6 Artworks Dealing with the Concept of Walls In Our Uncertain Times

August 16, 2019

Even before 2015 and what is described as the European migrant crisis, refugees from different parts of the world suffering from conflicts and ongoing violence used to run to safe environments to remain alive. Whether we speak about the 20th century or modern-day migrations, their definite symbol is the wall – a sort of an obstacle hard to cross, sometimes impossible and life-threatening.

The recent times in particular are characterized by the erection of new walls made to maintain the sovereignty of a certain nation, primarily to keep (predominately white) Europe from intruders, as migrants are called and perceived by the majority of conservative/right-wing governments throughout the Old continent and beyond. Therefore, the Wall reflects all the emotional, psychological, and physical effects of living with both real and metaphorical divisions.

Although various exhibition projects explore the mentioned phenomenon from a multitude of perspectives, the upcoming exhibition set to open in Autumn at Gropius Bau in Berlin seems refreshing and promising. Under the title Walking Through Walls, it will bring the works of twenty-eight international artists dealing with the notion of the wall in the light of the issues of nationalism, migration, and biopolitics.

Jose Davila - Untitled
Jose Dávila - Untitled (Allure), 2014. Exhibition view State of Rest, OMR, 2014, allure marble, ratchet straps, eye bolts, 177,7 x 301,1 x 550 cm © Jose Dávila & VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2019, Photo: Enrique Macías Martínez

Behind The Walls – Three Curatorial Points

The curators Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath envisioned the exhibition as a non-linear experience based on the three points of exploration. The first deals with the physical presence of walls and their function as sites of separation; the second one examines the impact of the physical and metaphorical walls on those living with them, while the third underlines various social and political struggles to overcome existing divisions.

The show takes into account the historical context – the specificity of Gropius Bau location and the surrounding sites such as a fragment of the Berlin Wall, the Topography of Terror situated on the site of the former headquarters of the Gestapo, the parliament of Berlin, and the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Bardaouil and Fellrath stated:

While this exhibition takes the fall of the Berlin Wall 30 years ago as a point of departure, it is primarily concerned with an exploration of the ‘wall in the heads’ as the German colloquialism goes. With the rise of demagoguery across the globe, new walls both real and imagined are being erected through inciting the polarising fears and prejudices of people. The exhibition is, therefore, a reflection on the current moment: an attempt to capture the predicament of division in all its dimensions, and ultimately an assertion of the human will to resist all forms of oppression.

Dora Garcia - Two Planets
Dora Garcia - Two Planets Have Been Colliding for Thousands of Years, 2017. Performance and installation. Exhibition view Somewhere Two Planets Have Been Colliding for Thousands of Years, La Verrière Hermès Brussels, 2017. Performers: Erika Schipa & Leen Van Dommelen © Dora García & Isabelle Arthuis, Photo: Isabelle Arthuis

The Artists

Practically all the media (spanning painting, works on paper, sculpture, photography, film, video installation, sound installation, site-specific interventions and performance) will be featured. The works of Aki Sasamoto, Reem al Nasser, Christian Odzuck, Zahrah al Ghamdi, and Siska and Héctor Zamora are specially commissioned for the upcoming exhibition, while few site-specific installations by José Bechara, Jose Dávila, Nadia Kaabi-Linke, Regina Silveira and Samson Young will be adapted to the architectural specificities of the museum building.

Mona Hatoum’s new sculpture, a series of works on paper from the 1970s by Melvin Edwards, and Fred Sandback’s 6-part sculptural construction from 1980 will be showcased at the Gropius Bau the first time as well.

Mona Hatoum - A Pile of Bricks III
Mona Hatoum - A Pile of Bricks III, 2019. Bricks, wood, metal and plastic, 68.5 x 95 x 62 cm © Mona Hatoum, Photo: White Cube (Theo Christelis)

Walking Through Walls at Gropius Bau

The exhibition will be accompanied by a dense program of artist talks, film screenings and curator-led tours, while a fully illustrated bilingual catalog will provide further analyzes of the concept and each work.

Walking Through Walls will be on view at Gropius Bau in Berlin from 12 September 2019 to 19 January 2020.

To bring you closer to the exhibition, we selected six exceptional works dealing with the concept of walls and separation that are about to be displayed.

Featured image: Mona Hatoum - Waiting is Forbidden, 2006–2008. Enamel on steel © Mona Hatoum, courtesy Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin / Paris. All images courtesy Gropius Bau.

Javier Téllez - Shadow Play, 2014

The first artwork on our list is titled Shadow Play and was made by a Venezuelan artist Javier Téllez. It takes a 19th century shadow play drama as a starting point for narrating the stories told by the refugees; their gestures reveal silently the horrors of exile: oppression, destruction, misery, censorship, and death. Alberto Giacometti’s original bronze sculpture of 1947 Hand appears as a threatening moving form in several different scenes and observers and navigates the remaining human form silhouettes.

Featured image: Javier Téllez - Shadow Play, 2014. Film installation, 35 mm film projection, 10:56 min, film still. Courtesy the artist & Galerie Peter Kilchmann.

José Bechara - Ok, Ok Let's Talk, 2006

The work Ok, Ok Let’s Talk (about impossible dialogues) by José Bechara was made in 2006 as a large-scale commission for the Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo in Brazil, and the Spanish contemporary art museum Patio Herreriano. The installation is made of pieces of domestic furniture, in this case approximately fifty wood dining tables, to create a simple, formal geometric platform. Just a couple of them are slightly pulled up so the unexpected breaks occur in the steady surface. There are also two chairs emerging although they are apparently squeezed by the surrounding tables. The piece, in general, refers to the impossibility of building dialogue in every aspect of our daily reality private or public, social or political.

Featured image: José Bechara - Ok, Ok Let's Talk, 2006. Wood tables and chairs, variable dimensions. Partial view of the installation at Patio Herreriano, Museo de Arte Con-temporáneo Español, Valladolid, Spain, 2008. Photo: José Bechara.

Anri Sala - 1395 Days without Red, 2011

In 2011, the artist Anri Sala collaborated with Šejla Kamerić and Ari Benjamin Meyers on a cinematographic project titled 1395 Days without Red. The final result was two films presented simultaneously as two separate installations, and both reflect the different perspectives of the artists concerning the same subject matter.

Namely, the project is focused on the siege of Sarajevo, which lasted from 5 April 1992 until 29 February 1996. According to the UN, during this period the city’s population decreased 435,000 to 300,000; around 10,000 people were killed and over 56,000 were severely injured by sniper bullets and grenades. The city was practically torn down with over thousands of homes and public buildings in one of the longest sieges in European history.

The two films deal with the trauma of the Sarajevo people caused by the conflict by focusing on a series of daily routes in today’s Sarajevo to recreate what was once known as Sniper Alley.

Featured image: Anri Sala - 1395 Days without Red, 2011. Single-channel HD video and 5.0 surround sound, 43:46 min. In collaboration with Liria Bégéja, from a project by Šejla Kamerić and Anri Sala in collaboration with Ari Benjamin Meyers. © Anri Sala, Šejla Kamerić, Artangel, SCCA/2011, courtesy Marian Goodman Gallery, Hauser & Wirth, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2019.

Tagreed Darghouth - Vision Machines; Shall You See Me Better Now?, 2019

The new series called Vision Machines by Lebanese born British artist Tagreed Darghouth feature cropped depictions of cameras, drones, satellites, or any other hi-tech device used for surveillance. These works are underlining the scaring mechanisms of the contemporary society marked by freight, control and nationalist politics, and are the latest extension of her politically charged exploration of hidden forms of violence and misconception of the other.

Featured image: Tagreed Darghouth - Vision Machines; Shall You See Me Better Now?, 2019. Acrylic on canvas, 60 x 75 cm. Courtesy: the artist & Saleh Barakat Gallery.

Gustav Metzger - In Memoriam, 2005

Gustav Metzinger was a British radical artist and political activist associated with the Fluxus movement in the 1960s. This particular installation was made in 2005 and it deals the refugee history of the Jewish people, subject matter Metzinger continually explored throughout his work. It consists of a labyrinth of cardboard objects standing at an angle of 90°; the person can walk into it, but in one point the objects densify and block one's passage.

Featured image: Gustav Metzger - In Memoriam, 2005. Installation. Photo: Wojciech Olech, courtesy Centre of Con-temporary Art in Toruń.

Mona Hatoum - Waiting is Forbidden, 2006–2008

The last artwork on our list was made by a critically acclaimed artist Mona Hatoum. It is a blue enamel sign covered with the sentence Waiting is forbidden in both English and the Arabic (although the second version is more accurately translated as "No stopping and no loitering"). The object functions as a street sign, a warning intended for the marginalized groups whether they are homeless people or, in the case of Hatoum’s practice, refuges. It relates to the artist’s personal experience of displacement when she migrated to London after the Lebanese civil war started.

Featured image: Mona Hatoum - Waiting is Forbidden, 2006–2008. Enamel on steel © Mona Hatoum, courtesy Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin / Paris.

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Anri Sala
Mona Hatoum

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