Some Ground Rules

Putting the pieces together correctly requires using the correct pieces. Most things come into contact with other things, and for that reason it is important to study the nature of their contact and determine a few basic rules to prevent unwelcome friction: Correct pieces are those which were made correctly. Incorrect pieces cannot be corrected in order to make correct pieces. Incorrect pieces are defective pieces. They were either made with defects, or they were once correct pieces but were made incorrect somehow; they "defected."

As passport application form DS-11 helpfully reminds us:

Alteration or mutilation of a passport issued pursuant to this application is punishable by fine and/or imprisonment under the provisions of 18 U.S.C. 1543.

When we undertake transnational artwork, we mutilate our limits: limits of geography and travel, to be sure, but also limits of our subjectivity. We ask ourselves where we end and the world begins.

When I ask you where you are from, you may answer with a city or a state. Or, as my little brother does in his "I am from …" poem taped to our refrigerator, you may answer that you are from "Zelda Majora’s Mask." Your associations for Quintana Roo may be of Cancun or of Joan Didion or of "No, that’s not what a QR code is." My assessment of this may or may not accurately describe where you think of yourself as being from.

It’s no matter either way: I am not asking you to describe yourself for my sake. Rather, I wonder what words you would use to say where you are from if you were deprived of the words you have inherited. Herodotus records an experiment to this effect in his Histories:

This king [Psammetichus of Egypt], finding it impossible to make out by dint of inquiry what men were the most ancient, contrived the following method of discovery: He took two children of the common sort, and gave them over to a herdsman to bring up at his folds, strictly charging him to let no one utter a word in their presence, but to keep them in a sequestered cottage, and from time to time introduce goats to their apartment, see that they got their fill of milk, and in all other respects look after them. His object herein was to know, after the indistinct babblings of infancy were over, what word they would first articulate.

I am not interested in the results of the experiment. I am interested in its motive, to discern the natural state of people (ethno-linguistic or otherwise). I am interested in its underlying premise: We are not who we are until we have the words to say who we are; or, "who we are" is a secondary layer of truth, an outward appearance that conceals some self-like substrate. I am interested in the boundary between these layers.

To be a transnational artist is to transgress the boundary between the self and the meta-self, by which I mean surrendering all insistence on a real me that has not been shaped, punctured, mutilated, and constructed by its enclosing structure. I anticipate that some may accuse me of not being "transnational enough" because I am an American, because my mixed-racedness and immigrant background is too far up in my chain of ancestry. I would like to point out that to make this charge is to willfully police the national borders that transnational artwork purports to disturb.