For some inexplicable reason, I’ve always been intrigued by the solidity and physical presence of concrete fortifications, bunkers, castles, coastal defence systems and other types of functional structures… They’re not always beautiful to look at, and indeed, some have been used for some of the ugliest acts of hostilty and brutality known to mankind, but I still find the history behind them fascinating… I don’t know why…
A bit of background information…
Coming from Ireland, we’re spoiled when it comes to stone castles and fortifications. Ireland’s covered with them, from the megalithic tombs at Newgrange, in Co. Meath, which are some of the oldest man-made structures in the world, (5,200 years+ ) to the clifftop fortress ‘Dún Aonghasa‘ on the Aran Islands, on the Atlantic coast of Ireland.
And I know I’m not alone with this stone/bunker fetish, I’ve met a lot of people that within the first couple of hours of conversation, have referred to some type of stone structure or concrete fortification… and this, I find a little unnerving..
For example, here’s a series of artwork by my immensely articulate, multi-artist and creative partner, Birgitte Katborg Laursen, based on the Danish section of the Atlantic wall coastal defence line, which runs from the top of Norway, down to Spain. Built between 1942-1944 by the German Wehrmacht as a bulwark against the expected invasion of the Allied Forces, the heaviest concentration of bunkers and watchtowers along the ‘Fortress Europa’ Atlantic Wall is at Thyborøn, on the west coast of Jutland, Denmark, and makes for some intense imagery…
Magdalena Jetelová’s ‘Atlantic Wall’
Many other artists have found this seemingly endless coastal fortification intriguing, and have produced works directly inspired by it, one of which is Magdalena Jetelová, through her work entitled ‘Atlantic Wall’ from 1995, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the invasion of the Allied Forces.
Magdalena Jetelová takes up a transcontinental phenomenon of historical topography and makes it her image between two superposing systems of positioning, resulting in an entire scenography of bunkers along the beaches.
Elle-Mie Ejdrup Hansen’s ‘Light line on the bunkers’
On the 4th of May 1995, from 22:00 to 24:00, a laser sculpture entitled “The Line – The Light” shone along the west coast of Denmark, celebrating 50 years of peace.
As mentioned above, the remnants of around 6,000 bunkers lie dotted along the Danish west coast, constantly being knocked around by the waves; as irrational sculptural shapes, defenseless and marked by nature’s forces. These bunkers are an echo from WWII and highlight the importance of peace.
Paul Virilio’s Bunker Archeologie
Organized by the Center for Industrial Creation and presented at the Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris from December 1975 through February 1976, the images were shot by Paul Virilio between1958 and 1965.
“When calling to mind the reasons that made the bunkers so appealing to me almost
twenty years ago, I see it clearly now as a case of intuition and also as a convergence
between the reality of the structure and the fact of its implantation alongside
the ocean: a convergence between my awareness of spatial phenomena
– the strong pull of the shores – and their being the focus of the works
of the “Atlantic Wall” facing the open sea, facing out into the void.”
- Paul Virilio, Bunker Archeology, Princeton Architectural Press, 1994.
ERASMUS SCHROETER – Hiding In Plain Sight
Erasmus Schroeter’s background in the tightly controlled society of the former German Democratic Republic provides the context for two different collections of work in one exhibition, ‘Bunker’ and ‘Bild der Heimat’. The core theme within these two bodies of work is the juxtaposition between the individual and the collective worldviews developed in the socialist GDR during the forty years of its existence between 1949 and 1989.
As an “alternative” artist in the GDR, Schroeter experienced everything that the Stasi, the notorious secret police, could throw at him. This gave him both an enduring mistrust of monolithic political ideologies and the freedom to take on taboo subjects such as Nazism and German militarism. The east German society in which Erasmus Schroeter’s career developed possessed a questioning creative spirit, borne of a personally experienced repression unlike anything in the west.
Obsolete almost as soon as they were contructed, the huge bunkers of the Atlantikwall were built to protect the coasts of the Nazi dominated Festung (fortress) Europa. As they have crumbled and decayed they have become monuments, not to ‘heroic’ struggle but to the folly of military conceit. Bathed in theatrical light, the luminous colours, imposing scale and crumbling ruins of Schroeter’s Bunkers create a panorama which is both utterly arresting and wholly repulsive. Violence and beauty shift in and out of focus as the German Romantic landscape of longing, immortalised by Caspar David Friedrich, is co-opted by Schroeter for purposes which are anything but.
The supposedly collective, progressive and heroic image that East German socialism wanted to present to the world and to its people are featured in images of everything from shopping centres to industrial complexes and GDR holiday resorts. The architectural rationale which underpin both collections ‘Bunker’ and ‘Bild der Heimat’ are pervasive ideologies. Yet, although the architectural vestiges of Nazism and Stalinism maintain a clear presence in the cities, countryside and coastlines of contemporary Germany and beyond, they are often invisible to the untrained eye. Schroeter work makes it impossible for these ideologies to conceal themselves and therefore to remain Hiding in Plain Sight.
BUNKER PENTHOUSE IN BERLIN
Here’s a really great example of extracting something beautiful from something with such a dark past… a renovated WWII air-raid Bunker in Berlin, converted by the architecture firm ‘Realarchitektur‘, to house the collection of contemporary art, as well as the art collector himself, Christian Boros.
The World War Two building houses approximately 3000m² of exhibition space. Temporary exhibitions in close cooperation with the artists are planned. A 500m² extension at roof level provides living space for the art collector and his family.
The air raid bunker was constructed in reinforced concrete in 1942 during the second world war, for the German railway company. It was used to protect travellers arriving at the Friedrichstrasse Railway station from air raid attacks.
After the war minor additions and changes were made to the bunker for it to be used as a vegetable storage space. After the Berlin Wall fell it was used as a club and later on for temporary exhibitions.
In 2003, Christain Boros bought the bunker and commissioned Realarchitektur to design a place for him and his family to live in and house his collection of contemporary art.
THE MAGINOT LINE, FRANCE
The Maginot Line, named after French Minister of Defense André Maginot, was a line of concrete fortifications, tank obstacles, artillery casemates, machine gun posts, and other defenses, which France constructed along its borders with Germany and Italy, in the light of experience from World War I, and in the run-up to World War II. The entire line of defenses consisted of 142 ouvrages, 352 casemates, 78 shelters, 17 observatories and around 5,000 blockhouses.
The French established the fortification to provide time for their army to mobilize in the event of attack, and/or to entice Germany to attack neutral Belgium to avoid a direct assault on the line. The fortification system successfully dissuaded a direct attack. However, it was strategically ineffective, as the Germans invaded through Belgium, flanking the Maginot Line, and proceeding relatively unobstructed.
1959 Cold War nuclear bunker for sale on Ebay
If all this bunker insanity has inspired you to investigate the dark reaches of your inner cave dweller, you could always just buy one of these Cold War-era nuclear bunkers, currently for sale on E-bay, and renovate it into your own personal maximum security living space, so you can ward off any invading forces with minimal effort…