Henry David Thoreau built a cabin on the shore of Walden Lake and lived there in a spartan and solitary way for two years, from 1845 to 1847. In this cabin he wrote his well-known book Walden, or Life in the Woods, a critique of industrial society and an argument in favor of “natural” non-productive and free life.
In 1948, B. F. Skinner wrote the science fiction novel Walden Two which takes its name from the book by Henry David Thoreau. Skinner imagines a utopian city; a collectivist utopia of a community of a thousand people where cooperativism is encouraged instead of competitiveness. The book was enormously popular mainly in the intellectual and alternative circles of the 1960s. In the novel, Skinner recounts the existence of other Walden communities that continue the Walden Two project, namely Walden 3, Walden 4 , Walden 5 and Walden 6.
Between 1970 and 1975, Taller de Arquitectura, the team of architects, sociologists, philosophers and poets who came together around Ricardo Bofill, built an emblematic project of radical architecture: the building of collective housing Walden 7 in Sant Just Desvern (Barcelona). And it is precisely because of this reference to the previous six Waldens, Thoreau’s Walden and the five Waldens imagined by Skinner, that they named the latter as such.
Walden 7, and its unbuilt precedent of the City in the Space, maintain a complex relationship with the housing project of modernity, and with the attempts, from the 60s, to overcome its contradictions, thus adding new layers of complexity to the central question of the modern project: how to live together.
The video project Walden 7 or Life in the Cities traces the journey between the initial project and the current building through interviews, archival and contemporary images. The video is structured around the core conversation with the architect’s sister and co-author of the project Anna Bofill, herself an architect, composer, as well as a feminist activist and former member of the Taller de Arquitectura (Architecture Workshop). She has been living in the building for the past 30 years, thus, identifying with the project through to the end.
A LOOP production. Co-finances with funds from the Creative Europe Program and the project A-PLACE. Linking places through networked artistic practices.
Thanks to: Anna Bofill, Taller de Arquitectura and the inhabitants of Walden 7
120 x 120 x 120 cm
The Czech hedgehog is an anti-tank defense obstacle consisting of angular metal bars joined together.
The hedgehog is very effective at preventing armored units, tanks, from crossing a defensive line. Originally, the hedgehogs were used by the Czechs on the border with Germany (hence their name) as part of a system of fortified defenses hastily built at the beginning of the Second World War. Czech hedgehogs were widely used during this conflict, they were made from any metal piece or even train rails. They also proved extremely effective in urban combat conditions, as a single piece could block an entire street.
At the beginning of the 21st century, the housing utopias of the Athens Charter are completely wrecked in the impoverished peripheries of global megalopolises. The egalitarian and just city imagined by collectivist utopias or the pacified city dreamed of by reformists, the one that would allow a “harmonious” flow of capital, work and domestic life, has mutated into a suburban dystopia on a global scale. Having definitively broken the fragile contract between capital and the social body, full of ghettos and walls, borders, enclaves and fortified areas for the privileged, that dream city is today a battlefield.
In the essay “Slouching towards dystopia: the new military futurism”, published in Race & Class, Matt Carr discusses the fact that in recent years, US and UK military think tanks have produced a series of reports that they try to imagine the future threats to the security of the West. This new military futurism sees threats to the Western way of life emanating from conflicts over resource scarcity, mass migrations and the growth of failed megacities where social disorder is a daily occurrence. The dark predictions of military futurologists posit an eminently urban scenario of war, of neighborhood-by-neighborhood, street-by-street, house-by-house fighting, and provide a justification for endless war against the dispossessed. As Mike Davis states: “For the Pentagon, the ‘failed cities’ of the countries of the Global South have been identified as ‘the key battleground of the future'”.
Czech hedgehog (three blocks of social housing) is a prototype for urban self-defense.
* Czech hedgehog (three blocks of social housing) belongs to BPS22 Musée d’Art de la Provincie de Hainaut collection, Charleroi, Belgium
Wooden shelves, prints on aluminium and bronze model.
162 x 65 x 58 cm
Edition of 3
Josep Lluís Sert in his well-known book Can our Cities Survive? An ABC of Urban Problems, their Analysis, their Solutions – which collects and theorises all the elements of the famous Athens Charter (1934) agreed at the IV CIAM (International Congress of Modern Architecture) led by Le Corbusier – presents the housing complex known as the Cité de la Muette as the desirable model for modern living, a “garden city” that combines affordable housing with communal living.
This complex of social housing for the working class, – designed by the architects Marcel Lods and Eugène Beaudouin, with the collaboration of Jean Prouvé and built between 1931 and 1934 in Drancy, in the northeast of Paris –, it is considered one of the first large housing projects designed according to CIAM principles.
In 1941 the Drancy concentration camp was created in a large U-shaped building that is part of the Cité de la Muette complex. From August 1941 to August 1944, the Drancy concentration camp was the lynchpin of the anti-Semitic expulsion policy in France. This camp was for three years the main internment center for Jews before they were deported to the Nazi extermination camps, most of them in Auschwitz.
Wood and Formica
84 x 172 x 120 cm
Inkjet printing on paper
75 x 130 cm
The Moscow Round House (or Bublik) was built in the context of a difficult real estate crisis in the USSR. The circular shape makes it an example of a completely different Khrushchyovka structure from the standardized, monotonous buildings of that time.
After World War II, the USSR suffered a major rural exodus as a result of new industrialization and collectivization policies, forcing the Soviet authorities to build massive buildings. This was the birth of a new model of collective housing, the Khrushchyovka (an unofficial name derived from Nikita Khrushchev). This typology succeeds Stalinist architecture, a set of expensive, high-quality buildings reserved for a minority. The Khrushchyovka were low-cost buildings, built of concrete panels, where simplicity was given priority over aesthetics and originality.
In response to the standardization of these architectures, Soviet architect Eugene Stamo partnered with engineer Alexandr Markelov to propose a new design for these buildings. In 1972, a cylindrical apartment building was built to break the monotony of the Ochakovo-Matveevskoe district: 155m of diameter, 8 levels with 26 entrances and 913 apartments. The first floor is dedicated to services (shops, hairdressers, pharmacies, bookstore / library, children’s club…) while the courtyard is designed as a common garden isolated from the city. Named “Bublik” (Russian bagel) for its particular form, the real estate proposition was a failure; due to its technical difference from standard buildings, it was much more expensive and its construction slower than neighbouring buildings.
However, the circular central space, which sought to recover the former Soviet communal courtyard and the collectivist spirit of the Dom-Kommuna from the beginning of the revolution, added great symbolic value to the project, and the possibility of accessing all services at a very short distance, initially seduced the authorities and they decided to built another building of the same characteristics.
But in the end, although the collective functional aspect was positively assessed, the apartments had a trapezoidal shape that accumulated limitations and made it difficult to repair these non-standardized units, within a not at all flexible and strongly centralized housing policy, and the program was closed.
It could be stated that the Bublik in taking this circular shape that generates a central communal space is inserted in the ancestral communal architectural tradition (peoples of the Amazon, traditional towns in China, settlements of the peoples of central Africa, etc.), in the tradition of utopian socialism (the Phalanstère and Familistère) and of course from the Soviet tradition itself (Dom-Kommuna) and which is also the last attempt to reactivate this same tradition.
Bonze, wood and iron
Bronze Hut 1: 12 x 15 x 13 cm
Bronze Hut 2: 16 x 15 x12.5 cm
Table (iron and wood): 75 x 80 x 40 cm
The piece consists in two bronze models of two huts: the first is the hut in the woods of Montana where Ted Kaczynski, known as Unabomber, was hiding, and the second is Le Cabanon, the 16m2 hut that Le Corbusier build in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin. The empty space between them is the space would be occupied by the hut that Henry David Thoreau built on the shores of Lake Walden.
Henry David Thoreau lived in a Spartan and solitary way for two years, from 1845 to 1847, in this hut and wrote there his well-known book “Walden or Life in the Woods”, a critique of industrial society, and a plea for it. of non-productive and free “natural” life.
Ted Kaczynski (Chicago, 1942) known as Unabomber, is an American mathematician who carried out a bombing campaign that killed three people to denounce modern capitalist society, the technology and industrialization. In 1971 he moved to a small cabin in the middle of the woods in the remote lands of Montana.
In 1995, Kaczynski sent a letter to The New York Times promising to “give up terrorism” if his manifesto was published, and the newspaper published it. In his manifesto, called the “Industrial Society and Its Future”, he argued that bombs were necessary to draw attention to the erosion of freedom in a high-tech society. He was eventually arrested by the FBI and sentenced to life in prison. He is currently serving a sentence in a Colorado prison.
Ted Kaczynski considers himself a follower of the philosophical doctrine proposed by Thoureau.
Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris (La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, 1887 – Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, France, 1965), better known as Le Corbusier, was one of the most important and influential architects and urban planners of the twentieth century, the intellectual father of the housing utopias derived from the Athens Charter (1942), which sought to solve once and for all all the ills of the old cities, and which in the late 1970s were wrecked in the metropolitan suburbs of all the world.
In 1952, while building the Unité d’Habitation and planning the new Indian city of Chandigar, Le Corbusier designed and built a small wooden hut in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, a minimal dwelling, a small shelter near the sea.
Phantom limb syndrome is the perception that an amputated limb is still connected to the body and is functioning along with the rest of the body; the most plausible explanation is that the brain still has an area dedicated to the amputated limb, so the patient still feels the limb.
published in Perro Berde (Manila, Philippines, 2019).
On February 2019, the Ateneo Art Gallery hosts Domènec’s exhibit titled Not Here, Not Anywhere, organized in collaboration with Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA) and with assistance from the Embassy of Spain in the Philippines. The exhibit features selected works from the MACBA show as well as two new works Domènec created after a 10-day visit to Manila and as a response to the Philippine context. He is also one of the featured speakers at the 2019 Art Fair Philippines art talks. The following Q & A explores the artist’s background as well as his insights on the role of artists in revisiting the past, reassessing history, and recovering the voice of the voiceless.
ATENEO ART GALLERY:
For the benefit of Philippine readers, can you give us an overview of your beginnings or early years as an artist?
My years of learning coincide with the last years of the 80s; my first relevant exhibition is from 1989.
In 1975, the dictator dies after 40 years in power and a period of transition begins, to a democracy full of conflicts and tensions between the oligarchic and conservative structures that seek, and in part achieve, holding on to power, and the desire among the general population, women, workers, students … to initiate a deep and radical change. This period of political turmoil, which I experience intensely as a high school student, we could say—and simplifying a bit—ends in 1982 when the Socialist Party wins the elections by an absolute majority. For the first time since 1939, Spain is governed by a president not involved with the fascist dictatorship. It was the beginning of a period of euphoria resulting from an act of collective forgetfulness, when no one will be judged for the crimes of the dictatorship (there are still tens of thousands of unidentified corpses in mass graves scattered throughout the country).
In the context of art, this period of euphoria, amnesia, and superficiality coincides with the period of a speculative bubble of the art market. Universities and schools also participate, in a certain way, in this process, producing an interruption in the transmission of knowledge between our generation and the generation of Spanish artists of the 70s, much more involved in artistic practices committed to experimentation, social criticism, or political commitment.
We could say that it was at the end of the 80s and in the first half of the 90s when some young artists began to configure other ways of working beyond the parameters established by public institutions and the art market of the time, starting, among other things, to reconstruct the relationship with the local tradition of conceptual and political art. For example, the work of artists, such as Francesc Abad (1944), who were absolutely invisible during the 80s, becomes fundamental in reintroducing the recovery of the memory of the victims of the dictatorship in the 90s with their project El Camp de la Bota.
What were the circumstances that led to your current art practice? Or what led you to focus on modernity and architecture and urban planning as points of interest and criticism?
I have always been very interested in architecture, as well as in contemporary history and political theory, but it was more than twenty years ago, in the middle of the 90s, in a historical moment characterized by the triumph of global capitalism and the apparent defeat of all the attempts to build alternative scenarios, that I started through my artistic practice to ask myself about the role of the artist in society and about myself as a contemporary subject.
Of the artistic practices, architecture is the one that, in a more radical and sometimes even traumatic way, affects the daily life of people and at the same time is intersected by all the conflicts and political contradictions. This makes it an ideal territory to analyze how the different processes of modernity materialize, even where different “modernities” collide.
The intimate, complex, dangerous, and often contradictory relationship established by architecture with ideology and social utopias on the one hand, and with oligarchic power, the market, and speculation on the other, constitute a perfect field to deploy contemporary artistic practice as a process of analysis and criticism.
Precisely when the housing utopias derived from the Athens Charter (1933) are completely shipwrecked in the metropolitan peripheries of the whole world, it is more pertinent to replant the question of how to live together.
How does an art project begin for you? What interests you in pursuing further research on a specific topic or historical event or period?
This depends on many variables, but we could say that there are two types of projects. Self-generated projects, that is, projects that are the result of the general process of my research and interests, and projects generated from a context, whether social, geographic, political, or specific. For example, a project on Soviet utopian architecture like Conversation Piece: Narkomfin would be an example of the first typology. I have never been to Moscow and therefore the project does not respond to a reaction to a specific context, but to a process of a more general reflection on the limits of the modern project.
On the other hand, the long series of projects on the context of Israel and Palestine (Real Estate, 48_Nakba, Erased Land, or Baladia Future City) are the direct result of an intense relationship with a specific geographical context initiated by an invitation from Nirith Nelson, an Israeli curator, to work in that place. Many of my projects start this way, from an invitation to stay in a new context. From this trigger, I begin a more or less long process of immersion and investigation of this context. I apply what I call a “bastard” research process that works at many levels, from the physical experience of the place, the route, observation and listening, to conversation with all kinds of people and agents—from the food vendor in the street to the political activist, from the taxi driver or the refugee to the journalist or the academic—or to the consultation of historical archives or specialized readings. Finally the resulting project is a kind of “response” to the place.
It has been noted (in the catalogue essay) that you view architecture as a “political unconscious“. Can you expound on this?
There is a phrase that says “no building is innocent”, which perfectly defines this concept. A formalistic and academic analysis of architecture would center its interest on the formal and aesthetic qualities of buildings, as if they were abstract bodies, but no building is innocent. Its “unconscious” is loaded with political conflicts, hidden human dramas, life stories of the workers who built it, of those who inhabited them … this “unconscious” is what interests me and what I try to rescue in my projects, like, for example, in the project Rakenjan Käsi (The Workers Hand) that I made in Helsinki. Instead of focusing my research on the building Kulttuuritalo (The House of Culture, 1952), designed by Alvar Aalto, all my interest was focused on recovering the voice and memory of the volunteer workers who gave generously and free of charge more than 500,000 hours of their lives to the realization of the project. My project raises the question of why the fundamental contribution of these volunteers has been forgotten by official accounts.
How do you see your role today as an artist in relation to the “conversations” with icons of architecture and/or modernist projects you have embarked on?
I have worked around the architectural paradigms of modernity, with a critical reading of symbolic constructions by Alvar Aalto, Mies van der Rohe, or Le Corbusier in an attempt to identify architecture as the “political unconscious” of modernity. As Walter Benjamin already detected, the architects’ projects would constitute the best incarnation of all those dreams of an impotent modernity to fulfill its promises of emancipation and welfare for all. Ironically, contradictions between the ideological program and political reality become more evident in social housing projects.
I work with the concept of history established by Walter Benjamin, where reviewing history only makes sense if it is a political combat tool of the present. I am interested in studying what has happened to these projects to resituate them in the present, so that they can be discussed, provide complexity, layers of meaning, so that together we can imagine and reimagine alternatives.
Your research visit to Manila last July 2018 was quite brief, but you were able to explore and develop a new project. Were there any new insights you gained about the Philippines or Manila during this 10-day visit? Can you tell us more about the new project you are working on for the Ateneo Art Gallery exhibition?
Yes, my first visit to Manila and my first contact with the context of the Philippines was quite brief but intense. I must admit that my prior knowledge was very poor. The Filipino context seems really interesting and complex, with many layers of meanings that coexist in the same spatial-temporal context.
I am shocked by how ignorant we, the inhabitants of Spain, are about our colonial past, its consequences and the responsibilities that derive from it. Despite the fact that the last decolonization process of North African territories took place in the 70s, there has not yet been an important debate in public opinion. Only recently have we begun to review and question some of the important figures of the last colonial period in America (Cuba and Puerto Rico) and Asia (Philippines), such as Antonio López y López, the Marquis of Comillas, a businessman with very good relations with political power and the monarchy, the founder—of among other large companies—of the General Company of Tobaccos of the Philippines, who began his fortune by dedicating himself to the slave trade in Cuba. For example, the great fortunes of the Barcelona bourgeoisie of the nineteenth century and the industrial wealth of Catalonia are based on slavery and the exploitation of the natural resources of the colonized territories.
In my work, I have been interested in how, beyond the territorial occupation and the plundering of natural wealth and bodies, the colonizer also “colonizes” the cultural images of the colonized, appropriating their referents, acculturizing the population, and building an exoticizing story, where the colonized is presented as a “savage” who needs the “civilizing” intervention of the colonizer through his educational, ideological, and military apparatus.
Domènec. Not Here, Not Anywhere
Catalogue of the solo exhibition at MACBA Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona.
Texts: Teresa Grandas, Jeff Derksen and Martí Peran
Lenguages: Catalan and English
Published by: MACBA Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona, 2018
Two light box, 66 x 50 cm each.
Edition of 3
Image “Welcome to Barcelona”: Pavilion of the Compañía General de Tabacos de Filipinas installed in the Parc de la Ciutadella in Barcelona, 1888.
Image “Welcome to Madrid”: Filipino “village” built for the General Exhibition of the Philippine Islands in the Retiro Park in Madrid and populated by indigenous people of different ethnicities and different animal species from the archipelago, 1887.
Welcome to Barcelona (2018) and Welcome to Madrid (2018) is welcoming to two cities in Spain, after two major expositions on the Philippines presented at the end of the 19th century. In 1887 the General Exposition of the Philippine Islands, promoted by the Overseas Ministry, took place in the Retiro Park in Madrid. In the general catalog the project was introduced explaining “Spain did not yet know what in foreign lands was the subject of study and praise”, despite being the metropolis after more than three hundred years of colonial rule. And he continued “The productions of that fertile soil, the works that reveal the privileged aptitude of their children for the arts all, the results of the influence of the metropolis in a colony never selfishly exploited, were known to us by references or fragmentary way.” (*) Good wishes were accompanied by a desire to show the strength of the domination of the archipelago, in a voracious propaganda attempt, just a decade before finally losing the colony. A year later, at the Universal Exhibition of Barcelona in 1888, the Pavilion of the General Company of Tobacco from the Philippines was presented, a company that represented one of the largest commercial interests overseas, founded by Marquis of Comillas, slave trader, businessman and shipping magnate.
This project reflects on the structural violence implicit in the political and economic strategies around colonialism, and on the phenomenon of universal expositions as a kind of vain cartographies conceived from the metropolis to exhibit countries and dominated cultures, as cabinets of curiosities and catalog of exoticism that did nothing but increase geographical and cultural distance. Under the pretext of scientific and anthropological interest, the positivist and suprematist gaze articulated around moral, racist, and economic interests was imposed. National stereotypes, images of power, institutional criticism or the euphemisms of progress are raised here through the displacement of the subject of contemplation: they are not images of the two host cities that welcome us, but are images of the vision that those two cities offered from the Philippines in the context of two great celebratory events.
(Fragment of the text of the catalog of the exhibition Domènec. Not Here, Not Anywhere. Ateneo Art Gallery, Manila, 2019)
(*) Catalog of the General Exhibition of the Philippine Islands, Madrid, 1887.
* The 1/3 edition belongs to the collection of the Ateneo Art Gallery, Manila.
Wood, Photo series.
Y la tierra será el paraíso (And the earth will be paradise), the title of this piece, is a verse from the most popular version in Spanish of the L’Internationale, the anthem of the working class par excellence, adopted by most of the socialist parties , communists and anarchists of the world. This verse perfectly sums up the utopian character of modernity, a time in which the idea that everything good was about to arrive was spread.
The project I “And the earth will be paradise” (2018) consists of a photographic series and wooden models that, stacked on top of each other, form a sculptural tower. These models represent the gigantic blocks of Social Housing Estate in La Mina, a neighborhood located on the outskirts of Barcelona that was built in the early seventies to rehouse the population from different shantytowns, and where the worst vices of impunity and political incompetence. Two archival photographs are shown next to these models; one, from 1970, shows the dictator Franco and the mayor of Barcelona posing next to the model of the La Mina neighborhood project, the other shows a group of women, relocated to this same neighborhood, holding the model of the their hut in Camp de la Bota, built by themselves with cardboard.
Again we see the image of power presenting itself in an overbearing manner as the benefactors of the population through large building campaigns, in front of the image of the victims of this power, the lowest classes of society, who appropriate the urban space making use of the few resources at their disposal.
The project is completed with a photographic series showing estates of large social housing buildings. Domènec, who has taken these snapshots in cities as diverse as Barcelona, Warsaw, Bratislava, Marseille, Nantes or Mexico City, does not indicate these origins. In this way, evidence of how the presence and aesthetics of this type of large housing projects, present on the outskirts of all major cities in the world, are a global sign of imposition from political and economic power.
Photos: Roberto Ruiz, courtesy of ADN Gallery, Barcelona