The art project SCHLEUSER.NET and the question who has the right to speak in the name of another.
Schleuser.net, is the abbreviation and the internet-domain of the German “Federal Trade Association for Undocumented Traveling” – called “Bundesverband Schleppen & Schleusen”. It is a pressure group lobbying commercial enterprises active in the market segment of undocumented transborder traffic.
Schleuser.net was set to satisfy the need to present systematic background data on migrant mobility to the general public and to lobby for mobility interests in the economic sphere, but also in the realm of human rights, which are the forceful basis for all endeavors in a free society and the free market.
In a global world the freedom of trade and the freedom of movement, the right of unrestricted mobility and labor is a sine qua non for global wealth. States which administrate old fashioned borders like walls, mine fields, passport control or digital traffic surveillance are late for the future. Deregulation of border regime is an urgent issue for the rising up of a free world etc.
Schleuser.net was founded 1998 by a group of activists and artists. For about 10 years the artists Manuela Unverdorben, Farida Heuck and I – the Communication Staff, along with artists or activists who joined the group occasionally, lobbied for undocumented mobility.
A group of artists fakes up an economic sphere association, which deals with PR and politics, but is using fine arts sponsoring to reach strategic goals
The group’s understanding of border crossing and transgression was not limited to immigration or emigration, but also seen as a method which can be used to explore the possibilities of transfer and cooperation between art, science and political activism. Therefore examining Schleuser.net one needs to ask which voice is speaking for whom and for what reason? Did Schleuser.net speak for traffickers, for smugglers, for the so called”coyotes”, for (neo) liberal entrepreneurs and money makers? Or did Schleuser.net speak for migrants, for stowaways or boat people?
Schleuser.net took all the symbolism attached to border crossing, and extending this into the appropriation of hegemonic strategies, whether neo-liberalism’s jargon and patterns of thinking, or belief in the lobby policy of internationalist “scenes”. However Schleuser.net was not an NGO plunging in where state agencies cannot reach, nor a group of artists bent on accumulating cultural capital. It was a working platform, working together with activist and experts, using a division of tasks, that applies to specific campaigns into which the association’s know-how, or at least its point of view constitutes productive input, for creating the prerequisites for joint action, and generating knowledge.
The Federal Trade Association for Undocumented Traveling – Schleuser.net, adapted the conventional organizational structures of pressure groups. More than symbolic, it is a direct starting-point of practical procedure. For example, Schleuser.net organized conferences and general meetings. As to be expected from a responsible corporation, Schleuser.net also supports fine arts.
To make it short: A group of artists fakes up an economic sphere association, which deals with PR and politics, but is using fine arts sponsoring to reach strategic goals.
One concrete example of this is the International People Smugglers’ Convention that was held for the first time in Graz, Austria. The convention brought together academics, artists and curators, so that they could acquaint themselves with different approaches.
Another concrete example is Schleuser.net‘s project “transit~waves”, a small FM radio station for a commuter’s traffic downtown tunnel. The public art piece dealt with the metaphoric of tunnels in general and its links to invisibility, illegality, undocumented traffic and urban (non)-identity. The broadcast was programs on migration and undocumented traveling.
The current turn of governance from politics to marketing, from bottom-up to top down strategies shuffles the state administrations more and more in the field formerly inspirited by cultural producers like religion, independent media, advertisement, art and technology. Nowadays new public images are launched by state agencies trying to fix them indelibly in the minds of the citizens and to accompany or to catch the decision makers’ attention.
A good example is the IOM, the International Organization of Migration; The IOM is an intergovernmental organization for migration management and European migration control. The IOM launched some so called counter-trafficking campaigns in Eastern Europe. There is a brilliant overview and analysis by Rutvica Andrijasevic, given in her article “beautiful dead bodies – gender, migration and representation in anti-trafficking campaigns” In the article she addresses the link between sex trafficking and European citizenship by examining several anti-trafficking campaigns launched in post-socialist Europe. In illustrating which techniques are used in the production of images, she points to the highly symbolic and stereotypical constructions of femininity (victims) and masculinity (criminals) of eastern European nationals.Another example is a press release by German Border Police in 2005. The official statement on cruel facilitators of illegal entry over Germany’s Eastern border was vouched by a photography called “The woman in the glove compartment” which was originally shot and issued years before in the United States.
As an artistic enterprise, schleuser.net‘s subject matter was primarily based on those public images generated by state administrations and the intentional or unintentional underlying concepts called cultural grammar. The group used them, placed them under analysis by a joyous, but not cynical positive affirmation, and presented them anew. The backbone of their projects and actions was the questioning of public spaces, asking who the respective public is, who defines the borders of this space, and last but not least: Who can stay in (and why)?
The declared objective of schleuser.net was to serve as representatives of businesses that are active in the market segment of undocumented, transborder passenger transportation and give them a voice, just that, nothing more. The Federal Trade Association for Undocumented Traveling neither had organized migrants nor had demanded their representativity, nor schleuser.net had tended a relief organization or had let alone demand attention through victimization or fateful biographies, nor had ever organized traffickers or any coyote, because that is forbidden by law. There is a wide spread of membership but only nominal Members can be found.
Nevertheless, schleuser.net’s intention was to question the consolidation of a tacit consensus whereby the freedom of thought is given space or where the reflexive option is left open. Using culture jamming techniques to shake the cultural grammar, the art group made an own world, a utopian moment, which gave us the chance to see more than normalcy.
Probably at this point I should expand on European context in which we have intervened.
On the one side: After WWII and the Shoa, granting refugees asylum was seen as a human right. During the Cold War the business of aiding and facilitating an escape to the so called Free World was an indictable offense in Eastern European States, but in the Western countries it was a free and regular conducted trade, and even considered a brave deed.
Conservatives warned of the flight into Germany’s welfare systems, (the right wings on mixing the race), and leftists fought for refugees, escaping of imperialism or tyranny. Both prolonged the idea that the reason to go, constitutes the right to come. In that context the best reason to go is to be a victim
After the Cold War and since Germany’s reunification Europe’s administrations have been acting to dissolve the human right of asylum and the Freedom of Movement, in the national governmental jargon called: ”Budapest Proceeding”. One of their top-down means is to criminalize the profession of aiding an escape throughout Europe by reinvention of terms and images, thus aiming to punish activities designed to foster non-documented transborder traveling or the freedom of movement.
On the second side: Contextualized on those experiences of WWII and the Shoa, in West and East Germany, for decades, migration was ruled in terms of flight and exile. Hired Migrant laborers from abroad were just called guests. The displacement or relocation of German speaking people from Eastern Europe was embedded in nation building: They were identified as Germans. Both groups were not seen as migrants. The term migration meant only transmigration (of Germans), not immigration to Germany. In nineties, when autonomous migration was clearly evident, the public debate was still focusing flight and exile. Conservatives warned of the flight into Germany’s welfare systems, (the right wings on mixing the race), and leftists fought for refugees, escaping of imperialism or tyranny. Both prolonged the idea that the reason to go, constitutes the right to come. In that context the best reason to go is to be a victim.
On the third side: In the wake of a new European migration management installation, terms and images drawn from Nazi propaganda where being dusted off by politicians and mass media searching a language everybody can understand and so being re-introduced into public debate in order to generate contexts of legitimization.
For instance the slogan “Our boat is full” refers on German Reich’s pitch of German overpopulation. Or for instance, the conservative fight against the “carnet de vogages”, an insurance originally issued by Swiss, Austrian or German automobile associations to make traveling to Schengen area easier for Ukrainians and other non-EU East Europeans referred on cut and dried opinions known from the thirties and forties. The Neo-Nazi Slogan of the eighties “Work first for Germans” became part of the labor regulation and re-introduced ideas of ethnic hierarchy, instead of social mobility or discussions about the condition of Globalization. Trade Unions on construction sites changed to national units collaborating with border police and customs to fight against workers without permits, instead organizing them for better wages and conditions.
On the other side, Joseph Goebbels war propaganda term “Fortress Europe” is nowadays re-introduced to describe EU’s border policies and to contrive not only the idea of lockable borderlines, but also the idea of a static and homogeneous European territory. The Schengen-Agreement implemented the borderline throughout the territory: Border Control is deep inside the states, especially at commuters’ transit points. Even taxi drivers should control if any passenger is German, a EU-Citizen or a foreigner, a feasible ruling only by controlling the “wrong face”. A policeman said about his traffic control experience: “A white driver with a black man on the backseat is suspicious, a black driver with a white man is o.k.” The public sphere is thus being eroded, and the public space in physical terms radically re-structured.
And there is a fourth side: When 1997 at Documenta X’s Hybrid Workspace, artists and activists initiated the campaign “no-one-is-illegal” , the difference between the French and German situation became quite obvious: Squatting the church St. Bernard, French “sans papiers” , who fought for their rights, self organized themselves through their common social and political situation. In contrast, in Germany the few migrants run organizations were established along their cultural or national identities, mirroring a German society which is also staunched to have one own.
That fact made it easy to foster a racist border regime which refuse basic dignity and human rights and set up debates on ethnicity. (when schleuser.net made 2006 a piece for Zurich art space Shedhalle, researching the piece we learned, that in French West Switzerland a network of migrants run organizations provide support for everyday life, in German East Switzerland institutions, e. g. Trade Unions, act as backers or patrons.)
So when schleuser.net was founded in 1998 we searched for breaking with those contexts, and to search for and create an applicable symbolic representation without pursuing images of victimization and identity politics.
To make it clear I will give an oppositional example: Some years ago, French artist group Claire Fontaine published a text-piece, stating that everyone who fights for the rights of migrants is a migrant in its own country. The piece maintained what is sometimes called “radical chic”. The phrase refers to Tom Wolfe’s eponymous essay describing the adoption of radical causes by members of the wealthy high-society and celebrity class. That “radical chic” ignores racist, sexist, capitalistic or any other construction of power and lordship in society and your own performance to create that normalcy. “Radical chic” is like a benefit performance of a white male philharmonic orchestra held for non-white, female, poor – instead of self questioning why the orchestra is exclusively white and male. “Radical chic” refers on the idea, that there is a safe place to be a good person in a bad world; it’s a radical slogan fighting for the rights of rickshaws drivers sprayed by yourself on your own Rolls Royce. But Claire Fontaine‘s text is an art piece, so maybe it is important to stage “chic” in achieving art market attention and giving the privileged art hall and gallery audience the chance to change their charity in radical attitude (and probably a helpful donation).
On the other hand, as an art piece, the text is open enough to read also, that ‘everyone’ includes every migrant who fights for its rights is getting part of that society, makes it to its ‘own’ in changing the conditions and creating a new one. – However, when I read Claire Fontaine‘s text literally I get a creepy view on solidarity and politics: The statement ascribes migration only to non-citizens without the right to have rights and thus blankets the differences in global mobility. The statement offers the plot that a member of the privileged population, living like a bee in clover as Frantz Fanon mentioned, could get rid of itself by over-identification and so change to the good side. The concept of identity is pinnacled to the bourgeois deal: do ut des.
Solidarity is different: It expects no service in return, even no good place in paradise or any other membership awards. This is the basic political paradox: (Probably) doing the right thing, but poising at the wrong side.
Schleuser.net‘s concept tried to create a space which is not safe, but also not splitting up people in the good and the bad guys, like the good refugees, but bad boat people in the Mediterranean, bad traffickers, but good border guards fighting them, or the good airlines and the bad European tourists looking for cheap brothels in abroad, or the good radical fighter and the bad guy who earn a lot of money exploiting that fight etc. Everybody can be good and bad and both together, but not ‘legal’ or ‘illegal’. The concept of schleuser.net, deals with the problems of representation, trying to show the manifest border as a small mirror for all those images and identities which let the current world go round – and you (and we) in this mirror always see ourself proceeding the normalcy of border regime.
Schleuser.net was especially suitable for reflecting migration not through the representing of migrants, but researching militantly migration issues. Similar to the car manufacturing industry’s federal trade association, who do not represent the interests of car drivers but demand more motorways and cheap taxes only for their own purposes, schleuser.net didn’t inquire into a person’s reasons for making a journey. This becomes all the more important as governmental agencies wish to place travel in some rational context, projected as moral, utilitarian or culturally racist – depending on how the greatest acceptance by society for repression and regulation can be achieved.
It is just these figments of the imagination that schleuser.net took up, in reflexively addressing the audience that artists can reach. Schleuser.nets interest was not to reach some “alternative” element of the general public or to define a target group, but preferring tactical communication with those who were accessible in the given situation.
This can be done, for example, by the appropriation of the hegemonic symbolism in each case, so as to attain an equidistant, vague, equivocal, yet all the more productive attitude, on the basis of which the daily idiocy of border management can be questioned and recognized. This is essential in that the cliché of border criminals active globally and organized in a mafia is also being accepted in circles that tend to see themselves as critical, liberal and also cultivated like the art world. On this, schleuser.net would draw attention to the image transfer affected by the global migration regime, for example by outing undocumented cross-border traffic in the same context as terrorism, slavery, prostitution.
For example, in running “transit~waves” project, schleuser.net assumed that migration is autonomous, or in other words that each person decides individually as to why he/she wants to go from point A to point B, to use passage C or to cross border D. Every ABCD of travel and movement is as a matter of course laden with connotations, whether these consist of poverty, terrorism, war, crime, denial, utopia, yearning, resentments, joie de vivre, sickness, gaining distinction, making sense, etc.
Aside from those realities, just such connotations exercise influence in the political sphere. schleuser.net‘s concept was focusing that symbolic charging if it generated outcomes that took the form of force or administration and most especially, when they was pursed precisely in order to achieve such outcomes. schleuser.net was and now schleuser.net‘s archive is not interested in being a voice, but in reasoning whose speech is claiming or re-arming borders, to give the slot a chance.
(schleuser.net archive / 2009)