Screenshot from ‘Whole in the Wall’, 2013, short film as seen in ‘Whole in the Wall’ at Ayyam Gallery, London. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery. Photo credit: Kelise Franclemont.
This text was written in 2013 as a response to Khaled Jarrar’s exhibition Whole in the Wall at Ayyam Gallery, London (20 June-3 August 2013). It was written for ‘this is tomorrow’ and published 21 July 2013.
A wall spans the length of the gallery. Grey and concrete in appearance, it is not possible to see over it or through it. The wall obstructs vision and movement, and replicates walls in other places and times. These walls exist simultaneously as physical structures and within the spaces produced by imagination and metaphor. Constructed out of conditions both violent and authoritarian (political and ideological), walls function to demarcate artificial and forcibly imposed boundaries. Boundaries that, produced by the mechanisms of state power (and reproduced by imagined alliances and loyalties), reinscribe historical divisions between citizens and non-citizens – those accorded human status and those stripped of basic rights and freedoms. I think of the conditions of apartheid South Africa and Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Khaled Jarrar is a Palestinian artist living in the occupied West Bank. The wall to which he refers (in the space of the gallery) is the Israeli West Bank Barrier, a 700 kilometre partition; conceived by the State of Israel (and in a continuous process of construction), it separates the West Bank.
Jarrar stages a performance in a two minute film work titled ‘Concrete’. I watch and listen as he, with chisel and hammer, chips away at the eight metre high Separation wall which the wall in the gallery re-casts. The video loops and repeats, recalling trauma experienced as a site of repetition and continuous replay and return. The singular and lone figure of the artist attempts to disturb a surface that remains impenetrable. Adjacent to this film (positioned in proximity to the boundary of Jarrar’s wall) is an opening through which anyone can climb. It allows the possibility of another side, and another space. Visible through this opening is a photographic image which depicts a segment of the actual wall: branches of a tree force their way through wall joints. But the metaphor of hope at first suggested is ambiguous. The branches push through the barrier but are hacked off (traces of violence are visible in torn remains). Resilience and disruption are followed by containment, violently and forcibly applied. This wall is a potent symbol of dehumanisation, human cruelty and disconnection stretched to utmost, apparently irreconcilable, limits.
The wall staged in Jarrar’s work is emblematic of state power as crude force: a blunt instrument produced by ideology and a legacy of many wars and many traumas. Attempting to historically excavate and understand these, to render them legible, offers no respite. In conditions of trauma, history moves backwards and forwards in memory and across the stories passed down from one generation to another. Human brutality continuously reproduces and re-inscribes itself; and the relations between past and present, beginnings and endings, are murky and not easily grasped. A film work documents an encounter between an aged mother and her daughter. Forcibly separated by the wall, hands (closely observed by the camera that documents them) reach to touch through tiny openings. A dialogue of love and regret is dislocated by barriers to sound, vision and basic human connection.