Global Roundtable: Borders

Each month, Arts Everywhere publishes a Global Roundtable featuring a dozen or so artists’ responses to a single question. The following two articles address the theme of borders, responding to the question: How does the line that defines an area have the power to create and an equally great capacity to divide and destroy? 

The Second Line

By Emma Xin Ma

In 1979, a geographic border divided the City of Shenzhen in southern China and inaugurated the Special Economic Zone, kick-starting a new Chinese economic paradigm after decades of economic suppression. The process began the contemporary ‘Made in China’ phenomenon, where a select geographic area was quarantined for economic experimentation with the global market. Flows of capital, goods, and people across this line were restricted, and certain incentives were promoted within the segregated territory. As a result, the macro physical segregation also created micro fissures within the city, including the segmentation of social strata and their associative urban typologies, ranging from the Tiananmen-esque plazas to exemplifying the power of the state to gated communities of the social and economic elite, to the factory-dormitory compounds that support the migrant labor that makes up the mechanics of the economic regime.

The Second Line—the First being the boundary between Hong Kong and China as a result of the Opium War—created an intentional economic expansion, an unprecedented speed of urbanization, leading to social and economic disparities, including drastic increases of employment opportunities and real estate values inside the line. Yet upon closer examination, these broad strokes generate ‘Lines of Flight’ (à la Deleuze and Guattari’s, A Thousand Plateaus and Micropolitics and Segmentarity) that were never intended by the state. The indigenous people and the land they inhabit leverage the system to create resourceful hybrids of architectural typologies inhabited by transitional social classes. The physical segregation also produced a cultural separation from the central government, while the global economic interaction also increased the permeability of communication and ideas. In this milieu, pockets of contemporary artists begin to emerge in this specialized space from the outside world, converting former inner-city factory spaces into studio lofts as Shenzhen continues to evolve and urbanize.

The immediacy of the combined factors and extraordinary acceleration of urbanization as a result of the border has created a microcosm that allowed for the emergence of new architectural forms and social identities, healing the Chinese population divide from the Mao years by forming a space of exception where people of different geographic origins could co‐exist. While its intended economic effects were undoubtedly successful and replicated across the Chinese eastern seaboard and abroad, the Second Line also became the inadvertent catalyst for unprecedented Chinese political and social reform.


Emma Xin Ma holds an M.Arch from the University of Waterloo, where she completed a graduate thesis on Shenzhen’s social and urban morphology as results of the Second Line. She is currently practicing as an intern architect in Toronto. 



The Cartographic Anomaly

By Gili Merin

In 2011, the Lebanese army handed a diagram to the United Nations, who then transferred it to the Israeli Defense Force. The drawing depicts the dimensions and locations of thirteen enclaved territories which are found, according to Lebanon, on the wrong side of the electric fence.

The armistice line of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, known as the “Green Line,” is based on this line, but was never officially signed and therefore does not constitute an international border. Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982 and remained there in various territorial and military configurations until June 2000. Upon the IDF’s withdrawal, Lebanon asked the United Nations to draft a new boundary. Trilateral meetings between Israel and Lebanon with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) as a mediator lead to the creation of a 1:50,000 map where the width of the line itself amounts to 35 meters, with half-a-dozen stretches differing from the 1923 border in lengths of up to 475 meters. Conflicting recollections and documentation of past agreements further complicate how this line, known as “The Blue Line,” has materialized in the landscape. It is no surprise then, that in August 2010 Lebanon announced that thirteen enclaves have been left on the Israeli side. These oddly shaped ex-territories total approximately 95 acres. Despite much discussion between both sides, there are no imminent plans for land swap. In the upcoming years, the area will be left in a geopolitical limbo where hostility potential is at its highest. Suspended between often-arbitrary cartographic acts and the geographical reality, 13 territories remain enclaved between the overdrawn and ever-disputed Israeli-Lebanese border.

Although both sides of the frontier share nearly identical climatic and geological conditions, the border anomaly has given rise to a number of architectural aberrations. While vernacular villages sprawl on the Lebanese side of the border, where families reside close to each other and cultivate land in their home’s proximity; the Israeli landscape is the result of excessive, top-down planning executing post-war regional theories. For example, 26 Mitzpim (meaning lookout-points) were built between 1979-1981 in one of many government-funded programs to populate the north with Jewish residents. At the time, 75 percent of the Galilee was non-Jewish. In order to promote migration to this region, the government created many frontier-line benefits such as tax exemptions and discounted insurance. Many rural-communal settlements on the Israeli side are physical markers of the border, reinforcing peripheral security by civilian land occupation and creating a collective frontline solidarity. These settlements are supported by vast agricultural efforts that contribute not only to Zionist territorial strategies, but also to an intense ideological attempt to create a young generation of farmers-fighters who would physically work the land and, in due time, defend it. The fields often belong to the commune and not to a single family. Great swathes of forests have been planted on the Israeli side to serve as organic tank-barriers and natural border markers.


Gili Merin is an architect, photographer and journalist based in Tel Aviv. She studied architecture in the UdK Berlin, Waseda University in Tokyo, and The Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem, where she teaches today. 



[Photos courtesy of Arts Everywhere]