“Border Aesthetics”, the final conference of the Border Aesthetics Project (2010-2013) was held at the University of Tromsø on 5-8 September 2012. This interdisciplinary and international conference had as its aim to investigate how changing perceptions of borders relate to shifting aesthetic practices.
The conference built on ongoing work at the University of Tromsø (the Border Poetics/Culture research group) and within the Border Aesthetics research project, including its external participants at universities and university colleges in Düsseldorf, Nijmegen, Umeå, Joensuu, Volda, Bergen and Bergamo. The project also cooperated with the Pikene på broen cultural production collective in the border town of Kirkenes and the Tromsø Gallery of Contemporary Art Tromsø kunstforening in arranging events at the conference.
Financing was provided through the project by the KULVER (Assigning Cultural Values) research programme of the Research Council of Norway and the University of Tromsø, with additional funding from the University of Tromsø and the Department of Culture and Literature at the University of Tromsø. Through careful planning, the conference reached all of its main goals while keeping within the budget.
The conference was covered by live tweeting using the #bordaesth tag.
International and transdisciplinary participants
The conference attracted 53 registered participants, including literary scholars, political geographers, historians, anthropologists, folklorists, linguists, media scholars, urban planners, architects, and students. Regional authors, performing artists, filmmakers, and artistic producers took part in a special panel. Students taking part in a course on border poetics came to lectures and non-registered academics made up larger audiences at the keynote lectures.
Several researchers from EU FP7 research project EUBORDERSCAPES took part, as well as a group of researchers from the Finnish Academy research project Writing Cultures and Borders (WCTB) at the Karelian Institute, University of Eastern Finland. The Barents Institute in Kirkenes was represented by three researchers. The Border Conditions group at Delft University of Technology organized the panel Reading and Reacting: From the Research of Border Conditions to Architectural and Urban Design. Participants in the Border Aesthetics project gave papers, including 4 collaborative papers.
Of the registered participants, 34 came from Norway, 5 from the Netherlands, 4 from Finland, and the others from the Italy, Spain, Israel, Denmark, England, Sweden, Germany, Russia, Switzerland and the United States.
The programme included 29 papers in 2 parallel sessions. The programming was carefully designed to encourage participants to attend papers concerning a wide variety of regions.
Topics addressed the negotiation of borders: in photography, political satire, feature films, artistic happenings, literary fiction, poetry, theatre performances, local communities, urban spaces, architecture, magazines, and life stories. Papers also addressed questions about the aesthetic dimensions of: the visibility/invisibility of borders, culture borders and diaspora, waiting at borders, the borders of the subject, ecological borders, the economic crisis and sovereignty.
Some titles include:
- Zooming in – Zooming out: Politics of Photographic Aesthetics across Finnish- Russian Borders in the 1930s
- InVisible/InVisual Subjects: Notes Toward the Aesthetics and Politics of (Medial) Borderscapes
- Aesthetics/Politics/Ethics: North Korea in Kirkenes
- The Samovar Theatre on the Russian-Norwegian Border
- Literary Tools for Site-Specific Analysis of Borders and Marginal Urban Areas
- Sami Feature Films and Norwegian Film Politics at the Border
- Diaspora Aesthetics: Blackness, Fluidity, Representation
- Borderlines and Contraband: Bakhtin and the Question of the Subject
- The Waiting State: Kafka and Coetzee’s Imaginary Geographies of the B/ordering of the State
- Ecologies of Borders / Borders of Ecologies
- Woolfian Border Poetics and Contemporary Circadian Novels
- Alex Rivera’s Sleep Dealer and ‘Americanity’ on the Border
The conference was opened by the head of the Department of Culture and Literature, Cathrine Theodorsen, and featured three keynote lectures by Ulrike H. Meinhof, of the University of Southampton; by Fredrik Tygstrup of the University of Copenhagen; and by Debra A. Castillo of Cornell University.
Four actors in the Barents Region aesthetic borderscape — Knut Erik Jensen (filmmaker), Liv Lundberg (poet and professor of Creative Writing, Tromsø), Liv-Hanne Haugen (dance artist) and Luba Kuzovnikova (artistic director, Pikene på broen, Kirkenes) — presented their work and shared with us their thoughts on cultural production in Northern borderlands in an inspiring panel.
Dmitry Vilensky of art collective Chto delat? / What is to be done?, based in Petersburg, presented the group and their ongoing work on in a Songspiel based on the Russian-Norwegian borderlands. The presentation, open to the public, was held at the Tromsø Gallery of Contemporary Art (Tromsø kunstforening). Their Museum Songspiel: The Netherlands 20XX was shown as an example of previous work, and a lively debate followed involving conference participants and members of the public.
Internal Border Aesthetics project workshop
On September 8, after the final day of the open conference, a workshop was held on Sommarøy outside Tromsø, involving 12 members of the Border Aesthetics research project, with the aim of developing work on a planned book on Border Aesthetics (see below). In a genuinely inspiring atmosphere, 4 pre-distributed chapter drafts and 2 proposals were discussed at length, and plans for further work on the book were finalized.
A special issue of conference papers is planned for the Norwegian level 1 periodical Nordlit. 14 manuscripts, including 2 of the keynote lectures, are being edited, and publication is planned for the beginning of 2014.
The conference and internal workshop were instrumental in developing work on a book on Border Aesthetics. This book will include some of the chapter drafts presented as papers at the conference.
Collaboration with the Chto delat? / What is to be done? art collective is continuing after meetings with Dmitry Vilensky during and after the conference. A new issue in their series of newspapers has been published in connection with the premiere of their Border Songspiel art video at the Barents Spektakel in February 2013. This was a collaboration with the Border Aesthetics research project, and among the projected articles in the newspaper are 4 articles by 6 members of the project, aimed at a public interested in critical perspectives on art and borders.
Versions of this report have been published in EUBORDERSCAPES Newsletter 2 (2013), pp. 7-8 and La Frontera: Association for Borderlands Studies Newsletter 33.2 (2013), pp. 7-9. Notices on the conference appeared in the local and regional newspapers iTromsø and Nordlys, both on 8 September.
“it was an inspiring event with many high-class presentations, very well put together, and in a friendly and creative atmosphere.” – Stefan Holander, Finnmark University College
“It gave me lots of new ideas for a long time!” — Tuija Saarinen, University of Eastern Finland
“I've been raving about how wonderfully stimulating the discussions were at the event, as well as how beautifully organized it was.” — Debra Ann Castillo, Cornell University
Johan Schimanski & Stephen Wolfe
Department of Culture and Literature, University of Tromsø, 29 January 2013