Special Exhibition

An exhibition by students of École Supérieure d'Art Pays Basque (Bayonne-Biarritz, France) and the class of Film and Moving Image of the School of Art and Design, Kassel.

At the end of 2019, students from Kunsthochschule Kassel and École Supérieure d'Art Pays Basque (Bayonne-Biarritz, France) started a collaborative project. Their goal was to reflect on the concept of borders. A point of departure for their thinking was the ever present friction in the history of territories and topographies, in historical and contemporary narratives of Europe, between atlases and landscapes, centers and peripheries, across borders and their transgression, as well as in translations between different languages (French, German, Spanish, Basque and the Hessian dialect). They explored political, geographical and linguistic borders, but also our experience of borders as sensory, psychological, ontological and – above all – malleable.

The collaborators took into consideration how borders define and at the same time separate us, but also investigated spaces of disconnection, zones of contact, frontlines and places of passage. In all their thinking and their practice, they made sure to pay special attention to borders in our particular, contemporary European context and in the specific situation of their encounter as German and French students. Through several stages of research, the collaborating students experienced both phases of distance as well as close communication between the two schools. In all their work, the context of the past two pandemic years is vividly evident: A time in which many people globally have come to experience borders and separations in previously unknown, aggravated and brutal ways, both in terms of health and ecological crisis and in relation to of the oppression of migration. In order to get a first grasp of "what we were looking at and what was looking at us", in January 2020 the collaborating students left the protected space of the art academies and explored their surroundings. Thus, at the first workshop in Biarritz, before the effects of the pandemic had reached Europe, the German and French students chose the French-Spanish border as a first destination for their work. There, the cities of Hendaye (in France, Northern Basque Country), Irun and Hondarribia (in Spain, Northern Basque Country) face each other. They are separated by the Bidasoa, a river across which many lines of conflict have emerged: Between the Spanish and French kingdom, the French Republic, throughout the civil war and the Francoist dictatorship, the emigration of Spanish republicans, the Basque liberation movement, and in the history of current migrations. All of these histories can be regarded as dividing lines, but the border is also a crossroad across which the daily paths of the inhabitants of the three cities unfold. These are people whose cultural and political identity is strongly marked by the non-recognition of national borders, considering that the Basque region forms a unit composed of seven provinces on both sides of the Pyrenees. This area of border-crossing is characterized by commerce, free trade areas, freight traffic, the activities of the fishing port and by the movements of people who work on one side of the border and live on the other. But simultaneously, this region is defined a massive increase in control and surveillance, the ubiquitous presence of police on bridges and roads, and the constant repression of refugees. During the pandemic, exploring the physical territory of borders became more difficult for the collaborating students.

Thus, the joint Franco-German study of the border between Hesse and Thuringia planned for May 2020, which more than 30 years ago still separated two irreconcilable, opposing ideologies – and depending on the direction of view, was both a death strip and an anti-imperialist protective wall – was moved into virtual space and had to take place online. But the histories of Europe are certainly reflected in virtual landscapes as well. For example, they are apparent on the website of the „Memorial against the Creeping Normalization of Fascism in Germany“, which was erected by the Center for Political Beauty in the same small town where a sausage museum also offers at-home slaughtering courses. Or in the traces left by the idea of the "Fulda Gap," which stretched from Herleshausen to Bad Neustadt an der Saale. This concept referred to the fragile and "strategically vulnerable" geographical conditions of a certain area.

Through this corridor, NATO feared an advance of Warsaw Pact troops far into the hinterland of the Federal Republic of Germany. In Hesse as in the Basque region, landscapes and the themes we connect to them are full of contradictions and paradoxical contrasts. Always, the question is raised: What divides, and what unites us? And how can common, shared ideas grow on unsteady ground? This was one of the main themes that students adressed together in their online meetings. Individually as well as in groups, they gathered all their thoughts and questions into their practice – using any and all media at their disposal. Some participants visited borderland areas for their project. They went to Irun and Hendaye, where in 2020, police set up road blocks between the two countries and the Basque provinces. But some students also spent time at the former East-West border in Germany in search of places of passage and transformation. Others were interested in transit routes, fishing ports, or peripheral areas. To change sides, migrate, or defect: These are the movements that students most often gravitated towards, and to which some of the projects bear witness. According to Ernst Bloch, thinking is always an act of transgression. And this idea resonates deeply with what has made this exchange between two schools in two different countries possible: Despite travel restrictions and other constraints, the collaborating students explored new ways of working together, and they discovered previously unknown borders to be crossed – as well as to be reflected on in their work.

As part of the Kassel Dokfest, the results of this long-term collaboration and the projects designed and developed by French and German students will be presented in a joint exhibition at ruruHaus. Following this, the exhibition will be shown in January 2022 as part of the FIPADOC – International Documentary Festival in Biarritz.

The partnership between the Kunsthochschule Kassel and ESAPB was made possible through the support of the Hessian Ministry of Higher Education, Research, Science and the Arts, the Representation of the State of Hesse in the Regional Council of Nouvelle-Aquitaine, HessenFilm und Medien GmbH, the region Nouvelle-Aquitaine, the Kassel Dokfest, FIPADOC - International Documentary Festival, Biarritz and CROUS Bordeaux-Aquitaine.

It is supported by ruruHaus/documenta fifteen.

Selected works from the project will be on show.

Involved in the project are: Jonas Albrecht, Clarisse Alemany, Valentine Arcuset, Charlotte Botta, Charlotte Bouchon, Jan Emde, Hanna Haak, Julia Hacini, Alix Kokula, Ortzi Laborde, Amélie Lamude, Rosa Langer, Nour Asran Mahmoud, Arthur Marie, Célia Martin, Louise Mattiolo, Franziska Pappert, Jurijn Rondé, Lola Savary, Ebony Schneeweiß, Tamsir Soumaré, Célia Superbielle, Sonja Wassermann, Marie Werthschulte, Jia You

Educational and artistic supervision: Sara Millot (École Supérieure d'Art Pays Basque), Anna Berger, Jan Peters (Kunsthochschule Kassel).

ruruHaus Obere Königsstraße 43, Entrance Treppenstraße

Opening: Wednesday, 17.11. / 9 p.m.

Introduction: Anna Berger, Sara Millot, Jan Peters

Opening hours:

Wednesday      17.11. 9 p.m. – 11 p.m.

Thursday          18.11. 3 p.m. – 9 p.m.

Friday               19.11. 3 p.m. – 9 p.m.

Saturday           20.11. 3 p.m. – 9 p.m.

Sunday             21.11. 3 p.m. – 9 p.m.