Brian Harper

Bunker Series: Sentry

(2019) - 10x10x7 Terracotta, wood, epoxy

The “Bunker Series” work is inspired by recent trips to Denmark and Iceland, where I was able to visit several sites where abandoned World War II concrete bunkers still exist. The bunkers outside of Skagen, Denmark sit right on the beach, some of them listing on their sides and sinking into the sand while they struggle to withstand the test of time. The bunkers I visited outside of Reykjavik are being overtaken by vegetation and the forest. Seeing these monolithic structures being consumed by the land and the sea, I was struck by the simplicity of their destruction. Just earth, water, and time and these powerful features of war, designed to be impenetrable, permanent, and battle ready, are being overtaken.

In his book “Bunker Archaeology”, French cultural theorist and philosopher, Paul Virilio writes that “However impressive the ramparts may be, they owe their value to being constantly and totally manned and occupied.” The bunkers on the beaches outside of Skagen and the hillsides outside of Reykjavik have long since been vacated and their purpose has disappeared along with their occupants.

As I stood alone inside one of the bunkers outside Reykjavik, looking out of the thin slots meant for artillery, I felt a profound sense of isolation. I can only imagine the feeling of being in one those bunkers during wartime, and the feeling of protection, and yet also vulnerability that must have come from these structures.

In the “Bunker Series” work, I reference that sense of emptiness I felt when seeing those bunkers, as well as the range of metaphors the bunker can encompass. On the one hand, they are objects of aggression, but on the other hand they are objects of protection. They are often entrenched on beautiful beaches and hillsides creating an odd juxtaposition between their former menacing power and the current landscape. As Paul Virilio states, their power (and purpose) is owed to human occupation. When the reasons for their occupation become obsolete, their power also vanishes. In this work, I partly use the bunker to symbolize the war machine in the United States, but also the futility of our armed occupations.

I am also interested in the bunker as a political metaphor and how it can be used to reference entrenched ideology. Often it is an entrenched ideology that can lead to the construction of bunkers in the first place. Deeply rooted ideas can seem immovable, but when the landscape around them changes, so too can the foundations of those ideas. Like the sand and water slowly overtaking the bunkers in Denmark and Iceland, one time powerful ideologies can be overtaken by shifting thought processes.