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  • LongingPersonal Effects from the Border
  • Susan Harbage Page (bio) and Bernard L. Herman (bio)

Susan Harbage Page's portfolio, Longing: Personal Effects from the Border, is an intervention—at once aesthetic, archaeological, and archival—into the spaces and objects associated with the great migration north across the Rio Grande and into the United States. Page's images are visual conversations about the material culture of the immigrant experience and compel us to consider how we see ourselves through seeing others. Images of a deflated inner tube dropped by the road, a wallet mired, its contents spilling into the mud, footsteps revealed in soft earth, and river-wet clothes wrung, wadded, and cast aside document ordinary things possessed with extraordinary associations of flight, hope, panic, determination, and fear.

In collecting possessions discarded at the border and photographing them in her studio, Page transforms them, re-contextualizing found objects through a cool and loving curatorial eye. The artist becomes archivist. With the debris-field chaos of riverbank and border fence erased, inner tube, wallet, and shirt take on different associations drawn from the calm and analytical confines of the studio. These images evoke the strange and subdued violence of the museum, the morgue, the catalog. Side by side (imagine a diptych), the juxtaposition of images from field and studio reveal the spaces between the desperation of flight and the stillness of the archive—there, here, lost, found.

Longing speaks about power through the operations of borders, places where identities are furtive, hidden, gleaned only via jettisoned artifacts, first discarded and depersonalized, then retrieved and remembered. The visual space Page creates between the inner tube encountered in brush and sunlight and subsequently pedestaled on a shadow-edged blue background, delicately and revealingly lit by studio lamps, forces us to question how we must position ourselves to pursue the always political work of seeing. Page locates that political work in what she describes as "contexts for viewing." It is not just what we see that matters, but how our privileged vantage points contextualize her images and their content. In that gesture Susan Harbage Page makes us aware of how the frailties and vanities of our own habits of seeing reinforce unspoken ideologies of power. [End Page 31]

If I could do it, I'd do no writing at all here. It would be photographs; the rest would be fragments of cloth, bits of cotton, lumps of earth, records of speech, pieces of wood and iron.

—James Agee, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

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Susan Harbage Page

Susan Harbage Page teaches studio art and women's studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her art addresses such concerns as the performance of race and gender, identity politics, and immigration. Amongst Page's numerous awards are fellowships from the North Carolina Arts Council, the Camargo Foundation, and the Fulbright Program.

Bernard L. Herman

Bernard L. Herman is the George B. Tindall Professor of American Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His books include Town House: Architecture and Material Life in the Early American City, 1780–1830 (2005) and The Stolen House (1992). He has published essays, lectured, and offered courses on visual and material culture, architectural history...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1488
Print ISSN
1068-8218
Pages
pp. 31-45
Launched on MUSE
2010-02-27
Open Access
No
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