The main feature of “Ladders and Walls,” a new art installation at Austin College by artist and activist Scott Nicol, consists of 14 ladders stacked against each other in sets of two.
The ladders were built and used by people crossing the southern border without authorization. They are improvised, made out of salvaged materials.
Nicol, an assistant professor of visual art at South Texas College, has been collecting the ladders since they started appearing when the first border walls went up during former President George W. Bush’s administration. He told Texas Standard that the exhibition is a reminder that the border-crossers who use them are real people, and that erecting such barriers to stop them is futile.
“It always struck me just how easy it was to get over these walls. You know, we spend all this money to build them, and it takes so little to defeat them,” Nicol said.
Listen to the full interview with Nicol in the audio player above, or read the transcript below.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Texas Standard: How did you start collecting these discarded ladders along the border?
Scott Nicol: They’ve been piling up next to border walls pretty much as soon as the border walls were first built back in 2009, 2010. And it always struck me just how easy it was to get over these walls. We spend all this money to build them and it takes so little to defeat them.
So, would you just go down on the other side of the border wall and pick them up, or people would send them to you? How did that work?
Nicol: The Border Patrol doesn’t want to leave them leaning against the wall, so they stack them up on the U.S. side of the wall. And I would just pick a couple off the top and and take them home.
What materials are they typically made out of?
Nicol: They are mostly scrap wood. They’re not something you’d buy at the hardware store. They’re not fiberglass. It’s just, you know, whatever scrap lumber somebody can can get their hands on to build something.
Tell us about the installation at Austin College: can you describe what it looks like and how you’ve assembled these ladders?
Nicol: I was invited to do this installation over the summer, and in the last few months I’ve been gathering up ladders, and the ladders range anywhere from 8-feet to 20-feet tall, and they’re kind of set in an A-frame style in the middle of the room, so they essentially make a wall of ladders. There are seven pair that go across the middle of the gallery. And there’s also photographs of the border wall from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific, and a couple of wall pieces that I’ve crafted using ladders and using some of the other items that I’ve picked up next to the wall – things like scrap concertina wire that crews that were stringing razor wire along the wall have left behind.