Why Borders Disfigure Landscapes as Well as Thoughts
In 1989, as a first-year university student, I photographed the fall of the Berlin Wall in my hometown. It became the very symbol for the downfall of the USSR as a superpower and the end of a world order that had shaped our planet and lives for almost half a century. It was the most exciting and positive political event I’ve witnessed—a first-hand experience of history in the making which deeply moved me.
During that time, many people believed that this would be the end of walls as a political instrument and we'd put them on the garbage heap of history as an anachronistic tool. Twenty years later I've been proven wrong. On the contrary, walls have had a renaissance. Border barriers went up again in the U.S., in Europe, and the Middle East as the aftermath of political, economic, religious, and ethnic conflicts. Now, people have to arrange their lives around them.
The fall was for me a formative experience that years later caused shock and concern when the separation barrier in the Occupied Palestinian Territories was erected. I documented the latter between 2003 and 2006, and published it in the volume Wall. With Confrontiers I expanded this theme into a comprehensive project about borders worldwide in order to stress that walls and fences of borders are not solutions to today's global, political, and economic problems. The Berlin Wall was the best proof for this—peace begins where walls fall, not where they are erected.
Israel | Occupied Palestinian Territories
The Iron Curtain | former German - German border
A barrier is the proof of human weakness and error, and the inability of human beings to communicate with each other. Human beings are not made for a life in border situations. We avoid them or try to leave them behind as fast as we can, though we constantly run up against them, see, and feel them. Borders mean stress, even fear. "I’m here; you are there"—borders allocate us to places, warn us to stay away. They remind me of jewelry shops with their electronically protected display windows that show us enticing riches, which for most of us are beyond our reach.
Man-made borders run between ideologies, rich, and poor, religion, and race. Their significance is not just geographic, but operate principally in our minds. Their architecture disfigures landscapes as well as thoughts. This is the worst aspect of a barrier, that most people develop an attitude of border defenders: Those on the outside are bad, those on the inside are good.
Ceuta and Melilla, Spain | Morocco
Cyprus | Greenline
South-Korea | North-Korea
USA | Mexico
Globalization promised us an ending, a dissolution of borders. But the trappings of globalization are deceptive: It enlarges markets, but also insecurity in the world. While capital moves freely within seconds, people do not. Many have been unable to participate in the benefits of economic globalization, and the gap between rich and poor is deepening.
I want to show the conflict inherent in these borders: On the one hand we long for unconditional, absolute boundlessness, perhaps because the major world religions describe paradise this way, perhaps because economical globalization (our de facto religion) demands it. On the other hand, we feel lost in the boundlessness, and want to separate, distinguish ourselves, our culture, our community. While we may admire charity, we are not ready to share our wealth.
Today, I am raising funds on Kickstarter for WALLONWALL, a photo exhibition on the Berlin Wall about walls that separate people worldwide. The concept of the exhibition is simple: on the longest remaining part of the Berlin Wall we will glue 36 huge panoramas on the side of wall which points towards the river Spree.
While fundamentally documentary in character, the project aims to illuminate the psychologies of borders, to raise questions, and reveal our experiences. Many of us feel that we are but mere spectators. This project intends to reveal us as participants—sometimes unwilling—but participants nonetheless. While barriers are a protection, they are also a cage, while acting as shields, they are also traps.