JOHANNES KLABBERS – Not the void exactly: Species of Spaces – Art Monthly Australia (#229, May 2010)

Melissa Laing’s video loop “borderline”, presents an uncanny constructed space that is at once both legible and uninhabitable. The video explores the constructed environment of international air travel. It examines the conceptual and physical nature of the national border at the airport, presenting the border as both a simple line on the floor and a physical barrier. This divide between the airside and landside of the airport that the camera shuttles along but never crosses, embodies complex issues of border control, freedom of movement and hospitality. Ryszard Dabeck, 2009

In Melissa Laing’s striking video borderline, the camera wanders hesitantly from here to there and back, traversing a space designed to process international arrivals; however human subjects are eerily absent. The viewer’s relationship to the pictorial space and the slightly strange proportions of the objects within it are reminiscent of a scene created in 3D modelling software but its barely noticeable imperfections make it more likely that we find ourselves in a tiny maquette. This most transient of spaces owned and operated by corporations serving the state, also functions in relation to time. It plots an in-between time, not the void exactly but a space where time is suspended, where relations are impossible, in which the arrivée is present physically but her status, like that of the camera, remains indeterminate. Here, where citizens whose legitimacy is yet to be established walk in the straight line which the authorities demand, no doubt watched by cameras or custom officers, and lately health officials, looking for signs of fever or the characteristic gait and the worried expression of someone with contraband concealed in their intimate space/s, the traveller is uncertain of her location in space and time, and whether or not the process of arrival is going to be successfully concluded.

The popularity of reality TV shows such as Border Patrol attests to the power of these in-between spaces. Where a decade ago millions split their sides over cavorting kittens and inebriated men and women attempting to dance on tables in Australia’s Funniest Home Videos, these days audiences revel in schadenfreude watching the traveller who has to unpack every single one of their suitcases and seeing its contents being laid out and carefully examined by latexed hands, and/or being asked to accompany the officer to the interview room to argue their legitimacy with a more senior official.

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