The disruptive architecture of the border walls

I warn you (GOST, 2021) presents recent photographs by Polish artist Rafał Milach of three international border walls: the American-Mexican, Hungarian-Serbian-Croatian and Berlin walls. Milach’s insightful and perfectly observed images raise questions about how the physical presence and functions of border walls impact our sense of identity and memory. After photographing his home region of the former Eastern Bloc for nearly a decade, “I wanted to move to another location to emphasize that state propaganda is not a geography issue,” writes l artist in a recent email to Hyperallergic. “We are all involved in some kind of propaganda whether we realize it or not. “

Rafał Milach, “Mexico City, Mexicali 11.2019 Construction of the new border wall between the United States and Mexico. On February 23, 2018, the United States Customs and Border Protection released the final report on the border wall mockup and prototype testing. It presents, among other things, various tampering and scaling tests of the eight future prototypes of border walls proposed by Homeland Security in response to Donald Trump’s Executive Order No. 13767. The prototypes were nothing more than a show of power. They were not integrated into the new border wall structure that had gradually replaced the old recycled helicopter landing panels from the Vietnam War. The project reflects on the conception of the geographical and political division. It is dedicated to control architecture and its impact on the local landscape and urban structures. (© Rafał Milach / Magnum Photos)

Milach says he is drawn to the architecture of borders because it is a physical embodiment of the state control apparatus. Yet what is most striking about his US-Mexico series “13767” are the unauthorized ways in which ordinary people negotiate the border fence in their daily lives. In one photo, a group of men sit along the base of the fence, where a low pipe, a patched umbrella and a shaded mesquite transform the site into an impromptu gathering place. In another photo, Milach captures a humble, hand-made dwelling, located a few feet from the massive fence. While the photo shows no human inhabitant, a small collared dog glancing sheepishly across the house is an undeniable sign of domestic life. These still moments contrast sharply with closer shots with a hard, flattening flash, where Milach shows pieces of adult and children’s clothing pierced and impaled by the jagged loops of barbed wire at the top of the wall.

Rafał Milach, “HUNGARY. Matty 10.2019 Croatian-Hungarian border in the nature reserve. (© Rafał Milach / Magnum Photos)

While Milach’s Mexican-American photos capture the stubborn coexistence and violent confrontations between people and the fence, his photos of the Hungarian-Serbo-Croatian border speak more of the void. Also titled “I am warning you,” this series alternates between panoramic views of idyllic forests and farmland surrounding the border fence and detailed shots of drones, cameras and other surveillance equipment. The only humans visible are cropped into uncomfortable close-ups of clasped hands and shaved heads of soldiers. If the 500-kilometer fence was built in 2015 to block the entry of immigrants, Milach notably refuses to represent them. Instead, he stays focused on the disruptive architecture and the awkward mechanisms in place to stop their movement.

Rafał Milach, “Germany. Berlin 10.2019 Piece of the Berlin Wall acquired at the Mauerpark flea market at the former Death Band. Price: 3 euros. (© Rafał Milach / Magnum Photos)

More than three decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall, pieces of concrete from the barrier are still available for purchase at flea markets, antique shops and online. Milach’s “Death Strip” series applies photos of these rocky remains to photos taken in today’s Berlin. Although different, the two types of images sometimes share an interplay of visual qualities, colors and textures. But above all, Milach’s pairings seem to be aimed at replicating the phenomenon of memory itself, where something from the past literally interrupts and obscures the present moment, sometimes to such an extent that its influence seems stronger and even more physical than our reality. current. Together, Milach’s images of the Berlin Wall in pieces mark a moment of change. “It’s good to remember that eventually all walls fall and that we as citizens, artists, storytellers, can contribute to this process,” says Milach.

Rafał Milach, “United States, Clalexico, 11.2019 Shopping center parking lot near the Mexican-American border wall. »(© Rafał Milach / Magnum Photos)
Rafał Milach, “HUNGARY. Gara 10.2019 Border fence between Hungary and Serbia. (© Rafał Milach / Magnum Photos)
Rafał Milach, “Germany. Berlin 10.2019 is part of the border infrastructure, Bravo checkpoint. (© Rafał Milach / Magnum Photos)
Rafał Milach, “Germany. Berlin 10.2019 Wall remains at Bernauer Strasse, Berlin Wall memorial. (© Rafał Milach / Magnum Photos)
Rafał Milach, “HUNGARY. Veszprem. 10.2019 International training of border guards organized by the Hungarian police and military forces. The presentation day included training elements such as pacifying riots in the refugee camp, patrolling the border fence or capturing migrants. The training was accompanied by the ban on surveillance and military equipment used in border areas. (© Rafał Milach / Magnum Photos)

Rafal Milach: I’m warning you is available online through GOST Books.

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