Florian Schneider on Thu, 16 Sep 2010 21:05:11 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> ceuta and melilla: 5 years after

Dear nettime!

These days mark the 5th anniversary of  what has been later coined by
the mainstream media as a "storm on Fortress Europe". In deed, several
hundred migrants had crossed the outer border of the European Union
around the spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla in a self-authorized
and self-organized fashion.

I take the opportunity to post a text that attempts something like a
closer reading of these events and, in particular, the images that have
been circulated by the spanish border police and news agencies across
the globe.

The text is based on the notes of a series of lectures and presentations
over the past few years. It was published recently in "Uncorporate
Identity" edited by Metahaven (Lars Müller Publishers). A different
version will appear in german language in: "Die Kunst der
Migration" edited by Marie-Hélène Gutberlet and Sissy Helff (transcript

On Friday, September 17th 2010, John Palmesino (architect and urbanist,
co-founder of "Multiplicity" and "Territorial Agency") and me will enter
a discussion whether the events in September 2005 might well have marked
the beginning of a subtle redesign of the European outer borders.

Against the backdrop of current events like the deportations of Roma
in France, the question would be, how in the presence – as well as in
the absence – of a scandal, new forms of participation, neutralization
and caretaking become the constitutive elements of a border regime that
operates beyond the patterns of inclusion and exclusion.

The event is the start of BETWEEN, a new series of events at the Design
department of Jan van Eyck Academie Maastricht. BETWEEN #1 takes place
on Friday, 17th September at 16:00 hrs at the JVE. The session will be
followed on Saturday by a presentation of the new research projects and
a new call for applications in the JVE Design department. 

All the very best,



The scandal: notes on the autonomy of the image 

by Florian Schneider

It is the night of the 29th September 2005. 215 men and women have made
a momentous decision. Over several weeks or months they have been eking
out an existence reduced to bare survival; camping in a low forest or
shrubland, hiding in flimsy tents, with no access to money, food or even

Although they came so close to the final destination of a journey full
of privations, what opens up now is a reverse perspective: the longer
they are standing still the further they get away from the finish.
Europe, or at least the official territory of what is considered the
"European Union" is only a few meters away.

They have been discussing the problem in many nightly meetings. Should
they take the risk and leave one night altogether or wait for a another
opportunity? Should they continue to try to cross the border in small
groups of at most a dozen people -- in such a low number that it does
not cause a stir?

The people living in the forest are well organized in small groups of 15
to 20 members. Most of them gather according to their countries of
origin, but there are others who join a group of a different country.
The members of a group elect a leader and these leaders again meet in
counsels in order to make further decisions.

The decision to cross the border in the night of the 29th of September
is almost unanimously, though apparently without the consent of the
elder leaders who are sometimes called "the fathers of the forest". They
must have feared the scandal such a decision would cause; they were
aware, at least, that such an exodus and its aftermath would
dramatically change the situation in the forest.

The images that were taken by the CCTV cameras of the "Guardia Civil",
the Spanish border police, show dozens of people climbing with self-made
ladders over the three-meter-high fence that runs along 50 kilometers of
the Spanish enclave of Ceuta, a military outpost in the north of

One can only guess how painful it must be for a human body to crawl
through the barbed wire; and then one sees them jumping the three meters
down, onto the road that runs between the fences.

Almost everybody was hurt. Broken arms, legs and sprained ankles,
injuries to the head. Seven people lost their lifes. Either they do not
survive the fall into Europe or they were shot, some to death, by the
border patrol's rubber bullets.

The footage spread by Reuters over the next few days is a sacrilege in
terms of sincere journalism. It features a nine-second sequence based on
the images of the surveillance cameras, but animated in fast motion.
Broadcast all around the globe, looping every hour, a dribbling
voiceover gabbles about a "storming of fortress Europe".

The sequence turns out to be an unintentional piece of art; and its
conceptual radicalism, its determination far outstrips numerous
politically engaged works presented at various biennales and exhibited
in shows that deal more or less superficially with the issues of borders
and migration.

Instead, the border appears here in its almost perfect postmodern
design: performed through a scandal, in a widely publicized incident
involving allegations of wrongdoing, disgrace, and moral outrage.

But what is so scandalous in these images? At first sight, the scandal
relates to the collectively organized attempt to overcome the border,
the self-authorized and self-organized transgression of the fence.

It is a scandal in the truest sense of the word, which derives from the
Latin "scandere", to climb. But there is yet another, no less
compelling, etymological perspective: the border as "skandalon", which
is the ancient greek word for a stumbling block.

In this respect, the events of the 29th of September serve as an
exquisite example of what activists and theorists of the "noborder
network" have, since the early 1990s, called the "autonomy of

This slogan aims to understand migration as a much more complex process
as if it could be reduced to misery and calamity. The patterns of
victimization are as omnipresent as the ubiquitous control system. Both
neoliberals and many of their adversaries understand migration as a
logical result of the movements of capital, as its unsavory aftereffect
or appendix.

The "autonomy of migration" claims that activist strategies as well as
research to be done in this field should refrain from indulging in
eternally returning tropes of charity and compassion. Instead, it aims
to recognize and realize the complex multitude of social and political
processes needed to practically cross a border, which are, theoretically
or politically, constitutive of the production of contemporary migrant

Migration is not the action of an isolated, asocial, expelled
individual. Its social and subjective dimensions appear, rather, in its
autonomy and independence of the political measures that try to control
it. To escape one's country of origin, to cross borders, and to seek
something more somewhere else, is an eminently political act.

But what happened that night had an even wider impact. The tremendous
potential of exposing the redundancy of the collection of high-tech
gadgets so central to the staging of technological supremacy in the
border regime around Ceuta, as well as in many other critical areas
around the European Union.

Every few hundred meters there is a watchpost equipped with spotlights,
noise and movement sensors, and videocameras that provide CCTV footage
via underground cables to a central control booth.

The decision of the Guardia Civil to release that footage was
deliberate. Normally the public is not supposed to access it.

Yet the scandal is not the release of the images; rather, it lies in
fast-forwarding them. The low frame rate of the recordings of the
surveillance camera is speeded up through an additional time lapse.
Normally this video effect is applied in order to pronounce processes
that would appear rather subtle to the human eye.

The purpose is all too clear: of the 215 persons who crossed the fence
that night, only a few dozen were captured in the published footage. The
manipulation of the images transforms the distinct number of individuals
into a swarming mass, a "storming of fortress europe" as the voiceover
put it.

Such undercranking epitomizes the hypocrisy of contemporary discourses
about "Fortress Europe." Agency is denied to those who are seizing

Worse, the animation transforms them into animals or even insects. Their
staccato, choppy movements reveal an imaginary plague that is
beleaguring Europe, overrunning its outposts and fortifications.

This may lead to a third notion of the scandal. According to the
dictionary a scandal is usually a product of a mixture of both, real and
imaginary incidents. The scandal suppresses the distinction between the
real and the imaginary. It operates through unuttered laws which
regulate that what is permitted to some and not permitted to others.

The real movements of the bordercrossers who appear in news footage are
chopped off and broken into smallest possible pieces, jerky, saccadic
movements. In order to reconstruct an impression of coherence, they have
to merge inseparably with the most banal, enduring imaginations and
common knowledge about illegal immigration.

The scandal transforms the event to solicit a moral outrage whose 
purpose is nothing but the reaffirmation of the border -- a border that
may otherwise be invisible, disputed or disbelieved.

The scandal affirms that the border is still there, still true. Its
conceptual homogenization of real and imaginary reassures us, allows us
to enjoy and to cooperate with the regime that relies on the frail and
ineffectual facts on the ground. We can even worry about its perversions
and moderately criticize its violent character.

Outside of the frame of the CCTV footage, what we don't see -- and for
that very reason can more easily, collectively imagine -- "modern"
homogeneity on one side, and the "primitive" inarticulacy on the other,
the uninterrupted continuity of colonialism and postcolonialism.

Each of these three notions of the scandal are instantiated by the frame
of the image as well as within the frame. The frame is the allegedly
necessary homogenization of real and imaginary elements, it is the
border that limits what is and is not visible, and thereby establishes
what can and cannot be said.

And yet there is another, a more disturbing presence, beyond the field
of the image -- indeed, beyond the frame of the scandal with its
subsequent homogenization of space and time.

It testifies to an elsewhere: not something literally to the left or the
right of the frame but, rather, the spaces where the bordercrossers are
coming from and where they are going. Neither exists in the immediacy of
the footage of the events; both must be negated, ignored, in the mis en
scene of "Fortress Europe".

Moussa K., for example: He fled from the civil war in Sierra Leone in
2003 looking for another life somewhere in Europe. Passing through
Guinea-Conakry, Mauritania, and the Western Sahara, he tried to enter
Spanish territory in Las Palmas; but he was caught by Moroccan police
and deported to Oujda on the Moroccan-Algerian border. With some
comrades he decided to try again in Ceuta.

After 25 days of walking across 900 kilometers of Moroccan desert they
finally reached Castillago, a small Moroccan town near the border at
Ceuta, in June 2005. "We lived like animals -- it was like in a war
zone," he recalls of the three months he spent in the forest near the

On the 28th of September he decided to take part in the collective
attempt to climb across the barbed wire fence and make his way into
Ceuta. The slogan of the collective effort was: "No retreat, no

He built his own laddar from small tree trunks and branches from the
forest and succeeded -- unlike his friend, who died from police gunfire
in the same crossing. A few weeks later his injuries are almost healed.
He hopes to obtain a residency in Spain and then to study mining
somewhere in Europe.

But what is really at stake is not the relative out-of-field, such as
geographical destinations, privations and longings, but the absolute
nullification of any remaining subjectivity. Every one knows, if she or
he knows nothing else, that the essential function of the border regime
is to render innocuous any past experience of the bordercrosser let
alone future desires. As soon as the border is crossed, engineers turn
into cleaners, academics into sex workers, professors into casual farm
laborers or domestic workers -- ready-made for over-exploitation on the
informal labor markets of late capitalism.

Rather than lamenting unfairness and considering himself as a victim,
Moussa K. seems to understand the bordercrossing as an extreme process
of desubjectivation -- in large part by living in ways that were almost
unliveable. Pushed beyond the conditions and limits of what is often
described as "human", his experiences become a sort of negative freedom,
as Foucault might say.

It radically changes the modalities of being, it opens up the potential
for transformation and change in relation to oneselve and the world. It
does not exist neither in the images nor in the imaginaries of the
border and its regime of scandalization, it rather insists or subsists
somewhere else, in an absolute out-of-the-field or "hors-champ".

In his cinema books Gilles Deleuze associated this absolute out-of-field
with the Bergsonian concept of "durée" or duration. Instead of measuring
sequenced movements in homogenous space, he suggested a heterogenous,
non-representative notion of time that is irreversible, unretrievable
and undivisible -- a sometimes faster, sometimes slower flow of becoming
or pure mobility.

In fact, it is quite stunning what happens as soon as one renders the
nine seconds sequence of the animated bordercrossers of the 29th of
September back to what they themselves might have been experienced as
real time. The specters which are supposed to run down fortress Europe
seem to stand still, as soon as they regained a certain, sort of
realistic duration. Every single image is stretched and prolonged to an
almost unbearable extent.

Since CCTV cameras usually run with a lower frame rate, which in that
specific case was compensated by the undercranking of the video material
into fast motion, any attempt to slow it down again, needs to result
necessarily in an at the first sight aimless reduplication of every
single original frame.

But there is one exception: The only moving part of the image is the
counter of the time code running smoothly from frame to frame, replacing
one image with its double, metering a faked sameness and presenting
every 25th part of a second as if it were enjoyable as pure time while
all the content of the image is waiting for the next moment of release.

And yet, a strange kind of apparition takes place, when the movement of
the bordercrosses is halted for a moment that feels like infinite. The
deadlock of overmediated content causes a collapse of time. It has
emerged as the result of a two-folded manipulation of the footage: first
a fast-forwarding for the sake of the scandal, then by reversing this
time-lapse through slow-motion: a possible, ethically necessary but
apparently quite arbitrary restoration of the time in which that what
happened could have happened -- just for the case that it would matter
at all.

Rather than canceling each others out or negating itself, it comes as a
surprise. The recurrence of an imagined "real time" generated by the
faked slow-mo as an unlapsing of time produces new blocs of
invisibility, potential hide-outs between the never-changing images,
uncontrolled zones between the frames which reproduce ever the same.

Paradoxically, the standstill of the image seems to open up to a new
plane. Maybe as an allegory for autonomy of migration, at least it is
anticipating a freedom of movement that is certainly not in place yet,
nevertheless it achieves something quite impossible: The pre-emptive
character of surveillance appears to no avail.

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