Conversation Piece: Casa Bloc

2016

Wooden model and three Formica chairs. Wood table, glass, digital print.

A production of ADN, as part of the solo exhibition “Dom Kommuna. Domestic Architectural Manuals for Coexistence”. ADN Platform, Sant Cugat, Barcelona.

Dom Kommuna. Domestic Architectural Manuals for Coexistence.
Domènec has worked repeatedly on the architectural paradigms of Modernity. He offers a critical view on the symbolic constructions of Alvar Aalto, Mies van der Rohe or le Corbusier, with the aim of identifying architecture as the “political unconscious” of modernity. As Walter Benjamin grasped, the architects’ projects constituted the best embodiment of the powerless Modernity’s dream to accomplish emancipatory and welfare promises.

Social housing is the place where the contradictions between ideological programs and political realities are most reflected.

Domènec’s proposal for ADN platform gathers a collection of works that revolve around this topic. The central piece is a new production on Casa Bloc, a workers’ housing complex constructed between 1933 and 1939 in Sant Andreu, Barcelona. Two other related pieces complete the display: Domestic (2000), about Le Corbusier’s Unité d’Habitation, and Conversation Piece: Narkomfin (2013).

The proposal studies these three fundamental common housing projects, as well as their political contexts and their dystopian drifts.

read more

Urban Texture and the Friction of Difference. Jeff Derksen

Text for the catalogue of the solo exhibition “Domènec. Not Here, Not Anywhere” at MACBA, Barcelona 2018.

 

Ironically, while the urban fabric has expanded across the planet, the multiplicity of urban textures has been diminished. Despite the massive growth of cities in this era of planetary urbanism, the textures of the city have not necessarily become more varied nor more distinct. This reality is counter to the optimistic perspective of the ‘global city’ in the late nineties when it was understood that a global-urban dynamism would concentrate the intersections of culture, media and new modes of work in a way that would bring a multiplicity of spatial practices, communicative networks and possibilities into the city. That moment’s optimism for cities as the site of a new cosmopolitanism and citizenship has been stripped away, revealing a much more rationalised urbanism driven by economic intensification. In the new process of creative destruction, cities are left struggling to hold onto the multiplic- ity of their textures and histories. Along the way, the non-economic utopian prospects that were part of the imagination of the urban over the twentieth century (including the global city construct) and the city as a site of experiments in living or focal points in new modes of militancy get lost.1

This intensification of the city itself as an economic engine, as the agent of surplus value, also generated a potent global logic of gentrification as a naturalised process of city development that tragically became utilised as a policy for cities of all sizes. The result, felt across the globe, is an urban development and redevelopment which overrides existing textures, replacing them with social homogenisation, a limited architectural vocabulary and an emphasis on security, all tied to the supercommodification of built space and notions of liveability for a global investor class. The real consequence for cit- ies and neighbourhoods under this intensification is that development brings ‘repetition rather than innovation’, as Jamie Peck and others have said about Vancouver, the city I live in.2 For all cities subject to this, the repetition means that any form of production or consumption and any site that cannot generate a massive surplus as real estate is replaced by an architectural and urban order geared toward rapid and often startling exchange value. This accelerated emphasis, which is key to global-city making, puts even more emphasis on exchange value rather than use value built over time, and it erodes and even shatters texture.3

Thus the texture, which may have been seen as a minor quality or aspect, or even an effect, of urban space takes on a new role in built space and in the experience of the city. A deep mix of textures, both made from and beckoning different activities, where various or even wild rhythms of life are possible, and where space is not pressured to be primarily productive of surplus, has a profound effect on living in the city. Here I want to argue that the texture of the city is both representative of the experience of a city – that is, it reflects the lived networks and spatial practices of the city – and productive of modes of living and being. I am speaking of texture in an extended manner, drawing on the relatively open ways in which Henri Lefebvre has described it. As is common in Lefebvre’s extended concepts, texture is lived, representative, and productive. And like Lefebvre’s impulse towards a mode of spatial production that is both restlessly open to opportunities (which he often describes as moments) and determined by its social contexts, texture carries possibilities in both its existing use and beyond its lived experience. Lefebvre proposes: ‘Thus the texture of space affords opportunities not only to social acts with no particular place in it and no particular link with it, but also to a spatial practice that it does in- deed determine, namely its collective and individual use: a sequence of acts which embody a signifying practice even if they cannot be reduced to such a practice.’4 Texture produces an agency, or the possibility of acts which can change the character of space: rather than being only a representa- tion of an existing aspect of the city, in the global context for cities today, texture has become a site of struggle for the potential use, spatial practices, and character of a city. Lefebvre puts it this way: ‘We may be sure that representations of space have a practical impact, that they intervene in and modify spatial textures which are informed by effective knowledge and ideology.’5 This points to the essentially political aspect of texture.

Given a parallel uneven development between cities and the possibilities for art – from intensive financialisation to groups of artists who aim to intervene in the spectacle of finance, to artists who align with political movements – this expansive view of the importance of texture and the urban opens up two roles for art.6 One role, of course, is the representational aspect of art: how does art represent the new textural aspects of the city, and how can art point to the production of new textures or the erasing of older textures (which are never fully erased, but exist residually)? Secondly, how can art itself be productive of new textures in the city? For this second question, we can see how art takes on a dual character itself – artistic practices produce textures in the city and yet art itself is part of the productive and communicative texture of the city. My aim is to redefine texture as a site and a tactic for artists. Art argues for the multiplicities of textures within a city and it pushes against the domination of the texture produced by the logic of repetition over innovation and against a global same- ness of the city.

The concept of texture also gives us a way to think through how the urban is a site of potentials – lost, imagined, realised, and lived – in the art projects of Domènec, particularly those projects that contest the lost possibilities and histories of the city in the current urban regime. Texture provides a marker for the critique of the modernist project as well as the urban project which has emerged after postmodernity, a project less concerned with the utopian or even humanist aspirations of modernism or the aesthetic conditions of post- modernity. This project is actually a global-urban relationship at the moment – a competitive relationship between cities of all sizes. This competitive cities model, as it has been named, has cities bidding on major events (Olympics, Expos, etc.), major development projects, innovation hubs, tech centres, ecological initiatives and development and redevelopment of varying scale in order to bring money in to make up the funds needed to sustain a city after the loss of funding for pro- grammes due to state austerity. And this project also has cities in competition for people – or talent – for the new industries they hope to attract along with a creative consumer class. Nothing shows this clearer than the scramble by 238 cities across North America to attract the ‘Amazon HQ2’ complex – huge tax breaks, free land, and even a mayorship for life for CEO Tim Bezos have been offered up.7

Between this new moment in planetary urbanism and the residual textures of modernism, Domènec’s projects continually push at, or aim to reinvigorate and recirculate – often in subtle or minor ways – not what modernism might have been, but what we might make of it today. This is a shift from the type of modernism that saw itself as a developmental answer that could be universalised (and then later be inflected with local vernaculars and particularities) and toward an architectural, social and political question about how to live together, globally and particularly. Of course it is ironic to reflect on the texture of the modernist urban project for it was an idea itself critiqued for its lack of texture as it razed, obscured, and eroded the textures of the older city, often shattering a lived textured of a city through massive development that was planned with universal concepts yet often inflicted on racialised, poor, and transient or precarious communities.

As well as springing from difference, texture itself can be differentiated, and Domènec’s projects foreground a variety of textures through the artistic tactics of radical rescaling, of pointing to residual temporal textures, and by his use of art as a communicative texture itself. All three of these approaches bring together time and obscured histories and how these live in and produce space. Most striking is Domènec’s insistence on scale as a defamiliarising device that reframes the debates – and even specific projects – of modernism. These projects also raise questions about how a reimagined modernism could be rescaled as a texture in the urban today. In a series of projects that circulate around Le Corbusier’s Unité d’habitation (1947–52) in Marseille, an iconic modernist project that exemplifies the potentials and tensions of what Reyner Banham called the ‘Machine Aesthetic’, Domènec has used variously scaled models of Unité.8 One project, Sostenere il palazzo dell’utopia (Holding the Building of Utopia, 2004), is set in Corviale, a 960-metre-long project on the outskirts of Rome, designed by Mario Fiorentino and constructed (although not totally completed) in the late seventies, and often seen as a dystopic symptom of Le Corbusier’s vision of modernism and the loss of neighbourhood and human scale. Equally, it has been also seen by architects and artists as a site of informal economies, architectural adaptation (through squatting), self-management and residence committees, and a cultural vibrancy born out of the politics of space and housing. In a series of photographs, Domènec has residents of Corviale holding a humorously small model of Unité in their arms as they pose in sites around the housing megastructure; these are portraits of the diverse range of people who live there as much as a documentation of the lived textures of the building which have developed over time. Domènec mobilises a number of key questions, to put the modernist promises of Unité in relation with the current rationalisation of urban space: this clash of modernism and the present rationalisation has generated calls for Corviale to be torn down as an affront to urban planning. In the current moment of a sterile planetary urbanism that is not offset or challenged by the utopian dimension of something like modernism (for modernism does not always have to be the future!), it is Corviale that comes out looking more ‘human scale’, more liveable and lived in, and more varied than new housing projects that trumpet social mix rather than social and spatial justice.

Rescaling the Unité becomes a form of critique as well as a mode to point to how the machine-age designs of modernism have given way to modes of living that the de- sign itself did not imagine.

By reaching back to recirculate questions of design, housing and spatial justice through the Unité, Domènec builds a temporal texture. While we may think of time as not having a texture, when space is thought of in relation to time, urban textures necessarily have a temporal aspect. These temporal textures are as contested as space and hence their erasure or their production are equally political. Several projects from Domènec intervene in the temporal texture of Barcelona, the city in which he lives. For instance, Souvenir Barcelona uses the residual medium of the postcard to intervene into the space-time memory of the city. The postcard series marks events that cut across the texture that Barcelona has built up within the global-urban nexus of tourism and consumption and instead shows it to be a site of civil insurrection (the postcard marking the 8-day insurrection that began on 25 July 1909) as well as repression that demolishes textures and ways of life (the 1966 razing of El Somorrostro, an informal settlement of Roma people, immigrants and the working class at what is now Port Olímpic). These postcards are also constitutive of the communicative fabric of the city and are an agitating texture where, as André Jannson writes, ‘space is both produced and understood through texture, that is, through a spatial materialisation of culture’.9 As the communicative fabric of the city is extended beyond any of its spatial borders, and as this texture is literally thickened with new media, these informational moments which bring past events and even past architectural and urban possibilities into the texture of the city’s present, we have a temporal texture embedded into the space of the city.

Here, art as a communicative texture of the city illustrates the dual nature of art in re- lation to the urban. The urban is a social space produced through social processes, yet is, as Kipfer, Saberi and Wieditz write, ‘[n]ot reducible to physical markers (density, particular characteristics of the built environment), it must “live” through social practice’.10 Art then, and particularly art such as Domènec’s that confronts the ways in which we live together in the city, is a spatial and social practice that the urban lives through. Texture, in an expanded sense, gives us a way to recognise how the open dialectical process and struggle that the production of space is born from materialises into lived experiences and future-oriented potentials. Texture also gives us a way to think about art’s role within the urban which is more specific than arguing that art alters space or produces space or even reclaims space. Texture both differentiates and is produced by the friction of difference, and it therefore takes on a new importance in the very moment that Domènec’s work guides us to: from modernism’s incomplete project to the incompleteness of the market rule of the present.

Jeff Derksen is Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies at Simon Fraser University, British Columbia, Canada.

 

1. Japhy Wilson and Manuel Bayón, ‘Black Hole Capitalism: Utopian Dimensions of Planetary Urbanization’, City, vol. 20, no. 3 (2016), pp. 360–67.

2. Jamie Peck, Elliott Siemiatycki and Elvin Wyly, ‘Vancouver’s Suburban Involution’, City, vol. 18, no. 4-5 (2014), p. 404.

3. Use value and the patterns and textures it brings do build up in areas that are designed for exchange value, in which living spaces are there primarily to be traded whenever it is beneficial. The variety of uses is also constructed in these neighbourhoods through their policing, through their policies and regulations, and due to the social homogeni- sation that they both bring and foster.

4. Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space, tr. Donald Nicholson-Smith. Oxford: Blackwell, 1991, p. 57.

5. Henri Lefebvre, Production of Space, p. 42.

6. See Yates McKee Strike Art: Contemporary Art and the Post Occupy Condition (New York: Verso, 2016) for a recent overview of the relationship of artistic practices to political and social movements – particularly movements whose struggles take occupation and the struggle for space as central.

7. Jeffrey Dastin, ‘Amazon Receives 238 Proposals for its Second Headquarters’, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-amazon-com-headquarters/amazon-receives-238-proposals-for-its-second-headquar-ters-idUSKBN1CS21O. Accessed 29 October 2017. It is also possible to place a bet on which city will emerge triumphant in this process: Paddy Power has Atlanta as an early favourite, with Vancouver stuck at odds of 66/1.

8. Reyner Banham, Theory and Design in the First Machine Age. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1980.

9. André Jannson, ‘Texture: A Key Concept for Communication Geography’, European Journal of Cultural Studies, vol. 10, no. 2 (2007), p. 195.

10. Stefan Kipfer, Parastou Saberi and Thoben Wieditz, ‘Henri Lefebvre: Debates and Controversies’, Progress in Human Geography, vol. 37, no. 1 (2012), p. 119.

Waiting for the Barbarians. Teresa Grandas

Text for the catalogue of the solo exhibition “Domènec. Not Here, Not Anywhere” at MACBA, Barcelona 2018.

 

‘What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum? The barbarians are due here today.’

Konstantinos Kavafis, Waiting for the Barbarians

 

In this famous poem, Kavafis speculates on an arrival that never happens. The barbarians never arrive, in a suspended time during which power aspires to impose its reason to the point of absurdity. Civilisation grants itself the privilege of an arrogant wait, in the security of its superiority over the uncivilised world. Waiting for the barbarians is recognition of its own barbarity; it is the struggle between the intelligence of the individual and submission to power. It is historic narrative in suspension, the space of resilience, of entropic disturbances that colour history. When the reference is dystopian, it can only prompt a heterodox genealogy. Kavafis’ story, which Coetzee later masterfully rewrites, is that of human paradox, which shows us that we are unprotected, at the mercy of the ideological elements. From this perspective, addressing the modern project as the grand project of thought, politics, culture and art, as the desire to build a more just society, is merely stating a narrative of emancipatory processes and dystopian drifts. As opposed to an orthodox view of history, modernity has to be seen from a critical perspective of its arrogant discourses, revealing how these very discourses break down and are questioned in everyday life.

Indeed, it is the crisis of modernity, the discovery of the bankruptcy of the modern movement that provides the starting point for Domènec’s research and his critical essay which materialises as sculptures, installations, photographs, videos and interventions in public space. All of these projects fundamentally revolve around issues such as the distance between utopias and social realities, speculation about the public dimension of architecture and the ideological precepts that determine it, socio-historical mechanisms and what comes in between them, and factors that condition memory and forgetting. Analysis and questioning of the discourses of authority and power in different contexts bring us to the variables and the extent of disorder, to the extent of doubt. Disturbing the hegemonic discourse impedes the order of the discourse.

 

‘There has never been a document of culture which is not simultaneously one of barbarism.’

Walter Benjamin, Theses on the Philosophy of History, no. 7

 

Outstanding among utopian genealogies is the Icarian project. In 1840, Étienne Cabet published Voyage en Icarie, rejecting oppression by the minority in power as well as the class system of the modern world. In the preface, the author indicated that the book was a treatise on ethics, philosophy, and social and political economy, a compendium of the community doctrine that aimed to suppress inequality based on the principle of fraternity. His ideas were brought to Catalonia by Narcís Monturiol. Monturiol published Cabet’s book at his own press and used La Fraternidad, the newspaper he edited and the leading communist medium, to condemn social injustice in the world and express his desire for a better one. In this context, somewhat ingenuously, the Icarian idea of regenerating the world extended fast in radical circles, among workers and progressive intellectuals, with followers including figures such as Ildefons Cerdà, Josep Anselm Clavé and the doctor Joan Rovira i Font. In Catalonia, a large group of followers decided to take part in the founding of an Icarian community in the United States in 1848, a project that did not prosper. Voyage en Icarie (Journey to Icaria, 2012) refers to one of the few utopian projects which, despite failing at the first attempt, managed to create various communities that continued for a while. The work illustrates the ephemeral glow of the utopian project, of the desire that was never fully realised and quickly died out.

A few years previously, numerous Icarians had taken part in the revolt of La Jamància, which took place in Barcelona between August and November 1843. It was a popular uprising against the liberal Spanish state, quashed by a military intervention directed by General Prim, involving the bombardment of the city from Montjuïc Castle and the military fortress of the Ciutadella. In 1882, a statue was erected in the general’s honour in the park built on the site of the old fortress, a way of paying homage to a figure who was controversial not just for his actions in the city, but also for his interventions in the colonies. Monument enderrocat (Demolished Monument, 2014) shows the empty pedestal, now with another symbolic value after the statue was demolished by the Joventuts Llibertàries de Gràcia (Gràcia Libertarian Youth) at the start of the Civil War, in an act of political iconoclasm that years later was to be delegitimised with the restitution of the icon in the form of a replica made by Frederic Marés.

Iconoclasm is a struggle for political control of space which takes the form of an attack on systems of representation, the destruction of images of power personified in the monument, and the symbolic and ideological constructions it generates. The monument is an expression of power that occupies, colonises and hierarchises public space. It is rhetoric by definition, and it is reaffirmed in the public space where it acquires meaning. It is power that gives it meaning, and decides what is to be remembered and celebrated, but also what is to be forgotten. Monuments legitimise history but they also make it disappear. The iconoclastic act generates an empty space which creates a symbolic value and produces a need for reconstruction with a new meaning. The destruction and reconstruction of the monument denote the various strata and meanings of power. Political iconoclasm entails a rhetoric of superposition of discourse and a form of revolutionary anti-hegemonic urbanism, and the conception of an autonomous public space. The great paradox of iconoclasm is the discovery that it is never permanent, that images are destroyed but then often restored. There is an implicit and necessary sense of permanence in the very essence of the monument; in the iconoclastic act, the time of the monument is not linear time, it is time in suspension.

 

‘The red dawn of riots does not dissolve the monstrous creatures of the night.
It clothes them in light and fire, and scatters them through the towns and across the fields.’

Raoul Vaneigem, Treatise on Living for the Use of the Young Generation

 

While the French Revolution of 1789 was more bourgeois in nature, the Paris Commune was the first movement of revolt to aspire to establish a popular, self-managed political project. To cite Benjamin, ‘the Commune puts an end to the phantasmagoria holding sway over the early years of the proletariat. It dispels the illusion that the task of the proletarian revolution is to complete the work of 1789 hand in hand with the bourgeoisie. This illusion dominates the period 1831–71, from the Lyon uprising to the Commune. The bourgeoisie never shared in this error. Its battle against the social rights of the proletariat dates back to the great Revolution, and converges with the philanthropic movement that gives it cover and that is in its heyday under Napoleon III.’1 The Commune was the moment when the foundations were laid for the utopian, transformative, radical and revolutionary thought that emerged in the following years. Although short in duration, lasting from 18 March to 28 May 1871, it was activated with sufficient intensity to enact a series of radical measures and actions ranging from self-management in factories to the secularism of the state, among others.

One of the urbanistic decisions taken by the Paris Commune was the demolition of the Vendôme Column, advocated months earlier by Gustave Courbet, for which he was tried and sentenced. Erected to commemorate Napoleon Bonaparte’s victory at Austerlitz, the column symbolised oppression and power. As in the case of the statue of General Prim, it was reconstructed after the fall of the Commune with the return to ‘order’. The GIF L’Ascension et la chute de la Colonne Vendôme (The Rise and Fall of the Vendôme Column, 2013) reproduces the construction and destruction of the column, its fall and rise as a symbolic image of revolutionary processes. Any revolution needs transformations that are as immediate as possible, and perceivable as breakaways from the established order. Once the revolution is over, order, symbolic and real, must also be restored quickly. Playground (Tatlin in Mexico) (2011) refers firstly to the Mexican revolution, started in 1910, which, frustrated by infighting between the different factions involved, was unable to prevent the economic oligarchy maintaining power. It also revolves around the critical reactivation of the monument, by means of a resignification of its use and location. In this case, Domènec uses the iconic device that is the model for the monument to the Third International that Tatlin designed between 1919 and 1920 in honour of the constitution of the Soviet state and the new social order (finally, the model was all that was built in the project for what was to have been a 400-metre-high monument). In this work, the Tower becomes an anti-monument: a playground, as a way of reactivating the non-existing monument, situated first in a bourgeois setting and, finally, in an outlying area lacking in recreational and service spaces.

At the end of the First World War, the Spartacus League, a Marxist revolutionary movement headed by Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, was founded in Germany. This group backed a short communist revolution in Berlin in January 1919, which was quashed by Germany’s Social Democratic Party and the Freikorps, a far-right paramilitary corps that killed the Spartacist leaders. When Mies van der Rohe was commissioned to build a monument in their honour, he wanted to crown it with a large star with the hammer and sickle emblem of the Communist Party which was to continue the ideas of the Spartacist movement. Den toten Helden der Revolution (To the Dead Heroes of the Revolution, 2018) is about the capacity of monuments for political activation. When the firm Krupp, Nazism sympathisers, refused to make the sign, Mies reformulated the order and asked for five steel diamonds, innocuous shapes in themselves but which deployed their full symbolic potential and gained a voice when put together. In 1933, the Nazis tore down the star with the hammer and sickle, and included it in an exhibition of confiscated communist insignia at the Museum of the Revolution in Berlin, a propagandistic display where the symbolic power lay in the distortion of the elements shown out of context, in a counter-effect that was also used in the Degenerate Art Exhibition. This work questions the symbolic space that the sculpture introduces into the public and the ideological spheres in which it is formulated by the artist and the authority that commissions it. Mies van der Rohe’s discourse is modern in the field of architecture but highly ambiguous in political terms, differing before and after Nazism. The Nazis demolished the monument in 1935.

Existenzminimum (Minimum Existence, 2002) is conceived as an allegory about the failure of the political project of modernity, converting the monument into a small portable dwelling ‘which takes us back to the memory of the recent history of Europe from the unhappiness of the present’. Built at human scale, Existenzminimum moves between the monumental scale of sculpture and the minimum scale of architecture. In 1929, Frankfurt hosted the International Congress of Modern Architecture (CIAM), centring on the attempt to define the subsistence dwelling (‘Die Wohnung für das Existenzminimum’) – that is, the basic conditions required to live a normal existence. The Congress was trying to solve the problems caused by the war, the resulting social conflicts and the need for the mass construction of quality housing for the working classes. That same year saw a stock market crash and a global crisis which, in the case of Germany, prompted the rise to power of National Socialism. The intention of the CIAM was to create a framework of cooperation between architects interested in improving social conditions and the intervention of public institutions to regulate construction and establish basic housing typologies. The consolidation of Nazism in the German government nipped these aspirations in the bud. Existenzminimum weighs the conditions of political iconoclasm in relation to the desires and contradictions that surround it, and the dystopias of social and housing conditions.

 

‘They want to turn us from dwellers in houses into their users.’

Walter Benjamin, ‘Julien Green’,
Selected Writings

 

The sociologist Henri Lefebvre reflected on the need for everyday life to free itself from the function it has under capitalism, which imposes habits on individual and collective life, and reproduces and perpetuates relations of domination. In the trilogy Critique of Everyday Life (1947/1961/1981), he refers to the city as the space of aesthetic subversion of everyday life and demands what he calls the ‘right to the city’, the need for society consciously to produce its space. In fact, since the end of the nineteenth century and throughout the twentieth, modern architects designed projects that oscillated between utopia and the possibility of producing physical spaces, environments and dwellings for the working class to improve living conditions and encourage the construction of a more equal society.

The conversation piece was an eighteenth-century English genre of painting comprising informal portraits of groups. In addition to the literal meaning of the phrase, it can also refer to objects of exceptional interest that spark conversation. A series of works by Domènec bear this title and reflect on some paradigm buildings of modernity and its desire to regenerate social housing and collective life. Conversation Piece: Narkomfin (2013) focuses on the building of this name designed in 1929 by the architects Moisei Ginzburg and Ignaty Milinis, of the OSA Group (Organisation of Contemporary Architects) in Moscow. OSA published the journal SA, and its contributors included major figures such as Le Corbusier. In 1927, two years before CIAM II in Frankfurt and the construction of this building, SA devoted an issue to the ‘dom-kommuna’ or appropriate form of collective housing. Illustrating this concept, Narkomfin was designed with an annexe containing communal services, while keeping the dwellings independent. After some radical experiences forcing individuals to live collectively, this proposal toned down expectations and encouraged what Ginzburg called a ‘socially superior mode of life’, without imposing it, as the architect considered that collective life could not be enforced by construction.

Conversation Piece: Casa Bloc (2016) reflects on a building constructed in Barcelona between 1932 and 1936, designed by the architects Josep Lluís Sert, Josep Torres Clavé and Joan Baptista Subirana, members of the GATCPAC (Group of Catalan Architects and Technicians for the Progress of Contemporary Architecture). The GATCPAC was committed to solving society’s problems by means of architecture and urbanism, and its mission was to analyse the situation, and find solutions and proposals for transformation. As regards social housing, it stated: ‘A mean, miserable concept of life has governed the construction of worker housing in this country, and the result is an inacceptable minimum. The subsistence dwelling may be small in terms of square metres, but it cannot exclude fresh air, sunlight and open vistas. These are elements that everyone needs, which society has no right to deprive them of.’2 In contact with Le Corbusier, the members of the group had visited the Soviet Union to discover at first hand the formulations being developed for social architecture, and together they designed a city renovation plan that was never implemented, the Macià Plan. They also attended the CIAM congresses of the time. The theme of the Existenzminimum and social housing involved complex, ambiguous processes about the power relations that determine ways of living, deciding what is necessary and appropriate as a framework of coexistence, and which needs should be met. Casa Bloc is a building designed as worker housing with collective services, which never provided the function for which it was designed, since, when construction was complete, at the end of the Civil War, it was immediately occupied by the military, who subverted the collective spaces and added a necrotic appendix popularly known as the ‘ghost block’, which obstructed the original project.

The third part of this series of works is Conversation Piece: Les Minguettes (2017). Les Minguettes is a neighbourhood of Vénissieux (Lyon) built in the sixties to house the working population and partially demolished in the eighties. It is known as the origin of the French banlieue riots and the climate of social tension on the peripheries of big cities. These banlieues are characterised by a high concentration of immigrant population from former colonies with low incomes and poor living conditions, by the poorly designed and constructed tower blocks, overcrowding, a lack of community services and poor communication with city centres and other districts, among other factors that prompted the malaise des banlieues (crisis of the suburbs) and led to major clashes. In Les Minguettes, after a period of great tension, the situation of violence was reversed and the end of 1983 saw a peaceful march for equality and against racism, the Marche des beurs (beurs being a pejorative term used to refer to the immigrant population from North Africa). The government carried out an attempt to improve conditions in the neighbourhood, demolishing some twenty buildings, the first of which was the ‘Democracy’ sector. The piece analyses the historical and sociopolitical mechanisms that led to the degradation, marginalisation and overlooking of certain areas, and includes a video in which, with images shown in reverse order, the building symbolically rises again to impose its dystopia, an ironic play on ‘rebuilding modernity’. The demolition of a building or a neighbourhood is an act of administrative iconoclasm, linked more with spectacular institutional politics than with a real desire to introduce improvements. In the case of Casa Bloc and Narkomfin, the space of conversation or debate takes place on Formica chairs of the type found in kitchens in the fifties and sixties. It is literally the chairs that are having the conversation, as they provide the unstable pedestal for the models of the two buildings. The models are two sculptures without bases, deprived of the monumental dignity that a pedestal grants. In the case of Les Minguettes, it is the models of what is popularly known as the district’s ‘Red Square’ which act as a ‘pedestal’ or a seat for the public, stripping them of the status of observable object and assigning them a dysfunctional use.

Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, Alvar Aalto, the OSA Group and the GATCPAC were leading figures in a modernity that aspired to create universal housing models for the working classes that incorporated all the necessary services, but which has been powerless and unable to meet the ideals of progress and welfare for all. As the designers of others’ lives, the task of architects and urbanists is to work with the context; it has a public dimension and political implications for social regeneration, affects the construction of the social imaginary, and conditions people’s everyday lives. But it also has an ideological dimension, sometimes explicit, sometimes masked, for reasons of efficiency or functionality. Architecture can induce operations to cure, organise and sanitise the city by means of the housing and services it offers. Among the projects carried out by the GATCPAC in the framework of regeneration and improvement of living conditions of the working classes and socialisation of hospital care is the tuberculosis dispensary in Barcelona. This dispensary had two aspects: one medical, to monitor and eradicate the disease, and the other to repair the city.

Interrupcions. 10 anys, 1.340 metres (Interruptions. 10 years, 1,340 metres, 2010) centres on the figure of the poet and revolutionary Joan Salvat-Papasseit, a sympathiser of anarchist ideas, who died of tuberculosis in an insalubrious house at a distance of ten years and 1,340 metres before the tuberculosis dispensary’s construction. But the promise of social regeneration for which the poet had fought and which the GATCPAC promoted with its architectural and planning practice was put on hold by the Civil War, when Barcelona was bombed, and definitively frustrated by Franco’s dictatorship, which abolished any attempt at ideological disruption and encouraged a very different social housing project, such as the Congrés neighbourhood promoted during the celebration of the Eucharistic Congress in Barcelona, or the social dwellings in Badia del Vallès, which became a huge fraud, to give two examples near the city of Barcelona. At the time of the poet’s death, tuberculosis was still an incurable disease leading to an irreversible situation; however, it was possible to improve the living conditions of the sick and alleviate their symptoms. Tuberculosis was an illness related to insalubrious lifestyles, alleviated by contact with nature, fresh air, sunlight, rest and a healthy diet. In this spirit, Alvar Aalto designed the sanatorium in Paimio (1933), opened a year before work began on the Barcelona project. 24 hores de llum artificial (24 Hours of Artificial Light, 1998) subverts the spirit of the project and the original construction of the building with a scale reproduction of one of the rooms, with no windows or daylight: it bricks up the space, but also disables the furniture, denying its essence.

Part of the contradiction of modernity, thought and in particular modern architecture, lay in the opposition between ideological and aesthetic discourse. For Domènec, architecture is a ‘political unconscious’ that allows him to rework the critical and poetic world of architects such as Alvar Aalto, Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier, ideologues of the modern aesthetic project in the field of architecture, in order to reconsider the role of the artist. When Finland gained independence from the Russian Empire and after the short but bloody civil war that ensued, the Communist Party was closed down and the country underwent some years of conservative predominance and proximity to Germany’s National Socialism regime, with the participation of Alvar Aalto. After the Second World War, the country was penalised for having collaborated with Nazism, and the Communist Party was legalised. In 1952, Aalto designed the House of Culture, the party’s new headquarters. For its construction, an appeal was made to the community asking for the participation of volunteers. The work Rakentajan Käsi (The Worker’s Hand, 2012) sets out to review what affects and concerns us, what is shared, and what can be done collectively. In this case, the worker community organised itself and worked voluntarily, collectively and free of charge, to create its own narrative in the face of the bourgeoisie that had occupied the preeminent position in the country. This work speaks not so much about architecture as about a collective effort, a utopia of joint effort that worked, but one in which history gave or removed meaning according to different events. The building lost its meaning when the Communist Party was dissolved in 1992 and in recent years it has been recovered as a cultural facility. Rakentajan käsi calls to a class awareness and pride, and, by revisiting history, seeks to give voice to the defeated, as Walter Benjamin proposed, aiming to restore the memory of the building to the workers.

 

‘We do need history, but quite differently from the jaded idlers in the garden of knowledge.’

Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Advantage and Disadvantage of History for Life

 

This quote from Nietzsche, with which Walter Benjamin heads one of his philosophy of history theses, speaks of the need to problematise the discourses of history and situate ourselves in the asymmetries, in the spaces of uncomfortable memory. In our recent history there is a dramatic episode, the Civil War, which was followed by a long dictatorship. Arquitectura Española, 1939–1975 (Spanish Architecture, 1939–75, 2014/2018) comprises digital copies of plans of buildings and public works constructed by the government of the Franco regime using the labour of republican political prisoners. The images of the repertoire of constructions are a triumphalist, propagandistic catalogue of how a country was raised on the exploitation of the defeated. They represent a series of portraits, not of people in this case, but of buildings or spaces; portraits of architecture and barbarism that speak to us not of the so-called ‘reconstruction’ of the country, but of the people who erected the buildings and the tragic conditions in which they did so. This series presents a kind of inverse iconoclasm and sanitation of a devastated country by means of public works and infrastructures that were built resolutely, by imposition, within a new order that had been established on the rubble of a past that was to be rendered invisible. The protagonists of that past were the silent, subjected labour force of the constructions of power.

Another form of sanitisation is the projection of the city’s image through tourism. Souvenir Barcelona (2017) analyses the way Barcelona has been a pioneer in promoting tourism not just as a means to economic and cultural enrichment, but also as an agent of modernisation. This was the founding idea of the Sociedad de Atracción de Forasteros (Society for the Attraction of Visitors), an early tourist board founded in 1908 and with its publication Barcelona atracción (1910–36), promoted by figures committed to the idea of modernisation, very close to the circles of the Regionalist League and headed by the mayor, Domènec Sanllehy i Alrich. From the start of the twentieth century, a stereotypical image of Barcelona was created: cultured, modern, Mediterranean, colourful, welcoming; an image more in keeping with a theme park, concealing stories of marginalisation, poverty, popular revolts, and repression. Domènec’s postcards show other aspects of the life and history of the city such as its shanties, the burning of churches, and the bombing of the city during the Civil War together with recent images related to the citizen protests of 15 May 2011, immigrant internment centres and evictions. We see not just the problems, but also the contradictions, as in the postcard of the square named after Antonio López, first Marquis of Comillas, a ship-owner and merchant who built his fortune on the slave trade, where we see immigrants calling for the rights of manters [illegal street vendors selling items that infringe copyright], organised under the umbrella of the Sindicat Popular de Venedors Ambulants de Barcelona (Popular Street Vendors’ Union of Barcelona), in the face of the police persecution to which they were subjected. The tourism promotion image is never dirty or conflictive, but these postcards show us the hidden, suffocated, rebel city, and its subversive narrative. They do not present the places as aseptic façades, rather speaking to us of what took place, of the conflicts and disappointments that happened there. If the souvenir is the memory that turns a visit to the city into merchandising, here souvenirs are dystopian propaganda, an alternative to the stereotypical imaginary presented by the tourist propaganda that sells the image of the city, and the city itself.

 

‘[Naked life] means the life that can be killed but not sacrificed of the homo sacer.’

Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer. Sovereign Power and Bare Life

 

The Urban Warfare Training Center, also known as Baladia, which is Arabic for city, is an artificial city built by the Israeli army in 2005 in the Negev desert to train in urban warfare. As Eyal Weizman explains in the essay ‘Walking through walls: Soldiers as architects in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict’, the training model is based on the philosophy of Deleuze and Guattari and radical artistic practices such as the works of Gordon Matta-Clark. The city is the new space of conflict, but it becomes a dystopian urban-planning model when war leaves its conventional scenarios and becomes a house-to-house war. Baladia Future City (2011–15) is the result of this dislocation. The work relocates war in the museum space to reconstruct this modular city with the capacity to adopt the cartography of the places where intervention is required. Domènec uses the same reconstruction procedure that Dürer followed to produce the drawing of the rhinoceros, an animal he had never seen: in this case, he looked for images using Google Maps, asked soldiers for their testimony to find out what the setting was like and what it meant to train there, but also what happens when these fictional practices have to move to a real city with people who live there. Baladia presents us with an anomalous situation of implementation of force in a colonial context and a breakdown of the system.

Another dysfunction is Nakba, an Arabic term that means disaster or catastrophe. The commemoration of the Palestinian Nakba coincides with the celebration of Israeli Independence Day, two circumstances produced by the United Nations resolution to divide the territory between the State of Israel and Palestine in 1948. During the following months, part of the Palestinian population was massacred by Israeli forces and almost one million Palestinians were dispossessed of their property, their homes and their land, and displaced to refugee camps. The historian Ilán Pappé notes that this corresponds to a paradigm shift from war to one of ethnic cleansing, along with a cognitive system that allowed the perpetrators to deny the crimes against Palestinians and helped the world to forget. 48_Nakba (2007) alludes to the memoricide based on concealment and distortion, a memory erased by systematic negation and non-recognition of historical fact. The Nakba not only destroyed people’s lives and erased villages and towns, it made everything disappear, like an act of obliterating iconoclasm, imposing perfectly planned colonial geopolitical strategies. The documentary is based on the direct testimony of people who were displaced in 1948 and who describe their homes and their villages, places which no longer exist. In the mental space that the refugees construct in this no-place, there is a contrast between the reality of memory and physical reality. Erased Land (2014) is an exercise in inverse geography, eliminating Palestinian presence from the map of the West Bank to make the framework of Israeli occupation visible. The map is an act of iconoclasm that erases names, memories, and towns, like the Nakba did, thereby becoming the map of negation. Occupied space is also the theme of Real Estate (2006–07), a work that uses this name ironically to show that Palestinian land is a piece of property in Israel’s eyes, and the colonial relationship in terms of ‘property’ which the State of Israel has with the occupied Palestinian territories, where Palestine is a dystopia in which the usurpation and erasing of history and Palestinian presence by the Israelis is global.

A final project centring on the dystrophy of the condition of modern possibility is based on the trial in 1961 in Jerusalem of one of the greatest criminals in history, the SS lieutenant colonel Adolf Eichmann. In his essay Modernity and the Holocaust, Zygmunt Bauman argued that one of the essential conditions that made the Holocaust possible was modernity, as this episode of history is deeply rooted in the very nature of modernity and the centre of modern social thought. Hannah Arendt followed the entire trial and in 1963 published the book Eichmann in Jerusalem, a report which ‘deals with nothing but the extent to which the court in Jerusalem succeeded in fulfilling the demands of justice’.3 The magistrates’ entrance to the courtroom was announced with ‘Beth Hamishpath’, ‘The House of Justice’ in Hebrew, the title of the first chapter of the book which describes the stage set of the auditorium in which the trial was held, in the House of the People, designed with ‘[…] a theatre in mind, complete with orchestra and gallery, with proscenium and stage, and with side doors for the actors’ entrance’.4 Designed as a stratigraphic hierarchy, the highest tier was occupied by the judges and the stenographers; on the next tier were the translators; lower down, the accused, his profile turned to the audience, in a glass booth specially designed to protect him, opposite the witness box; on the lowest tier, with their backs to the audience, the prosecutor and the counsel for the defence. Audiència pública (Public Hearing, 2018) is a reproduction of this silenced cabin that confronts us with history as ineffective witnesses and returns to us the responsibility for a case that is already a trial of history.5 It speaks to us of conditions of possibility. The barbarians might arrive. We’re waiting for the barbarians.

 

‘Because night has fallen and the barbarians have not come.
And some who have just returned from
the border say
there are no barbarians any longer.
And now, what’s going to happen
to us without barbarians?
They were, those people, a kind of solution.’

Konstantinos Kavafis, Waiting for the Barbarians

 

The history of the modern world is a series of entropies and resiliencies, utopias and dystopias, euphemisms in the face of realities which disturb what was expected, that which has to be, imposed order. Of disorders of the system and its capacity to react to disturbance or adversity. Part of the project of modernity has been built on a series of strokes, gestures and traces that are eliminated and replaced, operating on permanent provisionality.

Not Here, Not Anywhere is a proposal which criticises a society that has distorted the modern project, a reinterpretation of the utopian contents of modernity, the discourses of authority and power established in different contexts and iconoclasm as exorcism of history and as functional alienation. The project reflects on modern paradoxes in works which subvert what is expected of languages, based on polysemy and breach of convention: architecture converted into sculpture; sculpture without a plinth, related not with public but domestic space; the image as a portrait of architecture; bricked up architecture, stripped of its use, or the space of real estate which, when occupied, speaks to us of political and human issues. But it also reflects on how words betray us. Ariella Azoulay denounced the violence implicit in the use of terms such as hostility or conflict situations to talk about constant harassment in all spheres of everyday life, and suspended forms of violence, built on the axiom that ‘Even if everyone is watching, there is nothing to see’, but which penetrates to the deepest layer. A latent, silent violence. Not Here, Not Anywhere is a reflection on the euphemisms of history, a critical look at the political strategies of historical memory and social empowerment, at the modernity that drifts towards an authoritarian, colonialist discourse and acts as an agent for the implantation of global capitalism. But it is not just an exercise in historicism: it scrutinises through contemporary eyes, submitting projects to the present context. Walter Benjamin presented a criticism of historicism as a tool of power and a credible symptom of efficiency and the unquestionable. In his Theses on the Philosophy of History, he proposed seeing the past not as reconstruction or seduction but as a constructive principle, full of tensions, for the present time. ‘There has never been a document of culture which is not simultaneously one of barbarism. And just as it is itself not free from barbarism, neither is it free from the process of transmission, in which it falls from one set of hands into another. The historical materialist thus moves as far away from this as measurably possible. He regards it as his task to brush history against the grain.’6

Teresa Grandas is curator of exhibitions at MACBA Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona.

 

1. Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, tr. Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin. Cambridge and London: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1999.

2. From the journal AC. Documentos de Actividad Contemporánea, the publication of the GATCPAC, no. 11, III (July–September, 1933).

3. Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. New York: The Viking Press, 1963.

4. Op. cit.

5. While the first chapter of Arendt’s original text was entitled ‘The House of Justice’, in the Spanish edition it was rendered as ‘Audiencia pública’ (‘Public hearing’ in direct English retranslation). [Editor’s note]

6. Walter Benjamin, Theses on the Philosophy of History, no. 7.

Getting Dark. Martí Peran

Text for the catalogue of the solo exhibition “Domènec. Not Here, Not Anywhere” at MACBA, Barcelona 2018.

 

There can be no doubt that negative dialectics involve diving into the depths of the (contra) epistemology which lurks after the adventures of Thomas the Obscure:1 knowing is not so much the conquest of the faculty of saying things as the very experience of recognising the magnitude of what remains unsayable in them. With this perspective, the Adorno operation can be summed up thus: in the face of the omnipotence of the erudite concept, minted as a strategy with which to dominate the world under the tutelage of dominant interests, it is essential to turn round categories in the modern programme to the point of opening up its dark side – its negative – so that reason can abandon the logic of dominion and return to the sphere of emancipatory praxis. An example: instead of applying ourselves to reaching a consensus on the definition of ideal justice, one which can be applied to everyone and anywhere, a negative approach would suggest that the real battleground is to be found in the reparatory actions of real injustices. A positive definition of what is just cannot be arrived at because it would be anchored to a certain instrumental reason; in its stead, the way to unleash the power of the idea lies in its reverse, in the pressing reality of all the injustices that need to be remedied.

Adorno the Obscure had faith in art as the ultimate depository of negativity. To his mind, if art is able to refuse to give in to the logic of goods, and decides to maintain itself as art, it will then be condemned to development outside itself, so as to not be reduced to a mere categorisation as ‘something artistic’. This is the strange perimeter of art’s autonomy by which everything is allowed; even the shifting of instrumental reason, and operation as a tool with which to send some of the most emblematic aspects of modern ideology back into darkness. The progress of history, utopian fantasies, the dream of living and communal ideals have to be negativised in order to recognise that its power does not lie in the promises that are contained in each and every one of these pompous claims, but rather in the very opening up which is brought about by their intrinsic impossibility.

1.
Two of Domènec’s works (L’Ascension et la chute de la colonne Vendôme [The Rise and Fall of the Vendôme Column], 2013, and Monument enderrocat [Demolished Monument], 2014) reference iconoclasm. The bri- nging down of the monument to Napoleon Bonaparte, and the similar act in 1936, when the monument in Barcelona to General Prim was destroyed, evoke episodes of political antagonism focussed on the imaginaries of power; the act of iconoclasm carries with it, however, a more revealing depth: the production of an empty space which suspends the course of history. A monument aspires to be a guarantor of history’s linearity; it converts the celebration of given pasts into the substrate that sanctions the present as inevitable, and commemorates what has previously happened in order to legitimise current determinations of power. The monument’s destruction thus supposes the interruption of this linearity; but, above all, the disruption represents the demonstration of a dismissive power,2 one whose aim is to erase the direction imposed on history and replace it with the display of a mere empty space. In the act of iconoclasm, the most fundamental issue is how long the empty pedestals have until the new constitutive power on duty replaces the demolished figures. In the meantime, the pedestals are unoccupied, history loses its mind, abdicates its supposed linearity, and opens itself up to the darkness that allows it to reformulate with new conjugations.

Conjugating history outside its linearity does not mean the simple twist of telling the story of the vanquished who were unable to get themselves onto the pedestal. Taking history to the point of darkness means re-establishing the past, embedding it in the present day’s horizons so that it is shaken up and transformed. For history to cease legitimising current forms of power, the past has to return in order to reopen conflict to new opportunities. As Benjamin expounded in his Thesis, the past has to be redeemed inside a single Jetztzeit (now-time) which cancels history as a linear course of events.3 Through this counter-history, the slavish force of work that Spanish fascism exploited reappears (Arquitectura Española, 1939–1975 [Spanish Architecture, 1939-75], 2014/2018), and it becomes as contingent as the very buildings it put up; by means of the same equation, different riots spread across the years re-emerge in their original locations (Souvenir Barcelona, 2017) or the distances between split occurrences are resized in order to weave new tales (Interrupcions. 10 anys, 1.340 metres [Interrupcions. 10 years, 1.340 metres], 2010). The past still happens, and projects its dark shadow on the present and shakes it up.

When Mies van der Rohe found himself obliged to work tricks with the making of the star which went on the top of the Rosa Luxemburg monument, he had to split it into various parts to make it portable and this meant it became a legacy that allowed for its transportation towards a perpetual now (Den toten Helden der Revolution [To the Dead Heroes of the Revolution], 2018).

2.
Modernity reached a consensus on the understanding of beauty as concinnitas: the absolute harmony between parts. Through this prism, what is beautiful can be identified as a composition which cannot undergo modification as any addition or subtraction would result in the deterioration of its perfection. This ideal beauty of complete congruity can be translated in a moral key (decorum), but also feeds speculation about a possible political beauty: utopia. Utopia can be conceived of as the description of a political concinnitas through which a complex social form settles a happy correspondence between all of its parts that cannot be broken. Fourier’s phalanstery, with its mathematical organisation, is a perfect example of this logic; but the same radicalism affects any other attempt at utopia. Le Corbusier’s Unité d’habitation can only work as an effective machine à habiter if the instructions as to how to live in it are followed. In Corviale (Sostenere il palazzo dell’utopia [Holding the Building of Utopia], 2004), however, the residents of this housing complex, far from obeying the rules, have completely parasitised the building so as to adapt it to their most prosaic needs. The damage might make one think its utopian potential was squandered, but what happened was the opposite: the breaking up of the initial concinnitas is what allows for the preservation of the utopian arsenal beyond the limits of its initial formalisation. In fact, through this indiscipline, Corviale’s residents have made themselves into true rulers of their living space.

When Nozick suggests that all utopia is meta-utopia,4 what he is implying is that the very function of utopian form lies in its being impossible to put into practice, but that this impossibility is itself what allows a utopian spirit – a commitment to non-reconciliation with any given form of what is real – to encourage multiple realities. There is no utopia other than the management of a perfect form like a kind of seed which must sprout in unforeseeable ways, ways that appear counter-utopian inasmuch as they suppose the abandonment of the concinnitas principle. The structural impossibility of utopian shape is thus its dark side, which does not prevent but harbours the same possibilities. Utopia always conveys a promise, but what it maintains in its failure to consummate is the very power of what is promising: everything always could be different. The flames of the journey to Icaria (Voyage en Icarie [Journey to Icaria], 2012) signal the fleeting nature of Cabet’s fantasies as much as they reignite the same dreams.

The dimension of utopian paradox can only be formulated out of negative dialectics: its very unrealisable perfection is what can make it effective in a non-utopian here and now. From this, utopia’s true geography lies in the tension between the nowhereness of its idealised formulation and the naked now which has to be permanently changed (Here/Nowhere, 2005). From this perspective, the moving operations of certain utopian forms towards the value of use (Existenzminimum, 2002; Taquería de los vientos, 2003; Playground (Tatlin in Mexico), 2011), far from contradicting the legitimacy of the fictions they put into play, renew it at the level of domestic life: living, eating and

3.
Adorno laid down that ‘What is accurately called living somewhere is no longer possible […] The home has been and gone.’5 It was Mies van der Rohe who earlier expressed himself in the same way: ‘The home of our time does not exist.’6 The lack to which they refer is not a problem of architectonic typology but the impossibility of erecting what Heidegger called a ‘dwelling’7 where the linking of individual to the world is completed. The dream of living which modernity articulated in effect interprets the hearth of a home as the opportunity to pin down one’s own place. In Adorno’s case, the cancellation of the home responds to the barbarous excesses that modernity demonstrated with the Holocaust. After the spectacular failure of the modern project as a horizon of emancipation, none of its instrumental orders merit any confidence whatsoever: the dream of living is nothing more than a paraphrasing of the vocation of domination. For Mies, the home of our time does not exist because the conditions of modern life demand the abandonment of old categories and extoll, in opposition to the inhabitant, the counter-figure of the non-inhabitant,8 one who does not reside but travels, someone who doesn’t live somewhere but prowls around. Instead of the home as the crucial centre of a life, it is now necessary to Vivir sin dejar rastro (Live without leaving tracks, 2009) and Sans domicile fixe (With no fixed abode, 2002).

The dream of living thus starts to fade due to historical imperatives: but they only mean the beginning of its darkening. At the moment we are witnessing the need to correct the coordinates which espoused the idea of a home with a still prospective character; it is only necessary to change its location and recognise that the shelter it should guarantee can also bring with it a certain uprooting: the same mobility can be conceived of as a place, although it might be vulnerable and unstable (Unité Mobile [Roads are also places], 2005), and, in turn, living units perhaps should be thought of as precarious and portable, so as to guar- antee the minimum coefficient of comfort (Existenzminimum, 2002; Superquadra casa-armário, 2009; Sakai Shelter, 2016). Fundamentally, though, this demand for a home, once it has been ‘bartered into the mere adaptation of a refuge’,9 accelerates its decline: 24 hores de llum artificial (24 Hours of Artificial Light, 1998) reproduces a room in the hospital in Paimio, but the original of a bright and hospitable room has been supplanted by a blind and unwelcoming ward.

A moveable house still offers accommoda- tion: a blind house is nobody’s. But who is this ‘nobody’? The dream of living’s true negative is not the fragility with which the same dream could make a refuge habitable, but the single direction that points to this transformed home: the figure of the refugee. The dark background to the pursuit of dwelling is materialised in its deep-rooted impossibility, as embodied by the refugee. A refugee is someone who has been turned out of their home and dragged off to a zone of anomie (48_Nakba, 2007), an exposure that reduces the person to a homo sacer abandoned at the limit of mere living being.10 The refugee is thus transformed into someone who has no place and cannot have roots, nor be defined by their movements but who, plainly, does not inhabit. The refugee is the person who occupies a house, not so much its rooms as its voids, the gaps that wear it away. If the non-inhabitant was someone who doesn’t inhabit, the refugee is the person who ceases to inhabit. But this extreme precariousness, at a level which makes it obligatory to think up mechanisms to make up for the damage it causes as Agamben proposes, can also be conceived of as the seed of a new political category to the extent that in this way it breaches the principles of modern sovereignty (the re- lationships of identity between person/ citizen and birthplace/nationality), and this also subjects it to an irreversible crisis. The territorial oppression with which Israel subjugates the Palestinian people (Real Estate, 2007; Erased Land, 2014; Baladia Future City, 2011–15) illustrates the magnitude of a despotic power with multiple consequences; but the non-inhabiting effect it promotes also declares the collapse of the nation state as home of power.

4.
Models of different types of multi-unit housing are supported by household chairs (Conversation Piece: Narkomfin, 2013; Conversation Piece: Casa Bloc, 2016) or themselves act as chairs arranged for the viewer to sit on (Conversation Piece: Les Minguettes, 2017). In the wake of ‘conversation portraits’, the proposal seems transparent: architectural models for a communal life are set out as objects which provoke discussion in order to evaluate the historical misadventures that each of the examples cited suffered. Thus Narkomfin (1928–32, planned as a paradigm of the Soviet commune, was soon aborted by Stalinism; a similar fate was experienced by Casa Bloc (1933–39), the workers’ housing model thought up by the GATCPAC and which ended up as accommodation for Franco’s soldiers. As for Les Minguettes, a housing complex on the outskirts of Lyon, it embodies the historical failure of the application of architectural solutions derived from modern ideology to urban suburbs. If the object of the conversation which is to grow around these models consists of taking stock of their fate, then it is most likely that these little chats’ trajectory will be fairly brief. What these conversations bring into play is not a string of unfortunate occurrences: the object of the conversation to emerge around these architectural objects is the very idea of community and the question of whether models which are capable of fulfilling the communal ideal actually exist.

The first conversations around ideal models of community are to be found in Plato’s dialogues. Traditional interpretation of Plato supposes that the perfect Republic is one governed by philosophers; but this overlooks the fact that in Book II, Socrates does not hesitate to extol as the ideal a city of pigs, a small self-sufficient city based on mutual collaboration between its inhabitants and with no more purpose than the provision of basic needs. Socrates’ contribution is filled with intent: ‘It seems to me that the true city is that described, as it is also a healthy city. But, if you please, let us take a look at a city swollen with tumours.’11 Indeed, just an obligation to describe a voluptuous, complex city, thirsty for material goods and criss-crossed by all sorts of conflict is what will make the participants in the conversation describe another ideal city in accordance with these new demands. In a way, what is being put forward is thus an opposition between the true ‘healthy city’, so pure and harmonious it doesn’t need any political structure, and an entangled city that requires politics. In the light of this consideration, Platonism’s truly ideal city would thus be a prepolitical commune, a kind of non-city prior to the actual constitution of a city.

Communal living conceived as a city without a city is nothing more than a way of recognising the negative depth of the very idea of community. This is demonstrated by Esposito in his deconstruction of the idea of communitas: a necessary congregation of differences which, however, rests upon its intrinsic impossibility.12 Community projects the individual beyond itself, takes its identity away and confines it in an otherness which dynamites the absolute char- acter that is presupposed in any individual. Only a singular somebody can share themself, but the community cannot exist without each and every one of its individ- uals dissolving themselves. The conclusion is categoric: there is no community other than in an awareness that such a communal congregation is not possible. Every community, in its darkest depths, is thus a flawed community.13 Any attempt to correct this defective nature – we are the community of those who have no community – brings with it a disastrous decline, anchored to a desire to maintain the integrity of its individuals who, because of this, degrade the communitas to a protected city that is always on the point of being formalised in a totalitarian political structure.

The impracticality which characterises community is what pushed Barthes to defend the model of ‘idiorrhythmy’ – the placing in common of distances – as the only alternative that is able to bear the paradox.14 If communality however brings with it the possibility to free oneself of the imperative to crystallise in a city, in a political entity that guarantees it will function effectively for everyone, then it seems feasible to abandon the strategic proposal which made it obligatory to define judicial apparatus and particular urbanistic solutions. Outside this framework, community can grow in the space of mere cooperation as an end in itself, without the need for a meeting of different individuals that must achieve an ideal result. What Sennett calls ‘dialogic cooperation’15 is nothing other than the opening which appears in the dark chasm of the idea of community, a space where all of us become more skilful than we were inside an established framework, however well-defined it was. The volunteers who joined forces in the construction of Helsinki’s Kulttuuritalo (Rakentajan käsi [The Worker’s Hand], 2012) don’t remember the programme which led to the project so much as the very act of their coming together, the pure experience of their meetings and the confluence of skills that took place at the time. The collection of stories that witnesses tell grows in the political defeat of planning, but composes a proud choral score on the diffuse power of pure collaboration.16

Martí Peran is an art critic, curator and professor of Art Theory at the Universitat de Barcelona.

1. To contradict ourselves, see also William S. Allen, Aesthetics of Negativity: Blanchot, Adorno and Autonomy. New York: Fordham University Press, 2016. See Theodor W. Adorno, Negative Dialectics (1966), tr. E. B. Ashton, New York: Seabury Press, 1973, and also Maurice Blanchot, Thomas the Obscure (1950), tr. Robert Lamperton, Barrytown NY: Station Hill Press (2000).

2. This notion is used according to the perspective proposed by Giorgio Agamben in Medios sin fin. Notas sobre política, tr. Antonio Gimeno Cuspinera. Valencia: Pre-Textos, 2001.

3. Walter Benjamin, ‘Tesis de filosofía de la historia’, tr. Jesús Aguirre. Discursos interrumpidos I. Madrid: Taurus, 1982, p. 188.

4. Robert Nozick, Anarquía, Estado y utopía, tr. Rolando Tamayo. Madrid: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1988.

5. Theodor W. Adorno, Minima moralia. Reflexiones desde la vida dañada, tr. Joaquín Chamorro Mielke. Madrid: Taurus, 1998, pp. 35–36.

6. Cited by Josep Quetglas in ‘Habitar’, Restes d’arquitectura i de crítica de la cultura. Barcelona: Arcàdia and Ajuntament de Barcelona, 2017, p. 21.

7. Martin Heidegger, Construir Habitar Pensar (Baun Wohnen Denken), tr. Jesús Adrián. Madrid: La Oficina de Arte y Ediciones, 2015.

8. This notion was proposed by Josep Quetglas, op. cit., p. 26.

9. This was expounded in Martí Peran, Domènec. 24 hores de llum artificial. Barcelona: Fundació ”la Caixa”, 1998.

10. Giorgio Agamben, Homo sacer. El poder soberano y la nuda vida, tr. Antonio Gimeno Cuspinera. Valencia: Pre-Textos, 1998, p. 161.

11. 372e., Plato, Obras completas, tr. María Araujo et al. Madrid: Aguilar, 1981, p. 693.

12. Roberto Esposito, Comunidad, inmunidad y biopolítica, tr. Alicia García Ruiz. Barcelona: Herder, 2009. See also, by the same author, how the idea of community is put forward exactly as an ‘unpolitical’ category: Categorías de lo impolítico, tr. Roberto Raschella. Buenos Aires: Katz, 2006.

13. Also recognised as ‘unmade’ or ‘shameful’. See Jean-Luc Nancy, La comunidad desobrada, tr. Pablo Perera. Madrid: Arena Libros, 2007; and Maurice Blanchot, La comunidad inconfesable, tr. Isidro Herrera. Madrid: Arena Libros, 1999.

14. Roland Barthes, Cómo vivir juntos. Simulaciones novelescas de algunos espacios cotidianos, tr. Patricia Willson. Buenos Aires: Siglo xxi, 2003.

15. Richard Sennett, Together: The Rituals, Pleasures, and Politics of Cooperation. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012.

16. See Martí Peran, ‘Potencia de melancolía. A propósito de Rekentajan kasi (la mano del trabajador)’, Relaciones ortográficas (en tiempos de revuelta). Terrassa: Ajuntament de Terrassa, 2017.

 

 

Domènec En Residència a l’Institut Serrat i Bomastre

Dilluns, 6 de juny de 2016, a les 18 hores
Biblioteca Jaume Fuster
Plaça Lesseps, 20-22 08023 Barcelona

Monthly Archive:
June 2019
May 2019
April 2019
March 2019
February 2019
January 2019
December 2018
November 2018
October 2018
September 2018
August 2018
July 2018
June 2018
April 2018
March 2018
February 2018
January 2018
November 2017
October 2017
July 2017
June 2017
May 2017
April 2017
February 2017
December 2016
November 2016
October 2016
July 2016
June 2016
May 2016
March 2016
November 2015
September 2015
August 2015
July 2015
June 2015
April 2015
March 2015
February 2015
January 2015
December 2014
November 2014
October 2014
September 2014
August 2014
July 2014
June 2014
April 2014
March 2014
February 2014
January 2014
December 2013
November 2013
October 2013
September 2013
August 2013
June 2013
May 2013
April 2013
March 2013
February 2013
January 2013
November 2012
October 2012
September 2012
August 2012
July 2012
June 2012
May 2012
April 2012
March 2012
February 2012
January 2012
December 2011
November 2011
October 2011
September 2011
August 2011
July 2011
June 2011
April 2011
February 2011
January 2011
December 2010
November 2010
October 2010
September 2010
August 2010
July 2010
June 2010
May 2010
April 2010
March 2010
February 2010
January 2010
November 2009
October 2009
September 2009
August 2009
July 2009
June 2009
May 2009
April 2009
March 2009
December 2008
November 2008