Banksy's Walled Off Hotel: a Talk by Professor Brunella Antomarini

Professor Brunella Antomarini

Professor Brunella Antomarini

On Thursday, March 30, 2017, John Cabot University’s Student Government hosted the second lecture in the Prof. Talks series. Prof. Talks is an initiative which gives professors a chance to share their knowledge and expertise by presenting their latest research. The first lecture in the series focused on gravitational waves and was titled “Getting wavy with it,” by Professor Stefano Arnone.

This week’s speaker was Philosophy Professor Brunella Antomarini, in a lecture titled “Banksy’s Walled Off Hotel.” Professor Antomarini has a multi-disciplinary formation in contemporary epistemology, aesthetics and philosophy, semiotics, theory of poetry, and anthropology. She is the author of seven books, the editor and co-editor of thirteen books, and more than 50 articles in national and international philosophy journals. At JCU, Professor Antomarini teaches Introduction to Philosophical Thinking (PH 101), Contemporary Philosophy (PH 260) and Philosophy of Art and Beauty (PH 304).

Banksy is an anonymous England-based graffiti artist and political activist. His works of political and social commentary have been featured on streets, walls, and bridges of cities throughout the world. Banksy’s work grew out of the Bristol underground scene, which involved collaborations between artists and musicians.

Banksy’s Walled Off Hotel is, as the name suggests, a hotel built in Bethlehem right next to the wall that separates Israel from the West Bank. Each room is in a different style and features different artworks, ranging from the lavish presidential suite to the budget room, which displays salvaged army bunk beds. The hotel also functions an art installation in its own right, and delivers a strong political statement.

Professor Antomarini began by identifying the ambiguity of the hotel. It is aesthetically ambiguous in its juxtaposition of “classical” artworks and shock art. Another aspect is the fact that the hotel attracts “more visitors than religious tourism does.” Finally, the obvious geopolitical ambiguity, considering its position, is to be kept in mind, said Professor Antomarini.

Professor Antomarini continued by analyzing the role of the spectator of any work of art. First she gave a historical perspective on the various philosophical positions on the issue, ranging from Adam Smith to Immanuel Kant. Then she spoke of the spectator in Banksy’s hotel as being inside the artwork, and, therefore, part of it.

In conclusion, Prof. Antomarini widened her focus to a more general investigation of the psychology behind conflicts. A wall becomes an effector, an object which makes people forget the causes of their reaction, pushing people to adopt a binary logic of “us versus them.” This logic, in turn, is easily trapped in a self-reinforcing positive feedback – positive in the sense that it continues to increase. The only way to escape it is to have a superimposition of positive and negative feedback through conversation between different sides.

Listen to the “Walled Off Hotel” podcast.