In this essay, I suggest that artistic production provides valuable insights into the nature of the Canada-US border during the late-twentieth century when significant changes were occurring to dominant understandings of Canada in relation to North America. Focusing on the medium of video art, I trace the sustained engagement of Canadian contemporary artists to respond to and comment on the move towards continental integration through free trade. I contextualize my discussion in relation to trade developments that opened Canada’s border with the US, such as the 1989 implementation of the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement. This agreement, along with the later North American Free Trade Agreement, led to increasing continental integration at the end of the twentieth century, as well as hope for hemispheric integration with the subsequent negotiations towards the Free Trade Area of the Americas. With attention to works by Lisa Steele and Kim Tomczak, Eva Manly, and Clive Robertson, I foreground cultural contributions to redefining the Canada-US borderlands. Here, I chart the artists’ intention to echo narratives of the border’s porousness and address the power dynamics between the Canadian state and its trade partners. Examining themes of cultural imperialism, colonialism, and national identity, I point to the importance of cultural production in assessing the borderlands and, more broadly, histories of free trade in North America.

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Keywords Canada-US border, Clive Robertson, Contemporary art, Eva Manly, Free trade, Kim Tomczak, Lisa steele, North American integration, Video
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Journal Comparative American Studies
Smith, S.E.K. (2015). The permeable border: Examining responses to North American integration in video art. Comparative American Studies, 13(1-2), 91–106. doi:10.1179/1477570015Z.000000000101