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Season Butler | Writer in residence | Curating Borderless Spaces

14th August 2019

Curating Borderless Spaces
22 June 2019
Garret House, Bethnal Green, London


This is going to go very well. I have no doubt about it.

People are filing in, greeting each other in varying degrees of intimacy. Some of the very best people, some folks I see and always wish I could spend more time with. Some who can barely recognise me with my foot on the floor and not in my mouth. (No, I’m projecting, and that’s not fair.) I guess I’m a little nervous, warming up. Someone I don’t know just entered and looks like Chloë Grace Moretz. Someone else here looks like Mary Beard. I am very happy with these visual misunderstandings. 

Lois Keidan opens the day. Lois Keidan gets the ball rolling. That, I think, is her metier. She tells the assembled crowd that they have been in partnership for a long time. We’re making new knowledge in the Study Room, in the space that opens.

The dulcet sound of tinies wafts over from the creche. Childcare is radical. The gesture of inclusion it entails is one I take very seriously. Regarding the little snot-monsters themselves, I am ambivalent. They have no real need for dignity, which makes them dangerous.
(those belly buttons tho)

Alessandra Cianetti and Xavier de Sousa introduce performingborders: Performing Borderless Spaces
This project examines critical, cultural, racial, economic, gender, every-day, national, intersectional borders. The performingborders website started in 2016, and to date hosts more than 60 interviews and guest posts; the live programme (February to July 2019) has involved three public conversations in the UK, two public workshops in the UK, four new commissions, a screening in Nogales, and this final event: Curating Borderless Spaces. From the inception to the present we’ve had the EU membership referendum, Trump, a proliferation of borders…

“We are smashing up the present because we come from the future.” Xav quotes an old Greek saying. 

I just want to find a place where I won’t be embarrassed. I just want to find a place where I don’t have to be afraid.

Over in the creche, a baby growls.
Before we speak, we growl.

“Season Butler is going to be responding…”

I concur.

Rage is the Keynote
“Not your QTPOC celebrity” is written in gold on Raju Rage’s black sweatshirt. Elsewhere, children play with pasta. 

The sweatshirt is an artwork, a reminder that they exist (what’s the opposite of a memento mori?) in the artworld and must resist the forces that create fame, and concomitant competitiveness, exploitation – the stratification and undermining of potential solidarity among artists in a capitalist, hierarchical art world. 

Rage circulates – literally moves around the table over which a (mind? heart? market?) map is laid. Rage circulates. 

“Unevaluated energetic economies:” the map is an attempt to make sense of the entanglements between academia, activist world and the art world. Troubles, issues, strategies…

Strategies to make connections and foster interdependence. That is how we make these borderless spaces. Share collective knowledges, think about knowledge, about value.”

Rage tries to be “beyond identity a lots of the time.” But everyday experience comes up against intersectional discrimination.

The question of making work about “identity” arises … Identity is one of those euphemisms, like community. Vexed, apt, necessary, a word I prefer to hear from some than from others.

Rage problematises “identity” adroitly. 

Audre Lorde entreats us to be the cake, not the ingredients. 

(I cannot resist a cake metaphor.) 

What would a borderless space look like? A space where we all feel seen, all feel felt… A place where all parts of us are welcome, so we don’t have to leave parts of ourselves at the door. So to speak. 

My memory just tasted frozen toaster waffles, butter in every depression, syrup, vegetarian sausages (the kind in the green box, packs of six) – just as Rage quoted something about our histories denied by the dominant narratives.

As Rage lists aggressions, oppressions, I think sideways about forced illiteracy, how my education registers as arrogance in my family (and how I contribute to that). Forced, coerced, coaxed, urged ignorance is a violence that makes me sad. And fuck-
ing angry.

“…how we strategise and how we survive…”

 Rage knows the importance of tactics.

Paradigm-shifting work emerges from changing the conditions under which artists now struggle to work and survive. But the ones empowered to change these conditions are also the ones whom the paradigm benefits

An upstart on my finger and guillotine daydreams.

Rage asks: Who should be doing the work?

We move through texts, listening, reading aloud. We reach Lorde, anger, the uses of anger. Adelaide wants to read this one. 


We spoke about identity before, and now we’re on to anonymity:

“‘We choose to work anonymously in order to highlight a gendered and racialized division of labor that puts us at risk and structurally undervalues us while treating us as objects of charity and open sources of special, minority information. Our access to queer and trans discourse is unequal and precarious. We are the first to be excluded as “traitors” and “killjoys,” and yet we often remain alone in speaking out against feminist, gay and trans racism and imperialism. We would like to see white anti-racists use their own names against white racists.’” 1

And pleasure? Can we deploy, “pleasure against violence and harm”?

I keep tasting US food, the kind I might have had for a weekend break-
fast at a relative’s house.

“What is the work that you want or need to do? What are the strategies and resources you have found to address this?”

While live-tweeting the event so far, I discover that today is “Windrush Day”
and I could spit blood.

Rage was the keynote. 

1 – PR ID E, The People’s Revolutionary Ideas Eatery, 2008

Tara Fatehi Irani: Borderline Dialogue
The world clock – a tool to help keep track of where the different participants were – becomes a way of living. Tara started working with seven artists who responded to the invitation. 

It starts with one-to-one conversations about borders and how borders affect each artist in their lives. From these conversations, they plan together a public intervention in the location of the contributing artist. Then these contributions come together in a film. 

They juggled or grappled or gently considered the question of personal borders, negotiating personal space. 

Robert Frost, “Mending Walls” – conversations across walls, walls falling into obsolescence and irrelevance. 

Dance and the possibility of removing borders between bodies. Feedback from audience changed the way Tara thought about the people in the city where she lives.

Making boundaries in urban space, and creating spaces by walking. In-between spaces from an identity perspective.

All of this, she found, created an arbitrary and ephemeral border to see how people interact with it.

How we can be in between or on both sides of a border? Night and day, sea and land?


Istanbul Queer Art Collective: Moebius Stripping
motivations and inspirations and logics
Right wing populists stoked unto fever-pitch the fear that, on joining the EU, 70 million Turks will invade the UK, just as they (Tuna Erdem and Seda Ergül) were planning to leave Turkey and come to the UK. (In this fantasy, the entire population of Turkey will rush to the UK; they don’t want to go to any other EU country for some reason, only the UK.) Unfortunate timing, but history is full of these instances of unfortunate timings and twists of fate. 
26 June 2016: Gay Pride is banned in Turkey. 
28 June 2016: a suicide bomber kills fifty at Istanbul International Airport. 
Two events same week as the UK’s EU referendum. 
From frying pan of Turkey into fire of the Hostile Environment.

They had to document everything they did for a year, to give to the Home Office. Three kilos of documents had to be submitted. 

“We are being made to prove that we can withstand the Hostile Environment – a comprehensive system designed to make staying in the UK as difficult as possible in the hope that they will leave.”

(That’s nearly a quote. There is some paraphrasing. I hope it is almost faithful.)

Red tape; uncertainty; lots of contradictory rules; waiting without the right to leave the country. 

The tape becomes a strip, and we’re introduced to red-tape-as-moebius-strip.

“It is a twist that makes things better. […] Queer is never the shortest distance between two points.”


A chain of violences – cutting tree, to the cutting of the document  cutting ties to birthplace, cutting the umbilical cord, cutting ties with birthplace.

Queerness approximates shredding all identity. Migration approximates shedding feathers.

The question of living beyond identity as a potential desire and aim of activism, and where that sits in terms of identity politics that gives voice and agency to people who are not visible. How to make this a productive tension. “This is a paradox I want to highlight.” 

“Which identity? Any identity? Too many identities? Name all the ingredients but focus on the cake.” That was Tuna, I think.

After lunch – provocations
Kai Syng Tan

  • Productive antagonisms:
    “Magic carpet work,” weaving a space to gather and to travel unfettered, working with psychiatrists
  • Ill-disciplined: what illness and wellness are
  • Allies and accomplices
    • What is the intentionality here? Heroes, tokens, white saviours? What makes one good or shitty? How far would you go? When we try to cross borders, there are gatekeepers and we also need allies. 

The accomplice is a secondary player. Not the mastermind, but
someone whose actions criminalise them. 

Bojana Janković
Bojana started with a reference to Tanja Ostojić’s Looking for a Husband with EU Passport, 2000–2005. A strategy, a satire, (matrimonial politics as a tool of resistance or compliance?)

And proposed a new project: “Looking for a great-grand parent with an EU passport. […] Any potential future great-grand-parent will be included in any future ACE applications.”

“Alliances allow us to think strategically […] taking sides inevitably make us vulnerable.”

We were invited to think about the margins of Europe and the borders of European-ness, the conflation of geography (Europe) and coalition (EU), notions of passing, conditions of entry and belonging, freedom of movement and its opposite.

Helena Walsh: Keep Words and Objects

Helena takes out an atlas bigger than my first apartment.

By appointment to “Her Most Gracious Majesty Victoria, Queen of Great Britain and Ireland, Empress of India, 1887.”

*Fart noise. Middle finger. Side eye. Shade.*

“We were in the middle of a peace process.” In 2016, that is.

“In Northern Ireland, pregnant people are very much encaged.”

Helena tells us about traditions of resistance and resourcefulness under conditions of colonial violence, banging bin lids to warn of British army patrols. 

“They are stepping on us,” she says astride some dead lady’s atlas. “These borders are made of blood. […] Borders as violation.”

Partition is violence that crosses generations. 

Mapping as a force of surveillance and oppression.

Someone points out that accomplices are in the semantic field of criminality and resistance. 

Dana Olărescu
“We are on the brink of extinction through a failure of imagination.”

Dana leads us in an exercise. We’re asked to write down five people, (no family members or partners), who we could call at 2am with an existential crisis. The five people closest to us. We draw a table and filled in the age, gender, race, level of education and sexuality of each of the five.

“This is what trust looks like for you.” 

Here was my bias, in my own handwriting. People like me, and also not. The ones I prefer over others.

Someone remarks, in response to Dana: “…but it’s not scientific, is it?”

Someone offers an old saying from Turkey: “Tell me who’s your friend, and I’ll tell you who you are.”

Responses from the floor
Sam wonders about blurring the line between distinctions and borders. Social distinction and difference

“I wonder how useful it is, or I’m sceptical about how useful it is, to call all kinds of differences borders. [There are] nation-state borders that rely on inhospitable physical geographies like deserts and seas, but there are different ways of making those geographies matter, different ways of registering people as citizen or present in a place, and that kind of differentiating is violent, but not all kinds of differentiation are.” 

There is a question about the distinction between “post-colonial” and “decolonial.” Post-colonial seems to belong to an elitist community of academics and intellectuals; decolonial feels possibly more grassroots and community-led. Both relate to anticolonial thought. What’s the relationship between them? 

The issue of privilege comes up in discussion of borders. Borders can also be a way of containing things within. The use of borders to create distinctions on the basis of privilege. 

Jo thinks that “decolonial” acknowledges that there is much more work to be done. There is a disconnect between theory and reality, and this is not always visible from ivory towers.

Someone brings in the idea of the boundaries (not borders) necessary to navigate a transphobic world as a trans person. 

Someone notes that it is dangerous to romanticise the experience of borders. Remember also the overlong moments of waiting, the insecurity and the impact on mental health.

“We are winning,” 

Someone says. I tweet it immediately.

“There is an unstoppable force, and the violence of the state (nation state, the border-based state) is precisely because the force against these borders is immense.”

The group considers the different experiences within this “we” as the “we” who are winning.

Season Butler is a writer, artist, dramaturg and activist. Her writing, research and performance practice centre around intersectionality and narratives of otherness, isolation and the end of the world. Lately she has been thinking about authorship, authority and version control, and how we gesture toward an unruly future in an age of failed predictions. Her recent work has appeared in the Baltic Centre for Contemporary for Contemporary Art, Latvian National Museum of Art, Barbican Centre, and her first novel will be published in the UK by Little, Brown and the US by Harper Collins later this year.

performingborders | LIVE is a programme of events and new commissions focusing on the exploration of artistic practices happening within the UK live art sector around notions of cultural, juridical, racial, gendered, class, physical and everyday borders. Curated by Alessandra Cianetti and Xavier de Sousa.

Presented by performingborders and Foreign Actions Productions in collaboration with Live Art Development Agency (London, UK), Contact Theatre (Manchester, UK), Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts (Brighton, UK), Artsadmin (London, UK), Deptford Lounge (London, UK), Beyond the Wall/Más Allá del Mur Festival (Nogales, US/Mexico), and the Centre for The Study of Sexual Dissidence (University of Sussex, UK). Supported by the Arts Council England.

Featured image credits: Studio MaBa

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