The Bartlett School of Architecture


Mourning Borders

Hilary Bonnell


Mourning Borders explores the performative nature of mourning and its relation to time, physical and psychic boundaries, and change. The work aims to question the invisibility of mourning as a societal and individual ritual and calls attention to the curative qualities of shared grief while focusing on the subject of migration and migration detention. 

During July and August 2018, I undertook a ritual cleaning and collection of dirt and dust from 80 Stolpersteine, memorials created as an art project by Gunter Demnig commemorating victims of the Holocaust, in Cottbus, Germany, home to an extremist group whose motto is ‘Draw Borders’.

The performative acts comprising the work make visible the usually invisible process of mourning, while the dust and dirt that is collected acknowledges the accumulated histories of those who the Stolpersteine remember.

Mourning Borders consists of the names and initials of those who have died while under immigration detention powers or shortly after their release within the United Kingdom. These names and initials are spoken and written outside of the legal land ownership boundary of the location of their death, using the dust and dirt collected, mixed with varnish. 

Time passes the names and initials wear away: this process describes the temporality and changing nature of mourning, while reminding us of our collective responsibility to remember. Mourning Borders draws on themes of trauma, mourning, and maintenance, informed by psychoanalysis, performance art and activism. Most importantly, the installation suggests ways we can share mourning processes through time.