Detroit Art Week
Trumbull & Porter Hotel
1331 Trumbull Street
July 16 - 21, 2019
Real Imagined Borders
I am pleased to present Real Imagined Borders, a solo project with multimedia artist Irit Rosenberg for Young Curators, New Ideas V as part of Detroit Art Week 2019.
Since the time humans began sheltering together, even before they moved out of caves and started building structures, they have been infatuated by walls. As human societies grew, so too did the scale of this obsession with boundaries: we began making walls so big we needed maps to keep track of what they enclosed. Maps, like history, are written by the victor. They are physical and political manifestations of the need to control, to make walls: demarcating borders between people, creating nations where others—or none—existed before. Irit Rosenberg’s work uses ceramic, steel, found objects, and canvas to explore the true impact of these divisions on our society. Rosenberg, an Israeli-American artist, is heavily influenced by her experiences as a child in the early days of Israel’s statehood and her perception of the importance of maps and borders in her society. This concept reemerged for her while living in the United States during the 1990s, when a wall between Mexico and the US entered the public imagination. Today, this focus and the work that sprang from it seem even more prescient. Our world’s fascination with walls has only increased. Robert Frost’s 1914 poem, “Mending Wall,” and a late introduction to ceramics became the jumping off point for three bodies of work surrounding a central question: Who, if anyone, benefits from these divisive constructions?
It is not history, but the modern era, Rosenberg says, that is proof that man is forever striving to define his territory. Just as in history, imagined barriers are deemed vital to our continued success as a society. Borders and boundary walls create our understanding of ourselves nation by nation as we see a global return to nationalistic, colonial, and xenophobic ideals. Catastrophe, manmade and natural, is pushing people from their homes at an unprecedented rate while leaders of “civilized” nations the world over are calling to stem the tide of migration, looking for ways to solidify their borders and redefine the “us” and the “them.” Those with power build walls around their homes and communities to keep others out. Prisons and ghettos are built to keep the “undesirable” inside. Borders serve this function on a larger scale: they are the human attempt to impose separation and demarcation where none exist naturally. They are physical manifestations of power and fear, symbols of tension and conflict. Like artists before her, Rosenberg uses the very physicality of her work to explore those issues she wants understood. Her series Real imagined borders is populated with screen printed images of people ambiguously positioned behind, or in front of, demarcated obstructions set against ceramic and steel canvases. Similarly, her series Walls, fences and maps uses metaphors for man’s futile attempt to rule over the land and dictate the fate of its inhabitants. Her use of clay is symbolic, the raw material derived from the land itself, and manipulated and reworked repeatedly, just as maps are constantly altered.
Utilizing oxides and engobes, silk screened images, and multiple firings, her work serves to represent her exploration of the facts of our divided world, and the permeability and vulnerability of these constructs. Her self-created techniques for glazing, developed through experimentation and a desire for a certain texture and emotional response, make her work stand out as being brutally honest, and disconcerting. All of the people in Rosenberg’s work have a hidden, haunted look, and the perspective is skewed; where are we, the viewers, standing in relationship to these barriers? What does that mean to us, and for us? Rosenberg intentionally obscures any opportunity for certainty. How we imagine ourselves in relationship to the work brings forth considerations of how we view others and ourselves. Color is introduced sparingly, with a ghostly presence. The muted tones and rough texture of the clay and screen printed images—of maps, people, boundaries—call out to remind us that we all “come from the same clay.”
Despite their seeming permanence and cross-cultural ubiquity, walls and borders are at odds with the realities of our increasingly global and mobile society. Emigration, by force and by choice, finds people the world over building new lives, new normals, new societies. This act of resilience continues even in the face of ever-present threats of separation, violence, and demarcation. While the lines on the maps might be imagined, and not all of the barriers and borders are physical, the walls and fences are all too real to those they surround, enclose, contain, or repel. The determination of who is impacted by these boundaries is almost exclusively racial, socioeconomic, and religious in nature. The third series, Rosenberg's large-scale clay Chain installation, represents the self-imposed chains of ideology, patriotism, religion, love, and hate. The physical size and weight of the work is an instant symbol, one that can be clearly read in any language; in bearing these chains, she says, we forfeit our freedom. These are the very chains that enforce the borders of our minds, and our societies.