Issue 206
Winter 2018/19

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Jan 21, 2019

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Border intelligence…

Nick Jones visits a stimulating exhibition in Berwick-upon-Tweed provoking thoughts about borders, both internal and external

IF ARTISTS ARE the bellwether of change, then perhaps this exhibition, rather than Banksy's recent shenanigans with shredded canvases at Sotheby's, presages the end of the road for the multi-million pound art industry. In which case, you heard it here first!

Cumberland and Westmorland Wrestling, portrayed by Caroline Penn

Maybe the bell tolls for capitalism and neo-liberalism too? Artists like Zoe Childerley, thinking ahead, are far cry from the passé, 'look at me' generation of now not-so-Young Brtish Artists.

Their egos drove a vacuous, self-indulgent sensationalism, feeding the insatiable greed of an art market and media, both abhorrent of a vacuum.

In today's troubled world there are too many serious questions, including the ones Zoe is asking about borders. Do we need them, when they cause so much trouble, or can we do without them? What do they tell us about being human, and on the edge?

Her creative skill lies in being almost invisible, immersing herself in the time and space of walking the Anglo-Scottish border, the more to receive, reflect and respond to what is out there. She recognises that borders need to be treated with care and respect.

Solway water catchments

'Beyond the Pale,' currently at the Granary Gallery in Berwick-upon-Tweed, is deeply thoughtprovoking, and repays time spent looking, thinking, and absorbing. It's the result of walking from the Solway to just north of the mouth of the Tweed, in 2016, at around the time of the Brexit referendum.

Multifaceted, it includes and is inspired by maps, geology, water catchments, culture, community, and identity. Zoe's timeline map, charting her progress, also marks global news on refugees, mass migration, independence for Scotland, and Brexit, of course!

Although seemingly lost in a no-man'sland, where even now some sections of the border are unclear, she remained very much aware of the challenges people were facing elsewhere, so well described by Kapka Kassabova, the author of Border, A Journey to the Edge of Europe.

Once near a border it is impossible not to want to transgress something, Just by being there the border is an invitation. Come, it whispers, step across the line If you dare. To step across the line, in sunshine or under cover of darkness, is fear and hope rolled into one. And somewhere waits a ferryman whose face can't be seen. People die crossing borders....the lucky ones are reborn on the other side.

The exhibition has several dimensions, a bit like the series of icosahedra based on Buckminster Fuller's Dymaxion Folding Globe, and designed to show how, as we are all on the same planet, we'd better learn to get along.

It includes a book of delicate paintings by Caroline Penn about Cumberland and Westmorland Wrestling, a good way of diverting youthful testosterone from the more brutal conflicts of reivers past, with intriguing holds, like 'Leg Up Buttock.'

There are beautiful photographs of Solway sands, the moonscape that is Otterburn Ranges, and remote border ditches deep in the forest. Maps of river catchments are so very like capillaries, veins and arteries.

Northumberland is an English county divided by Hadrian's Wall, and many still think it is the border between England and Scotland. Like most borders, it is only a temporary construct of the human imagination, externalising fear and prejudice, protecting territory, and making a strong statement about power and control.

I've criss-crossed it often, without passport, check point, or any barrier, apart from the occasional pile of stones to step over. Luckily. It's a very different story in other parts of the world, where climate change and political upheaval are forcing people to flee their homelands to try to cross borders that are increasingly impenetrable.

It not just external borders that are challenging. Inside our heads there are borders between the emotional and the rational. How we interpret and act upon their different ways of seeing and understanding the world often create internal disagreement!

In 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Yuval Noah Harare, he of Sapiens fame, observes that scientists, corporations and governments can hack the human brain, pressing our fear, greed and need-to-belong buttons before we realise it.

Perhaps we can only answer the questions this exhibition raises when we have a better understanding not just of physical borders, but of the invasion of our privacy and personality, and how we think and feel inside.


'Beyond the Pale,' Granary Gallery, Berwick-upon-Tweed until January 20, 2019; then at Gracefield Arts Centre, Dumfries from February 9 until March 23, 2019.

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