Bodies, Borders & Belonging

Bodies, Borders & Belonging is a multimedia collaborative exhibition created by UW–Madison students from the Interdisciplinary Arts Residency course “Creativity, Collaboration and the Creation of Self.” The course was led by spring 2021 Interdisciplinary Artist-in-Residence Litza Bixler with Li Chiao-Ping (Professor, Dance Department) as lead faculty. The final collaborative piece was created by the students with guidance from Litza and guest artists Faisal Abdu’Allah (Professor, Art Department), Sean De Sparengo, and Simon Aeppli.

The work explores the movement of people across physical and conceptual boundaries and examines diaspora, geography, and immigration as storied processes that create and transmute identity. Our aim is to capture how generations move: literally, metaphorically, and culturally and to question what it means to be “from” a particular place or country.

The images, sounds, and films produced during the course draw from the diverse personal narratives and stories of the students involved in the exhibit, as well as the UW–Madison community.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, visits to the exhibition are limited only to the UW–Madison community in 30-minute increments with a limited number of spots per time slot. Advance reservations are required and available via Eventbrite. All UW–Madison attendees will need to have the green status on the Safer Badger app, wear masks, and follow social distancing protocols.

The final exhibition is divided into three sections.

a performer holding an open suitcase in the way of a projected image

The first section features three muslin pieces of fabric suspended from the ceiling. Lifesize dance films are projected on the fabric and the performers move in and out of the fabric frames. This section aims to capture the deeper heritages of the project participants and uses the concept of ‘movement’, both physical and metaphorical, as a central feature of generational change. The soundscape is composed from layered voices; the ghostly refrains of half remembered songs; and the physical, spatial, and mechanical sounds of movement as we traverse the body, the landscape, and our ancestries.

an image being projected into the lid of a suitcase

The second section showcases three vintage suitcases collaged with text from the interviews, maps, train tickets, letters, and photographs. It’s about our families and their life journeys. Here, the suitcase becomes a symbolic object as well as a means of moving from one place to another. Each case holds the things that are important to us – from cherished objects and sentimental mementos, to oral histories, maps, and memories. One suitcase will also feature a projection of choreographed gestures inspired by the filmed footage of our interviewees. These are the gestures that connect families together, the physical markers that appear and reappear in mothers, daughters, fathers, sons, grandparents, uncles, and aunties. When we move our hand ‘just like our parents, it reminds us that we are part of something larger – a human lineage that stretches backward and forward in time.

a weathered photo of a large group of unsmiling people

The third section of the exhibit features ‘pocket sized’ objects built from the ancestral photos of our interviewees, letters, bits of text, and paper. These miniatures are inspired by pocket portraits, lockets, and daguerreotypes, the sorts of things you keep close to remind yourself of absent loved ones and long-lost homes. Each frame and the images layered inside represent the intimate connection we have with images from our past and our tendency to view that past through the lens of the present. Our stories, like our family photographs, are rarely pristinely preserved. They fade, they age, they get torn and worn and reprinted and copied. And each iteration is adjusted and embellished to reflect the voice of the teller. These treasured photographs are tucked away in boxes and drawers and wallets, then rediscovered and shared when we retell our family stories. An intimate soundscape accompanies the miniatures – a delicate tapestry of whispered secrets, private declarations and smaller, personal stories of love and loss and missing home.

Image credits: Dancer by Colette Badora; Suitcase by Hamilton Smith; Family photo courtesy of Stephanie Le