Armed with sledgehammers and chisels, crowds rushed to the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989, to start the process of slowly destroying the barrier that separated East and West Berlin. The fall erupted with a euphoric public response, as the promise of a world unbounded by barriers loomed in the air. And German photographer Kai Wiedenhöfer was there to capture it on film.
Now, nearly 24 years later, the photographer returns to the Berlin Wall with "WALLONWALL," a site-specific photography exhibition that calls to attention to the numerous barriers that still divide our world today.
For this installation, Wiedenhöfer placed large-format photos of contemporary borders on the physical remnants of the Berlin Wall. Ranging in appearance—and ideologies—the barriers in Wiedenhöfer's photographs tell an unnerving story of an architecture that disfigures landscapes and segregates populations. Worst of all, these physical barriers categorize people into two groups—good and bad, normal and other—reinforcing, and often even creating, certain prejudices and stereotypes among two populations.
View of WALLONWALL on the Berlin Wall
For Wiedenhöfer, the idea for the exhibition took root the night he witnessed the fall. “I was there for three days as a first-semester student," he tells Architizer. "My whole childhood revolved around the Cold War Conflict. We knew at the time it was the end of a world order. Everybody was very emotional and positive.”
Sunken Road, Occupied Palestine Territories
Gush Katif Settlement; Occupied Palestinian Territories
The experience would later inspire him to set out for the high-security border between Israel and the West Bank in 2003. That led to 21 visits to eight different walls throughout the world in the next five years. At each site, Wiedenhöfer would apply the same method and technique, producing a comparative study of differences.
Belfast, Northern Ireland
It often wasn't easy. In Baghdad, for example, Wiedenhöfer had no more than 10 minutes to get his shots of a US-built wall before having to leave the scene. The highly patrolled demilitarized zone between North and South Korean proved to be the most challenging, however. “We depended completely on the army. You really cannot do anything without the army taking you around,” says Wiedenhöfer.
Demilitarized zone, Korea
In Baghdad, an American soldier stands armed with a rifle against a impenetrable concrete wall covered in graffiti.
A group of people sit casually around their homes at the edge of Tijuana while a comparatively flimsy-appearing steel wall separates them from the barren American desert across the border.
In Belfast, an imposing wooden wall, with a distinctly provincial aesthetic, stands just feet away from an otherwise quiet, quaint street.
Central to "WALLONWALL" is the large-format photographs and their placement on a highly politically charged public structure. "When people see them on the Berlin Wall," says Wiedenhöfer, "it's a statement in itself."
Adding to the exhibition's power is the open access to the public, which destabilizes the purpose of a physical barrier. Visitors freely stroll through, examining the images of high security and division on display. Concludes Wiedenhöfer: "A wall is no solution to a political, ethnic, economical problem."