The different sides of a wall

August 1, 2012

It’s not every day that you get to be a tourist in your own country.  And so, on a recent trip to Carlisle (to attend the annual Lyme Disease Action conference), it made sense to make a detour to Hadrian’s Wall – that iconic must-see sight for many a UK visitor. Hard to identify at first – it traverses an area abundant in dry-stone walls – Hadrian’s Wall no longer rises to the majestic height of 15 feet. Today it takes a little imagination to picture the barrier back in its heyday, dotted with fortifications and Roman soldiers patrolling all of its 73 miles.

Started in 122 AD, Hadrian’s Wall was constructed with the intention of keeping the Scottish Picts out of ‘Roman’ Britain. In later centuries, this defensive role was dropped and the wall found itself with another use – providing construction materials for houses and churches in the neighbouring area. Since then,  it has had other roles, from tourist hotspot to walking pilgrimage. And between 31 August and 1 September this year, Hadrian’s Wall will find itself having yet another use – playing a part in the London 2012 Festival’s art installation Connecting Light.

Hadrian’s Wall isn’t the only rampart to have joined the art world. Many artists see walls as a material to work with, or on, turning them into canvases. Sometimes these are purely decorative – walls painted with trompe loeil (literally meaning ‘deceive the eye’) are dotted across Montpellier in France, for example, such as this one in Place Saint Roch (right). Other walls-turned-canvas have a less-decorative role, like the many murals in Northern Ireland carrying powerful political messages.

Some walls stray from the paint altogether and have a different take on art. California’s San Luis Obispo is home to Bubblegum Alley – two 21-metre-long walls covered in chewing gum, which are added to constantly by artists and tourists – while in China, visionaries recently created a wall (and waterfall) entirely comprised of loos (below).

And, if you’re keen to give your walls at home a makeover, there are plenty of ways to do so. Try the website designboom, which demonstrates ways to turn a wall into a calendar, photo album,  gigantic puzzle book – complete with word searches, noughts and crosses and mazes – or art gallery.  All those options show that there’s always the chance for a wall to be more than just a wall.

(Helena Hamlyn)