Stanisław Ruksza on The Wall

13 February 2015

Paweł Althamer, Sunray, 2012, video still


Next week the exhibition The Wall: Art Face to Face with Borders at Careof DOCVA in Milan is coming to a close, and we are pleased to share with you this curatorial text written by the curator Stanisław Ruksza along with a gallery of images and installation views from the exhibition.


The exhibition The Wall: Art Face To Face with Borders takes on board the theme of borders in the visual arts from the points of view of politics, sociology, economics, history and existentialism.

The title alludes to the Berlin Wall – for decades the focal point of the foreign policies of the countries on both sides of the Iron Curtain, which today has become an ‘Ost-algic’ tourist souvenir. On the other hand, it is also a reference to popular culture and the legendary album by Pink Floyd. There, the ‘wall’ separates the artist from the audience; it also stands for a barrier that is erected from dark experiences that, paradoxically, become prerequisites for each creative act.

Some stagger and fall, after all it’s not easy
banging your heart against some mad buggers

Pink Floyd, Outside the Wall

Throughout the Cold War the Berlin Wall embodied a constant construct of the foreign policy of many countries, demarcating the ‘us’ from the ‘them,’ the ally from the foe, the free from the enslaved. In spite of the state of constant tension and a conflict put on ice, the Wall seemed convenient politically, both validating and preserving known activities. In today’s postmodern reality, borders have become fluid; history – in spite of Francis Fukuyama proclaiming its end – continues to reveal ever new division lines.

New borders and their rationale arise in reference to cultural or religious heritage, usually based on the idea of a permanent conflict, such as Samuel  Huntington’s concept of the Clash of Civilisations, which has proved seminal in the USA, or the recurring ideas about the Decline of the West. Some borders are staked out as a symptom of the fear of a new Other, a fear that tends to stem from a colonial legacy and manifests itself in an increasing clamour of populist xenophobia and anti-immigrant legislation.

Other borders have been incorporated into the technocratic, political framework of the Schengen Agreement, which has been perceived differently in southern and eastern Europe, as is for instance evident in the current events in Ukraine; yet another border has arisen in the form of  a wall separating Israel and the occupied territories from the State of Palestine.

All the artworks in the exhibition refer to these issues from different points of view.

The problem of borders requires a physical embodiment. This is particularly clear in the performance Ibridazioni The Wall by Giovanni Morbin, where his hand is walled into a building for eight hours, and in Krzysztof Wodiczko’s documentations of activities with his Instruments. The artist uses objects as a device for self-presentation, communication, and the marking of an individual’s presence in the public sphere.

Giovanni Morbin, Ibridazione – Bodybuilding, 2004, video still


Some of the artworks reflect on the concept of The Wall as a physical barrier that separates immigrants or refugees from their native territory. In Border, Piotr Wysocki filmed events along the Ukrainian border. Here, the artistic action becomes a medium for the recording of a fragment of reality. In Journey 110, Khaled Jarrar describes, in terms of a near-death experience, passage through a tunnel between Gaza and Egypt. In a stadium, Schauplatz Group and Joanna Warsza have staged activities in border zones, underlined by the premise that both stadiums and borders are meant to reinforce the national identity.

Piotr Wysocki, Border, 2010, video still


Even after crossing the physical border, social and political differences remain – demarcating the Other. The photographic series The Uhust Refugee Asylum by Joanna Rajkowska imagines a world of refugees, using the metaphor of a house. In her book Refugees Library, Marina Naprushkina collects recorded court notes of asylum cases as a source of information to help refugees prepare their own asylum applications better.

The series Grey Passports by Łukasz Trzciński takes up contemporary, glocal narratives that result from the reality of the current political, economic and cultural transformations. Pawel Althamer’s Sunray is an action by a group of people walking at sunrise, singing a song inspired by the line from the Belorussian national anthem: ‘A ray of sunshine will make our nation strong.’

Łukasz Trzcinski, Grey Passports: Estonia, from the series New Europe, 2009


In other works, the problem of The Wall is reflected through the lens of labour: Santiago Sierra’s book The History of the Foksal Gallery Taught to an Unemployed Ukrainian is a documentation of the author recounting at length the history of a famous Warsaw gallery that had become productive through the exchange of money to a Ukrainian man. In his Raspberry Days, Wojciech Doroszuk films, in an over-aesthetised sequence of images, a Norwegian factory of raspberry that employs Polish workers. REP’s video Super Proposition 2 ironically promotes to the Polish market the best qualities of Ukrainian workers: low pay and absence of employment rights protection or insurance.

Today, The Wall and its symbols have been transformed in nostalgic souvenirs as Stephanie Syjuco highlighted in her installation The Wall and Giuseppe Fanizza has done in his Kresy (Borderlands) – part of a wider series on the transformation of Polish borders after the WWII.

Giuseppe Fanizza, Kresy (estratto), 2014


Stephanie Syjuco, The Wall, 2014


In the final analysis, borders are also a product of our imagination, involving contracts, symbols, and potential violence. Grzegorz Sztwiertnia’s video World Theatre Centre (2001), in which the artist transforms himself into a Whirling Dervish dancer, is tranfused with fear. In Nina Fiocco and Metodo Salgari’s Cholula, small-scale sculptures of real or imagined iconic landscapes and buildings fire imagination and serve to shorten distances.

Magda Fabianczyk has referenced a similar process of dialogue in her work Where I Was Not, where she has reconstructed a symbolic negotiation table that had brought together the Roma community in Bobrek and the local authorities, as a result of the artist’s activities during her long-term residency in the area.

The human body is the Ground Zero of all human action and consciousness; in a societal sense, it is one individual body next to another. Two bodies give rise to economic exchange, three to politics, while mutual strategic positions must be worked out. In a broader understanding, ‘The Wall’ stands for resistance, something bigger than ourselves that towers over us and it is also one of the prerequisites of creation, alongside the death drive and fear.

Stanisław Ruksza


Art Face To Face with Borders

Curated by Stanisław Ruksza

Artists: Paweł Althamer, Piotr Bujak, Wojciech Doroszuk, Magda Fabiańczyk, Giuseppe Fanizza, Nina Fiocco and Metodo Salgari, Khaled Jarrar, Giovanni Morbin, Marina Naprushkina, Joanna Rajkowska, REP, Schauplatz Group, Santiago Sierra, Stephanie Syjuco, Grzegorz Sztwiertnia, Łukasz Trzciński, Krzysztof Wodiczko, Piotr Wysocki

The exhibition is organised jointly by the Imago Mundi Foundation in Krakow and CCA Kronika in Bytom, in collaboration with Careof Organization for Contemporary Art in Milan.

The project is supported by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage and Consulate General of The Republic of Poland in Milan.

Careof, The Wall. Art Face to face with Borders, 2015, ph. Nassiri


Careof, Where I was not, 2015, ph. Nassiri