Alban Kakulya & Yann Mingard
East of a New Eden
June 2 - July 15, 2012
“Europe was originally a myth, and it remains one today.”1
Equipped with cameras and GPS devices Alban Kakulya and Yann Mingard traveled the 1600-kilometer-long eastern border of the European Union to document it in photographs—one photographer starting from the north, the other from the southern end of the border. From this expedition developed a complex inventory of images of the buffer zone, which stretches from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea; a work that led to the book, East of a New Eden, published in 2009, and which in the same year was honored with the Prix FNAC Européen de la Photographie. A deliberate “analytic and neutral distance was taken, which conforms more to contemporary photography than to classic reportage.” (Alban Kakulya)
The eastern border, which as the largely impermeable “iron curtain” once separated the Eastern Bloc from Western Europe, is now an economic border of the EU, a sharply monitored zone between the “rich” West and the “poor” East, which stretches alongside the countries of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania.
Many of the landscape shots, the first of three sets of photographs that make up the project, lose themselves in the vastness of the wasteland and suggest no trace of a border. Only the GPS coordinates lend a tangible starting point to the placelessness shown in the images. Two abstractions yield, as it were, one entity through the counter effect of the visual indeterminateness and the irony of the exact location as title, emphasizing the immateriality of the line of demarcation.
In the second group of works, Portraits and Infrastructure, the abstract image of the border has a face (those of captured refugees) and a form (that of the technical, structural enforcement apparatuses). The anonymous expanse of the landscape is made real in the drama of the individual fates and the routine of the high-tech surveillance.
The work of Alban Kakulya and Yann Mingard goes far beyond mere documentation. The multidimensionality of the focus of their expedition is reflected in the diversity of the book East of a New Eden, which brings together, in addition to the landscape and portrait shots, numerous satellite images of the border region as well as many texts from different perspectives. Ultimately the graphics and statistics complete the work; they illustrate how many people, in trying to cross the border to reach the promise of the West, lose their lives.
With the almost complete abolishment of the interior European borders and the eastern expansion of the EU, whereby the westernmost countries of the East suddenly become the easternmost parts of the West, the “frontier” issue has not just moved geographically further away, it has also largely vanished from the minds of Western Europeans. In East of a New Eden Yann Mingard and Alban Kakulya endeavor to make visible and decipherable these little known and almost forgotten realities that are far from our everyday lives and beyond the headlines. It is at the same time an invitation to reflect on what borders are and what their consequences are for human beings.
Estella Kühmstedt (translated by Thea Miklowski)
1 Laura Serani: East of a New Eden: the borders of a myth.In: Alban Kakulya, Yann Mingard: East of a New Eden. Baden, 2009, P. 76.
With support from ProHelvetia, Schweizer Kulturstiftung and the Kulturstiftung des Bundes
Photographs: © Alban Kakulya, Yann Mingard