2. Stones that build Walls

Rise and fall of the Berlin Wall and some other considerations around the idea of walls.

Thirty years ago or a little more a Wall fell (1).

An important one, a watershed in history. It was a 156 km line of concrete in the heart of a city in the heart of Europe but divided the World in two. High just over three meters, but inviolable as if it went up in space, beyond the Moon.

It was not a work of high engineering indeed, especially in the early years it showed up as an informal barrier of barbed wire, woods, and debris; then trenches, Friesland horses and towers surveillance. (2)

Indeed, in its very first version, it was nothing more than a row of men who became an ideology (3) and structure. Nonetheless impassable. (4)

To keep inside who is inside and outside who is outside; to leave no room for nuances and distinguish on who we are and who they are, who is a friend and who the enemy.

1. Mark Power,
Die Mauer ist Weg!,
Globtik Books 2014

 
2. 
Arwed Messmer & Annette Groenisch,
Taking stock of power,
Hatje Cantz 2016

3. Rem Koolhaas & Irma Boom,
Elements of Architecture,
Taschen 2018


4. Valerie Smith (ed.),

Between Walls and Windows. Architecture and ideology,
Hatje Cantz 2015

It was an August night in 1961 and the Earth woke up with a new scar;
yet another laceration caused by ulcers hatched in previous decades, one of the longer and darker nights of our reason, which too often continues to doze off.

The sleep of reason generates monsters, one of them is war. (5)

The most common nightmare. (6)

From Vienna to Sarajevo via Paris and Warsaw, from Berlin to Rome (7); Europe to the Americas, from Africa to Japan, moving from year to year toward a closer East. 

But that still does not let dawn be seen. (8)

Narcolepsy of the intellect, perhaps this is the illness that afflicts us more than others.

Or perhaps, more simply, war and violence are characteristics inherent in the human soul, which we pour into the world through words, thoughts and actions, every time (9) we meet someone standing on the other side of some kind of wall.

The wrong one.

5. Bertolt Brecht,
Kriegfiebel, Eulenspiegel 1955
War Primer, Libris 1998  
L’abc della guerra, Einaudi 1971

6. Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin,
War Primer 2,
MACK Books 2018

 7. Marius Constant,
Nana Symphonie, 1980 (music)


8. 
Erik Kessels,
Shit,
RVB Books 2018

9. Fabio Mauri,
Linguaggio è guerra,
Marani 1975

A small interlude to illustrate a nuance that is lost in the narrative, but it is an integral part of the complete experience of the journey presented here, born in the context of a room that is less and less a bookstore and more and more open studio and specialized library in uncommon and rare contemporary photo books: the last title cited, Language is war by Fabio Mauri, is reported and illustrated, proposed to deepen, but without having and offering real access to it.

It is a rare and sought after book, and the market says it is worth more than I can afford. Not for the importance of its content is clear, but for the scarcity of its availability. After all, that’s how you calculate the value of an object, considering too much often only one of the possible meanings of the term ‘value’, the economic one, not capturing other possible variations.

Building a wall that leaves us all shut out from the knowledge of those pages, allowing us only to peek at the cover surface through the windows in our browsers of some online ads.

And a third rereading of Bertolt Brecht’s work (10) offers us a convenient passage for end the break and return to our path.

10. Lewis Bush,
War Primer 3,
self published 2018

Going back on our steps we find a transformed world.

A breach in a wall, a door opened almost accidentally on a November evening in 1989 suddenly erase old distinctions (11), by starting a fast transition from a side (12), and fueling the illusion of a World finally made of “Us” on the other. (13)

By asking several questions.

 

Watching on television the images of that incredulous people freely in transit through a checkpoint for the first time in decades, Laurie Anderson (14) recognizes in those gazes something familiar. 
The sparkle of a burning desire, a hatched flame too long under the ash of austerity: not craving for freedom, but consumption.

People in line at bank counters to claim the 100 Deutsche Mark as “welcome gift” offered from generous Federal Germany to the newly found Eastern brothers (15), followed by rows in the wealthy boutiques on the Western streets, from whose windows appears the bright and luxuriant forbidden fruits of our Eden.

The “Short Century” ended in those days, a decade ahead of schedule, letting us foresee the frenzy that has accompanied us since then. 

The speed of technological innovation spread on an ever so large scale, the passage from an analog world to a digital one, hyper-connected and immediate, it has brought down the walls of time and space; 

East and West, North and South of the Earth now own the tools to get to know each other, to see each other, to speak directly. 

To hug in a happy embrace… (16)

We weren’t ready yet, and we aren’t now.

11. Patrick Rotman, 
Un mur a Berlin,
Kuiv 2009
Film documentario 

12a. Anthony Suau,
Beyond the Fall. The Former Soviet Bloc in transition 1989-99,
Silvana 2000

12b. Fabio Sgroi,
Past Euphoria Post Europa,
Crowdbooks 2017

13. AA.VV.
Europa. An illustrated guide to Europe for migrants and refugees,
Al-liquindoi 2016

14. Laurie Anderson, 
All the things I lost in the flood,
Rizzoli Electa 2019

 


15. Tommaso Bonaventura, Agnese Del Prete,
100 DM,
Silvana Editoriale, 2019


16. Martin Bogren,

Embraces,
self published 2014

First (17) and last (18) generations dealing with a new World, but without any instruction manual to make it understandable; missing the known coordinates, to universals questions about ‘Who we are’ and ‘Where are we going’ adds a third fundamental question: Where are we now? 

Even the best maps, if we don’t know our location, become of little use.


17. 
Martin Kollar,
Provvisonal Arrangments,
MACK 2015


18. Kristin Trub,

Letze Generation OST,
Edition Bessard, 2015

Of course, we have GPS and wearable devices that allow our community to follow each of our steps in the four corners of the world, and then share what we see, what we hear, the beating of the heart and why not even the smells from here shortly. 

An extended and shared hybrid body.  Among the members of our community.

Chosen less and less on a geographical basis and more and more by the affinity of interests and points of view.

To find confirmation of our idea of the World and not to feel lost and isolated.

In the most extreme cases, doing the screens that function a few years ago it was intended for mirrors, magical or not.

Diverging visions, discouraged by annoyance and algorithms, disappear from the flow of our feed, from our horizons, from our perceptions. 

And comparing (or comforting) us only between our fellows we lose much of the sensitivity of our “social skin”, reinforcing beyond our beliefs and disbeliefs and losing availability and ability to dialogue with those who look at things from a different perspective. (19)

Perched in defense of our little world, leaving anyone else out; enemies to fight with words and actions, which want to invade our living space, our freedom. 

19. Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann,
La spirale del silenzio,
Meltemi 2001

[The spiral of silence, University of Chicago Press, 1980]

 

“Us” thus seems to be a reflected and amplified version of our self,
“Them” are just behind the Wall, and are so many: everyone else.

“No man is an island” – or maybe we all are, and our communities are nothing else that more or less extensive archipelagos, drifting micro-continents. But however conservative may be the primordial instinct of every society, nothing is immutable, everything transits and turns; the less permeable we are to change, the lower the time horizon that we will have in front of us (as a social aggregate, not necessarily as a human race). 

Life is a constant becoming, and everything moves through some kind of border or at least legitimately tries to do so. 

Information and men, goods and capital … (20)

Drifting like rafts and boats in the middle of a sea that apparently link everything, yet we continue to build walls instead of bridges, not making those enough that we already have (21).

In Hungary (22), in the West Bank (23), between the United States and Mexico (24).

20. Justinien Tribillion et al. (eds.),
Migrant Journal,
2017-2020
(6 issues magazine)

 

21. Nicolò Degiorgis,
Blue as gold,
Rorhof 2015

 

22. Euronews footage from YouTube

 

 

 

23a. Josef Koudelka,
Wall,
Aperture 2013

b. Ad Van Denderen,
Stone,
Fw:Books 2015

c. Eyal Weizman,
A travers les murs : L’architecture de la nouvelle guerre urbaine,
Fabrique 2008

d. Giorgio Palmera,
Al Jidar,
Trolley Books 2006

e. Martin Kollar,
Field Trip,
MACK Books 2013

 24a. Richard Mischrach & Gulliermo Galindo,
Border Cantos,
Aperture 2016

b. John Moore,
Undocumented,
Powerhouse Books 2018

c. Ken Light,
To the promised land,
Aperture 1988

Forgetting when we were the “newcomers” (25), and how universal is the dream of a Promised Land in which to escape from our struggles and pains, that offers itself greedy to our glances but surrounded by impassable walls like a medieval fortress. 

Or a Castle (26).

Kafkaesque as the wall of bureaucracy that millions of people experience daily to climb from the inside, in search of that dignity and basic rights denied because they do not have a sheet of paper that shows them to the eyes of the system (27).

In the age of bits, each of us is a record, and if you are not in the database you cannot participate in the great game of life (28). 

Thus making other walls terribly precarious. Lost souls on Earth and in the media context as well (29).

25. Michael Danner,
Migration as Avantgarde,
Kettler Verlag 2018

26a. Federico Clavarino,
The Castle,
Delpine 2015
b. A companion book to The Castle,
Delpine 2015

27. Anoek Steketee,
State of being. Documenting Statelessness,
Nai010 Publisher 2018

28. Maurizio Ferraris,
Documentalità. Perché è necessario lasciar tracce. 
Editori Laterza 2009 – 2018

29a. Studio Defrost,
Immorefugee,
self published 2015

b. Henk Wildschut,
Ville de Calais,
self-published, 2017

c. Ismail Einasce, Thomas Roueché (eds.),
Lost in media. Migrant Perspectives and the Public Sphere,
Valiz 2019

Traveling among these heterogeneous walls that move, transform and drive our lives much more than we are used to thinking, approaching the end of this path there is another fallen border on which to focus attention.

Within 10 years or so, the barrier that divided the public from private spaces, personal activities and professional duties, seems to have dissolved.

We have become so fond of those little personal windows on the world made of plastic, metal and glass, that for most of us controlling the smartphone is the most frequent gesture daily, which begins and ends our days, almost as natural to breathe. 

Always connected, always operational, constantly on display.

A symbolic wall that separated Berlin and the world by dividing it between Good and Evil is fallen in 1989; the enemy has been brought down, the Good has triumphed. So, if the evil was the communist ideology that died that day, the good is the undisputed capitalist, the only player in the field since then (and before – obviously always looking for and creating new crusades, and new enemies to fight: without them, there is no Good), in one public discourse passed from the complexities of the Great Narratives to the superficiality of the 160 characters of the Twitter politics of these days.

English author and researcher Mike Fisher coined the term Semio-capitalism (30) to describe this evolutionary phase of the creature that we can call Capital, or Power.

A capital that is no longer generated by Fordist production and factory labor (which yet it exists even today, even if delocalized on the other side of the wall of our perception and our rights, in the various South of the World) or from the post-Fordist and tertiary jobs of the later decades, but a communicative capital of data and information. 

The new exploitation is the imperative to communicate, engage in daily product placement of oneself and, becoming ourselves the product for sale, generating traffic and therefore value that flows only in the coffers of the owners of the infrastructures, of the platforms.

Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon are among the latest and most powerful incarnations of the Creature, trans-national entities that place themselves above our earthly laws and boundaries, free to circulate well beyond the Sky above Berlin by Wim Wenders [Wings of Desire, 1987 – Der Himmel uber Berlin in the original title, Il Cielo sopra Berlino in the Italian translation] in the clouds of Heavens that was never so earthly (31).


30. Mike Fisher,

Il nostro desiderio è senza nome. Scritti politici K-punk / 1,
Minimum fax 2020

31. Gabriele Galimberti & Paolo Woods, The Heavens,
Dewi Lewis 2015

 

Our ecosystem is a hybrid made up of everything that goes in and out of frames of our devices; the very image of the world we have, and our positioning relative to it, it derives today as always from what we can see and know, from the information we may have access to.

And today access is through the infrastructures just described, mass media and social networks first. That works according to algorithms, which are no longer the natural laws and universal physics and chemistry underlying the universe known so far, but simple instruction sets written by men to explain to the machines how to do their work. 

With all the human fallibility of the case.

And as mentioned above, the primary function for which they were compiled is to offer our eyes and perceptions only those materials that we already have shown to like, only visions already similar to our point of view, the products that we have already bought in the past.

Those algorithms are other walls that delimit our visual and conceptual space, in which unawareness guides the paths of our lives.
And in times when the fear of the future is stronger than the hope that tomorrow will be better than the present, closing in a hedgehog in one’s own convictions risks being nothing else that further fuel on the fire that feeds our conflicts.

Although summary and incomplete, the hope is that this journey may help us to more consciously map the environment in which we live today, and maybe avoid us to take other dead ends in our progress.

That invites us to find within us, even with the few resources we have at disposition, the thrust necessary to take flight over our fences, raising ambitions and ideals and no more barriers (32).


32. XiaoXiao Xu,
Aeronautics in the Backyard,
The Eriskay Connection 2015



Additional Resources

5. Aglaia Konrad,
Schaubuch: Skulptur,
Roma Publications, 2017

6. Ad van Denderen,
Stone,
Fw:Books 2017

7. Donald Weber,
War sand,
Polygon Books 2018

5. Aglaia Konrad,
Schaubuch: Skulptur,
Roma Publications, 2017

6. Ad van Denderen,
Stone,
Fw:Books 2017

7. Donald Weber,
War sand,
Polygon Books 2018

5. Aglaia Konrad,
Schaubuch: Skulptur,
Roma Publications, 2017

6. Ad van Denderen,
Stone,
Fw:Books 2017

7. Donald Weber,
War sand,
Polygon Books 2018