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What fits in a Berlin wall /  Juan Manuel Bordon

There was a time when Aunt Cheli lived in my parents' house. Although she had been born in the mid-1940s, the aunt was convinced that she had come into the world before her time. Irrefutable proof, according to her, was her expertise in handling technological devices such as the fax machine and the electric knife. That summer, my parents registered our first Internet connection and Cheli spent hours surfing the web from my room. One night I was awakened by the noise of the printer. I turned on the light in the room and saw my aunt in front of the computer. He compulsively printed different frames of Millet's El Angelus. When I asked him what he was doing, he handed me several pages and told me to blink slowly as I looked at them, closing my eyes for a moment before opening them again.

-You realize?

-About what?

-Don't you see that they move? he said, pointing to the peasants in the painting.

When she died, several years later, Aunt Cheli left no property or property, but I inherited that custom of looking at the paintings with a slight blink. Basically, I do it out of nostalgia. But also because I discovered that many times it allows us to better perceive the potential of an apparently static image to move. What happens, for example, when one blinks in front of a painting where a car, more precisely a Trabbi, is going through a wall? The first thing that arises, as almost always, is a doubt. It is difficult to know if the Trabbi has just come out of the back room of the painting or, rather, is being absorbed by it. Are we facing childbirth or rather the death of a star that implodes and carries with it all the light that surrounds it?


Oscar Villalón's paintings share a certain obsession for the time that my aunt Cheli would surely have liked. Behind the Villalonian technique that evokes great masters of the past, and with a certain realistic horizon, his paintings are surrounded by the spirit of science fiction (or, to be clearer, the feeling of an unstable present). That spirit is in the clocks that accompany many of his works, in his landscapes or in his subway stations depopulated with a certain artifice (this said as a compliment). But that spirit demands all the attention in the paintings of  his Berlin series.

A few years ago I heard a phrase attributed to one of the generals of the Second War. “If you control Berlin, you control Germany. If you control Germany, you control Europe. If you control Europe, you control the world ”. The phrase is Eurocentric and bellicose, but it is still accurate. Berlin sometimes functions as a synecdoche (part that represents a whole) of the universe. In  times of confusion and stupor, we tend to think of that city as a possible warning for our actions. In the manner of a Shakespearean drama, humanity brought to the scene a universal and profound wound that still worries us today.

Works of art are often the projection of how to get to them. The story of how Villalón came to his series on Berlin was, if I remember correctly, the consequence of an almost Mephistophelic offer: a few years ago, a millionaire who saw his paintings told him that in a gigantic outdoor parking lot he had several fragments of the wall from Berlin and wanted me to do an artistic intervention on them. It was the kind of offer that is not rejected and Villalón accepted it immediately. What would be the theme of those paintings? What was he going to paint on top of the walls? His response seems to have been "other walls", as if the support marks a compromise on the subject.

There is something in Villalón's series about Berlin (originally intended to be captured on that support-wall, although it later evolved onto canvas) that refers to an argument from The Twilight Zone, Rod Sterling's television series. We have a (Chilean!) Painter who intends to paint an image of that same painted wall on the Berlin Wall, opening the hypothesis of a loop: the (Chilean!) Painter paints another image of that same wall on a wall painted and thus chains one painting inside the other to infinity. It is as if Velázquez, before starting to paint Las Meninas, had taken a long walk along the beach at Tongoy with Philip K. Dick.

The more I look at the paintings in this series, the more the details intrigue me. When did those historical scenes that merge, like specters, with the wall that the car runs through? Who are the viewers who seem to frame the painting and tie it to the present? What is that dark silhouette between the car and the wall? And, again, does the Trabi get closer or farther away?


Berlin must be one of the few duplicate cities that exist in the world. It has two zoos where there were once two lions. Two central parks where lovers kiss and argue. Two airports, two downtown areas and it sure also has two shrinks. There is something in that mirror construction left by the Cold War that challenges us: they are zeros and ones, it is God against the devil, the yin repudiating the yang or the pair of hyenas that Noah wanted to expel from the ark; Those cities are us, after all, in the face of the reflection of what we were not but could well have been.

I think that the afternoon I met him, Oscar Villalón told me about his Berlin paintings through a kind of fable. The protagonist was the actor Ülrich Muhe, a boy of just eight years old when the iron curtain began to rise between the two Germanies. During his years of service in the Democratic Republic army, Muhe held one of the guard posts next to the Berlin Wall, with all that that entailed: paranoia, boredom, fear, cold, and history.

Upon returning to civilian life in the early 1980s, Muhe began a successful career as a stage actor in a cast that also featured Jenny Gröllman. They fell in love, they got married and, for a Berlin fable, it is not surprising that the marriage fell apart in 1990. Some time later, when the Stasi reports on him were declassified, Muhe had the rare privilege of prying into his own life. . Among other things, in those declassified reports Muhe discovered that Gröllman, his ex-wife, had passed information about him to the GDR secret police for years.

Muhe's story took a strange turn on itself in the mid-2000s, when the actor received the script for a film called The Lives of Others. They offered him the role of a Stasi agent who takes up residence in the attic of a building in East Berlin to record and spy on the conversations of a young artist couple. Throughout the film, the spy discovered that she was an informant for the Stasi. When the woman was coerced into turning her husband over to the Stasi, the spy who followed everything from the attic decided to save him as if he were a pious deus ex-machina.

Of course, Muhe accepted the role and gave one of the great performances of his life (here playing has a double meaning, too). When asked after the premiere, the actor was inspired to build such a compelling character, he said, "I just remembered."


My Aunt Cheli's art observation technique held another secret, which for her was the true key to blinking. Regardless of what a painter would have wanted to do on canvas, by blinking one took control and decided where a scene was headed. Auntie liked to use Michelangelo's Creation to illustrate the moral weight of that instance. According to her, most people had wanted to see in that image an almighty god giving the last touch of life to his most perfect creation, the human being. Aunt Cheli disagreed at all. When she blinked, what she saw was a god retreating in terror, like someone sticking a finger in the socket and screaming: "I'll be an idiot!"

Perhaps it is an infidelity to tell it, but among the postage stamps and the historical scenes that appear in Villalón's paintings on the Wall, his affections are also hidden: people he loves, who have inspired him, who in one way or another accompany him. That cast of his intimate story runs like a fine thread in the middle of the torrent of history.

When I close my eyes, and blink, I feel the spirit of science fiction put those images in motion. Like a small black hole, the dark edges around the Trabi try to suck it all in. To Berlin, to the pains and joys of the twentieth century, to all those unique things that Villalón has seen and that, in a gesture of rebellion, he tries to fix on his canvases. I think of Roy Batty, the replicant of Blade Runner, reciting. "I have seen things that you would never believe." I think of Muhe, saying "I just remembered." I think of Villalón, planting their affections as flags to resist the black hole of pessimism and observe the mystery of life with them, with the question of whether we are facing an end or the beginning of something that we still do not understand.

All that, also fits in Berlin.  

Juan Manuel Bordón (1982, Mendoza).

He has a degree in Philology and since 2006 lives in Buenos Aires. He worked as an editor in the Culture section and in the Police section of the Clarín newspaper. He also collaborated with media such as Noticias, Diario Z and Los Andes de Mendoza. He is co-author with Virginia Messi of the book Narcolandia (2014), and with director Santiago Esteves of the screenplay for the film La Educación del Rey (2017).

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