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The ‘Teeter-Totter Wall’ reminds us why Trump’s actual border wall sucks

After 10 years of planning, the Rael-San Fratello Teeter-Totter Wall (2009) was actualized between the stretch of border wall dividing Sunland Park, New Mexico, and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico this week.

The temporary installation is made up of three bright pink see-saws inserted into the slots of the U.S.-Mexico border wall.


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NPR reported that while U.S. Border Police, as well as Mexican soldiers, supervised the children (and adults) at play, the installation and execution of the piece went without conflict.

In an Instagram post about the work, one of the co-creators, Ronald Rael, wrote:

“Children and adults were connected in meaningful ways on both sides with the recognition that the actions that take place on one side have a direct consequence on the other side.”

Rael is a professor of architecture at UC Berkeley. His studio partner and fellow designer, Virginia San Fratello, is an Assistant Professor at San Diego State University.

Rael is the author of the 2017 book Borderwall as Architecture, where the original concept of the Teeter-Totter Wall appeared.  The book examines the possibility of transforming the border wall as a physical space as well as a symbol.

Additionally, the book claims to illustrate the “transformative effects” of the wall on both the people it divides and the landscape itself.

Yet, indigenous critics of the piece have pointed to the disturbing idea that the concept of “unity” in this piece is dependent upon a fulcrum that is a representation of state imperial violence.

This is not the first piece of protest work to incorporate the physical wall as a central symbol of imperial violence. It isn’t the first to face backlash for the implications behind it either.

In 2017, the French artist JR created a giant photographic cut out of a young boy, Kikito, who appeared to be peering over the wall. Positioned so the child is looking into America, the piece was praised for its unraveling of the U.S.-American “gaze.”


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“Here, Kikito, a non-White child, gazes at the U.S. Empire.” Wrote Alan Pelaez for Medium.

“The U.S. Empire does not gaze at Kikito.”

JR later posted an Instagram video sharing tea with a US Border Patrol Agent through one of the slats in the wall.

Pelaez was conflicted with the ensuing publicity JR got from this piece. In his editorial, he elaborated on his thoughts further, writing:

“I cannot look at JR’s work and feel sincerity from him; I cannot and do not trust him. Part of his bio and artist statement express a commitment to making art that identifies and addresses ‘conflict zones.”

He continued,

“At first glance, this form of art-making has the potential to provide a liberatory art praxis. Some might call it ‘radical.’ But, at the expense of whom? Who must JR walk over to rise?”

Earlier this summer the organization RAICES set up 24 guerrilla art installations in protest against family separation at the border.

The artist Morely produced a 21-track album of songs and spoken word performances created to raise awareness and support for KIND, another organization giving legal protections to children at the border.

President Donald Trump was cleared on Friday, July 27, to spend $2.5 billion dollars from the Department of Defense’s counter-drug budget to build more than 100 extra miles of the border wall.

Take note: Over 900 children remain separated from their families.