allows for exploration and imagination. You can create another world, unlike performing in front of the camera. I wanted the drawings to mirror live performance art, and the way it disappears after the event. I also decided to take the power back regarding the destination of my work. I have drawn mythical goddesses inspired by my Afghan origins. They are all extraordinary women. I want to exert my power as an artist as both the creator and destructor of these works. The only person to remain is the artist, who is alive.” [credit]
“Times Beach Nature Preserve is located in the Buffalo Outer Harbor, near the mouth of the Buffalo River. Times Beach responds to the varied histories and futures of this unusual site, from its broad link to the ecosystem of the Great Lakes, to the role of these waters as a vital resource for Native Americans who have lived along the shores of Lake Erie and the Niagara River for thousands of years. With waves of European settlement, the harbor became built up and eventually what was once open water became an urban beach. Irish and Portuguese immigrants created a shantytown on “The Beach” in the mid-19th Century, but residents were ultimately evicted in the early years of the twentieth century due to increasing industry. With the rise of the Parks movement and demand for public spaces for leisure, “Times Beach” was designated a recreational beach in 1931 and named after the newspaper that promoted this new use. However, the beach was soon closed due to industrial contamination. Through the mid-twentieth century the site was used as a contained disposal facility for river and harbor dredge. Today it has been restored as a nature preserve that supports a remarkable number of migrating birds and butterflies, as well as wild urban plants and animals. Times Beach is a sound walk that weaves together sonic traces of these different moments, building a palimpsest of voices, field recordings and resonances that evoke the various temporalities and textures of the site. Delivered as a free downloadable app for iPhone and Android devices, visitors are invited to wear headphones and discover an aural overlay that responds to their movement as they wander the boardwalks, seawalls and blinds of the preserve.”
In the Alien Staff project, alien means a state of being and ‘becoming’ both political and metaphysical, nomadic and migrant – a sort of psychological encampment in the space and time of today’s displaced and estranged world.
No aliens, residents, non-residents, legal and illegal immigrants have voting rights, nor any sufficient voice nor image of their own in official “public space”. When given a chance by the media (mainstream or ethnic) to communicate their experience or to state their opinions, demands and needs, immigrants find themselves framed and silenced.
The Alien Staff is a form of portable public address equipment and cultural network for individuals and groups of immigrants. It is an instrument that gives the individual immigrant a chance to “address” directly anyone in the city who may be attracted by the symbolic form of the equipment and the character of the “broadcasted” program.
The Alien Staff resembles the biblical shepherd’s rod. It is equipped with a high-tech mini-monitor and a small loud-speaker. The central part of the rod, the ‘Xenolog section’ is made up of interchangeable cylindrical containers for the preservation and display of precious relics related to the various phases of the owners history. A small image on the screen may attract attention and provoke observers to come very close to the monitor and therefore to the operator’s face, the usual distance from the immigrant, the stranger, decreases.
Upon closer examination, it will become clear that the image on the screen and the actual face of the person are of the same immigrant. The double presence in ‘media’ and in ‘life’ invites a new perception of the stranger as ‘imagined’ (a character on the screen) or as ‘experienced’ (an actor off-stage – a real life person). Since both the imagination and the experience of the viewer are increasing with the decreasing distance, while the program itself reveals unexpected aspects of the actor’s experience, the presence of the immigrant becomes both legitimate and real. This change in distance and perception might provide the ground for greater respect and self-respect, and become an inspiration for crossing the boundary between a stranger and a non-stranger.
As the identities of these persons are not only unstable but also often in antagonistic relation to each other, the only common ground they share is their resistance against any imposed (even self-imposed) uniform or generalised notion of a so-called immigrant identity.
The first model of the Alien Staff was built and tested in Barcelona in June 1993, following the first comprehensive exhibition of Wodiczko’s work in Europe in 1992, entitled Instruments, Projections, Vehicles, at the Fondació Antoni Tapies, Barcelona. A second model was built and its design further transformed in Brooklyn during the summer, fall and the winter 1992-93. The Alien Staff was used by many immigrants in New York, Paris, Houston, Marseille, Stockholm, Helsinki, Warsaw.
In Rotterdam, before and during Next 5 Minutes (1996), local operators walked through the city with Krzysztof Wodiczko projects Alien Staff and Mouth Piece. Aided by electronic walking sticks and mouth-size monitors they demonstrated how to communicate in an unfamiliar cultural environment and language.