Space and Architecture

Inhabiting Non-Places: The Photography of Malgorzata Wilarska —

Nomad´s Hotel is a visual rendition of isolated, undefined moments of despair; the uncanniness of recognising familiar domestic setting is doubled by a strange, unfriendly reality of being suspended in space and time. Wilarska makes the hotel room float in the unknowable mass of glass, steel, and darkness of the contemporary city. This sense of elevation reads as immateriality, emphasising the gap between physical and non-physical experience: a hotel room is a tangible space, yet leaves its inhabitants with a feeling of dematerialised, unfocused presence. This feeling might actually be the only accurate one in this context, as hotel rooms are spaces of transit; the only certainty here is that of passage, of inevitably vacating the space. Transient and shallow, the experience of a hotel room is somehow liberating: it doesn’t request information of origin or destination, it just acknowledges the nomad at an indeterminate moment of the journey.

Of This or Another Time: Sarah Sze's Timekeeper —

Sarah Sze´s mixed-media work, Timekeeper, overwhelms the space it inhabits at Copenhagen Contemporary, despite it being a desk-size installation in the middle of an impressive exhibition hall. Sound, still and moving image, and found objects place the sculptural ensemble in an undefined spatial dimension, with no beginning or end, making it impossible for viewers to apply a traditional reading of the work. Part of the artist´s larger oeuvre, defined by a critique of the contemporary age of information and digitalisation of knowledge, Timekeeper is a witty play with perception and scale, employing technologies of impermanence to build an art piece that strangely speaks of permanence.

Hot Dudes Reading: The Dark Side of Empowerment —

Hot Dudes Reading is an Instagram community ran for the simple cause of collecting photos of attractive men reading in public places, from anonymous contributors around the world. Over 270 photos have been already uploaded, for a following of nearly 920 thousand, with an average of 40 thousand likes per photo and hundreds of comments. This is an imbalanced relationship: an overwhelming number of looking subjects combined with a relatively reduced number of looked-at objects. Does equally imbalanced power dynamics follow this?

Hashtag Protest —

Digital platforms feed into the structural fragmentation and individualisation of societies today, paradoxically enhancing connectivity and mirroring the spatiality of protest: the public square is now the platform, and groups of activists are now digital enclaves, linked by tracking algorithms. An artefact of this digital culture of protest is the hashtag, which becomes a social movement instrument, ensuring a successful deployment of tangible realities of protest across connective platforms.

Working Bodies: An interview with Alexandra Pirici —

Bodies at work are disciplined bodies, normalised under the structure of various organisational contexts; these are bodies made docile, with prescribed movements and postures that fall within parameters of physical conformity. Placed in confined spaces and reduced to time broken down in standardised, repetitive instalments, the working body follows a ritual of its own, performing the work, while routinely reperforming itself. Acknowledging dramatic shifts in the contemporary understanding of labour and the body is Romanian artist Alexandra Pirici, whose recent project, Monument to Work, is designed as an act of remembrance, a performative attempt to recontextualise the corporeal disposition of working bodies, in order to rethink the very concept of work and explore existing possibilities for its memorialisation.

The Ghetto – A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy? —

Growing radicalisation of political views seems to inspire and to reinforce an equally radical attitude towards difference, experienced both at an interpersonal level, and a structural level. More clearly, the restrictive binary of centre – periphery is revived, in a symbolic (at the least) attempt to reassert the legitimacy of Western values as central to Western society. The European Ghetto is, now as much as ever, a testimony to this rise of marginality as social and cultural condition. Historically linked to the persecution of the Jewish population in Europe, and with systemic racism in the USA, European ghettos maintain cultural aspects of social exclusion, as they are highly regulated spaces. Denmark, for instance, drafted in 2010 a Ghetto List, updated in 2015 to include all areas defined, by the same list, as ghettos.

Not Exotic —

Curating non-Western art in a Western context, and for Western audiences seems to be, despite of the laudable collaboration with non-Western curators, a one-way street. Organised and sudden visibility of non-Western artists does little to build the bridges this type of event aims to build. The biennale opens a space for highly talented artists from Africa, the Middle East and Asia, but it is exactly the necessity of this effort that proves that this space was closed before this event, and it will probably close again after it ends. Images brings foreign art to Danish audiences, embracing the role and responsibility of Western societies to engage in collaboration and cross-cultural conversations, but just by calling it “responsibility,” Western societies undertake an imaginary position of superiority: it is through Western resources and Western initiatives that non-Western artist have a voice and access to Western publics in a Western context. The door is not naturally open.

The Transparent Subject: Of Selfhood and Space in the New Age of Migration —

In the asylum, refugees renounce their claim to privacy; nothing should be hidden, all should be transparent. Some might see this exile as a start of a new life, a chance to forget, be forgotten, and, in turn, integrate and be assimilated. This is, however, rarely permitted, as refugees will stand for scrutiny and suspicious investigation long after they have been inserted in society. New tensions between the public and the private arise, which are regulated by spatial structures such as intake centres, camps, and asylums – liminal areas, producing and reproducing a constant in-betweenness, a neither here, nor there, with temporal ramifications. The asylum is a temporary reality, a space of confinement, of control and observation, intended to turn the unknown into known, manage the foreign, tame the strange.

A Farewell to Privacy: Life in a Post-Panopticon —

If control over one's own recorded presence is renounced in highly monitored public spaces, it would be safe to assume that resistance is manifested through those channels people have the power to control. Social media is one example of how the same abdication of agency takes place, as citizens become users, and their identity splits between being both the subject and the object of their own self-surveillance. I often look back at CCTV cameras, and sometimes I wave at the (imaginary) people watching me, only to realise that my looking back has no value, it affects no one, but only has the effect to enhance my recorded presence, to prolong temporary entrapment. This powerlessness has been rebranded and redefined as a desirable prerequisite for belonging to addictive digital spaces, extended into a voyeuristic lifestyle. The shift towards a post-privacy world has been done silently, as our identities are carefully curated to correspond to repetitive, predictable content, form, colours, concepts.

PETRIe 68: Spaces of Impermanence. The New Liminality

This article was published in PETRIe 68: Not Your Savage, October 2017. The text is an analysis of the relationship between identity and space, with a focus on transient architecture. Imagery was sourced to illustrate this article from the works of photographers Luca Capuano, Josh Stewart, and Eduardo Soteras. Graphic Design by Katja Alissa Mueller. *** With Not Your Savage, PETRIe aims to trouble conventions of the normal and the mainstream, as they still permeate our cultures, and drive inequality. In this, the issue explores creative niches, alternative aesthetics, and subversive narratives, which break with crippling traditions and habitual prejudice.

Visualising the Impermanent —

In the context of growing anxieties over social and political fragmentation and ecological collapse, humanity tends towards expressions and explorations of permanence seen as escape; perpetuity as salvation; the everlasting as a comfortable haven. But how do we visualise permanence? The spectacle of the never-ending is reproduced in daily snippets of visual or conceptual production: the expansion of a digital inexhaustible space, the endless collection of data, the advance of virtual reality and artificial forms of intelligence to transcend the broken, the human, and the earthly. Scaled down, one form of visual production that addresses permanence by exploring its inversion is the written word mounted or displayed in public places. Either as established practice of renowned artists or as anonymous form activism, the display of text in a public area plays with the idea of permanence: the apparent durability of the written word is paralleled by the fragility of material (neon signs or other light installation) and borrows from the short-lived existence of advertising productions (temporary billboards).

Erasure is Temporary: Art from Conflict Areas —

Even when artists and practitioners do not form a collective, the impact of creative activism and socially-engaged art is not dimmed. Libyan street art, for instance, played an important role on the streets of Tripoli, during the revolution, and its aftermath. Emerging or established graffiti artists turned their practice into a form of resistance and intervention. The work of artists such as Aimen Ajhani aka Elbohly or El Boshga aka Sektwo became synonymous with the spirit of the Libyan youth, a generation that found a voice and a channel to speak their own truth, in the midst of chaos. Transience is one feature of graffiti art that makes it vulnerable and incredibly powerful, at the same time. The walls of the city can be cleaned or painted over, but they remain a fertile ground for further intervention. Erasure is never permanent; creativity will always prevail.

Revival of Community: the European Culture Festival as a Genre of Resistance —

Culture, music, and art festivals reflect a society´s celebration of things essentially ephemeral, yet with a temporarily tangible dimension. Innovation, excellence, abundance, a sense of community, openness – they are all valued and made manifest during these short periods of intense, unrestricted creativity and joy. Historically associated with religion, folklore, or agricultural bounty, festivals have grown both in numbers and in importance, covering wider geographical areas and a range of creative fields. If film festivals, for instance, have a long and rich tradition, sustained by a thriving industry and international networks of creatives, European culture festivals of a smaller scale have been struggling to be recognised locally or nationally by statistical offices that monitor cultural activity, which in turn affects allocation of government funds and impacts the role of festivals in mainstream political practice and discourse.

Spatial Violence: Architecture of the Absurd —

The intense relationship people may have with space and place is being replaced by an intense struggle to validate one’s own claim to a slice of land. Spatial intensity becomes spatial violence – symbolic, invisible aggression against space, which are nevertheless visible in the physicality of the city. The challenge here is to recognise and question this aggression and allow the discourse on urban growth to shift from a narrative of commodification and expansion to one of interconnectedness of

Rising Waters and Human Rights. Architecture as Activism —

The concept of architecture as a human right is used by Emergency Architecture and Human Rights, an organisation that “works and builds for socially vulnerable communities around the globe that face inequality, humanitarian crisis and violation of their human rights.” They place the profession of architecture in the, perhaps uncomfortable, position of facing its self-imposed boundaries, while channelling resilience as a modus operandi. The challenge to see architecture as a human right moves bey