Video, migration, and hetero-temporality: the liminality of time

  • Mieke Bal
Keywords: Video, migration, hetero-temporality


The threshold (limen) where encounter is about to take place can be considered and fleshed out in many different ways. In a cultural context where the visibility of difference skirts the dangers of xenophobia, racial thinking and ghettoisation, I seek out an aspect of migratory life that is not so obviously visible, yet the visibility of which could help the encounter to occur performatively. This aspect is time: a threshold of (inter-)cultural life. I approach this topic in terms of two forms of visibility: video and migration.

While the moving image and migration were both phenomena of substantial currency and effect during the twentieth-century, in the present moment it appears that the visibility of video and migration is increasingly enhanced, based respectively on the sheer volume and variety of populations on the move, and the pyramiding appeal and accessibility of video. In this article, I probe how video art can contribute to a better understanding of migratory culture through an analysis of selected video works. Conversely, I argue that migratory culture helps to engage with video art on a different, more socially engaged level than might be obvious, particularly, in terms of temporality.

I proceed in this oblique and dialogic manner because video, as an artistic medium can, arguably, provide an experiential understanding of what such a multitemporality means. The phenomenon itself I refer to as multi-temporality; the experience of it, heterochrony. Liminal in art, in culture, and in migratory experience, heterochrony can become the existential experience marked by difference-within that enhances a cultural encounter that performs, rather than declaring “migratory culture” as the standard state of being in the world.