PHYLLIS ODESSEY

walling in and walling out

I work in a park covered with chain link fences.  They keep the balls inside 65 fields.  I never think twice about their possible multiple meanings.  Ai Weiwei’s 300 public installations throughout  New York City entitled “Good Fences Make Good Neighbors”  are meant to be a comment on the anti-immigration movement we see around the world, and especially in our own country.   Yesterday, I visit one of the installations at the Washington Square Arch.

“In 1937, French artist Andre Breton opened a surrealist gallery in Paris called Gradiva. The artist Marcel Duchamp designed the glass entranceway with a silhouette of two figures stepping in unison, symbolizing cultural advancement, which guests could walk through. That very silhouette is making a comeback, rebuilt in steel under the arch of Washington Square Park monument in New York City.” The Guardian, October 11, 2017

CH694238 Andre Breton and Oscar Dominguez discovering the trompe l’oeil entrance to the Gradiva Gallery, just as it is being installed by Marcel Duchamp, 1937

The arch was built in 1892 to celebrate the centennial of George Washington’s presidential inauguration.  The Ai Weiwei cage installation inside the gateway of the arch might have resonated with the public, had it not been for the fact that the inside of the cage is covered in funhouse mirrors.
The Ai Weiwei installation is a picture making opportunity, a place to see yourself in distorted ways and to view the city in multiple views.

“Any kind of wall is ridiculous, even the Great Wall of China, it never really worked. “It shows a kind of narrow-minded ideas to divide people and create some kind of hatred between people.” Ai Weiwei  No matter the intention of this installation, it provides a momentary place to linger and laugh.

Below is the Robert Frost poem, Mending Wall, a powerful statement on walling and walling out.

Mending Wall

BY ROBERT FROST

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,

That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,

And spills the upper boulders in the sun;

And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.

The work of hunters is another thing:

I have come after them and made repair

Where they have left not one stone on a stone,

But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,

To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,

No one has seen them made or heard them made,

But at spring mending-time we find them there.

I let my neighbour know beyond the hill;

And on a day we meet to walk the line

And set the wall between us once again.

We keep the wall between us as we go.

To each the boulders that have fallen to each.

And some are loaves and some so nearly balls

We have to use a spell to make them balance:

“Stay where you are until our backs are turned!”

We wear our fingers rough with handling them.

Oh, just another kind of out-door game,

One on a side. It comes to little more:

There where it is we do not need the wall:

He is all pine and I am apple orchard.

My apple trees will never get across

And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.

He only says, “Good fences make good neighbours.”

Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder

If I could put a notion in his head:

“Why do they make good neighbours? Isn’t it

Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.

Before I built a wall I’d ask to know

What I was walling in or walling out,

And to whom I was like to give offence.

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,

That wants it down.” I could say “Elves” to him,

But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather

He said it for himself. I see him there

Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top

In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.

He moves in darkness as it seems to me,

Not of woods only and the shade of trees.

He will not go behind his father’s saying,

And he likes having thought of it so well

He says again, “Good fences make good neighbours.”

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