Date of this Version
Published in The Social Fabric: Deep Local to Pan Global; Proceedings of the Textile Society of America 16th Biennial Symposium. Presented at Vancouver, BC, Canada; September 19 – 23, 2018. https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/tsaconf/
The current migrant crisis has brought new complexity to an object that enables transition: the tent. Tents are structures most often meant to be temporary-they both practically enable journeys and visually signify the temporary. A language of migration, territory, and dislocation is mapped onto canvas, ropes, and poles. Migration depends on concepts of land rights, movement, and the finite duration of a journey. As Deleuze and Guattari set for in “A Thousand Plateaus,” migrants move from one place to another but are defined as belonging to those spaces. Nomads, on the one hand, do not have land distributed to them-they are themselves distributed on the land. A third type, seen in refugee camps and protest camps, uses the tent to “temporarily” occupy space beyond a seemly or reasonable period of time. When people do not belong to the land, as in the global refugee crisis, where do they live? When capital flows more freely than populations, who and what is displaced? When tents become permanent and organize into cities, whom do they threaten? This paper will examine three tents in an art context, Nikhil Chopra’s “Drawing a Line through Landscape,” commissioned for documenta 14, uses a Mughal-inspired tent as regal surroundings for a traveling bard on his way from Athens (scene of anti-austerity protest camps and refugee camps alike) to Germany (a destination for many refugees). Rebecca Belmore’s “Biinjiya’iing Onji (From Inside),” also displayed at documenta 14, is a life-size tent made of marble, displayed in both Athens and Kassel, a monument to the temporary. At MoMA, the IKEA Foundation’s “Better Shelter” has re-envisioned the tent as a modular structure somewhere between temporary and permanent. All three tents address the precarity of textiles as housing the shifting identity of the tent-dweller, and who has the right to travel.