SLEEPING PUBLICANSMane Hellenthal & Ulrich Behr
On the occasion of the 55th anniversary of the partnership between Grosbliederstroff and Kleinblittersdorf, there will be an exhibition from July 12 to October 12, 2023, in the gallery of the Historic City Hall Kleinblittersdorf photographs of the photo installation "Sleeping Publicans" by Mane Hellenthal and Ulrich Behr will be on display.
The installation was created on the occasion of the cultural program "Luxembourg and Großregion", European Capital of Culture 2007, and showed sleeping customs officers in the six windows of the Grosbliederstroff border house, the border crossing between Sarreguemines and Saarbrücken. Through this intervention in public space, the border became temporarily perceptible again from May to September 2007.
Mane Hellenthal and Ulrich Behr wrote a text at the time in which they recorded their thoughts on this work. In their reflections, the idea crystallized that the sleeping customs officers could also awaken as a synonym for sleeping borders. Their conjectures about the causes of awakening borders at that time were: "Is it refugee flows wanting to enter rich Europe, is it fear of global epidemics or terrorist attacks? Is it forces that are hostile to a European idea?"
Hellenthal and Behr formulated these thoughts long before the coronavirus pandemic, the dramatic increase in refugee migration, or even the founding of the AFD and the associated resurgence of right-wing populism with a longing for a strong nation state.
From today's perspective, many of these fears have come to a head or even come true. The borders were temporarily closed on the occasion of the Corona pandemic and controls were again carried out at the border crossings.Event flyer
You can view the original catalog text of the exhibition at that time here as "Time Document":
At the Sarreguemines (F) - Saarbrücken (D) border crossing, photographs were mounted in the six windows of the Grosbliederstroff border house in summer 2007. The pictured customs officers, three each in French and three in German uniform, seem to have fallen asleep bent over the table tops. The photographs are backlit in the evening and at night, creating the effect of an illuminated office in the dark. Whoever passes the photo installation, the border becomes present again.
Today, the EU's internal borders are conspicuous only by their former border buildings and money exchange offices with their typical architecture. A passer-by is reminded of the times when the border houses were still occupied and the passage from one country to another was still an official, occasionally even official matter. Entry and exit were a kind of ritual, with the character of an official greeting or farewell, a control and legitimization, a place where one had to identify oneself and reveal one's identity.
Many border houses and exchange offices have already been demolished. Other border buildings, are now home to stores, restaurants, offices or residential buildings. Often these buildings flirt in their naming with the former use (e.g. "Border-Outlet"), which make them a monument to the times before the Schengen Agreement. Today, the border buildings are in a dimension not clearly defined in time. Those who still know the border crossing from the time before 1995, the creation of the Schengen area, have experienced a reality different from the one of today. Some have fond memories of those border crossings, which were often associated with the start of vacations and adventures. Another may recall the search of his car or the customs clearance of purchases or hostess gifts. Numerous smuggling stories accompanied the inhabitants of the border areas through the centuries.
The border building of Grosbliederstroff is poetically revived by the image of the sleeping customs officer. For the last time, this building thus reactivates, by means of the photo installation, an experience deeply rooted in collective memory and reminds the viewer that the border very much still exists, that the state border is currently merely "sleeping". The globalized world is changing at a rapid pace. Conflicts arise and disappear - sometimes overnight. Strangers become familiar,? and comes threateningly close. Borders seem to disappear - are activated again
The customs officer sleeps his "100-year sleep", until the next change. We do not know exactly what will wake the customs officer: Is it refugee flows wanting to enter rich Europe, is it fear of global epidemics or terrorist attacks? Is it forces that are hostile to a European idea? The presence or absence of border controls is thus a reflection of neighboring peoples' trust in each other.
The intensity of border surveillance also serves in some respects as an indicator of the global state of realization of the ideals of "freedom, equality and fraternity" the solidarity of the societies of this planet with each other. The open borders within the Schengen area are not an achievement of the European idea to be taken for granted; rather, the ideal and practical value of this opening is a happy consequence of the eventful European history to be preserved. The customs officers, fallen into a peaceful slumber, admonish the passer-by and remind him of the transience of the moment. They stand as a metaphorical image for the momentary state of an internal border in today's Europe.
Mane Hellenthal & Ulrich Behr, 2007