Walking Through Walls

Gropius Bau

Press release from 8 August 2019

Running from 12 September 2019 to 19 January 2020

With works by Marina Abramović and Ulay, José Bechara, Sibylle Bergemann, Tagreed Darghouth, Jose Dávila, Willie Doherty, Smadar Dreyfus, Melvin Edwards, Dara Friedman, Dora García, Zahrah Al Ghamdi, Mona Hatoum, Nadia Kaabi-Linke, Michael Kvium, Gustav Metzger, Reem Al Nasser, Christian Odzuck, Emeka Ogboh, Anri Sala, Fred Sandback, Aki Sasamoto, Regina Silveira, Siska, Javier Téllez, Samson Young, Yuan Yuan and Héctor Zamora

Curated by Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath, Art Reoriented

Not too long ago, the fall of the Wall was one of the most salient symbols of twentieth-century utopianism. More recently, however, the surge in extreme nationalism, polarising populism, and new forms of real and virtual segregation have given way to more divisive ideologies that are increasingly rampant in our societies. Walking Through Walls is, therefore, a timely response to the current moment whereby the Berlin Wall is extended beyond its German particularity, becoming instead an entry point into critical reflection on the emotional, psychological, and physical impact of having to live with divisions, both real and metaphorical, and the sacrifice it takes to transcend them.

Curated by Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath, the exhibition brings together 28 artists hailing from diverse locations across the globe. It is conceived as one comprehensive, non-linear experience, constructed around three interwoven lines of inquiry. The first brings together works that explore the physical presence of walls and how they function as sites of separation. The second reflects on the impact that physical and metaphorical walls have on those who live with them. The third portrays the struggles to overcome existing divisions. In addition, the exhibition directly references the historically charged location of the Gropius Bau. Many symbolic sites are in its direct vicinity, or even visible from the exhibition galleries themselves, including a fragment of the Berlin Wall, the Topography of Terror situated on the site of the former headquarters of the Gestapo, the parliament of Berlin, and the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.

“While this exhibition takes the fall of the Berlin Wall 30 years ago as a point of departure, it is primarily concerned with an exploration of the ‘wall in the heads’ as the German colloquialism goes. With the rise of demagoguery across the globe, new walls both real and imagined are being erected through inciting the polarising fears and prejudices of people. The exhibition is, therefore, a reflection on the current moment: an attempt to capture the predicament of division in all its dimensions, and ultimately an assertion of the human will to resist all forms of oppression,” explained curators Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath.

The practices of the wide array of the artists in the exhibition are marked by individual experiences of division, employing a wide variety of approaches in their examination of walls as sites of separation, and signifiers of social inequities. José Bechara’s Ok, Ok, Let’s Talk (2006), for example, consists of fifty wood dining tables with a few of them slightly tipped to produce unexpected breaks, from which two chairs emerge facing each other from a distance. The work reflects the impossibility of dialogue due to unseen walls caused by vague intentions. It captures the urgent moment of a delicate, yet necessary dialogue. In Dora García’s Two Planets Have Been Colliding for Thousands of Years (2017) visitors encounter two performers that are gazing into each other's eyes. Viewers and performers alike find themselves crossing floor drawings that designate inner and outer worlds in the performance space. The installation questions the possibility of communication and mutual understanding, illustrating the metaphorical walls that separate us even from those that are closest to us. Another example is Smadar Dreyfus’ multi-channel sound and video installation Mother’s Day (2006–2008). Set at the Syrian-Israeli border of the Golan Heights, the work consists of recordings of greetings, projected by loudspeakers between children on one side of the border, and their mothers on the other side. These exchanges across what is known as the “Shouting Hill,” echo these voices yearning for intimacy despite the imposed boundary that separates them. There is also Michael Kvium’s epic 7.50 by 3 metre painting Beach of Plenty (2017), which is based on a photograph, and depicts a scene of holidaymakers on a sandy beach. On a second look, however, a more somber reality emerges: a small rubber boat filled with refugees approaching the same beach. One of the refugees went overboard and is seemingly asking for help. The painting confronts the viewer with the jarring discrepancies between the realities of refugees and holidaymakers who accidentally meet at the same scene, depicting the Mediterranean Sea as a real and metaphorical border. 

The artworks on display cover a wide variety of media including painting, works on paper, sculpture, photography, film, video installation, sound installation, site-specific interventions and performance. The exhibition features several works that were specifically commissioned for the exhibition by six artists: Zahrah al Ghamdi, Reem al Nasser, Christian Odzuck, Aki Sasamoto, Siska and Héctor Zamora. Furthermore, several site-specific installations by other artists have been adapted to the architectural specificities of the building, namely works by José Bechara, Jose Dávila, Nadia Kaabi-Linke, Regina Silveira and Samson Young. Finally several works will be presented to the public for the first time including a new sculpture by Mona Hatoum, a series of works on paper from the 1970s by Melvin Edwards, along with a 6-part sculptural construction from 1980 by the late Fred Sandback that will be realised at the Gropius Bau for the first time in collaboration with the artist estate.  

A fully illustrated catalogue, published by Silvana Editoriale, in two separate English and German editions accompanies the exhibition. It features conversations with each of the artists on the themes of the exhibition, as well as an essay by the curators.  

Special events are planned for the opening weekend of the exhibition coinciding with the Berlin Art Week from 12 to 15 September, as well as for the weekend of 9 November to mark the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Furthermore, artist talks, film screenings and curator-led tours will accompany the exhibition. Details will be announced online shortly before the opening.

The exhibition is funded by the German Federal Cultural Foundation.

Save the Date

Wednesday, 11 September 2019, 11:00 
Press Conference Walking Through Walls


Annie-Claire Geisinger
Head of Communications
Gropius Bau

+49 30 254 86 124