7-1 | Table of Con­tents | DOI 10.17742/IMAGE.NBW.7-1.11 | RutkauskasM­c­Manus­PDF

Abstract | Writ­ten in response to the project Bor­der­line by pho­tog­ra­ph­er Andreas Rutkauskas, this essay reflects on the his­toric, cul­tur­al, polit­i­cal, and geo­graph­i­cal ten­sions visu­al­ly and vis­cer­al­ly expe­ri­enced along the Cana­da-US bor­der. Both as an emblem and phys­i­cal man­i­fes­ta­tion of the mod­ern nation-state that main­tains its author­i­ty through the con­trol and sur­veil­lance of its bound­ary, the Cana­da-US bor­der­line evokes ques­tions about ver­nac­u­lar and offi­cial land use, indige­nous and set­tler ter­ri­to­r­i­al rights, and the cul­tur­al iden­ti­ty inher­ent in place. Respond­ing to the bor­der points as fraught cul­tur­al spaces, Rutkauskas uses his cam­era to reflect on the visu­al and spa­tial similarities—and out­right banal ordinariness—found along the vast bound­ary. Focus­ing on the west­ern-Cana­di­an por­tion of the Bor­der­line series, this essay under­stands Rutkauskas's pho­tographs as a reflec­tion on the con­tin­ued human trans­for­ma­tion of the land­scape. Ulti­mate­ly, this project pro­vokes the view­er to ask what it means to share an envi­ron­ment divid­ed not by ecol­o­gy, archi­tec­ture, or eth­nic­i­ty but by the arbi­trari­ness of nation­al authority.
Résumé | Écrit en réponse au pro­jet Bor­der­line du pho­tographe Andreas Rutkauskas, cet essai est une réflex­ion sur les ten­sions his­toriques, cul­turelles, poli­tiques et géo­graphiques visuelle­ment et vis­cérale­ment vécues le long de la fron­tière Can­da-États-Unis. A la fois un emblème et une man­i­fes­ta­tion physique de la nation-état mod­erne qui main­tient son autorité à tra­vers le con­trôle et la sur­veil­lance de ses fron­tières, la fron­tière entre le Cana­da et les États-Unis soulèvent des ques­tions sur l’utilisation du sol offi­cielle et ver­nac­u­laire, les droits autochtones et les droits des colons en rap­port avec le ter­ri­toire et l’identité cul­turelle inhérente. Con­sid­érant les points de pas­sage entre fron­tières comme des espaces cul­turels ten­dus, Rutkauskas utilise son objec­tif pour réfléchir aux sim­i­lar­ités visuelles et spa­tiales- et à l’ordinaire banal- que l’on trou­ve au long de cette vaste fron­tière. En se con­cen­trant sur la sec­tion de la série Bor­der­line qui porte sur l’ouest cana­di­en, cet essai inter­prète les images de Rutkauskas comme une réflex­ion sur l’intervention humaine con­stante sur l’environnement. Ultime­ment ce pro­jet pousse le spec­ta­teur à décou­vrir ce que sig­ni­fie partager un envi­ron­nement séparé non par l’écologie, l’architecture ou l’ethnicité mais par une autorité nationale arbitraire.

Andreas Rutkauskas | Pho­tog­ra­ph­er and Visu­al Artist
Kar­la McManus | Queen's University

A Response to Andreas Rutkauskas’ Photographs of the Canadian-U.S. Border

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I am cross­ing the bor­der in a rent­ed car. It is ear­ly sum­mer and I’m enjoy­ing the glo­ri­ous­ly scenic dri­ve along the St. Lawrence Riv­er from Mon­tre­al to the Thou­sand Islands bor­der cross­ing under an almost-equinoc­tial sun. My com­pan­ion and I have decid­ed to avoid the heavy traf­fic of High­way 20 (Que­bec) / 401 (Ontario) by tak­ing the more wind­ing and time-con­sum­ing route through the small towns and cities that make up the most souther­ly bor­der of Cana­da. The bound­ary on this route is most­ly riv­er: once past Saint-Zotique, Québec, you enter Ontario and for anoth­er 50 kilo­me­tres or so you dri­ve along a riv­er that is divid­ed between the two largest provinces of East­ern Cana­da. The Canada/U.S. bor­der becomes watery at Corn­wall, Ontario or, more accu­rate­ly, in the mid­dle of Saint-Régis Mohawk Reser­va­tion, which juts into Cana­di­an ter­ri­to­ry from the Amer­i­can side and is bound­ed by two coun­tries and two provin­cial bound­aries. Part of the larg­er Akwe­sasne Mohawk First Nation on the Cana­di­an side, sev­ered from the Saint Reg­is Mohawk Reser­va­tion in upstate New York, this lit­tle blip of land stands as a reminder of the colo­nial his­to­ry and vio­lence that con­tin­ues to shape our under­stand­ing of ter­ri­to­ry, place, and iden­ti­ty in North Amer­i­ca. For anoth­er 139 kilo­me­tres, we dri­ve along a bound­ary that exists as solid­ly as a metaphor, with a cur­rent that flows across and around and under (into the Earth’s very core?) this rock-steady divide. It feels only nat­ur­al, then, that the bor­der check­point should require us to tra­verse two bridges and a series of islands to achieve our goal of inter­na­tion­al trav­el. Some­how, the form of this jour­ney seems right: cross­ing the bor­der should be as com­pli­cat­ed and arbi­trary as the sur­round­ing geo­graph­i­cal and cul­tur­al land­scape. Argued anoth­er way, cre­at­ing a bound­ary is an act of author­i­ty, regard­less of good inten­tions or prac­ti­cal neces­si­ty. The impo­si­tion of place and order on a land­scape should be some­thing that we rec­og­nize as inter­ven­tion­ist and dom­i­neer­ing, like lines on a map, done with pur­pose and insight and, at the very least, it should make us a lit­tle uncomfortable.

This bor­der response is not about the North or West of Cana­da. Like many West­ern­ers, I have end­ed up “back East”—a fun­ny expres­sion meant to reflect how our ori­gins as Cana­di­ans can be traced back to the set­tler-colo­nial roots of Eng­land and France, regard­less of the fact that many of us have no ances­tors from those found­ing nations or even East­ern Cana­da. These days I am more like­ly to take a plane across a bor­der than to dri­ve across the phys­i­cal bound­ary between Cana­da and small-town Amer­i­ca at one of the small check­points that bare­ly see a hun­dred peo­ple in a week. Yet when I fly back West the sense of cross­ing a bor­der always hits me while I look out the win­dow at the lakes and forests below. Some­where just north of Thun­der Bay, I cross an imag­i­nary bound­ary and, just like that, I’m almost home.

Like me, the pho­tog­ra­ph­er Andreas Rutkauskas is from “out West.” Full dis­clo­sure: we grew up togeth­er in Win­nipeg, play­ing soft­ball and eat­ing birth­day cake in the his­toric Wolse­ley neigh­bour­hood, named for the colonel who led the Anglo-Cana­di­an mil­i­tary forces against the Red Riv­er Settlement’s short-lived pro­vi­sion­al gov­ern­ment. When we were kids, you could still dri­ve down to the bor­der cross­ing at Emer­son, Winnipeg’s clos­est bound­ary point and enter North Dako­ta or Min­neso­ta with just your birth cer­tifi­cate and pho­to ID to do some cross-bor­der shop­ping. If this makes me sound old, let me clar­i­fy that this was not very long ago: only the 1980s and ‘90s, a time before the height­ened secu­ri­ty and the exten­sive use of CCTV, ther­mal-imag­ing cam­eras, and oth­er forms of high-tech sur­veil­lance. In fact, it wasn’t until 2008 that reg­u­la­tions began to require that Cana­di­ans present their pass­ports. To dri­ve from Win­nipeg to Grand Forks was still a big deal dur­ing our child­hoods. Most of the peo­ple we knew hadn’t trav­elled much far­ther than Van­cou­ver or Toron­to, unless as immi­grants who often did not have fond mem­o­ries of their past bor­der expe­ri­ences. To cross a bound­ary into anoth­er coun­try, espe­cial­ly into our big, bad neigh­bour to the south, seemed suspect—both risky and cosmopolitan—unless it was for a good con­sumer deal, some­thing our prairie neigh­bours could always get behind. Yet, for peo­ple liv­ing right along the bound­ary, I sus­pect things were dif­fer­ent. The bor­der was more porous then and going across was like cross­ing the street. For those folks, it was only in the post-9/11 era, with its esca­lat­ing reg­u­la­tion of the Canada-U.S. bound­ary, that the land beyond the bor­der start­ed to feel increas­ing­ly like a for­eign place.

Rutkauskas under­stands the pow­er and the fear of bor­ders. Between 2012 and 2015, Rutkauskas trav­eled the Canada-U.S. bound­ary line—from Tsawwassen, British Colum­bia to Cam­po­bel­lo, New Brunswick, and up to the most norther­ly cross­ing point between Lit­tle Gold Creek, Yukon and Pok­er Creek, Alaska—to pho­to­graph offi­cial and unof­fi­cial, active and decom­mis­sioned bound­ary points between the two nations. The U.S. and Cana­di­an divide is, at 8,891 kilo­me­tres, the largest “unde­fend­ed” bor­der in the world and it marks the land­scape soft­ly yet sure­ly: in the words of the Inter­na­tion­al Bound­ary Com­mis­sion, the orga­ni­za­tion in charge of bound­ary main­te­nance, it is “unde­fend­ed but not uncar­ed for.” ("The Bound­ary") Across moun­tains, lakes, and forests—and some­times right through buildings—the bound­ary march­es along, demar­cat­ed at reg­u­lar inter­vals by waist-high obelisks (over 5,500 of them), unob­tru­sive mon­u­ments to hun­dreds of years of bloody and not-so-bloody set­tler-colo­nial occu­pa­tion, set­tle­ment, and state­craft in the Amer­i­c­as. By cleav­ing Cana­da out of the con­ti­nent of North Amer­i­ca, the bound­ary ren­ders tangible—if not always visible—the social, polit­i­cal, and cul­tur­al his­to­ries that lurk behind the inno­cent sig­nage and loose­ly barred gates that mark the Cana­di­an from the Oth­er. In the case of the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca, the Impe­ri­al­ist Oth­er is both our best friend and the bul­ly we watch for as we walk home from school.

In Rutkauskas's series Bor­der­line, we see pic­tured this his­tor­i­cal fric­tion, which schol­ar Rob Nixon has called the ten­sion between ver­nac­u­lar and offi­cial land­scapes. Nixon, draw­ing on the ground-break­ing work of Amer­i­can cul­tur­al geo­g­ra­ph­er J.B. Jack­son, describes a ver­nac­u­lar land­scape as an evolv­ing space that is inte­gral to the social, eco­nom­ic, and eco­log­i­cal func­tion­ing of a local com­mu­ni­ty (Nixon 17). On the oth­er hand, an offi­cial land­scape is one imposed on a place by an exter­nal group, some­times gov­ern­men­tal, non-gov­ern­men­tal, and/or cor­po­rate, to reshape exist­ing land prac­tices and livelihoods—both human and non-human—for the pur­pose of bureau­crat­ic, cul­tur­al, or finan­cial pow­er gain (Nixon 17). This type of land­scape-reorder­ing attempts to quan­ti­fy the val­ue of cer­tain peo­ple on the land—such as the Mohawk peo­ple of Akwe­sasne or the Métis of Riel’s Red Riv­er Settlement—and mea­sure the ben­e­fits of dis­plac­ing them to restruc­ture the land­scape along offi­cial lines. The Canada-U.S. bound­ary was imposed through such a bureau­crat­ic and delo­cal­iz­ing inter­ven­tion, “sev­er­ing webs of accu­mu­lat­ed cul­tur­al mean­ing and treat­ing the land­scape as if it were unin­hab­it­ed by the liv­ing, the unborn, and the ani­mate deceased” (Nixon 17). Today, like many acts of greed on the land, what was a cul­tur­al act of land­scape trans­for­ma­tion has been nor­mal­ized to be seen as a reg­u­lar func­tion of the con­tem­po­rary nation-state. We expect the author­i­ty of bor­der guards to make us ner­vous, to be watched by CCTV cam­eras, and to feel slight­ly uncer­tain about whether, hav­ing made it across, we might have got­ten away with something.

Rutkauskas' Bor­der­line project was influ­enced by a 2010 invi­ta­tion to pro­duce work about the small town of Stanstead, Québec, which, as a bor­der town, shares its town library with Der­by Line, Ver­mont. Inspired by the increase in secu­ri­ty in these tra­di­tion­al­ly linked com­mu­ni­ties, cura­tor Genèvieve Cheva­lier invit­ed three artists to respond to the site and the ques­tion of how bor­ders shape and tran­scribe a sense of place (“Exhibitions—Stanstead Project”). Struck by the dif­fer­ence between the well-super­vised town and the vast unmon­i­tored for­est that stretch­es out on both sides, Rutkauskas made a series of works—photographs, a book work, a video—that addressed what he calls the "wilder­ness-bor­der zone" (“Stanstead Project”). In turn, Rutkauskas was inspired to explore the larg­er crit­i­cal ques­tions raised by this sin­gu­lar piece of the Canada/U.S. bor­der. Intrigued by the prob­lem of how to rep­re­sent such a vast and com­plex site as the Canada/U.S. bor­der, and inspired by the larg­er glob­al con­text of migra­tion, bor­ders, and secu­ri­ty in the 21st cen­tu­ry, Rutkauskas planned his expe­di­tion across Cana­da. Rutkauskas was drawn to the unique and diverse bor­der points: ones that offered com­plex visu­al, cul­tur­al, and his­tor­i­cal read­ings and aes­thet­ic and spa­tial prob­lems for his eye to solve.  Made up of approx­i­mate­ly 50 pho­tographs, a third of which focus on the West of Cana­da, the pho­tog­ra­ph­er now con­sid­ers the series com­plete (“Re: Imag­i­na­tions Journal.”).

As much as Bor­der­line rein­forces the sense of infra­struc­ture as author­i­ty, Rutkauskas’ project also dis­plays the banal ordi­nar­i­ness of many bound­ary points, shaped as they are by local geog­ra­phy, archi­tec­ture, and land-use. Rutkauskas seeks to cap­ture the sim­i­lar­i­ty of place in his pic­tures, demon­strat­ing that while the offi­cial bound­ary of the two mod­ern nation-states rely on the author­i­ty of sep­a­rate iden­ti­ties, dif­fer­ence isn't found on the ground or eas­i­ly pic­tured. In his image of the small penin­su­la bor­der town of Tsawwassen, B.C., the two sides of the vast bor­der are dis­tin­guished with noth­ing more than a con­crete mark­er and a chain-link fence. Rutkauskas frames the image tight­ly between the white clap­board build­ing that stretch­es across the two sides of the bound­ary on the left of the pic­ture and the two lane high­way that leads towards the ocean, forc­ing our eye towards the hori­zon, on the right. In anoth­er image, "Chief Moun­tain, Alber­ta / Mon­tana" (2014), the divide is marked by a cou­ple rusty gates, a "wel­come to Cana­da" sign, and a six-metre track of cleared for­est reced­ing into the moun­tains. Rutkauskas shoots the cross­ing from above and his ele­vat­ed van­tage point gives the view­er a direct sight­line along the clear-cut tree line that leads towards the dis­tant moun­tain range. The tiny line of the bound­ary is appar­ent even in the dis­tance, as a white scar against the green of the forest.

A com­mit­ted tourist who enjoys tour­ing lit­tle towns, wilder­ness parks, and scenic routes might eas­i­ly iden­ti­fy the West­ern Cana­di­an loca­tions by geog­ra­phy alone. In Mon­u­ment #276 Water­ton Lakes, Alber­ta, the moun­tains and water reced­ing into the back­ground behind the con­crete mark­er that reads “Cana­da” can be clear­ly rec­og­nized as the land­scape of the south­ern Rock­ies. No small town with bor­der guards marks this site. The Water­ton Lakes obelisk is locat­ed in a nation­al park in which a micro-habi­tat of prairie meets the might of the Cana­di­an Rocky Moun­tains, bor­der­ing Montana’s Glac­i­er Nation­al Park to the south. These two parks togeth­er have been joint­ly known since 1932 as the Water­ton-Glac­i­er Inter­na­tion­al Peace Park, des­ig­nat­ed a UNESCO World Her­itage in 1995. Fan­tas­ti­cal­ly scenic, one might think one was see­ing a land­scape free of human interference—what we used to call wilderness—if it wasn’t for that tall mark­er of own­er­ship solid­ly upright in the mid­dle of the photograph.

Anoth­er offi­cial peace park marks a bor­der cross­ing between Man­i­to­ba and North Dako­ta. Its found­ing in 1932 was a diplo­mat­ic event between neigh­bours attend­ed by 50,000 peo­ple and cel­e­brat­ed with the ded­i­ca­tion of a rock cairn that pledges: “To God in his Glo­ry, we two nations ded­i­cate this gar­den and pledge our­selves that as long as men shall live, we will not take up arms against one anoth­er” (“His­to­ry”). Carved from Tur­tle Moun­tain Provin­cial Park on the Cana­di­an side and sur­round­ed by lakes, forests, and farms, and the Tur­tle Moun­tain Reser­va­tion to the south, the Inter­na­tion­al Peace Park requires vis­i­tors to check in and out with cus­toms upon arrival and depar­ture. A colos­sal land­scaped out­door space that spreads across both sides of the bound­ary, the gar­den includes hik­ing trails, camp­ing, pic­nick­ing, a 3000-square foot con­ser­va­to­ry, a series of inter­pre­ta­tive cen­ters and arts camps, a 18-foot flower clock, a Car­il­lion bell tow­er, and sev­en peace poles donat­ed by the gov­ern­ment of Japan. Most striking—photographed by Rutkauskas in his image of this site—is the Peace Tow­er: four con­crete columns rise 120 feet into the air, strad­dling either side of the bound­ary, two on one side and two on the oth­er. Built in 1982 to com­mem­o­rate the 50th anniver­sary of the park, today the Peace Tow­er is a crum­bling mon­u­ment to the fol­ly of build­ing in the inter­na­tion­al archi­tec­tur­al style of late Bru­tal­ism in a con­ti­nen­tal cli­mate. It is cur­rent­ly sched­uled for demo­li­tion (Was­ney). By far the most spec­tac­u­lar of Rutkauskas’ bor­der sub­jects, the Inter­na­tion­al Peace Park is a par­o­dy of itself—glorying in its sta­tus as mon­u­men­tal sym­bol of Canadian-U.S. good­will and free­dom of crossing.

On the oth­er hand, the bor­der cross­ing in Snowflake, Man­i­to­ba rep­re­sents a con­trast to the mono­lith­ic peace park. The small-town check­point is locat­ed an hour east of the Inter­na­tion­al Peace Park by car, wind­ing along the small grav­el roads and two-lane high­ways of rur­al Man­i­to­ba. Snowflake, Man­i­to­ba (2014) pic­tures a white clap­board build­ing with a peaked dark asphalt roof punc­tu­at­ed by a series of anten­nae and an over­hang for cars to dri­ve through. SNOWFLAKE is marked promi­nent­ly on the side of the build­ing. A dou­ble-car garage to the back com­pletes the archi­tec­tur­al infra­struc­ture of the site. In between the two build­ings, a truck is pulled off into a field where sev­er­al bales of hay are piled. To the right of the build­ing, where the road pulls off towards the U.S., a man puts gas into a lawn­mow­er. Just in front of him, a smoky pile of burn­ing weeds con­firms that he has been hard at work keep­ing the bound­ary clear of unwant­ed veg­e­ta­tion and unau­tho­rized life. Rutkauskas’ pho­to­graph shows an offi­cial struc­ture imposed on the land­scape, just as the grain farms and set­tler towns in the sur­round­ing region were forced onto a land once lush with mixed and tall prairie grass­es, lady-slip­pers, and Saska­toon bush­es. This small con­tact point between two vast nations sug­gests a once vital past for this rur­al cross­ing, when agri­cul­tur­al set­tlers to the fer­tile uplands of the Pem­bi­na Val­ley would have seen the bor­der as lit­tle more than an arbi­trary divide, a fence between neighbours.

Bor­ders are fraught cul­tur­al spaces, some more so than oth­ers, and Rutkauskas’ pho­tographs reminds us that even the most seem­ing­ly innocu­ous bound­ary points are places of bureau­crat­ic pow­er and author­i­ty. By high­light­ing the ten­sions between local and offi­cial inter­ven­tions in the land­scape, Rutkauskas asks the view­er to con­sid­er how nation­al diplo­mat­ic, eco­nom­ic, and eco­log­i­cal inter­ests shape our sense of place, iden­ti­ty, and com­mu­ni­ty. Fol­low­ing the his­to­ry of pho­tog­ra­phy in the Cana­di­an West, when pho­tog­ra­phers came to sur­vey and doc­u­ment ter­ri­to­ry for future use, Rutkauskas’ Bor­der­line pic­tures the human trans­for­ma­tion of the West, offer­ing a new way of imag­in­ing what it means to live along, below, and above the 49th parallel.

Works Cited

"The Bound­ary." Inter­na­tion­al Bound­ary Com­mis­sion Offi­cial Web Site. http://​www​.inter​na​tion​al​bound​arycommis​sion​.org/​b​o​u​n​d​a​r​y​.​h​t​m​l​#​v​i​sta. Accessed 14 July 2015.

Exhi­bi­tions - Stanstead Project, or How to Cross the Bor­der: Part 1.” Fore­man Art Gallery. 30 July 2011. http://www.foreman.ubishops.ca/exhibitions/single.html?tx_buexhibition_pi1%5BseasonId%5D=1&tx_buexhibition_pi1%5BexId%5D=6. Accessed 5 July 2016.

"His­to­ry." Inter­na­tion­al Peace Gar­den. http://​www​.peace​gar​den​.com/​h​i​s​t​o​r​y​.​h​tml. Accessed 14 Decem­ber 2015.

Nixon, Rob. Slow Vio­lence and the Envi­ron­men­tal­ism of the Poor. Cam­bridge, MA: Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2011.

Rutkauskas, Andreas. "Stanstead Project." Andreas Rutkauskas. http://​www​.andreas​rutkauskas​.com/​s​t​a​n​s​t​e​a​d​-​p​r​o​j​e​ct/. Accessed 5 July 2016.

---. “Re: Imag­i­na­tions Jour­nal.” Received by Kar­la McManus. 29 June 2016.

Was­ney, Eva. ‘Last Chance to See Peace Tow­er Before Demo­li­tion’. Win­nipeg Free Press 2 May 2016. Web. 5 Oct. 2016. http://​www​.win​nipegfreep​ress​.com/​l​o​c​a​l​/​l​a​s​t​-​c​h​a​n​c​e​-​t​o​-​s​e​e​-​p​e​a​c​e​-​t​o​w​e​r​-​b​e​f​o​r​e​-​d​e​m​o​l​i​t​i​o​n​-​3​7​7​8​9​4​2​9​1​.​h​tml. Accessed 5 Octo­ber 2016.