Biography | Contact | Imprint | Order

Seiichi Furuya
Views of the Berlin wall seen from East Berlin, capital of the GDR, 1985-1988

Bilder der Schutzmauer aus Berlin-Ost, Hauptstadt der DDR, 1985-1988

The photographs were taken when I worked in East Berlin as an interpreter (April 1985 - August 1987) and again when I visited the area as a tourist for a day trip in 1988.
West Berlin used to be referred to as an inland island. Its borders were 155 kilometers in length and consisted of 106 kilometers of concrete wall and 66.5 kilometers of barbed-wire entanglements. The work included in this exhibition shows a section of the 43.1 kilometers of "The Wall" (height 3.6 meters) which divided East and West Berlin.
Construction of "The Wall" began on August 13, 1961 and until its destruction twenty-eight years later in November 1989, seventy-nine people lost their lives trying to cross it from the East or trying to help those who were (some sources put this figure as high as ninety-five or even one hundred and two), and of these, sixty were shot by the East German border guards.
"The Wall" actually consisted of two walls and between the eastern and western walls there was a space of forty to one hundred meters which was known as Niemandsland (no-man's land) or Todeszone (the death zone). There were watch towers situated at three hundred meter intervals containing armed guards. The reason for this spacing was said to be due to fact that the accurate range of a machine gun is approximately one hundred and fifty meters.
Khrushchev ordered the East German government to construct "The Wall" in June 1961, immediately after failing to come to an agreement with President Kennedy at a meeting held in Vienna to discuss the future of Berlin. The ex-president of East Germany, Erich Honecker (President from 1971 to 1989) who is now living in exile in Chile was in charge of the construction of "The Wall" and for long it was symbolic of that tragedy of the cold war, the iron curtain.
Taking a hint from Kennedy's 1963 speech in Berlin where he coined the famous phrase, "lch bin ein Berliner", (I am a Berliner), President Reagan gave a speech in 1987 from a specially constructed podium by the Brandenburg Gate which allowed him to be seen and heard from the East and urged Secretary Gorbachev to destroy "The Wall". That day I heard the speech, standing among members of the Stasi (East German Secret Police) at the junction of Unter den Linden and Paris Square. That day, nobody could have imagined that two years later "The Wall" would be destroyed and almost simultaneously Eastern Europe, as defined by the Warsaw Pact and Comecon (Council for Mutual Economic Assistance), would cease to exist.

Seiichi Furuya
Graz, May 8, 1993



The work 'Limes' (Views of the Berlin wall seen from East-Berlin, capital of the GDR) by SEIICHI FURUYA, time for which was limited by his stay from 1984 to 1987 in the GDR, has its ties to earlier works. His interest in the same topic, his way of circling the phenomenon of the border, becomes visible there as well, although his earlier work does not refer to specific places. Seiichi Furuya is Japanese. The fact that he left his country, that he crossed the borders of Japan (formed by the ocean), outward-bound, raises existential questions of belonging and of the limited nature of cultural orders. He lives abroad-a condition that sharpens one's observation, heightens one's awarene­ss, gives relativity to any place.

To begin with, Furuya's work 'Limes', consisting of 14 photographs, refers very directly to the wall that separates East Berlin from West Berlin. The pictures focus on the concept of the 'wall', and in this sense they are accompanied with dictionary definitions of the word-a step that leads away from The Wall and prevents hasty interpretations. Visually, the photographs emphasize the indiffere­nce of the place; circling the empty center of the city of Berlin, they are without a meaningful center themselves: like an empty strip of concrete, an empty page, the wall stretches across the photographs (contrasted by the pictures of The Wall from the other side: the wall as a symbol of separation and destruction). Furuya's work avoids the symbolic. It shows the artist's concentration on the invisible-the calm in the cyclone's eye. The pictures really need not exist: there is nothing factual, anecdotic, no traces of a presence written in them that holds the eye. The visible-the empty space-absorbs our gaze, becomes permeable. The wall as the visible form of the invisible (as Roland Barthes described Tokyo, a city whose center is 'void').

Thus, the act of viewing must become the constituting element of these pictures: only then do the pictures begin to exist. In a sense, they are not even descriptive (descriptions would still intend to create meanings): they are pure designation: so it is, here it is. The pictures are without comment, there is no explicit thought instilled in them: a challenge to fill them with thoughts, without motiva­ting us his way or the other, without giving us support. What if this gaze into nothingness, into the void, were the true way of seeing The Wall?

What if the symbolic meaning we attach to it in a short loop of our thoughts could save us from experiencing this shocking emptiness? If it would, in fact, protect us against this realization? These pictures are (also) forbidden pictures. To this point, they have not been seen. The act of showing them thus becomes an intervention, intervening in that which is prohibited, an attack against the protecting walls of the readily explainable things and rash words we have surrounded ourselves with.

'He represents things as they either were or are, or as they are said to be, and as they seem to be or should be.'



Extract from: “Asking Questions” Rotterdam, 1988

© Christine Frisinghelli, 1988

Filmtheater am Friedrichshain, East Berlin 1987