Lia Sáile’s project GRÖSSTER GEMEINSAMER TEILER (Larges Common Divider) proposed with equal gentleness and urgency an exploration of the universal human subject of “borders.” In her site- and space-specific interventions in Vienna, the artist incorporated the construction of the “border wall,” abstracted and white in color, in the cityscape as a site in-between.
GRÖSSTER GEMEINSAMER TEILER reproduced the characteristic build of exemplary border walls to symbolically re-erect them in other places. The art objects replicated the USA/Mexico Barrier, the so-called Belfast Peace Line, and the Israel/West Bank Wall. Taken out of their geographic, political, and social context, the objects were highly visible mementos of intercultural and social conflicts in a place in which they usually are not that visible, inviting reflection and dialogue.
The artist used the process of setting up and tearing down the reinforced concrete walls, up to seven meters high, to show how the perception, marking, and transgression of boundaries is tied to ritualized repetition. The use of real border walls as models for art objects was, on the one hand, indicative of the topicality of the issue, while its white coloring offered a symbolic “projection surface” with ample room for interpretation on the other. Moreover, the symbolic language of the walls’ pure whiteness dynamizes their size into immensity. “The imposing objects provoke passers-by into thinking outside their accustomed sphere, to switch perspectives and to start asking themselves how reality and identity are transformed by astoundment and alienation. The massive art walls thus become actors, performer and observers,” Lia Sáile explains. The “duality if space”—in front of the wall, behind the wall—turns into a metaphor of the Foucauldian space of a “wild exterior.”
Projected for a site adjacent to Morzinplatz in Vienna’s 1st district, the Israel/West Bank Wall could not be erected as planned due to last-minute political intervention. An offer to set it up at an alternative site was turned down by the artist for conceptual reasons. She had the elements of the Israel/West Bank Wall removed and instead occupied the projected site with a “blank space.” With this decision, Sáile opened up a space for discourse and dialogue about the ideas and conflicts preceding the construction of physical barriers.
Belfast Peace Line
First period of construction: 1969
Length: ca. 48 km
Museumsplatz/MQ/Mariahilfer Straße, 1070 Wien
Steel, concrete, sheet-metal, grid, 6 × 7 m
After the fall of the Berlin Wall the Belfast Peace Line is perhaps the best-known wall in Europe. It cuts through the city of Belfast and was largely built by the population themselves. In 2013, the government announced a plan to dismantle the wall within a period of 10 years: residents protested against the demolition.
First period of construction: 2006
Length: ca. 560 km
Margaretengürtel/Schönbrunner Straße, 1050 Wien
Steel, concrete, sheet-metal, 8 × 3 m
The border fence/wall between Mexico and the United States of America was supposed to dam illegal immigration and the smuggling of drugs and weapons. According to recent studies, illegal immigration into the USA has sharply dropped due to the ongoing economic crisis, with many undocumented immigrants returning to Mexico.
Israel/West Bank Wall
Ruprechtsstiege/Morzinplatz, 1010 Wien
First period of construction: 2002
Length: ca. 500 km
Steel, concrete, 6 × 5 m
This wall is running along the “Green Line” in the Israeli-occupied territories of the West Bank. It was built to protect Israel against the infiltration of terrorists. Once completed, it will be 700 km long. In the face of the riots of the Arab Spring, Israel also fortified a fence along the border to Egypt.
USA/Mexico Barrier: Margaretengürtel/Schönbrunner Straße, 1050 Vienna
Israel/West Bank Wall: Ruprechtsstiege/Morzinplatz, 1010 Vienna
* 1985 in Germany, lives and works in Vienna (AT) and Cologne (DE).
Partners and sponsors
Municipal District Offices of the 5th and 7th districts, Federal Ministry for Education, Arts and Culture