Es Baluard, Palma de Mallorca

26.03.21 – 26.09.21

About four centuries ago, the fortress on top of which the foundations of Es Baluard Museu stand today was erected in Mallorca. The project was carried out by the Renaissance military engineer Giovan Giacomo Paleari Fratino, who also devised multiple fortifications located in both the Mediterranean Region and the heart of Europe. Thinking about fortifications and walls anchored in these enclaves introduces us, paradoxically, into a timeline that we know when it begins and that, unfortunately, is still running.

The goal of the exhibition “Memory of Defence: Physical and Mental Architectures” -from 26th March to 26th September 2021- curated by Imma Prieto and Pilar Rubí at ES Baluard in Palma de Mallorca is to open a debate about the compulsion to erect physical and mental architectural elements, in order to justify political actions that augur protection.

Lida Abdul, War Games (what I saw), 2006 (video still). Video. 16 mm film transferred to DVD. Duration: 5′. Edición: 1/5. Es Baluard Museu d’Art Contemporani de Palma.
© of the work of art, Lida Abdul, 2021. Courtesy of Galeria Giorgio Persano

What or whom do we protect ourselves against?

The exhibition casts light on to the contradiction and paradox that characterizes history. In a way, it presents a journey that brings us closer both to Frantz Fanon, recognizing ourselves as heirs of colonial and invasive enterprises, as well as to the relationships and denunciations that Foucault pointed out in Discipline and Punish (1975).

Roy Dib, Mondial 2010, 2014 (video still). Video, single-channel, colour, sound. Duration: 19’ 30’’. Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Tanit, Beyrouth © of the work of art, Roy Dib, 2021

What is the relation between border walls, prisons and schools? We want to listen to, as Gayatri Spivak would say, the voices that inhabit the other side of the wall.

Patricia Gómez & María Jesús González, Las 7 puertas [The 7 Doors], 2011-2013. Incision on iron doors/Detached wall surfaces on black cotton fabric, 2.80 x 17 m. Courtesy of the artists / Galería 1 Mira Madrid © of the work of art, Patricia Gómez & María Jesús González, 2021. Photograph: courtesy Galería 1 Mira Madrid

The exhibition is organized into three distinct areas that allow us to delve into the dichotomy that hangs over the reasons why defense structures are built. As emphasized throughout the exhibition itinerary, our need for protection is not related to physical aggression, rather, it is related to our fear of being too close or being influenced by other people’s ideas, about the possibility of changing our ways of thinking and doing.

The show begins with a prologue that includes a cluster of historical materials aiming to reflect on the perpetual compulsion to build fortifications as well as to unearth the ties of our present physical and mental defense architectures to the past. For example, the 13th century fresco of the Conquest of Mallorca from the collection of the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya reproduced for the first time for this exhibition brings the issue of protection into question: who is the real enemy? Through building plans and maps from different historical periods as well as through a variety of iconographical sources we get close to the scenarios in which the fear of the other comes to presence.

Jorge García, Arquitectura de defensa I, II i III  [Defence Architecture I, II and III], 2015. Painted iron and polished stainless steel, 21x23x23 cm; 21x25x25 cm; 21x28x28 cm.
Edition: 2/2.

After the introduction comes to a second zone that brings up the double game hidden behind both ancient fortifications and current border walls. From the prison bars of the paintings by Juan Genovés and Peter Halley we move toward the West Bank barrier that separates Palestine and Israel as depicted by Lida Abdul and Roy Dib’s video works. Memory of the Defence wraps up with both a series of archival materials from the Balearic Military Intermediate Archive and an installation by Kemang Wa Lehulere. This way, the exhibition emphasizes the urgency of keeping, preserving and reactivating our memories. In this respect, the Department of Education at Es Baluard has carried out a series of interviews with neighbours of the museum that have first-hand experience of the transformations that occurred in the urban landscape and the surrounding area as well as of the multiple usages of the bastion.

Mounir Fatmi, All that I lost, 2019. Barbed wire and metal calligraphies. Dimensions variable. Edition: 1/5 + A. P. Es Baluard Museu d’Art Contemporani de Palma, collection of the artist long-term loan © of the work of art, Mounir Fatmi, Vegap, Illes Balears, 2020

Finally, the exhibition explores our present through a variety of projects by María Jesús González and Patricia Gómez, Antoni Muntadas, Mounir Fatmi and Petrit Halilaj, among others, including topics such as the fear of new thoughts, pandemics, prisons, walls and borders. Our time demands that museums are and must become meeting places and safe havens, site care and affection. In this regard, it is of the utmost importance to address the physical and mental structures that hinder the possibility of growing into a community.

Antoni Muntadas, Closed/Locked, 2020. 60 photographs printed on wood,
30 photographs measuring 29.7×42 cm each and 30 photographs 42×29.7cm each.

With the collaboration of Grup Serra, the artists are: Lida Abdul, Marwa Arsanios, Roy Dib, Mounir Fatmi, Jorge García, Juan Genovés, Leo Gestel, Patricia Gómez & Mª Jesús González, Petrit Halilaj, Peter Halley, Mestre de la conquesta de Mallorca, Antoni Muntadas, Daniela Ortiz, Tommaso Realfonso, Wolf Vostell, Kemang Wa Lehulere.

Memory of Defence: Physical and Mental Architectures    
text by curators Imma Prieto and Pilar Rubí

The consideration of the specificity and singularity of a place is, in large measure, what gives rise to the applicable or architectural principles. The possibility of spatial division implies a considerable increase in the number of what might be referred to as singular points. The concept of locus[1] notably elucidates an important interrelation, and it leads us to some of the ideas that are central to this project. Building on some of the ideas of Aldo Rossi, the exhibition is shaped by reflections on a certain type of functionalism, on the monument versus the anti-monument and, particularly, by a focus on the need to recover the value of collective memory. We propose an itinerary that begins with the ambivalence of time and space: without moving from where we are, we return to the thirteenth century, or journey to Palestine, Kosovo, and New York while staying in our present day. In this manner, we follow lines of thought that reveal urban, physical, and geographical fissures that are the expression of the visible and invisible borders of our time. Once again before us is the chasm that separates the realm of politics from the social realm; in other words, makes visible the separation between human rights and the system that objectifies us.

In the classical world, the choice of location was governed by the genius loci, a divinity who presided over everything that unfolded within. This served as the justification, the reason for building a temple, or the city itself, in a specific place. The spirit performed the function of protecting the place; this function leads us to a consideration of the need for protection and defence. Protection from what? Defence from whom?

The remnants of the old walls, elements of protection and defence from potential external threats, are still present in many cities. They are testimony to a past way of life which was altered by the social hygiene movements of the nineteenth century. Rapidly expanding in the century that followed, these movements advocated for oxygenating the historic centres, ordering and aerating the urban fabric. Displaced from use, most city walls became part of the historic heritage which makes up a scenography that today serves as a tourist attraction. Es Baluard Museu, the place that we inhabit[2] today, was built over a defensive structure, and its walls are literally integrated within the architectural ensemble that was once the fortification of the city of Palma. Its situation and its very name are the result of this process of adaptation.

Thus, in a way, we are inhabiting an example of architecture of defence and –despite the fact that where there were once fortifying walls, there is now a museum– the wall as a defensive element continues to be relevant today. Is it then relevant to speak of defensive architecture today? Is there any relation between the medieval walls and the wall the separates Palestine and Israel, or the barbed wire fences of Ceuta and Melilla? 

Our present is characterised by a considerable multiplication of borders and separatory structures: after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, there were six; today, in 2021, with the growing militarization of border checkpoints, there are sixty-three. In the sense that a wall is a structure of isolation that creates a limit, it might refer to a visible or invisible limitation, a frontier that may be physical geographical or cultural.

“Memory of Defence: Physical and Mental Architectures” has the intention of serving as an invitation to reflect, from our contemporary perspective, on the necessity for architectural elements –literal and figurative– that justify political actions with the promise of protection. This approach leads us to the need to examine the object that threatens our security, and to reiterate the question: from what or from whom do we protect ourselves?

The exhibition is organized in three differentiated areas that allow to delve deeper into the dichotomy inherent in the motivations for building defensive structures. As the exhibition unfolds, there is an emphasis is on the tendency to defend ourselves not so much or not only from physical aggression but, rather, from the fear caused by the proximity of foreign ideas and their potential assimilation. In other words, the possibility that they might modify our own ways of thinking and acting.

In way of an introduction, the first exhibition space contains works that take us to different historical moments and, on the one hand, reflect the need of erecting fortifications and, on the other, allow us to see that the connections with the past are stronger than we might imagine. The thirteenth-century fresco of the Conquest de Mallorca, reproduced for the first time expressly for this exhibition, presents us with contradictions. Whom does the wall defend? The island had been under Muslim rule for over three centuries at the time when it was attacked; the assault in the name of religion –Christianity– was motivated by political and commercial reasons. Catalan and Provençal merchants competed with those from Mallorca. The Balearic Isles were considered a pirates’ and corsairs’ nest that made it difficult to trade with North Africa and the rest of the Mediterranean area. The conquest was an act of retaliation, but it also represented the start of a campaign intended to obtain a trade monopoly of with Syria and Alexandria and strengthen commercial exchanges with Italy and the Mediterranean. In the paintings, we see the Arab settlers defend themselves from the towers of the wall against the assault of Christian warriors. What is their story? Who are the ones protecting themselves from the other? Who are that others here? Their point of view was excluded from the Euro-centric view of the world left to us, in this case, by Christian chroniclers.

Only in much later texts written in the twentieth century, such as Maalouf’s The Crusades Through Arab Eyes, do we find the testimonies of Arab historians who were contemporaries of the events. These writings return to us that “other” view, and lead to the conclusion that the events of that time not only shaped the Western world and the Arab world, but that they conditioned and continue to condition the relationship between the two today. Maalouf writes: “It seems clear that the Arab East still sees the West as a natural enemy. Against that enemy, any hostile action –be it political, military, or based on oil– is considered no more than legitimate vengeance”.

The exhibition responds to an interest in giving visibility to the contradictions and paradoxes contained in history. Following this course takes us to Frantz Fanon, and to acknowledging that we are heirs to actions of colonialism and occupation. It obliges us to consider our identity as based on actions that wield the flag of defence and conceal destruction. To contemplate the West from beyond the wall is to accept that part of our history is built by interested inventions, supremacist asseverations and, especially, by the silencing of facts.

Plans, maps, and photographs from different periods show scenes in which the fear of the other is manifest. In the present day, it is not difficult to visualize contexts defined by restriction and isolation; the pandemic creates a fragmentation of the sense of community and exacerbates isolation and individualism, connecting us again with a past in which multiple diseases such as the plague or the flu afflicted the known world. Today we speak of lockdowns and containment measures in districts of our cities, but then, too, there was a need to build lazarettos.[3] One of these may still be distinguished, just outside the city constricted by its wall, in a painting that depicts the 1652 epidemic in Mallorca, with an allegorical figure of a skeleton with a scythe auguring death. On the other hand, an anonymous map from 1776 shows the locations of the quarantined ships in the port of Palma. These materials, together with a series of documents, for the most part from the Archivo Intermedio Militar de Baleares [Intermediary Military Archive of the Balearic Isles], present images in which architecture is expanded by the operation of the del locus, invoked at the start of this text.

The works of Jorge García introduce the contemporary counterpart of the first environment of the exhibition. The artist unifies past and present by creating three-dimensional representations of the layouts of medieval trenches, bringing out a critical gaze that considers the impact of structures of power on our relationship with ourselves and everything that surrounds us.

Wall reappears in the second exhibition environment, pointing to the double function that hides behind them in old fortifications, contemporary bunkers and prisons. The bars of Juan Genovés’s M.131, a work that shows a multitude that flees from and denounces the Spanish dictatorship, are an example of the artist’s political realism. Genovés not only reflects on the discontent and fear of Spanish society during Franco’s regime; he shows how architectural elements become emblematic of repression. Peter Halley, in Six Prisons, uses geometry and colour to represent our society’s time-space with an anthropological approach, and critiques the stifling and occlusive political and social order in which we live. His rectilinear shapes are a plastic rendering of the complexity of urban landscapes: cells with no connection, no entrance or exit. They bring to mind what our own homes had become in times of confinement, and are much like the architecture of some projects meant for the working class and, especially, architecture conceived as prison.

This area of the exhibition closes with the project that has been developed by the Museum’s department of education. Not only does it once again bring into focus the site of the current discussion, it includes collected testimonies of people who have lived through the transformations of this site and its environs: from walls to hospital, barracks, and now, museum. People whose military service brought them here, historians who have fought to defend the neighbourhood’s memory and testimonies of those who remember the cruel realty of war. This part of the exhibition emphasizes to the need to keep memory alive, as well as preserve and reactivate it.

The third environment presents installation works and a videographic project. Delving deeper into the subject of defensive architecture, we travel to territories that have recently witnessed armed conflict, from the Middle East to Kosovo. The stress here is on the importance of realizing that there are many ways to militarize a state without adding the word military to its self-definition, if it is done in the name of defence and with assurances of the legitimacy of the resulting destruction.

Lida Abdul filmed the suburbs of Kabul in 2006. She shows us see the arid and desolate post-war landscape, after the fall of the Taliban regime five years earlier. The ruins are the consequence of successive wars. The title, War Games (what I saw), refers to the remnants of her country after the war. The destructive force unleashed on architecture has its parallel in the force used on the population. The Afghan people must reconstruct the buildings, raise the fallen walls, in a climate of precariousness and political instability. Every fragment of ruin speaks of the vulnerability that defines their present.

Lest we forget that reality is always and without exception the sum of individual stories and experiences, Roy Dib takes us to Lebanon showing us a similar scene. While, on the one hand, borders and walls reappear, this time between Lebanon, Palestine, and Israel, on the other, we learn of a couple’s imprisonment. In Mondial 2010, two Lebanese lovers relate with the camera their journey on the road to the Palestinian city of Ramallah. In a place where homosexuality is a crime and any interaction with citizens of enemy states is forbidden, travel from Lebanon to Israel or to Palestinian territories can be synonymous to death. Dib reveals these invisible borders, which continue to be part of many contemporary societies.As Gayatri Spivak would say, we want to hear the voices from the other side of the wall.

Marwa Arsanios, in turn, speaks of ecofeminist subsistence strategies in collaborative experiences. She leads us to a women’s settlement in the north of Syria (Rojava) and the work of an agricultural cooperative near the Lebanese border, focusing on the different aspects of this economic and social alternative in an area of conflict. The difficulties have to do not only with the economic, but also with the gender gap. Is it possible for women be self-sufficient in these territories?

Continuing this audio-visual mosaic, in Starfighter, Wolf Vostell critiques the defensive rearmament policies of West Germany, and the state’s political and military alignment with NATO. Starfighter is the name of a fighter plane that was commercialized throughout the world in an effort to counterbalance the military power of the Soviet Union and its communist allies, linked with corruption in East Germany when it was revealed that government officials received bribes during related business negotiations. With weapons and infrastructure, military technology has the ability to create walls of defence and alleged protection which, in some cases, promote the interests of political strategy and commerce; these walls remain standing beyond the duration of the conflicts. Vostell’s work recalls another historic conflict, that of the Cold War, also between two blocks divided by economic and defensive systems. Finally, Daniela Ortiz’s El Imperio de la Ley [The Empire of Law] brings into focus the relationship existing between colonialism and occupation (or usurpation) and the structures and architectures of power.

Kemang Wa Lehulere’s My Apologies to Time 3 (2016) turns old school desks into a series of bird cages connected with steel pipes. The work has to do with places of domestication, presenting the bird cages as micro-spaces that show the inherent tension between the idea of safety and that of captivity. The artist draws a parallel between the mimicry of the African grey parrot imitating human speech and the functioning of some educational institutions, pointing at the paradoxes of the relationship between education and indoctrination, or conduct and surveillance, which pivots on ideological instruments that condition thought and behaviour.

The work of Wa Lehulere, Halilaj, and Mª Jesús González and Patricia Gómez are informed by ideas that have much to do with the relations analysed by Foucault in Discipline and Punish. What connection exists between a bastion, a prison, and a school?

In a clear allusion to that suspension of lived time, Halilaj suspends his sculptures in vacuous space, which they inhabit with piercing poetry. The work materializes childhood memory, transforming traces left on blackboards after a bombing into iron sculpture. Signs and scribbles that will not return, but now rise up against forgetting; creation as symbol, bringing to us the forgotten wishes of the children who have lived through wars, exile and geopolitical conflict. Personally affected by the events in Kosovo, the artist works with free and abstract lines, far from nationalist and military rigidity.

The exhibition closes with three projects that hinge on the space/time dichotomy: a work that returns us to a municipal facility, specifically, to the old prison; a project begun in New York in 2020, and probably still in progress; and, lastly, an atemporal installation the speaks of the symbolism of barbed wire.

When a prison is abandoned, what remain of its inhabitants? The imprint of the time of imprisonment can generate a physical archive that contains the memory of the prison and its inmates. These are the premises of the work of the duo González and Gómez in Las 7 puertas [The 7 doors] (2011), creating a testimony of those who are silenced behind the punitive walls of a jail. The time they lived there remains suspended, like the traces of Halilaj’s work.

A contemplation of the symbolic force of barbed wire takes one beyond the wall of the border; it points directly at the wounds and the violence that we do not wish to acknowledge. It forces an understanding of the fact that the mere attempt of crossing the dividing line implicitly leads to stabs, blood, and, perhaps, death. Mounir Fatmi opens the debate around the elements that are still used in many border crossings today and makes manifest to the need to prohibit them if we wish to believe that we have a respect for life. From the moment in which we allow these materials to be used in public space, the issue is no longer that of a border between one culture and another, but that of the border between life and death.

Carried out during the lockdown in New York, Antoni Muntadas’ Closed/Locked returns us to the contradiction and the paradox. In fact, we write these lines surrounded with masks, disinfectants, and curfews. We shut our doors to the virus, to the disease, but we do so with optimistic posters and notices: ‘We hope to see you soon’. On the other hand, we seal and barricade our streets before the demands of the Black Lives Matter protests, as we do with respect to so many other demonstrations that defend other ways of doing things and an ipso facto transformation of the system. The fear of ideas is once again clearly revealed. How much longer will we require protection from critical voices and the ideas of others? How much longer will hearing a different position produce fear? After all, these are the motives buried beneath the foundations of all defensive architecture.

At a time in which museums have and should fully assume the function of serving as places of refuge and exchange, including practices of care and affect, a thorough consideration of the physical and mental structures that block the possibility of becoming a community is very much in order. We must establish spaces of inclusion, presenting alternatives that encourage the multiplicity of micro-resistance, in order to check and put an end to the fragmentation of the social fabric at any latitude, in the structure of any system and architecture.

[1] Aldo Rossi analyses the concept as a designator of the relationship between a specific local situation and the constructions within it. The authors make reference to Rossi, A. La arquitectura de la ciudad, Barcelona: Gustavo Gili, 2015, while the translation makes reference to the English language edition, Rossi, A. The Architecture of the City, MIT Press, 1982.

[2] We use the word inhabit and not occupy to emphasize the intrinsic function of the museum understood as an institution in the service of society; the museum is and must insist on being a place that advocates inclusive humanitarian values.

[3] A facility for the isolation of the sick from the healthy, among other uses of the word in English.