empathy

Wall On Wall: Photography Over The Berliner Mauer

BAPs attended the opening of Kai Wiedenhöfer’s show on Wednesday evening. A crowd gathered across a few men that were finalizing the set-up of the photographs on the wall. Later, a few speakers addressed the audience with a megaphone. The scenery exuded togetherness; people joined together to give birth to a new artistic path in Berlin.

The sun shining brightly over a newly decorated Berlin Wall. Photo: Chris Phillips

Kai Wiedenhöfer is a German Berlin-based photographer who has been working on a project called Wall on Wall since 2006.  He witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall as a student and has actively followed the process of how walls are not on decline but, quite contrary, on the rise. Border and ‘protective’ walls have been erected in Europe, the US and the Middle East following different religious, political or economic conflicts. Wiedenhöfer has documented walls in Belfast, Ceuta and Melilla, Baghdad, the Occupied Palestinian Territories, the American-Mexican border, Cyprus, Korea as well as the remains of the Iron Curtain.

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We made an appointment with the artist to meet on the following morning. A pretty early and windy meet up on the reverse side of the East Side Gallery was the mise en scène for our interview. The reason the photographs have been displayed on the Spree side of the wall is mainly because they can be seen with more perspective and people can experiment a quieter and more harmonic setting to become aware of the installation’s message.

An interview amidst the plasticity and open view of the photographs. Photo: Chris Phillips

Walls are human creations that act as barriers; a separation means to cut contact between two sides. Kai Wiedenhöfer believes that these inventions rarely protect or create a positive effect. On the contrary, they build up tension and more often than not create an ever more discordant atmosphere between the antagonist parties.

Getting official permission from Berlin to exhibit on the wall took many years, the petition started sometime during 2006. The concept of the exhibition has undergone many changes: firstly they were going to glue the photographs on the other side, then they were going to set projectors so the wall wouldn’t be touched.

BAPs: Since this is the first exhibition on the wall, what do you predict will happen afterwards?

Kai Wiedenhöfer: This is actually a pilot project. The idea is to have changing exhibitions here in the future. There were 29 committees and experts trying to decide whether or not to display the photos on the wall. People want to be sure before risking anything; everybody has some interests.

BAPs: Who are the people involved in the project?

KW: It’s a very low budget project. It is the curator – Adrienne Goehler – and me, two people who did the website for free and made the design for the invites and the typography on the wall and Sally Below Cultural Affairs, who is in charge of press. We also have sponsors that bought the paper.

The artist with Wolfgang Lenk, an insightful collaborator of the project. Photo: Chris Phillips

BAPs: How many pictures have you collected of worldwide walls? How did you decide which ones to show here in Berlin?

KW:  The book has over 140 photographs. The decision is based partly on the size of the borders and the amount of time I’ve spent there. In the U.S., I spent four months. It was 21 trips in total.

BAPs: Was any wall especially hard to photograph?

KW:  Korea, definitely. You can’t do anything on your own there – nothing at all. Everything is under military control. We talked to the Korean embassy here at length, to the press, etc. We should’ve talked directly to the military attaché because everything is army, army, army. For example, I drove from Seoul to the East coast back and forth – a 900 km trip – and took a translator, and when we got there we realized we hadn’t got the permission from the forces so we could not go in.

The photographer in perspective with the Korean border shoot. Photo: Chris Phillips

BAPs: Has the project had any political resonance? Has any government reacted to it?

KW: No, and I guess I don’t expect them to. It’s for people to gain awareness. This project will be done when the book [Confrontier] is published. After that, I have to find something new. It will probably be a portrait-related project in Europe.

BAPs: In what way is Photography a tool for political action?

KWI wouldn’t say it’s a tool for action. It can maybe start a process about thinking about certain things, but not really starting something. You can see how empty Politics is: Obama was just here and he talked about the free world and that walls should come down even in our minds, and he can’t even look at his own walls. The idea with this project is that people talk about it and what stands behind. The basic message is that it is an inefficient thing in history – Berlin, especially, can prove that walls never work. It’s a very stupid conception of solving a problem because it doesn’t go away.

BAPs: Right, so this exhibition in Berlin is also an installation: putting the photographs of other walls on the wall that actually managed to fall.

KW: Yes, exactly, and in a peaceful way. Because in Syria revolutions can go badly. If the Russians had gone out with their tanks it would’ve been a completely different story.

One of the photographs at the exhibition. Photo: Chris Phillips

BAPs: Regarding the art work and its presence here, what do you predict will happen to them? Would you like them to be written on top?

KWYeah, to have small things on it is ok but I’d like to keep it as it is because it’s also a test to see how well things can function here in the future. It’s very reflective work and usually from what is written on walls only four or five things are really well thought out and the rest are meaningless messages.  

The Wall on Wall project provides a crucial challenge to make beauty meaningful here and now. It will be up to all of us, city dwellers, passersby and tourists to take in the message and enable the space to continue working. Let's be thoughtful and careful: the union we have today requires more and more of these artistic endeavors to stay alive and grow. 

  • "Wall on Wall" – Berlin Wall, Mühlenstraße (WestSideGallery, riverside of the East-Side-Gallery, opposite of the O2 Hall) – July 10th to September 13th, 2013 – Open 24/7 [Once the book "Confrontier" is out, the price will be €48]


Article by Sofía Martinelli