Catrin Bolt

Privater EU-Grenzzaun


The tension created by the contradiction in the title, a classical contradictio in adiecto, already reveals the absurdity of Catrin Bolt’s undertaking, and also reminds us of an aphorism of Albert Camus: “The absurd has meaning only in so far as it is not agreed to.” (Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays, Vintage Books, New York 1955, p. 31)

“Free fence around private land” and “Fence to give away” have been the tags of an advertisement on various online platforms since February 2019. Platform owners often took the ad down a few moments after it had been published. The ad investigates a phenomenon, which is at the same time present in our consciousness and hard to imagine, and marked the beginning of a complex art project by Catrin Bolt.

Accompanied by precise right-angled design drawings of a six-metre-high EU border fence with a NATO roll and razor wire, she offered to install the structure temporarily. In addition to adverts in digital public space, she also created and disseminated analogue postcards with the same text.

The offer alternately led to scepticism regarding its seriousness and credibility, induced some people to sound out the trustworthiness of what seemed to be a bizarre offer, but also generated some interest. In the end, Peter and Conny Gleis from Zwerggasse 8 in the centre of Graz accepted the offer.

To cast our minds back: in October 2015 thousands of refugees crossed the border from Slovenia to Austria along the “Balkan Route”, causing the Minister of the Interior at the time to call for the “Fortress Europe”. Tempered by the then Federal Chancellor, a mesh wire fence was set up along the border with gaps on the properties of recalcitrant land-owners. This immediate experience, consequences in terms of domestic and foreign policy, discussions about refugees, the wide range of reactions from an empathetic willingness to help to a desire to shut ourselves off and reject strangers restrictively, the world-wide visibility of unattended and unremedied colonial and turbocapitalist irresponsibility as well as its consequences confront us all with growing global problems. The declaration of the coronavirus disease COVID-19 to be a pandemic on 11 March 2020 as an international issue was yet to come.

What we must hope to see is a paradigm shift in the sense of a transition from a rationalist to a holistic worldview.

In her work, Catrin Bolt focuses on and opens up many different questions: a small, right-angled, i.e. three-dimensional, fence structure in urban space draws a boundary between the private and the public. Its repellent symbolism and quote-like appearance emphasise its message. At the same time, its grotesque form and content draw attention to the absurdity of oversizing. It monumentally visualises the border and draws our attention to a peripheral zone. Which puts us in mind of Jacques Derrida and his emphasis on peripheral zones, because “the occurrences on both sides change the area inside”. (Jacques Derrida, Positionen. Gespräche mit Henri Ronse, Julia Kristeva, Jean-Louis Houdebine, Guy Scarpete, Graz, Vienna 1986, p. 47, translation mine)

What is a border? Who draws it, where and on what basis? How divisive, permeable or connective is it? What does it mean to stand at a border? What is the symbolism of which fence? What is conveyed by which aesthetic and design? – Such questions are raised in Bolt’s work along with those concerning periphery and centre, their meaning and characteristics. Exploring the public space, both digital and analogue, Bolt also addresses questions of the general public, the monument, the artwork and representation.

In this way, she creates carefully executed drawings, using these originals as a kind of teaser in her advert. The process of advertising as an examination of contemporary media and thus social and political conditions is just as much part of the work as the artist’s mutual contacts with “participants”. This is neither simply another form of participation—a completely overworked concept—nor is it a supervised, overly pedagogical “involvement” that disappears right away. Instead, this is a multidimensional interrogation of our current actions, assertions, negations and divisions. At the same time, this work is a readymade, a temporary memorial, a monument, a sculpture—or is it? Is it art, or can it go?

Catrin Bolt reveals the impossibility of easy, unequivocal answers, demonstrating the ridiculousness of stabilizers and reduces all claims to monumentalism, with the assistance of actual partners found after a long search, to absurdity.

As such, the fence raises questions about demarcation and solidarity, public and private, and how, for example, we understand constructions of reality, the ambivalence of utility object and monument, or the importance of semantic contexts and scales and our conception of them.

By presenting a familiar set piece as a sculpture and thus unsettling the usual order of things, the artist opens up intertwining loops of questions concerning general and, at the same time, pressing topics. Sociopolitical sensitivities, fears and wishes are negotiated at the intersection of real and virtual space between drawing, concept and the question of realisation; we can walk alongside or pass it by, or we can confront ourselves with it.

- Elisabeth Fiedler

This project was awarded the 2019 Theodor Körner Encouragement Prize.

The first construction of the fence opened on September 26, 2020 in Zwerggasse 8, 8010 Graz, and was on view until October 24, 2020. It was part of the parallel program of steirischer herbst'20.

Art in Public Space

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