New York

Kirsten Mosher

Sandra Gering Gallery

Kirsten Mosher’s installation, Top Soil Nations, 1992, attempted to walk us across the boundaries of our geopolitical landscape. Soil extracted from various locations (Kuwait, Kenya, Greece, Belgium, Canada, Ireland, Antarctica, etc.) was enshrined in laminated plastic sleeves informally attached to the wall and sprinkled in haphazard patches across the floor, transforming the gallery—a by now familiar site for disenfranchised political polemics—into a loose model for an ideal “world,” as the dirt from one country was treaded on and mixed with the soils of other nations.

Ultimately, however, Top Soil Nations was nothing more than a didactic object lesson: Mosher played the role of the learned naturalist (a canvas bag with additional soil samples rested conspicuously on the floor in a corner of the gallery), while the viewer served as the catalyst, who, in mixing the soil, both activated and created meaning. The viewers tracked through the dirt, taking it out the door and home with them in the “treads of shoes, car wheels and as dust in the cuffs of trousers.” Top Soil Nations signified a simplistic ideal in which, through the mixture and transportation of diverse national soils, we actively participated in “dissolving borders.”

The dubious assumption underlying Mosher’s installation was that the geopolitical divisions of the world are carved in the landscape and that by walking into, or on Top Soil Nations, one is diffusing geographical borders. However, such a journey is sheer Disney World–fantasy. Mosher’s installation was embalmed in the archaic 19th-century notion that political territories are materially bounded. Ever since Marcel Broodthaers re-presented a “political” world map as “utopian,” it no longer seems tenable to believe that the world’s borders are geographically or cartographically inscribed. Any representation that marks the divisions within Africa, Europe, the Americas, and Asia in terms of spatial territory is really nothing more than a set of decorative borders made from Letraset transfers.

While Mosher seems to want to bring about a kind of post–Cold War healing, the solutions offered by Top Soil Nations reflect the empiricist’s error of mistaking the mechanisms that govern the world physically and socially for visible quantities—geopolitical boundaries are already broken down to the extent that the real “frontier” exists in and around our bodies. Information and surveillance technologies have more to do with our confinement than do passport controls. Even on a cellular level, the distinction between species and animal/vegetable are blurring: transgenic animals are being engineered by fusing human genes with the genes of domestic animals, and the genes of a tomato can be spliced with those of a fish. Unfortunately Mosher’s installation never really investigated the actual political imperatives governing the geopolitical territory that is defined through our bodies: we are neither merely passive witnesses nor simple agents capable of “dissolving borders” but are the very territory inside which the Cold War is still being fought.

Kirby Gookin