This text was instigated at Paragon Studios in Belfast for the exhibition PALISADE.
(Part of the #Peacewalls50 Series of events)
It will develop over the course the exhibition.
/Thoughts following Prof. Wendy Pullan’s keynote at Conflict & the City, Dublin, May 2016 /
Learning from the Jerusalem wall (1): The walls can come down very quickly. That is clear, and indeed evident in their design – a modular system that can be removed as quickly as it can be deployed. Yet, this does not happen. Alignment of political will and local endorsement is what is required, which is more difficult to achieve than an architects or (more likely) military engineer’s demolition instruction. The wall is presented as the tip of the iceberg, the most visible aspect of a complex system of routes, barriers and settlements that will redefine the spatial syntax of the area long after the wall comes down. The wall is the signal, target and public face of the situation, taking on the role of material manifestation and evidence of the political will of the ruling Israeli political class and its policy of separation and dominant control over their Palestinian neighbours. The wall is the first deployment and blunt edge of this system, which is defined by economic restraint, speed and constructional efficiency. It is possible to anatomise the wall and break it down into its constituent parts, both material and representational (mediated). One could argue which is the more powerful, with a tendency over the latter. Most people do not encounter the wall directly. Its publicity as a sign is primarily communicated through mediated digital artifacts: jpegs, gifs and movies mostly shared through social media sites, reproducing its presence in multiple timelines and through ‘likes’ and ‘follows’ of particular ‘posts’. An interesting aspect of the observations about the wall is its tendency to tame its observers, through material and physical domination. One is paralysed within its visual range, powerless as an infant to impact on it in any way. Once we raise a camera to photograph or capture this power, we become complicit in its construction and implicated in its preservation, further perpetuating its power and prolonging its (already near never-ending) longevity.
Learning from the Jerusalem wall (2): The wall is designed differently on either side. On the ‘controlling’ side, the visual and physical impact is reduced, through landscaping, berming, planting, and through painting visual images that tend toward camoflage, illusionism, trompe l’eoil or other forms of visual dematerialision. On the controlled side the wall is left as is, obscuring the visual horizon, brutally intrusive naked concrete at full height, and seemingly endless in its ability to master the contours of the landscape, come what may. However, on this side it is still utilized as a space for inscription and marking, a place of resistance in the realm of the visual, opening up a space of counter-dominant communication, humour, resistance and futility. This space is appropriated by locals and visitors alike. The ‘visitors’ comments frequently do more harm than help, frequently misreading the situation and denying the grim reality of the daily presence of this immense demarcation.