An Era of Walls: Art at the Boundaries of the New Enclosures

After the fall of the Iron Curtain and the end of the Cold War, pundits enthusiastically proclaimed the advent of a new borderless future.  Since then, six times more border walls covering the Earth’s surface have now been erected. They are the brutal visible markers of the New Enclosures that contain us all but are not always so clearly visible. 

In fact, images of walls, barricades or blockades are ironic indicators of Capitalism’s reorganization of space over the last four decades. This spatialization, described by many scholars as deterritorialization, is fundamental to the constantly shifting accumulation of capital in more “productive” geographies and political contexts. The rigidity and strength of such walls buttress the fear of the loss of state sovereignty, performing what border theorists call a theatrical presence that calms the anxiety of an internal population. This panel will consider artist practices that question, challenge or unsettle these social relations and the political, geo-economic and environmental barriers that engender them.

Session Convenors:

Leah Modigliani, Temple University

Noah Randolph, Temple University


MalinHedlin Hayden, Stockholm University

Building, framing, moving (away): Con-/testing log after log

The paper focuses particular works by Carola Grahn: three-dimensional works where birch logs specifically are the material employed. Depending on (the) site, the particular and critically different display occasions and contexts, these works will be addressed from a perspective what I tentatively phrase hence suggest as choreographical endurance in terms of labor – both as the creative process making these works that emphasizes the units, the splits, the ordering in terms of geographical located materiality. Birch tree is significant here. It is the wood material employed in traditional Sami handicraft thus Grahn’s works involve dialogues with historically long creative practices. However, birch trees mark the topographical tree limit of mountains which has seasoning importance for reindeer herding. Whereas Sapmí is – nota bene: also – a geographical area, bound, or encircled, by different nation states yet further continuously split by industrial mining. The paper will tentatively suggest these art works to con-/test limits and borders in terms of geographically endured splits, cuts and (violent) ruptures visualized as walls, steps, blockages made by work processes, creative labor i.e., that critically implies hence manifest choreographical endurance as mood, move/ment: resistance.

Jinying Li, Brown University

The Virtual Walls: Making and Mediating a Virtual Environment in the VR film 47 KM

In China, the rapid economic development has displaced much of the rural population from farmlands to factories. What is also displaced is China’s socialist past, when walls were extensively used for painting Maoist slogans and images. These socialist legacies are largely gone in cities but remain in rural villages. Filmmaker Zhang Mengqi recorded the images of these abandoned walls in the latest instalment of her documentary series 47km (2011-2020). Combining theory with practice, this paper critically contemplates the art project that I participated in collaboration with Zhang to remediate her documentary 47km into a VR film. I consider how the virtual wall, as simultaneously a metaphor, an interface, and an object, can critically engage with the history and politics of space-as-media, as well as the ways in which this mediating space can be displaced and retrieved. The essay first examines the development of three types of virtual walls in VR technologies, which enable spatial mediation and construction of a virtual environment with haptic boundary, enclosed infinity, and seamless immersion. Drawing upon the “window” metaphor, I argue that it is the wall rather than the window that fundamentally defines a virtual environment. Shifting the metaphor from “window” to ”wall” is a theoretical reconsideration of modern media not simply as systems of visual representation but as spatial organizations of enclosure, immersion, and blockage. The virtual space in 47 KM is such a mediating environment, through which China’s forgotten socialist past that is displaced in the rural wasteland is recorded, resurrected, and repurposed.

Claire Louise Staunton, Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art, Teesside University 

De-politicised Enclosures and ‘Post-Political’ Cultural Practices

This paper argues that the newest planned towns, cities and regeneration zones are de-politicised enclosures and that this has consequences for cultural producers. The process of de-politicisation of urban and sub-urban areas, in the UK context at least, began long before the advent of neoliberalism but was accelerated by its arrival. Such forms of de-politicising governance implicate and are implicated in place-based community and socially engaged arts. This paper proposes that a post-political analytical perspective reveals the processes of de-politicisation and the ways in which arts and culture led placemaking upholds them. Given that in the UK, most of the public funding (Arts Council England, Department of Media Culture and Sport and local councils) for art and culture are tied to place through the rubrics of levelling-up, regeneration and region-specific well-being programmes, it is vital that cultural producers have an understanding of how even the most critically engaged work can contribute to processes of de-politicisation taking place in those spaces. I conclude this paper by proposing that a ‘post-political’ practice of art and curating that resists de-politicisation is indeed possible. By referring to specific examples of curatorial and artistic projects I seek to illustrate how they can discern the fragile green shoots of political solidarity among neighbours and to foster and protect them through ‘post-political’ practices. 

Nádia Duvall, Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Lisbon

WAR MACHINES: Contemporary Art as a frictional device for the Outsider’s integration

This article is a continuation of the research carried out in my doctoral thesis where I created the concept of “Epileptic Machines”, which is expanded in this article through the concept of War Machines. These were first described by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari and aim to create systemic friction, inducing change in the system from within. War machines are anti-war in themselves, yet they subtly provoke in order to create social, ecological and political transformations within those fields. Globalization was a dream that ended up manifesting itself as a total failure due to capitalist greed, religious extremism and a certain perversity of individualization accentuated by social media, raising more walls than were torn down. In this sense, this paper explores how contemporary art can be perceived as an actual War Machine. In this sense, I will analyse how art as a guerrilla strategy/mechanism can enrich our understanding of current migrations and their artistic representation as a visible symptom of change in an attempt to break down invisible walls. Is this possible? I intend to critically reflect and deepen on these questions using as an example not only my own artistic work but also the work of contemporary artists who focus on these issues, such as Zineb Sedira, Ai Weiwei and Christoph Büchel.

Patricia Manos, Harvard University

The Uses of Cold War Patrimony: A Case Study from Kočani, North Macedonia

In 1981, artist Gligor Čemerski and architect Radovan Rađenović completed the Freedom Monument overlooking Kočani in the northeast of the Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The Monument took the form a concrete amphitheater adorned with expressive mosaic reliefs designed by Čemerski to interpret Kočani’s place in the history of 20th century popular struggle in the region. Although by the time of his death in 2016, Čemerski’s artistic corpus was lauded across former Yugoslavia, the Kočani Freedom Monument remained largely unknown outside its local context. Since his passing, Čemerski’s daughter Elena has led a spirited effort to preserve the outdoor monument and ensure its relevance as a performance space built to celebrate popular resistance, and aesthetically signal the legacy of Yugoslavia’s unique, nonaligned Cold War position.
            In 2022, Čemerska successfully applied for funding for the restoration project from the U.S. Embassy in Skopje. This presentation will seek to evaluate whether this has impacted the way in which the Monument is presented to its publics, the scope of its programming, and long-term prognoses for its sustained preservation. Tracing her project’s development provides an opportunity to study the way in which the role of the monument as an ideological marker of territory changes as a late-Yugoslav site is restored in a post-Cold War context. This sheds light on the role of private cultural and artistic initiatives in mediating post-Yugoslav concepts of national identity and cohesion while demonstrating status as a global partner in the liberal democratic project through NATO membership and EU candidacy.

Amy Melia, Independent Researcher

Matta-Clark: Toward ‘Anarchitecture’ and Urban Marxism

Trained originally as an architect, Gordon Matta-Clark was a contemporary artist renowned for his site-specific works in the 1970s which were characterised by major architectural incisions that gave striking visibility to the ideological mechanisms of urban space. For Matta-Clark, such works were examples of ‘anarchitecture’. A combination of ‘architecture’ and ‘anarchy’, anarchitecture was a practice concerned with voids, gaps and left-over spaces, of effectively making space without building anything. In this paper, I examine Matta-Clark’s architectural cuttings through the lens of urban Marxism – a field of scholarship that aims to enrich our understanding of the critical relationship that exists between capitalism and the urban built environment. As urban Marxist geographer David Harvey (1989) has argued, “a built environment potentially supportive of capitalist production, consumption and exchange had to be created before capitalism won direct control over immediate production and consumption.” Urbanism, in other words, provides the material foundation for the technical forces of capitalism, an environment conducive to its ideologies that functions to both produce and absorb capitalist surplus. My overarching aim in this paper is to contend that Matta-Clark’s architectural incisions are a marked example of an urban Marxist tendency in contemporary art as they served to critique urbanism’s creation of spaces for capitalist surplus production and absorption. I will argue that Matta-Clark’s anarchitecture works were an urban Marxian critique of capitalist-urbanism’s rapacious extraction of exchange values, achieved by sustaining outmoded architecture and opening up enclosed urban spaces that often function as a pretext for insuring passive, isolated consumers.

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