LINES: Making Friends; Crossing Borders launched in 2023 at The Bloc, Queen Mary University of London. The exhibition explored the politics of twinning, looking at the ways that translocal constellations of friends have come together to press for social change across a range of issue areas and global challenges.
Over the course of a four-year research project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, exhibition curator Dr Holly Eva Ryan examined the ways that the practice of twinning has featured in struggles to intervene, challenge and change the course of global political affairs. Her research offers a fundamentally new account of twinning which situates these relationships within a wider, evolving landscape of global political activism and claim-making.
For LINES, Dr Ryan worked in collaboration with graphic design studio Minute Works to co-produce a series of eight unique posters. These posters represent examples of twinning practice – past and present – that have worked to disrupt existing constellations of global power and challenge the status quo. A sketchbook placed in the centre of the room was an artefact of Dr Ryan’s research journey. Functioning as a fieldwork diary, the multimedia artwork found in the sketchbook captured the emotional and cognitive processes elicited by the research process, rather than its outcomes and conclusions.
Twinning is so rarely seen, figured or understood as an example of political activism and world-making. But attempts to pre-figure different kinds of social, political and economic relations are – and have so often been – at the heart of these partnerships.— Dr Holly Eva Ryan, exhibition curator and Reader in International Relations
Photograph from the launch of LINES courtesy of Jimmy Edmonson/Minute Works, 2023.
Artwork by Dr Holly Eva Ryan displayed as part of LINES, 2023.
Eight monochrome posters were co-produced with graphic designers from Minute Works Studios. Each of the posters used a unique configuration of intersecting black and white lines to represent real world examples of twinning’s powerful impact – from the 1990s anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, when towns in England and Scotland twinned with African National Congress regions, to a twin town partnership that will make Gorizia and Nova Gorica the joint 2025 European Capital of Culture, dismantling the historically contested border between Italy and Slovenia.
Other examples included Reading’s twin town partnership with Speightstown in Barbados, which recognises the crucial role that Barbadians played in Britain’s post-war reconstruction and development; maternal health and humanitarian aid efforts in Glastonbury’s Ethiopian twin town of Lalibela; and Hanwell’s work to support Palestinian residents facing everyday forms of violence in its twin town of Sebastiya. The exhibition also highlighted the Denver and Nairobi partnership that facilitated the repatriation of cultural objects from museum collections in the United States to their rightful owners; a partnership between Scottish and Mexican Zapatista communities to support indigenous fair trade projects in rural Chiapas; and the dozens of UK and US towns twinned with counterparts in Nicaragua as an extension of solidarity in the wake of the 1979 revolution.
Where the eight posters represented a more conventional, didactic and authoritative mode of storytelling, the choice to display Dr Ryan's own field sketches, mind maps and thoughts-in-process alternately served to spotlight some of the complexities, ambiguities and contingencies yielded by the research experience. By showcasing this uneasy juxtaposition, LINES sought to prompt closer intellectual reflection on the synergies and disjunctions between the research process and its public outputs.
It has long been my contention that one of the most important characteristics of aesthetic materials and processes is their extra-discursive nature [...] acts of drawing and making can capture the messiness of research much better than words can, no matter how neatly or elegantly constructed those words might be. Indeed, there was really nothing very elegant about my visual field notes: these were spaces that I used to express the feelings of doubt, discomfort, inspiration and uncertainty that shrouded the research process at different moments.— Dr Holly Eva Ryan, exhibition curator
Photographs from the launch of LINES courtesy of Jimmy Edmonson/Minute Works, 2023.
Listen to Dr Holly Ryan discuss the LINES exhibition in this episode of the Global Politics Unbound podcast. Dr Ryan meets with Dr Keren Weitzberg and Sarah Wong, her gallery assistant and PhD student from LSE, to discuss the exhibition, her artistic process, and the aesthetic turn in International Relations.