Monday, February 26, 2007

The walls of Jericho

To the Royal Academy for Anselm Kiefer's profound and affecting courtyard installation, Jericho. Its subject is not just falling walls but falling civilisations.

(If you're salivating for a review of the RA's Citizens and Kings, fear ye not - one is on its way.)

Kiefer has constructed two ragged concrete towers, both of which appear to have been removed from bombed-out Beirut. Each is made from eight-foot square concrete boxes stacked one on another, but the boxes are really ill-fitting assemblies of rough-edged walls and floors.

Nothing joins smoothly, nothing sits well. Where a wall is too low, a book of lead sheets has been inserted to try and keep it level, but level these buildings are not. By design they teeter precipitously, leaning one way, curving the other, seeming in constant danger of collapse.

Kiefer throws back at us our idea of buildings as safe objects. Jericho’s buildings are both wounded and perilous, and if we never feel in physical danger, we still worry. The site of these towers – in the middle of a grand neoclassical courtyard – also speaks: it would not take much for the surrounding buildings, or any others considered stable, to end up like Kiefer’s towers.

By extension, the cultures which produced these buildings are also precarious constructions; after Jericho’s walls fell to Joshua, the city was destroyed.

You only have to consider that they are twin towers to realise this. The 9/11 allusion almost made my heart stop. While looking at the towers poking out into the London skyline, I saw a plane fly towards one and pass behind it, and even though I knew it was a trick of perspective, I still caught my breath as it flew near. This momentary terror reinforced Kiefer’s message thousand-fold.

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