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Sn 3 - Ep 19

RECONFIGURING THE BORDER
by
Mahmoud Keshavarz
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📥🕘🌵🎰🎟🕊🍷🏚🍀🌒🏨🏢

The material supports of international mobility ­– vehicles, vessels, roads, airports, ports, etc. – are all designed to overcome the limits and vulnerabilities imposed by physical geography.[1] However, access to these services requires capital, documentation, and, more crucially, the “right papers.” If an individual cannot meet these requirements, they might forge documentation, cross through inhospitable landscapes, and/or board insecure vessels and vehicles.

Smugglers perform a critical function in generating these supplementary supports. Smugglers produce their own mobility infrastructures through a combination of techniques and materialities that may include a forged passport [2], an “unseaworthy” boat [3], or a hidden compartment in a car [Fig. 1]. With all the vulnerabilities they impose, these reappropriated objects are highly valuable. They create necessary pathways for crossing borders when and where a body is not entitled to cross.

One of the smugglers I interviewed several years ago explained: “They [the authorities] are constantly after us.  We are not alone; boats, trucks, airplanes, terminals, trains, and many other things collaborate with us. Without them we cannot be smugglers.” It may appear that the smuggler harnesses these vehicles to facilitate mobility; in truth, however, their different material or visual capacities actually determine the scale, speed, place, and time of smuggling. Without existing objects, everyday practices, and infrastructures, smuggling would not be possible. The forger is often portrayed as a master genius – an artist using their skills for the “wrong” reasons. In reality, the genius of smugglers and forgers is realized not in the magical skill of imitation, but in the ability to reconfigure existing objects, technologies, and practices of mobility in ways that generate new, unanticipated pathways for those deprived of them. Indeed, the smugglers’ practice of reconfiguration may well be one of the more urgent and significant techniques in the struggle against borders.

NOTES 🚘🏀🐤🍏🌎🍇

[Fig. 1] 0.3312 m3 / Mourad Kouri / 2017 / Steel / Reproduction of a one-person transport box built into the backseat of a vehicle for irregular passage from Greece to Denmark. The trip costs €3,500 and lasts approximately 28 hours, including a break every fourth hour.


[1] Deborah Cowen, The Deadly Life of Logistics: Mapping Violence in Global Trade (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014).

[2] Mahmoud Keshavarz, The Design Politics of the Passport: Materiality, Immobility, and Dissent (New York: Bloomsbury, 2019).

[3] Mahmoud Keshavarz, “Venerable Critical Makings: Migrant Smuggling by Boat and Border Transgression,” in Design and Political Dissent: Spaces, Objects, Materiality., ed. J. Traganou, (London: Routledge, forthcoming).
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