The Doorstep is a Border
Through the glass patio doors, a glamorous evening reception: cocktail frocks, slicked hair, clustered roses. The Ambassador, ‘known for his exquisite taste’, nods knowingly at his white-gloved and bow-tied butler. A golden pyramid of Ferrero Rocher is borne among guests who ‘delicious’ emphatically in multiple tongues. A parodically French woman whispers flirtatiously over The Ambassador’s shoulder, ‘Monsieur, with these Ferrero Rocher you are really spoiling us.’
If a building embodies a belief, a country can describe itself in architecture. From under the American embassy’s clear skin, a vast artwork faces north. Behind a long, translucent mezzanine, thirty-two ten-foot panels shimmer with letters extracted from the Constitution of the United States: DOMESTIC TRANQUILITY. RAISING REVENUE. BLESSINGS OF LIBERTY. This is Mark Bradford’s site-specific painting, We the People (2017). Its fellow commissions include works by Jenny Holzer, Rachel Whiteread, and Sean Scully.
In kitsch soft-focus, the iconic 1993 commercial indulges a fantasy that ambassadors are professional party hosts. In a way, they have chosen a career dependent on their ability to receive and be received. As guests in another nation, with an official ‘home’ always open to compatriots, their success hinges on constant hospitality. Ambassador’s oldest etymological root is *ambhi, the Proto-Indo-European term for ‘around’. This means ambassadors are related to amphibians, ambience, ambition, ambiguity, and funambulists. A specialism in circulation might resonate with a present-day ambassador: shifting post every few years, dashing between tightly-packed appointments, or roaming cocktail parties, night by night.
In a foreign policy paradigm where the words ‘cultural diplomacy’ become everbuzzier, art is a valuable asset—creative residencies strategically strengthen ties with other states, and embassies host growing numbers of ‘open door’ events, from year-round programmes to one-off exhibitions. Paintbrushes become olive branches. We can imagine elite statespeople being ousted by a ragtag creative rabble. Forget the art of diplomacy, we want art as diplomacy! But art can only play politics if it plays by politics’ rules. In 2003, the United Nations faced a media backlash when a tapestry after Picasso’s Guernica—a tortured outcry against aerial warfare—was covered up so that former US Secretary of State Colin Powell could stand before a clear backdrop, free of screaming bomb victims, to present his case for invading Iraq. Art has a place in international affairs, but it must stay strictly within its remit; it must keep its criticality contained.
Over several evenings during my undergraduate, I babysat at the British Ambassador’s house in The Hague. While seated in the diplomatic district, the government-granted residence separated the ambassador’s residence and workplace. Supposedly. The parents had official commitments nearly every evening, and their imposing ‘home’ was left protected by cameras, keypads, gates, and guards. Its cavernous ground floor was designated for official occasions, with high-ceilinged rooms, grand pianos, hardwood floors, commissioned portraits, and untouchable antiques. There were inner thresholds, levels of intimacy that climbed from the state to the family, stair by stair. Whenever I was there, the downstairs rooms were empty and unnervingly dark; all lights were switched off unless absolutely necessary. Perhaps this was another safeguard—the patio doors could have opened of their own accord and attracted opulent guests from beyond the apple tree and trampoline, those who would draw close in hope of a party invite or Ferrero Rocher.
‘Diplomat’ comes from ‘diploma’, which simply means something folded in half—like an ambassador’s passport. These object-envoys have two faces, discreetly closed. Fittingly, a ‘diplomatic copy’ is a loyal transcription of a document, safe for circulation. ‘Ambassador’ reached English through the Old French ambassateor, following ambactus, the Latin term for a ‘vassal’ (akin to a serf) and the Celtic amb(i)actos, a servant or messenger. An ambassador reaches the very tip of their career by carrying out duties on behalf of citizens. Simultaneously an elite and a servant, they are distinguished, often Your Excellency, sometimes significant enough to be rewarded with an official oil portrait, and yet they are responsible for pursuing a state’s objectives, not their own. Is this contradiction, this game of layered agendas why embassies can make us uneasy, reminding us of their fabrication and the weight of state power that sits behind it?
Diplomatic protocol creates citizens, objects and places which are outside the local law. Just as any receptacle can be declared a ‘diplomatic bag’ and exempted from searching, any building can be declared an embassy. Strange stories seem to emanate from such places which gather contradictions, and rewrite the rules beyond their doorways. A date once told me how he was welcomed into by the British embassy in Tajikistan, along with three Welsh teens in a clapped-out car halfway to Mongolia, nourished with a three-course dinner and granted a soft bed.
Behind the embassy door, you are officially elsewhere. A building, despite being embedded and enmeshed as it is in its city, is declared ‘abroad’. In a trick of the collective imagination, a carpeted hall becomes a far-flung land: the floor is lava, the doorstep is a border. For some, asylum or imprisonment are at stake. One step and your team could switch from friend to enemy. It all depends who plays with whom, and which papers, passes, cards, and coins you carry, of course.
One friend visited a colleague who lived in a US Government Residence in Ottawa. The two men, both white, were served lunch by a Black woman. When my friend applied the usual codes of politeness—thank you, smile, make eye contact—it was awkwardly brushed off. Staff were expected to be treated as invisible. But no matter what the protocol inside the building was, the world’s reality came to the table and mattered.
NOTES 1. Rowan Moore, ‘London’s new US embassy: a very diplomatic America on Thames’, The Observer, available at The Guardian online, 17 December 2017
by Fiona Glen – @fiona_____glen
A former course mate was sent to photograph artist Diogo Pimentão’s 2018 solo show at the Embassy of Portugal in London. In the flamboyant house— like a cinematic vampire’s mansion—Pimentão’s spare metal sculptures balanced on Persian rugs or branched up to touch elaborately panelmoulded ceilings. Heavy curtains smothered the light. My friend asked the staff to open them for her; they did so with unguarded suspicion and irritation. The mansion may have acted as an exhibition venue, but it was still, simultaneously, a staid state institution and a private property. The old US embassy in London—a hulking chunk of sixties modernism—was the first place I remember really feeling the force of borders and their bureaucracies. I took the train down from Edinburgh, a sweaty-palmed seventeen-year-old seeking a student visa, and queued up alone at 8:30am, under the stony gaze of soldiers with assault rifles. The weight of the state (of the States) was palpable. Inside, I was watched by an armed attendant in front of a slideshow of glowing canyon landscapes. Built in post-industrial Nine Elms, London’s new American embassy has found a cheaper, roomier, safer area. Here there are far fewer spots to hide a bomb than the embassy’s former Mayfair neighbourhood—a serious consideration following 9/11 and the War on Terror. Designed to spin security measures as beauty and openness, the new embassy’s moat is a water feature, its bulwarks are earthworks, its reinforced beams are masked by temperature-regulating tetrafluoroethylene sheaths. The architects at Kieran Timberlake earnestly endeavoured to make it ‘as nice a fortress as possible’—a kind face over gritted teeth. 1
Co-Editors: Angelica Jopling & Giulia Calvi Editorial Assistant: Taylor Zakarin Design: Seamus Edson Printed by: Pressision, The Press Works, Grangefield Road, Leeds, West Yorkshire LS28 6JT, United Kingdom
Artistic Encounters at the Threshold
Both Sides of Here
by Charles de Agustin – @charlesdeagustin A drive through A break through A eureka On the edge Too broad vs too multiple Too many emails summarising a paragraph with a paragraph It almost feels good when you can easily diagnose something as a complete waste of time Make value judgements I take issue with totality Do not make value judgments Fake quotations In the coolness of the hallway I held the clunky plastic wallphone to my ear. In it was the quiet static of interference, the hiss of the breeze touching the exposed copper filaments of the receiver, a cheap translation through fifty feet of cable. Silence. And yet... something, a presence. A visitor perhaps, stood silently on the other end, both of our internal noises stilled so as not to reveal ourselves nor miss the slightest thing, our psychic antennae tuned. A ghost in the plastic shell of the receiver, the frayed and patched cable rendering the wind alive, and wanting... or perhaps something wider, more reaching; the world itself, called upon as suddenly as I had awakened, unprepared for my presence, with me now witness to some hidden aspect of its life, I peeked behind its mask, the unconscious jolt that had led me
Study of light (late Father’s living room) Mark Rhead – @rhead_mark by Tom Phillips – @tom_phillips_1 tom-phillips.net I heard it again in subsequent days. It came always on the edge of waking, the noise taking me from dream to a momentary alertness before settling back, something expansive in turn settling around me. I anticipated its return, but could establish no pattern as to its arrival. When it did arrive I trained a state of stillness within, a feeling of thoughtlessness so as not to disturb it or scare it away. I turned the key silently in the lock, drew the door an inch and listened to the world through the veined copper cable that twisted up through four flights of stairs, translated through plastic, probed the signals of the wind, allowing the machinery of my dreams to take over once more, for memories to blend, rebuilding the streets as I saw fit... ← Scan the QR code for more information.
If the exhibition represents our own curatorial voice, this zine is about exploring independent creative action. All the contributions have been carefully chosen through open-call submissions, bringing new, diverse and – in many cases – unheard voices into the mix. The artists, poets and writers brought together here were invited to interpret and reflect upon their experience of thresholds. This single-edition zine wants to break down the barrier between the curators and the audience, fostering a collaborative exchange that is centered upon the exhibition concept but takes it in fresh new directions.
Threshold, an online exhibition with works selected from The Courtauld and the Arts Council Collections.
Sides of Here: Artistic Encounters at the
A waiting room, a locked door, an open window, a closed gate, a portal to another dimension: a threshold is the space at which one thing becomes another. As young, emerging curators, we have explored the creative potential and richness of these in-between spaces in Both
Both Sides of Here – The Zine
Both Sides of Here
here part of a schedule of time not present on any regular charts, a new key into the infernally locked myth of the city. I stood there, telephone to my ear. In this quiet interior space I felt the coolness of the streets against my skin, like silk...
Yassen Grigorov – @ygreq from the series Exemplary Home In my mind I collect love stories and thoughts they never stop forever growing and passing through the threshold of my mind
poem and image by Declan McCourt – @declwnart
flip over 4
The noise of the doorbell jolted me awake. Someone calling. Someone there. Lying in the dimness of the room I couldn’t be sure whether the noise had been some vestige of my dreaming mind, an internal mis-fire, or something real. I squinted at the glowing orange digits of the clock on the far side of the room. Their time read 07:02.
Binarie Balasuriya by Param Barodia – @parambarodia An entrance marked the way to a new world, To see new stories and new lives unfurled. We pass our lives spent in search of others, To better know our sisters, our brothers. Liv Wood – @livflavrd Seungjo Jeong – @seungjo.jeong
Background image by Yassen Grigorov any photographs, poems, artworks, sketches of real and imaginary thresholds that you’d like us to see? tag @macurating with #bothsidesofhere and we’ll reshare on our social media!
I wonder if there is a threshold into which my luvrs have become a part of me? is it when (( just when)) my luvr and i look eyes, then and then they become a memory? star-crossed luvrs never to see each other again.
we((i)) felt it through my body, ran many fantasies that we could have, that this was it. this was the moment i that was enough.
I love you - you and your book and the bottle of wine you held when you were getting on ur bike. I love you - you and the moment we both looked back the same time that was it. through the and settled love(d) you. or is it when we((i)) have already fallen in love and i begin to use my luvr’s words - suddenly we share a dictionary, and words i have never used feel so sweet on my tongue because between myself and ithat word belongs to my luvr and i - our world and dictionary shared with everyone. I love your words and how they come out of your mouth and now - now, i love you and your words are ourz(mine) everytime I chop garlic, well, maybe most times i cook, i think of my luvr and i in the kitchen. cooking and exchanging flavors with our hands. inviting eyes and pieces of flavor presented. first, my nose presented with “smell this please” or when my reflex is an open mouth, that is the threshold we passed. involuntary exchange my luvr has (become) in the many times we were in the kitchen. and, now i am left with so much flavors and gestures that i share. our flavors, are now mine, and then also my lurv’z. threshold - is only in retrospect, my luvr only (becomes), and only ((i)) will ever know. threshold is (also) only latency by fay (they/them) – @spectavi
Ollie Marr – @olliemarr
Migs Dogge – @bugzone2019
A Bright Future
Elsa Pearl – @elsapearlphotos
Le seuil de l’eau Yours to mine, where do we reach our limit I found out where we met once more again I was leaning to kiss my own straining to douse my head in the waters I was born into You, under my skin when you never asked if I was okay to have you inside me, inside my home, you crawled into the cavity you carved and nestled there, parasitical Absorbing my blood breaking down my bones, my matter, as if it would feed back to you but you eat ceaselessly and never learnt the synthesis Of your words your decisions it does not exist, they are spoken over and over to come apart from each other in the thin air between us where dissipated hands beckon to me, hands of those who are gone and who keep watch over me Over your preference of which I cannot compete it is not a race I want to win, because you aren’t even the prize and the price is a decaying parasite drying me out Here, I watch my reflection in your eyes and I can see the tears drip to blur the ink that was dry on the contract I’d made sealing our life together But we do not enter the water stained with tears, together, I break the water’s edge and swim hard and fast dragging myself under linking myself back to the reeds and vines and limp pond thread weaving through my toes, interlocking my ribs, plaiting my hair, I can breathe here whilst I watch you claw the water, unable to breach that which made me that I return to over and over again and I wish you would join me so the water could fill that which dissolved and stay here to float and to discover and to swim but you are up there and I am down here and our threshold each of us was only ever the feint kiss of the water on the land and you stay on the land that watches the water whilst the sea holds me fast, we shall not meet again. by Madeleine Winn @bellygoos + @bellegalia
Sam King – @samking_art
Ahmad Ahmad – @vtelier
Natasha Muluswela – @npariss ↑ Challenge the Conventions ← Folded Perceptions
Garden of Eden
Akshay Bhoan– @maharajapatiala
Cracked Touch Screen
Judy Clarkson – @judy_clarkson_art
Lucy Cade Stewart – @lucycadeartist
The Bridesmaid (after Millais)
bildungsroman, in celadon
black-eyed susans and loblolly pines grace iterations of memory and ancestry based on wild plum muscadine grape daydream
there is a color for every word every sound and
childhood is a compilation of synaesthetic film canisters full of baby teeth and other antiquities
we cannot speak of poetry and i understand fibonacci differently
show me a pinecone pluck a petal and i will forget not the color of your eyes when i cried over long division
but rather the numeric order of things
in case you’re wondering they were the color of condensed milk and mint jelly
you will call this celadon and i will call it clemency then give you the etymology
rooted in robin’s egg blue and other nesting creatures
by H.G. Seavery
Both Sides of Here
Artistic Encounters at the Threshold