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Feature: David Blackmore - The Border

Updated: Feb 21, 2022

by David Blackmore

The place I am interested in is invisible. Though enormous lengths have been gone to insuring it is visible, palpable, and physically present.

This is a place of repetitive strain. A sodium and florescent lit space wedged between two opposing binaries of oft repeated and rehearsed mechanical movements.

It is a bureaucratically officious sphere of authority and protected interests.

This is a zone of transit and temporality where movement is overseen and scrutinised. It is an arena of logistical processes, the surrendering of will and control. Flow here is gamified; where LCDs, authoritative hand gestures and body language determine micro movements and progress. It marks a threshold to either the familiar or a gate way to the unknown.

Here we see the uniform and not the person. Figures with the mindset of suspicion and attention to detail in quasi police uniforms, clip on ties, white polyester shirts, black boots, combat trousers and high visibility vests. Where those in the system are met by the expressionless faces of ex-services personnel now civil servants, the guardians of The Border.

Spycam footage, Dublin Airport Passport Control 2018

I am interested in how The Border is presented to us and how The Border is performed. How its authority is acted out with the flick of a wrist beckoning one to proceed or to stop. Aside from the landscape of The Border it is these gestures of authority and learned compliance I am interested in. Over the past few years, I have begun to catalogue the ‘effort’, ‘shape’ and ‘drive’ of The Border’s authoritarian gestures and the compliant movement the system dictates as well as the stage it is acted out upon.

Work in Progress: Animated Gif 2021

I am interested in perforating The Border between states because it is the area where the power of States is most palpable outside of the justice system and military realm. Where subjects submit to their status within the system and are submissive. This is the place where the self, vehicles and cargo are quantified, defined, and validated by the Big Other. A limbo of obedient absent minds staring out windows or straight ahead. The trainer tapping rhythmically on the floor, of shifting weight from one foot to another as bags are systematically reordered. Eyes and minds oblivious to the ‘real’ around them glued to black screens or cocooned between headphones. Their whole world view simultaneously enlarged and diminished at the same time. This is the margin where waiting takes place. Where face shielded and face masked persons with sanitised hands slowly make incremental gains through the angular meander bends of mazes formed from Tensabarrier and automatic gates.

Movement studies, ink and paper 2019

I have spent a lot of time in these spaces having crossed borders my entire life. As a result of my childhood I have grown suspicious of The Nation and nationality in adult life. Born in Dublin to an Irish mother and English father. I grew up during the latter half of ‘The Troubles’, a thirty-year long conflict between Republican & Loyalist paramilitaries. I do have memories of the land border being crossed between Eire and Northern Ireland, (or the North depending on your perspective), though these memories are part lived and part a remembered mediated experience of this border consisting of news footage of camo and Kevlar clad soldiers, automatic weapons and razor wire at check points or standing equidistance track side as a train containing my primary school class approached The Border.

Much like The Border I have two sides to my practice. Both are informed by the medium, criticality and history of photography. A medium tied to surveillance as well as attempts at cataloguing similarities and differences much like The Border. One side of my work consists of transgressive actions performed for the camera as well as relational works and the other is studio-based working with sculpture and print.

Work in progress, wood and high-vis fabric 2017

I am as interested in the physicality, material, and visual qualities of The Border as I am by the rhythmic performance of The Border itself. While these are spaces of observation, commerce and control The Borderwithin airports or the Eurotunnel are relatively genteel affairs. An altogether far softer form of architectural language than ports. Like toilets, ports are hidden from view performing the mechanics of their function as the bowels of a nation’s border. Whereas airports benefit from the association with weightlessness. Ports are heavy-duty. Everything about them is so, Heavy Goods Vehicles, multilane black tarmac clad roads and ferries. Here at the port The Border feels much more present, obvious, and scaring where parts of sovereign soil are given up to the protection of The Nation.

Here human operatives are clad head to toe in yellow High-Vis, ear defenders and airport Linseman wands testifying to the heavy-duty nature of affairs. The yellow vest movement reenforced High-Vis’s credentials as a symbol of The Worker and The Working class. Though it is also possesses a function associated with authority, emergency, and danger. I have been drawn to High-Vis as a material for a number of years working with it to clad irregular geometric sculptural forms, barriers of some kind or another. This is born out of an ongoing desire to make work that cannot be photographed because its material and visual properties have been designed to impede mechanical or digital reproduction like The Border itself; a space that cannot be photographed.

Work in progress, wood and high-vis fabric 2016

Given my geographical location, and our point in history, my focus is the UK’s border and the agency that governs passage through it: UK Border Force. UK Border Force as a name is both reassuring and intimidating. It implies a proactive stance and the ability to defend with force. Its characteristics are of authority, function, and visibility like the spaces themselves.

Screenshot 2020

I would like to carry out a residency in The Border and to be embedded with UK Border Force. But how does one go about carrying out such a residency with such an agency? We have war artists but somehow that seems and is different. A war artist is tied up with the nation’s military operations of ‘freeing peoples’ and imparting democratic values. As a result, it has a documentary, poetic and quasi educational role chronicling The Nation’s military exploits on foreign soil for the supposed benefit of humanity.

Advice I have been given, when sought, has been to emphasise the benefits of having an artist embedded in this agency and this zone. Though this would require ‘powers that be’ with open minds and a liberal perspective on the role of the plastic arts and an openness to ‘the optics’ of this places function and the agency charged with its management.

While it is illegal to photograph The Border and those that operate it. I have examined it first-hand and from a far those that guard and those that pass through it. Engaged in an unofficial residency I have covertly recorded myself passing through borders over the past few years, as well as appropriating footage which documents UK Border Force and Police operating at The Border to build up a taxonomy of hand and arm gestures, body movements as well as developing an understanding of the uniforms and landscapes of The Border. I have attempted to retrace my own passage through this space through drawing and begun to develop a choreography based on both UK Border Force operatives and those that pass through their domain.

Work in Progress 2021

I find geopolitical borders fascinating as nodal points for goods and labour in transit and because it is the point where two separate identities butt up against each other and manage flow between and through themselves. The border is a symbol associated with sovereignty and safety. In the post-Brexit era how will the border be performed in an age of an ongoing global pandemic, renewed sovereignty and of ‘taking back control’.

Work in Progress Hollyhead 2021


David Blackmore is a European artist based in London since 2003. Initially studying at Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art & Design (Dublin) and University of Westminster (London) Blackmore completed a Master’s in Fine Art at the Slade School of Fine Art (London).

He has exhibited widely including solo shows at MOCA (London), SITEATION (Dublin), Schwartz Gallery (London), Central European House of Photography (Bratislava), Draíocht (Dublin) and Elliot Halls (Amsterdam).

At the start of 2021 Blackmore was included in Art UK's list of 10 artist to follow. While in 2020 David featured in BBC 4’s TV documentary ‘21st Century Mythologies with Richard Clay’ discussing the myth of money. In 2019 and 2017 two of David’s recent works were accessioned to the British Museum's collection; one of which featured in I‐Object (Jan 2019).

In Our Own Words is an ongoing feature where artists and writers are asked to speak about their new work, ideas or projects in their own words. It is also part of invert/extant Transmissions for the Artist Writings series. If you would like to be kept up to date on this or other projects, please sign up for our newsletter.

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