Occupation - Page 1

OCCUPATION, Denis Masi's Wall Work

Andrew Renton

Little more than a year ago it was thought that there could be no more walls. But there are always walls, and walls are wars. They may be cold, silent wars, but they offer themselves as impassable evidence. And all wars, it seems, are wars to end all wars. And then, when walls came tumbling down in one quarter, their demise came to represent a freedom of movement, or individuation, by means of that very act. On the other hand, boundaries wear thin, and territories give way to others. The designated, bordered territory is forced to give its given name in the name of another.

The yielding up of strength, of course, comes only by subjugation to a greater strength, albeit political, tactical, or military. Somehow, this is not and has rarely been - a moral issue. The Gulf War was almost claimed as a holy war by both sides. Even the most simplistic translation might read, 'protecting one's interests'. In other words still, it might be read as occupation to protect one's occupation, property, or way of life. This is not far from Michel Foucault's suggestion that "it is possible to understand the army as a principle for maintaining the absence of warfare in civil society":

"It may be that war as strategy is a continuation of politics. But it must not be forgotten that 'politics' has been conceived as a continuation, if not exactly and directly of war, at least of the military model as a fundamental means of preventing civil disorder. Politics, as a technique of internal peace and order, sought to implement the mechanism of the perfect army, of the disciplined mass, of the docile, useful troop, of the regiment in the camp and in the field, on manoeuvres and on exercises." 1

It is a question, therefore, at the level of the individual, of keeping one's place, and knowing one's place. There are signs of that placement, or territorialization, inherent in the reflexive inhibitors of the psyche, right through to massive topographical manifestions. We learn our place through countless breaks and flows of a self-determining system. Within this, isolated rebellion is an inevitability, which must be contained at all costs.

Facing Denis Masi's new wall work, it becomes apparent that breaking down walls is never enough. These pieces are not only bound to walls, but are of walls. They territorialize and deterritorialize at once. The space delineated is always about the space which is not. There are strongly rendered aporia, by which one may hypothesize a pass beyond the piece. Of course, we know the physicality of the space of representation insists that there is no beyond, but the illusion is quite different. The wall works offer their own means of dismantling.

There is always a vacuum created by such a rupture. The space beyond the wall is almost too much to contemplate without the filtration offered by the object of impediment. It is hard to see the other side, except as the other side. When the subjectivized, fetishized visualization is removed, when the other becomes the self, all systems of understanding and behaviour are rendered nonsensical. There is over-determination, and a glut of meaning.

Thus, at the end of 1989, tens of thousands of East Germans poured into West Berlin to consume at random. By the same token, there was a (forty year) old saying that one could never get lost in Berlin, since there was always the wall by which to regain one's bearings. Such flux conceals as it reveals. The knowledge of place, one's own place, is essential to any territorially assertive strategy. A Cruise Missile, for example, requires two points of reference. The technology demands that it is not enough to pinpoint a target, but it is also essential to register a point of departure. It is not a question of responding to what is before our eyes, it is a question of mediation, of map-reading.

In the same way, the spectator of Masi's work is implicated in the imposition, and possible transgression, of boundaries. For example, Territorial Imperative stands as armour, and disarmament. The steelwork has been highly rendered to draw the eye, but also to distance the material. It is seemingly untouched, and untouchable. But the construction suggests otherwise. The work is screwed and bolted together. Elements in the construction come together with absolute precision: they are made for each other. The suggestion, therefore, is that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. More than this, however, is the visual seduction beyond. The flue and louvers suggest a need for air, for breathing, or combustion, perhaps. Man or machine? Of course, it is all man-made, but man has absented himself, hidden himself, after manufacture. This might help to explain the inhibiting nature of Masi's Border pieces. In their physicality they are unassailable, although weld mesh grilles suggest an aspect over and beyond the border. The main body of the pieces, however, defy the human body; unyielding, closed, and unaccommodating.