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Introduction I show this iconic photograph to students each semester. It is an image brimming with possibility; its formal qualities tell a story that is dramatic, absurd, and politically charged. The scene is a beach, but one wholly unlike a typical beach landscape. A single figure occupies the upper half of the photo. In the lower portion, a crowd is gathered and decorations adorn one side of a fence. This fence appears porous, even haphazard, with posts of different heights jutting out of the sand. Toward the left-hand side of the photograph, the fence protrudes into the water, but to what effect? Finally, a star-spangled cannon provides both narrative and literal propulsion; it becomes clear that the figure is a stuntman, shot out over this boundary. The placid, cloudless sky of the upper portion of the image contrasts with the hubbub below. The crowd, the camerawielding onlookers, and the presence of the cannon itself mark this event as a spectacle. A human cannonball is a staple of county fairs, monster truck rallies, and dirt bike competitions. That flight through the air can be the culmination of a day’s events or, more likely, just another sideshow. The stuntman’s performance is often a distraction from the main attraction, a break from the crunching of steel and the shattering of glass.1 What these events all have in common is that for the average human cannonball, the journey is but a side effect of the performance. The audience’s anticipation comes not from the knowledge that So-and-so the Magnificent made it from one end of the stadium to the other, but from the combination of violence and grace produced by the cannon. For a single moment, man can fly, unaided, encased not in a glorified winged tube but in simply the clothes on his back. For that moment, anything is possible. When he returns to earth, then, landing in his carefully positioned net, it is not his journey that has moved us, but the impossibility of that journey—the fact that all our flights must come to an end. Sheren pages.indd 1 4/21/15 3:21 PM 2 | portable borders The aforementioned image, however, lands in another register. The performance it documents was not simply a stunt for the benefit of the waiting crowd. The stuntman, U.S. citizen David “Cannonball” Smith, flies not over some anonymous ground, but rather over the border between the United States and Mexico. In doing so, he crosses an international boundary , the gap between the developing world and the developed, chaos and order, the great dividing line of the North American imaginary. The photograph captures him suspended in midair, directly over the no-man’s-land of that line. It is a space impossible to occupy physically, but one that millions of border dwellers know as a state of being. Titled One Flew over the Void, this performance, the brainchild of Venezuelan artist Javier Téllez, became the most prominent event of InSite 2005, the “somewhat triennial” binational arts festival on the U.S.-Mexico border. In essence, Téllez commissioned a U.S. citizen to fly over the border from Mexico to the United States, in a performance organized and attended by people from both nations. The piece drew on earlier performances that emphasized the physicality of the borderline while benefiting from the dematerialization and conceptualization of the border that had taken place in recent years. There exists a conflict at the heart of the performance, one involving definitions of inside and outside, border and frontera, location and dislocation . It is a problematic of site—both moving away from it and between spaces. I term this conflict, the inability to resolve the issue of distance and perspective, the border problematic. Unlike others, however, this problematic is not one to be resolved, but is itself a means to negotiate the territory of borders and boundaries. One can construct the U.S.-Mexico border as a physical line, a state of mind, and an economic and labor issue, among others. In turn, such conceptualizations help us to comprehend how art has altered this landscape, as well as forced an examination of the nature of the term “border.” In this way, Téllez, coming from outside the border region, can offer his take on immigration from Mexico to the United States. It becomes irrelevant whether this outsider status limits his access to the debate, for the definition of the border has...


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