Art Without Borders: An Interview with Elaine Byrne (FMA’19)

Art Without Borders: An Interview with Elaine Byrne (FMA’19)

Jan 26 2022

PhD alumni Elaine Byrne (FMA '19) has work in an upcoming exhibition at Slought—"Borders Without End" (open now through February 11, 2022) is an installation about borders, the power structures they enact, and how to question them.


Elaine's research-based practice examines overlooked histories, historical texts and artworks as a platform to mobilize history as it relates to current political and social concerns. Employing sculpture, video and photography Elaine focuses on opening new questions for the viewer to highlight present day urgencies.


We were so glad to be able to connect with Eliane and interview her about the show. 


What are you exhibiting?

I'm showing a body of work that was started in 2017 with the production of a multimodal work, Cold Rush, which examines the issue of sovereignty in the arctic—the Northwest passage to be precise—and work made in 2018–2019, which surveys the physical manifestation of borders and the claims they make. I'm exhibiting 26 photographs in total as well as video and sculptural elements


How will these works be presented and how do they reflect the exhibition theme?

In the larger gallery, I am showing photographs of the 8 prototype walls erected by President Trump in 2017 opposite 8 photographs of the view that faced each prototype wall: scenes of homes and industrial sites in Mexico. Much of the work in the exhibition are from series—for example, in the smaller gallery there are 6 photographs from a larger ongoing series called Fortified Boundaries.


“Borders Without End” considers what it means for us as subjects that we are building more walls than ever. With the complexity of borders not being what we or where we think they are, the division between them and us, inside and outside, is apparent; but borders are also complex social institutions that connect and divide and, thus, cannot be simply described in terms of exclusion/inclusion. I am interested in the borders insofar as they make divisions and establish connections, and as such are an epistemological device.


The other works in the exhibition consider the issue of borders in different ways, through sound and history. For example, INDEX (for Carla), by Camel Collective, brings together two historical reproductions of drawings—one by Arthur Schott who in 1857 surveyed, in a series of drawings, border markers of the newly established US/Mexico Border of Border Monument no. 18 and the surrounding SW landscape, and another by Theodore Hosemann, a contemporary of Schott’s, whose drawing of two revolutionaries facing off on the barricades against a wall of soldiers was emblematic of international socialist revolutionaries’ resolve. A CNC machine and a digital-backed microscope are employed as a camera and dolly to connect these two drawings in a manner that reflects on lines, drawing, boundaries, borders, blindness and vision.


Another example is Walled Unwalled by Lawrence Abu Hamdan that shows him behind the windows of an infamous Cold War-era recording studio in former East Berlin. He speaks about the permeability of walls, citing in the process the US Supreme Court thermal imaging case Kyllo v. United States (2001), the murder trial of Oscar Pistorius, and the survivors of Saydnaya prison. The accumulation of walls, holes, and speech in the video is polyphonic, even if Abu Hamdan’s voice, set to increasingly ominous percussion, is the main one we hear. Walled Unwalled is also a part of a body of work derived from the artist’s 2016 investigation of Saydnaya prison in Syria


Did any of your experiences/work at Temple influence these works in any way?

Having more time to study the issue of borders particularly psychoanalysis has been very helpful, as well as having the opportunity to experiment more with technology. For example, Rod Coover's class on new media led to the development of a combinatory coded narrative work which was a new departure for me. This was exhibited in two cultural institutions in 2020 and 2021.


What are you working on now?

I'm continuing to work on the issue of borders and will be participating in the Arctic circle residency this summer - examining issues of artic sovereignty. I'm particularly interested in sea borders and the designated no go areas being allocated to various oceans to preserve the marine life. I started this project in August last year by tracing the new customs sea boarder between the UK and Northern Ireland and am planning to continue to film over the summer.


Want more? You can also check out any of the corresponding exhibition events:


Elaine Byrne: Artist's Talk
In discussion with exhibition curator Michael Dempsey (Hugh Lane Gallery, Ireland)
January 27, 2022, 12pm
Online: Zoom Meeting ID: 973 1308 9659 / Passcode: 490307

Symposium: On Borders (Part 1)
Ariadne Collins and Jeffrey Murer (School of International Relations, St. Andrews University, Scotland)
Moderated by Elaine Byrne
Friday, February 4, 2022, 12-2pm
Online: Meeting ID: 926 3353 3161 / Passcode: 487953

Symposium: On Borders (Part 2)
Alexander Alberro (Columbia University), Jean-Michel Rabaté (University of Pennsylvania) and Elaine Byrne
Moderated by Aliza Shvarts (Creative Capital)
Friday, February 11, 2022, 4-5:30pm
In Person at Slought

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