This sculpture sits squarely in the middle of an interface zone in West Belfast: no-man’s land. Some might say it stands as a bold counterpoint to its surroundings, but it is an empty plea to gloss over the contradictions in its midst, which speak so much louder. This sculpture is a piece of the violent infrastructure that runs between the Shankill and the Falls, disrupting the fabric of society along its length. Here, there is separation without solution. There is agreement without resolution. There can be a cease-fire when a wall is built in the path of bullets. Peace is not the answer.
Wall-building is deeply rooted in human instinct; today the phenomenon is perhaps more widespread than ever before. From red iron bars framing the deserts of North America to the fences of Fortress Europe, from concrete barriers newly washed in the blood of Homs to the staring contest across the DMZ, it is clear that stark physical partition is an ancient answer to a modern problem.
And yet there is primal seduction in a wall’s brutal approach to spacial organization and its straightforward legibility to the human mind. Demarcated lines of division cast the world in simple black and white, reducing interpersonal relations to us versus them, and interpreting modern politics with brute force instead of nuance. Political partition is an attempt to dodge the roots of a problem by pouring concrete over its fertile soil. Walls are a failure of policy, built in desperate times. We should know better, and sadly we do. Nobody intends to build a wall.
But something strange happens once concrete has been poured and barbed wire unfurled. Like symbiotic stars feeding one another in a slow burn, a wall and the ideology that built it can fuse and orbit their shared mass. Walls become projection surfaces for shadowy fears of the unknown. They gain power as unholy idols, promising cold comfort in exchange for worship. And they cripple our understanding of space beyond their shadow; once flourishing maps are erased: here there be dragons.
This cycle can be dismantled by prying apart the physical and ideological manifestations of a wall, then testing them head on. The lines on the map deserve to be blurred and complicated. The walls on the ground should be traversed and transgressed. The borders in our head should be pushed lest the edges they create fray and curl upon themselves, burned. The most fundamental purpose of walls is to restrict movement of people, things, ideas. And the most subversive and productive action in response is to move across them.
Through movement of the body we can hope to find some movement of our hearts, some empathy for the other we have been separated from and told to fear.
It is not enough to stop a war because peace means aftermath. Declarations of peace are made from a bird’s eye view while the tricky and invisible work of justice and reconciliation is done on the ground, pushing against an entrenched status quo. The world withdraws and ignores conflict resolution, except when it goes wrong. It might take generations before significant change and integration takes place. This pattern is playing out today around the world, from Israel/Palestine to Cyprus, to Northern Ireland--though each is fundamentally different, walls set root and grew because of inertia in aftermath, the trap set by pronouncement of peace.
Physical movement along and across these walls is poisonous to inertia, a catalyst for emotional understanding, intellectual development, and political revolution. Concrete walls, fences, and military barricades can be maintained in times of peace, but they will crumble in the face of human empathy, forgiveness, and respect.