I had a dream about a border, very difficult to cross,
though I myself had crossed a number of such borders
despite the guardians of states and empires.
In the dream everything was fine as long as
we were not forced to cross the border.
On this side a nappy green carpet made from the treetops
of a tropical forest, we soar over it, we birds.
On the other side nothing.
Nothing to be touched, seen, heard, tasted.
We prepare to go there reluctantly, like emigrés
who do not expect happiness in the distant countries of their exile.
Czesław Milosz *
Hubert Czerepok’s third solo exhibition at ŻAK | BRANICKA, Americans, I am Afraid of, features a recent series of works inspired by the latest political events. At first, the works resemble a collection of abstract lines. Neon signs bear the shapes selected state borders on which walls have been built: between the US and Mexico, Israel and Palestine,Turkey and Syria, Hungary and Serbia. The installation presented in the centre of the gallery looks like a mountain of scrap from broken border barriers, but its form is far from random: it precisely maps the shape of the border between Poland and the non-EU countries.
International borders are politically conceived lines drawn to separate people based upon geographical realities combined with economic and cultural differences. Race, religion and global conflicts all play their roles in determining how the world map unfolds. Fluctuating international boundaries move as a result of their own political circumstances. Electrified by regional disputes and inflamed by worldwide tensions, these lines in motion frame our national identities.
Under the pretext of protection – be it from terrorism, refugees or wild boars – ever newer barriers are erected, whose aim is to separate some people from others. Scholars note that, despite general globalisation, no other period after World War II has seen as many border walls raised as the recent years. Elisabeth Vallet, Professor in geopolitics at the University of Quebec in Montreal and author of the book Borders, Fences and Walls: State of Insecurity? calculates that if all border walls were set one next to another, they could encircle the entire Earth. A striking aspect of this phenomenon is that the walls are not erected by weaker states for fear of being attacked by stronger states, but the opposite: such borders define more powerful countries that wish to separate themselves from their neighbours. The borders of the countries chosen by Czerepok for his neon, they all have borders that witness political and economic tensions. The choice of colours depends on which country is the most dominant in the region.
Hubert Czerepok is fascinated with a search for the sources of conflicts and evil. For many years, the favourite theme of his practice were “viruses” that infected reality, such as chaos, conspiracy theories, paranormal phenomena, mysteries of history – everything that went beyond social norms and the borders of cognition and logic. Yet, in the recent years, his interests have shifted to palpable reality. His project Americans, I am Afraid of concentrates on the border barrier as a tool of physical segregation and social separation. The phenomenon of separating oneself from “the other” was present already in his earlier works devoted to language as an invisible barrier and an isolating device. Those pieces addressed shibboleths (words difficult to pronounce by foreigners, strangers or enemies) and violence in language motivated by affiliation with a certain national or social group. The latest series depicts the ease with which an arbitrary abstract form becomes a physical barrier with real consequences. The artist asks about the motivation behind barriers between humans erected by societies. Czerepok understands border walls as a symptom of the lack of self-confidence and an indicator of the sense of threat. However, how much is a nation worth whose identity is defined by fear?
Hubert Czerepok seeks the sources of chaos in the world by undermining and compromising the systems according to which the world functions. His favourite subjects comprise the art world, good and evil, and the history of the world and the society. He seeks out viruses in the system everywhere: in evil, chance, ill will, or plain stupidity. Czerepok is no moralist: all he wants is to show the scale of madness in reality.