The Border Project: New Work by Susan Harbage Page, by Matt Zigler

In the first part of T.H. White’s classic book, The Once and Future King, the young Arthur, known as the Wart, is turned into a goose by Merlyn as a part of his education.  A young female is schooling him on what it means to be a goose: 

‘Do you all come here from different places?’
‘Well in parties of course.   There are some here from Siberia, some from Lapland and I can see one or two from Iceland.
‘But don’t they fight each other for the pasture?’
‘Dear me, you are a silly,’ she said.   ‘There are no boundaries among geese.’
‘What are boundaries, please?’
‘Imaginary lines on the earth, I suppose.   How can you have boundaries if you fly?   Those ants of yours — and the humans too — would have to stop fighting in the end, if they took to the air.’
‘I like fighting,’ said the Wart.   ‘It is knightly.’
‘Because you’re a baby.’
Sadly, the ability to take to the air has not removed our borders, and this subject of the border between Mexico and the United States is front page news with states enacting ever more strict measures for dealing with undocumented immigrants.  Susan Harbage Page has been making trips to the US – Mexico border and documenting the evidence, or the remnants, of a game of cat and mouse that means lawfulness and legality to the people on one side, and life and livelihood to the people on the other.  Her current show at Flanders Gallery incorporates objects that she has collected on her travels (amazingly, according to her card, people stopped at the border have to empty their pockets of anything non-essential), photographs of those objects, and photographs of the evidence of passage.
The show comes across as a socially minded archaeological exhibition.  The statement about the injustice of a failed immigration policy is evident, but not over the top.  The objects are simply tagged with a date and laid out for us to interpret (how did the red bra or the little picture of Jesus end up left in the dirt?).  The border seems to create a remarkable amount of trash and the artist takes an even eye to all of it.  Each object is the sign of one more sacrifice, one more piece of a previous life lost.
There is so much rhetoric about the border and what should be done about it, but few of us ever actually see anything concrete.  Harbage Page’s attempt to bring a little reality into this abstract issue makes for some striking visual images and physical objects, but the takeaway is a greater understanding of an actual problem in the actual world, that we might just actually be able to do something about.  After all, if geese can figure this problem out, so should we.

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