Performing the Border

A film by Ursula Biemann

Switzerland/Mexico | 1999 | 42 minutes | Color | DVD | Subtitled | Order No. 00644


A video essay set in the Mexican-U.S. border town of Ciudad Juarez, where U.S. multinational corporations assemble electronic and digital equipment just across from El Paso, Texas. This imaginative, experimental work investigates the growing feminization of the global economy and its impact on Mexican women living and working in the area. Looking at the border as both a discursive and material space, the film explores the sexualization of the border region through labor division, prostitution, the expression of female desires in the entertainment industry, and sexual violence in the public sphere. Candid interviews with Mexican women factory and sex workers, as well as activists and journalists, are combined with scripted voiceover analysis, screen text, scenes and sounds recorded on site, and found footage to give new insights into the gendered conditions inscribed by the high-tech industry at its low-wage end.


"[This] video skillfully captures processes of exploitation in its gendered, sexualized, and racialized forms, together with a sophisticated epistemological interrogation about how knowledge of the "border" is produced, performed, and materialized."

Marjolein van der Veen Wellesley College

"...both a criticism of pancapitalism and an attempt in a discursive way to establish what the possibilities are for individual female lives in this cyborg world of labour."

Yvonne Volkart n. paradoxa

"To see this film is to see an outrageous scandal that has been swept aside; fortunately, now it is kept alive in this intriguing documentary."

Lourdes Portillo Filmmaker

"A provocative plea against the silent blindness to women's plight in a Mexican border town shaped by trans-national manufacturers. Biemann uses the camera as a a beam of light to illuminate tacit injustice."

Mara Alper Media Artist/Asst. Professor, Ithaca College

"A compelling documentary...beautifully weaves the voices of activists, intellectuals, and workers."

Terry Brown Feminist Collections


  • Biennale of the Image in Movement, St. Gervais, Geneva, Palmeres Award
  • Govett-Brester Art Gallery, New Zealand
  • InSITE and L.A. Freewaves, Los Angeles
  • Manifesta 3, European Biennial of Contemporary Art
  • Women in the Director's Chair Film and Video Festival
  • Documentary Video and Film Festival, Kassel
  • Werkleitz Festival, Netherlands
  • Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center, Buffalo, NY
  • Films de Femmes, Créteil


Ursula Biemann

Ursula Biemann is an artist, writer, and video essayist based in Zurich, Switzerland. Her artistic practice is strongly research oriented and involves fieldwork in remote locations where she investigates climate change and the ecologies of oil and water, as in her recent projects Acoustic Ocean (2018), Forest Law (2014), and Deep Weather (2013). Her earlier work focused on global relations under the impact of the accelerated mobility of people, resources and information, e.g. in the widely exhibited art and research project Sahara Chronicle on clandestine migration networks or her early video works examining the role of gender in the global reorganization of labor in Performing the Border. She is cofounder of World of Matter, an online collective art and media platform on resource geographies. Her video installations are exhibited worldwide in museums and at International Art Biennials in Liverpool, Sharjah, Shanghai, Sevilla, Istanbul, Montreal, Venice and Sao Paulo. She had comprehensive solo exhibitions at Neuer Berliner Kunstverein and Helmhaus Zurich among others. Biemann received the 2009 Prix Meret Oppenheim, the Swiss Grand Award for Art and a honorary degree in humanities from the Swedish University in Umeå. (7/19)


Shopping Cart