Kostas Tzimoulis: In Between - Exploring the Boundaries
Mentor: Doreen Mende
Independent reviewer: Cihat Arinc
Arnhem, July 2011
Boundaries refer to bounds, whether these are conceived as definite limits that severely divide one thing from another, or as bonds that bind, fasten, confine, or hold things together. That is to say, boundaries indicate divisions, as they also point to inclusions and exclusions. And the thing that they enclose is always visualized as an area, a field, a sort of a physical or even mental space.
In general, our lives are developed within physical spaces. Thereby, we say that we live in a certain country, city, or home, but we develop our activities in smaller places, such as schools, offices, working areas, parks, streets, shops, playgrounds, and rooms. These smaller places, which are
thought to be parts of larger urban or rural constructions, are usually divided and subdivided according to their special utility and position. The Dutch architect Aldo van Eyck, though, did not accept such separations. He used to say that “a house is a little city and a city is a large house,” given that both of them are “a bunch of places.” Therefore, he fervently condemned the “irreconcilable polarities” that are imposed upon, what he called, “twin phenomena:” the part-whole, unity-diversity, large-small, many-few, insideoutside, open-closed, mass-space, change-constancy, motion-rest, orderchaos, individual-collective, etc. For van Eyck, destroying the unity of a twin phenomenon by separating it into two opposing entities – or, as he call them, “false alternatives” – is an arbitrary and tragic mistake that acts against human nature itself: after all, as he reminds us, “man still breathes in and out” and we certainly “can not breathe only one way” (1962: pp.60-63).
We can readily agree with van Eyck that the character of each space is not a matter of human scale, since “what has right-size is at the same time both large and small, few and many, near and far, simple and complex, open and closed” (1962: p.64). Still, it is hard to ignore or exceed the importance of dividing boundaries in the definition and the conception of spaces themselves.
This is a very thoughtful, balanced and intellectually stimulating discussion of the 'politics of space'. The thesis sets out some objections to the geopolitical conception of space, unframes geographic taxonomies, provides a critical approach to social production of mutually exclusive zones, offers some alternatives to them by deconstructing the notion of border, clarifies the underlying motivation for a critical politics of space, and complements/supports the case for such a politics with a set of artistic practices (video performances and installations -- i.e. a long walk amidst the ghostly ruins of history; the destruction of a carton box implying the irreconcilable situations of 'feeling at home', 'being imprisoned' or even 'living on as living in a coffin'). It shows a very good knowledge of literatures in both postcolonial theory of space and psycho-geography and the use of phenomenological ideas (e.g., on Heidegger's 'horizon') was particularly good. My one major criticism would be to question whether the category of a 'critical politics of space' isn't potentially insufficient with the lack of any reference to Derrida's notion of 'spacing' as well as his 'hauntology of ghostly spaces' and Benjamin's 'ruinology' given the motivation or nature of some of the claims made (or pigeon-holed) in this research project. For example, are some of the claims better understood in terms of places that stand inbetween binary oppositional spaces and the notions of exile and displacement? In short, perhaps the author should have interrogated the Derridean politics of space in addition to the Heideggerian phenomenology and postcolonial theory. Nevertheless, I came away from the thesis feeling that I had learned something and that the author had genuinely moved a debate on from confrontation between overly entrenched positions. C.A.