Belfast Exposed has on display an exhibition by Taryn Simon. Entitled Contraband, to view is a sampling of 1,075 photographs of items detained or seized from passengers (and express mail) entering the United States.
The Belfast Exposed exhibition is in the main gallery, with a weekly lunchtime talk every Wednesday. I caught the last talk; the exhibition runs until 30th December.
Today’s talk (see above) was given by Belfast Exposed staff member, Alissa Kleist, who explained that the main theme of the exhibition is desire. Every kind of object shown represents some element of what is valued and desired by the recipient society.
Some of these illicit items are universal: alcohol, drug paraphernalia, fake gold, pirated movies, sexual stimulants.
Others are specific to the cultural identities of the population, e.g. duck tongue, fried guinea pigs, vegetables (used for voodoo).
And there are some items that are forbidden only because of the state’s politics: witness the confiscation of Cuban cigars.
I suggested to Alissa that it would be interesting to see a similar project done in another country, especially one less conspicuously consumerist.
For example, Madame Oui and my experience travelling into the Maldives was that they are very strict about prohibiting any importing of alcohol of any description, including miniatures. (Not that we were attempting any smuggling!)
How about a cataloguing of what would be confiscated in a less open society? What would customs official in Iran seize? Are foreign newspapers actually detained in China (or anywhere else)?
Meanwhile, on the theme of airports and customs, Alissa advised me of the work of Christien Meindertsma, whose project, Checked Baggage, reveals over 3,000 items confiscated in the course of a week at Schipol Airport baggage control. The outcome is more specific to our new world of airline travel post 9/11, with the display of expected items — scissors, corkscrews, razor blades, pen knives, etc.
But what I particularly like is how she attached one of these items to each of the books published in the same name, thus disabling it from being transported in person over the air. Touché!