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.

Re-making Algiers, 1830-1848: Urban plasticity, urban resilience

I’m currently writing a paper which explores the colonial re-making of Algiers in the years 1830-1848, focusing particularly on the cartographic and topographic strategies of zoning, segregation, fortification, expropriation and demolition. Drawing on a number of contemporary sources, including accounts by the colonial army’s chief medical officer, Jean-Pierre Bonnafont (Douze ans en Algérie, 1830-1842) and the army captain Eugène Perret (Récits algériens, 1830-1842); the Saint-Simonian social reformer Prosper Enfantin’s Colonisation de l’Algérie (1843); Alexis de Tocqueville’s Travail sur l’Algérie (1841) and Rapport sur l’Algérie (1847), the paper presents a critical overview of the colonial imaginary of – and plans for – Algiers during the July Monarchy. While foregrounding the singularly military urbanism practised by the colonisers, it also explores the uneven application by the colonial army and military engineers of an urban modernity conceived in Paris and geared locally towards the production of a Christian, commercial city which would effectively erase and re-construct what one French engineer described in 1839 as the ‘pirate capital’ (Nightingale, 2012). This spatio-historical analysis will be presented in the context of my current research on the concept of urban plasticity, which at one level can be described as the tension between the city’s malleability and resistance, and at another as the complex entanglement of past, present and future in the very stuff of the urban fabric. It will be argued that an understanding of Algiers as a plastic urban object will shed critical light on the strategic exigencies, complexity and failures of the colonial intervention, and in so doing contribute to a discussion of the active and resistive agency of both the city and its colonized inhabitants.

I’ll also be looking tangentially at some of the works made by French painters commissioned to depict the French conquest of Algeria. I have a feeling that this may grow into another, separate paper…

Antoine Léon Morel-Fatio, 'Le bombardement d'Alger', 1830.
Antoine Léon Morel-Fatio, ‘Le bombardement d’Alger’, 1830.