A ‘Solid Sea’? Mediterranean Crossings

I’ve previously written on the work of Moroccan artist Yto Barrada with regard to migration and border crossings in the era of globalisation. This is the abstract of a paper I’m currently writing specifically about the Mediterranean as a disciplinary space, a ‘solid sea’ (to coin the title of an installation piece by Multiplicity at Documenta in 2002) in which crossings are conditioned by the constraints of neoliberal tensions between securitisation (the politics of fear) and the economics of free trade.

A ‘Solid Sea’? Mediterranean Crossings in the Age of Globalisation

The Mediterranean Sea is a particularly neuralgic border zone in the geopolitical imaginary of the West, a thick space, in which multiple and heterogeneous crossings are performed and intertwine. And yet, as Multiplicity (a Milan-based collective of artists, architects and activists) assert, it is no longer, if indeed it ever was, ‘a large and liquid “lieu de rencontre” [space of encounter]. […] The Mediterranean is today a hard, solid space, ploughed by precise routes that move from equally defined points’ (Multiplicity, 2002). It has become ‘the only Certain Territory of this part of the world’ (ibid.). It is a space in which identities are reified and ‘exacerbated’ (clandestine/legitimate, vagabond/tourist [Bauman, 1996]), and condition also the very modalities of travel within and between this broadly securitized constellation of geopolitical and geo-economic formations (Fluri, 2011). This chapter thus explores Mediterranean crossings as performances of ‘disciplined mobility’ (Moran, Piacentini & Pallot, 2012) in which both migrant and tourist mobilities are unevenly produced, channelled, surveilled and contained, inextricably ‘caught up in the power geometries of everyday life’ (Hannan et al, 2006). The analysis is conducted through the prism of recent works by a number of contemporary artists: Zineb Sedira, Kader Attia, Bruno Boudjelal, Yto Barrada and Tiécoura N’Dao. In particular, and with reference to photographic, video and installation works by the artists in question, it considers the ways in which harragas [1] navigate the intensely securitised space of the Mediterranean (Raeymaekers, 2014; Paoletti, 2009; Mountz & Lloyd, 2014), coming up against – but also slipping into the cracks and interstices of – the European (global) police order. And yet this study will also suggest, with reference to the slippages, mirrorings, displacements and doublings which operate within the selected artworks, first that mobilities of business and leisure are similarly constrained and conditioned by the ‘all encompassing “securitisation” of everyday life’ (Philo, 2011); and secondly by specific, disciplinary visual regimes which transform the ‘fact of movement’ into meaningful mobilities (Cresswell, 2006) in the context of transnational and transcontinental border crossings in the neoliberal age.

[1] Clandestine migrants who burn their identity papers during the crossing; meaning ‘those who burn’, from the Arabic حراقة, harrag – to burn.


In 2008-2010, Chiara Dalla Libera wrote a wonderful dissertation as part of her Master Erasmus Mundus (Crossways in European Humanities), under the supervision of Dr Amanda Crawley Jackson (University of Sheffield), Dr César Domínguez (Universidade de Santiago de Compostela) and Dr Ana Gonçalves Matos (Universidade Nova de Lisboa).

The dissertation, entitled FROM NON-PLACE TO PLACE: A STUDY OF EUROPEAN PUBLIC SPACE AS A SPACE OF IDENTITY, is available to download as a pdf here.

In short, my research question has to do with the role some places have in forging bonds between people and cultures, focusing in particular on the example of the European context. I expect to identify the process of the ongoing transformation of such places from neutral zones to expressions of a shared culture through their appropriation by its users, leaving behind their functional aspect to embody the process of identification with European models of culture. In fact the study of the public space could be intended as a way to approach the study of the process of building Europe in its cultural sense, in order to detect the consequences that have determined or not a change in the relation and in the characterization of the public space itself and its social dimension. Above all I aim to analyse the mechanisms that build the identity of these spaces in order to change the vision we have of them, especially because, as they are increasingly more present in our daily movements, they should be experienced as environments where we do not just spend time, but where we actually live and make our time useful and pleasurable.  

Chiara Dalla  Libera (2010)