Interview with Domènec. Domènec & Maria Victoria T. Herrera

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.

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[1] (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[1] (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.

Being from a place that no longer exists. Domènec

Being from a place that no longer exists and even being born and dying in a place that no longer exists. Being from a place which, according to official maps of the State of Israel, never existed. They keep the keys to the houses, but they are keys that no longer open any door.


Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians are trapped in limbo1 This limbo has different names such as Arrub, Kalandia, Camp No. 1, Balata, Shu’fat, or Far’a on the West Bank; Jabalia, Rafah, or Beach in the Gaza Strip or the infamous Shatila in Lebanon… and one sole status: Refugee camps under the administration of the UNRWA (United Nations Relief Work Agency)2. This limbo is shaped like a labyrinth in which the refugees are born, live and die trapped in this labyrinth. They have been there for about 60 years and are unable to find the way out.


Living in a refugee camp is the closest thing to living in a permanent No Place, a space suspended in a suspended time, designed and constructed to give temporary shelter to the displaced, with a defined and non-expandable perimeter, and in the early days they were tent camps designed for a short time, for a few months, maybe a few years.


Palestinian refugees lived ten or twelve years in these tents waiting to return to their homes, but this return never arrived, and gradually these tents were replaced by small self-built homes, no one designed a development plan, no one drew any squares or streets, and there are only narrow, dark passageways between them, narrow defiles where one must walk in a single line; and the years kept passing, twenty, thirty, forty… and the population increased but the perimeter of the camp did not, and the houses had to expand by adding more rooms, and these began to grow in height, with new buildings being added on roofs and soon others appeared above them.

Human beings who have become the hostages of history live, are born and die in a transit area. Like a science fiction film they live in a parallel reality. When a child is born in Shu’fat refugee camp (on the outskirts of East Jerusalem), a strange phenomenon occurs: they are not really born there, but are born in Beit Natif, or in Lifta, although for the last 60 years Lifta has simply been a pile of rubble on the outskirts of West Jerusalem. When you ask a girl in Balata camp where she is from, she will tell you without a second’s hesitation that she is from Ras Al al-Ayin or Al-Shaykh Muwannis, although if you search for these villages on a map, you’ll never find them.

A woman who has been a refugee in Balata camp for over fifty years, describes in great detail the family home in Jammasin Al Garbiye while showing us dozens of documents proving ownership; she says: “in front of the house was a big tree… and it’s still there!”. There, -now on the outskirts of Tel Aviv, there is nothing, no house or tree, only puddles and cranes and a few metres away two skyscrapers under construction designed by Philippe Stark.

Drinking coffee with a dead man
In the Palestinian refugee camp of Far’a on the West Bank, we were having coffee with a dead man “I’m dead, I’ve been dead for 60 years. If someone takes away your land, they take away your dignity, and a person without dignity is a dead person” he told us at the end of the conversation. We were there to videotape their memories3; for a couple of hours he and his wife had told us where and how they lived before 1948, before disaster befell, the Nakba4. They remembered everything: the house, the river, the cultivated fields, tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplants… and how they were forced to leave, and when they soon reached Far’a where they lived ten years in a tent, then in a shack -now it looks something like a home- and 60 years have passed, 60 years waiting to return to cultivated fields near the river where tomatoes, cucumbers, and eggplants grew… “the only option is to return!” he insisted again and again. A few days later we went there: there were no cultivated fields or tomatoes or eggplants; the river was there however flanked by a pleasant urban park, the Yarkon Park, which crosses from east to west, north of Tel Aviv, it was Saturday and dozens of carefree citizens were practising sports, strolling or playing with their children without realizing the presence of their neighbours: the dead man who was drinking coffee and his wife who, despite not moving from the Far’a refugee camp in 60 years, have never stopped growing tomatoes and eggplants in this place.


Jerusalem, 2007



(1) Limbo: according to Catholic theology, limbo is a state, or a place on the edge of hell, where those who committed no sin themselves would bear the guilt of original sin.

(2) According to the latest census there are 4,448,430 Palestinian refugees scattered among the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Approximately one-third (1,300,000) live in 58 refugee camps managed by UNRWA.

(3) 48_nakba: Video, 22’. Israel / Palestine 2007. Images, script and direction: Domènec and Sàgar Malé. Participants: Refugees in Ramallah and the refugee camps of Al Fara’a and Balata. A documentary film by Mapasonor

(4) The Palestinians use the word Nakba, which in Arabic literally means “catastrophe” to describe the war following the proclamation of the State of Israel in 1948 and which resulted in the pillaging and forced exile of some 750,000 Palestinians, hundreds of villages being demolished and their names eliminated from maps. Since 1998 Palestinians have “celebrated” the day of the Nakba on May 15, the same day the Israelis celebrate the day of the declaration of independence of the State of Israel.


The Phantoms of the City / Teresa Grandas

The Phantoms of the City

Teresa Grandas

Text for the book  “The Stadium, the Pavilion and the Palace. Domènec, An Intervention at the Barcelona Pavilion”, edited by Fundació Mies van der Rohe, Barcelona 2023.


At MACBA in 2018, we presented the Domènec exhibition Ni aquí ni enlloc (Not Here, Not Anywhere), a survey of almost twenty years of the artist’s oeuvre featuring a number of his works and new

projects. At the same time, Domènec mounted an intervention at the Barcelona Pavilion linked to the exhibition at MACBA by means of the publication of a journal available in both venues. L’estadi, el pavelló i el palau (The Stadium, the Pavilion and the Palace) took its title from an article by Josep Maria Huertas Claveria, published in Destino magazine on 10 December 1966, that considered some of the iconic buildings erected on Montjuïc mountain for the 1929 Barcelona International Exposition. These edifices, part of the letter of introduction presented by a prosperous, modern, open and Cosmopolitan city to the world, concealed from view a pell-mell of overcrowded ramshackle dwellings on the far side of the mountain looking out to sea. These shanties, right next to the vast cemetery on Montjuïc, were home to the labourers, and their families, who had built this new city. This situation arose at the close of the 1920s and, far from being remedied over the following years, this ‘offstage’ area of the ‘official’ mountain gradually took shape as the permanent temporary place where workers from elsewhere would settle when they arrived in Barcelona in search of a better life.

Huertas Claveria’s article focused on the families living in the shacks on the city’s Somorrostro Beach, which were washed away by a storm in the autumn of 1963, as a result of which the residents were temporarily moved to the stadium on Montju.c, then not in use, while waiting to be rehoused. These people joined previous occupations of other buildings, also standing idle, from the earlier 1929 International Exposition, such as the Palau de les Missions (Palace of the Missions) workhouse and the Belgian Pavilion. This supposedly short-lived wait for something better went on for some time for almost 500 families, who turned these edifices into their homes for a number of years, transforming them into what Huertas Claveria called ‘ghostly shanty dwellers’, hidden behind the faded splendour of the buildings that had formerly been the public face of Barcelona.

Unfortunately, this was not an unusual occurrence but was far more common and went on for much longer than desirable. One paradigmatic case, still ongoing today, arose in a number of major cities in Brazil at the end of the military campaigns of the War of Canudos (1896-1897), when returning soldiers, who had been promised a salary that would enable them to acquire a home as a reward for their efforts on behalf of the country, settled as an interim solution in precarious buildings erected on hill and mountainsides. As the years and generations of inhabitants passed, these initially temporary favelas grew into large neighbourhoods on the fringes of Rio de Janeiro. The once temporary tenants became the new occupants.

Domènec’s work reflects on the idea of dwelling; on the conditions that architecture proposes and imposes; on the housing options put forward by modern architecture and on the utopias, realities and failures that derive from them; on the confrontation between projects; and the fracture driven by social, economic and political circumstances. One example of the artist’s work that addresses these issues in-depth is the documentary 48_Nakba, made in collaboration with Mapasonor, in which Domènec provides an opportunity for five Palestinian men and women to appear one after another before the camera and show the deeds of ownership to their homes and the keys that open their front doors; they also detail memories of their homes and villages; and at the end of each interview they hold up a poster bearing the name of their village. They describe how they were driven from their lands in 1948 and moved to temporary refugee camps: a political exodus triggered by a UN resolution to divide the land of Palestine and to create the new state of Israel; an exodus of more than a million people forced to leave and relocate to refugee camps set up as temporary settlements but where still today more than three generations of Palestinians remain, waiting for the constitution of their country or the restitution of their homes that were razed to the ground shortly after their departure. The elderly still dream of being able to return to their homes. At the end of each interview, however, the camera takes us to the places where these homes and villages once stood before they were demolished and wiped off the map. In this work, Domènec draws a now imaginary map of impossible desires on top of old realities. The clash between a past that will not be repeated and an abysmal present that no-one wants to acknowledge. A dwelling today amid conflicting longings and materialities, in which the clash is founded precisely on the false notion of the temporary, which is, perhaps, the only thing that makes it possible to still look ahead to the future.

These long-term settlements set up in response to particular circumstances, the appropriation of the space to legitimise the possibility of existence, are one aspect of the approach to architecture and the housing project of modern times, and part of a broader reflection, as remarked earlier. Domènec’s work moves back and forth in those places where desire and longings clash with diametrically opposed realities; something like a game between fiction and reality in which the fiction is based on legitimacy, but on the impossibility of being; and where reality is revealed in all its perversity.

The projects in question focus on housing in relation to geopolitical or representational strategies. In the case of Barcelona, the presentation of the growth of a city and its future prospects, even at the expense of its builders and the inhabitants of the other city, the ghost city. A two-fold phantasmagoria emerges. Firstly, in the non-place of the home waiting to exist and of the configuration of the provisional space itself. The spur-of-the-moment resolutions to what at a given moment is a specific problem but which then goes on to become entrenched long term. And secondly, the dissimulation, the hidden yet latent city. Who constructed those buildings? Who erected the city and its new streets? What was the labour force which, with its toil, made the modern city ‘shine’ before the world? The phantom limb and ‘the eternal habit of hiding unpleasant things, as if just showing the best things would make Barcelona a better city’, as Huertas Claveria puts it.

It is perhaps worth stopping to consider what it was that alerted Huertas Claveria to the situation and prompted him to write his article: the opportunity for the Real Club Deportivo Español to move to Montjuïc Stadium, a move pushed for by the football club’s chairman at the time, Juan Vilà Reyes, regarded by the Franco regime as a model businessman. This move meant that the stadium had to be remodelled to meet the new needs and to equip it with all the services required by a modern sports club. However, the move was thwarted by the temporary – temporary, of course! – move into the stadium of the people from Somorrostro affected by the storm in 1963. ‘Temporariness’. A word which, according to Huertas Claveria, ‘should be banned from the official language of our country’. Just ours? Since it compelled acknowledgement of the hidden, disguised occupation of the building by people who lived in it in deplorable conditions. Interestingly, Vil. Reyes played a prominent part in one of the biggest financial scandals of the Franco era, one in which numerous ministers and senior officials of the regime’s government were embroiled but from which they pretty well all emerged legally unscathed, with only the businessman sent to gaol, though on lenient terms bearing in mind the times.

What Domènec proposed in his intervention was to strip 15 the Barcelona Pavilion of its luxury attributes, such as its chairs and curtains, and to replace them with Formica dining chairs and with sheets and towels hung on lines, thereby suggesting the residential occupation of a mountain that presented itself to the world as a showcase of modernity, but whose bowels concealed the reality in which that city changed its name. The vision of a city that has broken the rules of self-respect and has descended into darkness and poverty. That Biutiful Barcelona of Alejandro González Iñárritu’s film that never affords a single glimpse of the archetypal sites of the official tourist city, but which plunges into the deepest bowels, to the other side of the city that is never shown but nonetheless exists.

Perhaps the key is the need to hide, to mask these realities. While families crowded into shacks on the other side of the mountain, in the German Pavilion at the 1929 Barcelona International Exposition, King Alfonso XIII shared a cold collation with the German dignitaries before continuing on his royal tour to open the event. One of the gems of modern architecture provided a sumptuous stage for the representation of power. On the other side, the city was changing its name. Another name which, masked, would endure for decades.

Domènec’s work gravitates around the project related to the communal, around the residential project; the nature of the ideological and social keys that underpin them; and the clash with the real needs of the people who inhabit the place. The conflict between the city as a postcard or letter of introduction, as a tourist attraction, and the home as a dwelling place. The losses resulting from occupants’ moves and their need to survive what should have been seasonally temporary. Huertas Claveria himself extended his reflection to the issue of the state: ‘The state, and it is fitting that we review this concept, is us, and its decisions ought to be the outcome of joint endeavour, not four pen strokes dashed off in an office as impressive as those changing rooms praised by Mr. Vilà Reyes.’ It would take another few years for Barcelona to make those settlements in the Stadium, the Pavilion and the Palace disappear… But let us not forget that even in 2022, many families are evicted for financial reasons and that the right to a home, as set forth in the Spanish Constitution, remains a dream for some. Domènec’s reflection takes us back into the past, but it is a reflection that looks back from the present.


Teresa Grandas
Exhibitions Curator at MACBA

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’, 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.

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).

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

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.

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.



Models. On Dom Kommuna. Domestic architectural manuals for coexistence. Martí Peran

(Text for the solo exhibition at ADN Platform. May 2016)

At the end of the 1970s, when the habitational utopias derived from the Letter of Athens (1942) sink into the metropolitan peripheries worldwide, Roland Barthes dictates the course How To Live Together in the Collège of France¹. According to the author, the communal ideal lies in the idiorhythm, a “regularly interrupted loneliness” that allows small groupings among individuals to stay together in a precarious balance between mutual distances and proximities. This daydream -barely outlined in practice by Mount Athos’ monks- does not enjoy any societal vocation. The ideal of a good life has nothing to do with phalanxes or other communal models. It in fact defines itself through excluding terms, because it is about not being too far away from others.

Roland Barthes’ ideas express an irregularity that cancels the prolific history of a “being together” enlightened by mass utopias. On the one hand, the idiorhythm acknowledges its genealogy in the anchorit tradition and in some of the multiple cult attempts at utopian socialism. On the other, it dissociates itself from another grand narrative, promoted by Modernity, that identifies coexistence as a way of speaking and being together, able to industrially reproduce itself everywhere and for everyone. The origin of this purpose can be found in Engels’ thesis in 1873: to alleviate the housing problem during the first phase of a new socialist society, eviction will be necessary. Also necessary will be the conversion of already-existing houses into commune-houses (domma-komuny) that exorcise the property principle². These communes, however, are only a patch, unable to standardise the habitational solution. The true inflection point happens after the success of the Soviet Revolution, when the Association of Contemporary Architects essays the first collective housing (Kommunalk) through the Narkomfin prototype. The Narkomfin (1928-1932) is a block for approximately 200 people intended to accelerate the transition to socialist life³. The ambition of the project attracts the attention of the modern movement through the CIAM (International Modern Architecture Congress), so that Le Corbusier and the GATCPAC (Catalan Technics and Architects for the Progress of Contemporary Architecture) travel to Moscow to learn about a model that will soon feed new projects such as Casa Bloc (Barcelona, 1932-1936) or the canonic Unité d’Habitation (1947).

The ideal of a communal house, conceived as a multipliable cell that could reproduce the new models of social relations, seems finally accomplished. However, it never fully progresses. On the one hand, the Stalinist swerve in the USSR aborts all of the radical collective experiences and reorients the Narkomfin’s function towards the Nomenklatura senior officials. The same destiny awaits Casa Bloc, where Spanish fascists modify the project for a new function: a military settlement. In its turn, the Unité d’Habitation triumphs as an habitational prototype during the reconstruction of post-war Europe. Nevertheless, it had already become the seed that would soon expand the worldwide suburbial dystopia. The story of social housing will stop relating to communal experiments from that moment onwards. Instead, it reorients itself progressively towards mass credit politics, swelling speculation and property value. The imaginary of the commune, in this context, hardly progresses in the margins of counterculture?. Abandoning its genuine germinal function, it becomes an ingenuous refuge to play against the welfare model.

Barthes’s idiorhytmic ideal -’the antinomy of sharing distances’- feels like a true anachronism and a complete setback; at least given that it doesn’t enjoy any correspondence with neither the historical narrative of the societal commune, nor the subsequent ruins of its mythology. The own rhytmos that Barthes evokes through old lauras athonitas -’small houses, hermitages for two or three people, close to churches, a hospital and a water course’- has nothing to do with the property bond, but it is also unable to found neighbourhoods or become a social body. It is a way of being together reduced to far closeness, and therefore, a weak community of auratic and not as much of historical episode. Barthes himself recognizes the historical impurity lead by nostalgia from the past, alien to the progress of time. The anachronism is recognized, however, under the epigraph of simulation or a miniature. The nuance is crucial.

Barthes also postulates how miniatures should be interpreted: not as mere projections of the future, but as “that which is being experienced”?. Indeed, the “miniature-work” is the best example of a practice in which the text’s materialization (the model is literary) is subject to a test and experienced with himself. The miniature is not only an enunciation that is yet to come. The work-miniature does not advance in a dream, but it literally essays it: it is not a promise of becoming but an actual fulfillment. This is why Barthes focuses on simulacres instead of anachronisms. Anachronisms presuppose a lack of correspondence between a narrative and the moment that this narrative is born. The simulation, the miniature, does not have this problem since they always happen, they always ‘are’.

The miniatures of Narkomfin, Casa Bloc and Unité d’Habitation are, in the first place, miniatures of miniatures. They are reconstructions of barely fulfilled old promises. History hardly gave them the chance of becoming something more than a mild simulation. Their reapparition operates as a sort of new chance, a renewed mise en scène of the original intentions lying underneath and inside of them. Clearly, by installing the miniatures in an uncomfortable context -in a natural environment or in precarious balance on domestic furniture-, a shadow is projected. This shadow questions and darkens modern idealist pretensions. But this obvious remark is not a fundamental question. If we interpret them through a Barthesian lens, these miniatures propose the imperative of their actualization. They don’t close habitational utopias: they show us the need for experimenting with coexistence. Again.

¹ Roland Barthes, Cómo vivir juntos. Simulaciones novelescas de algunos espacios cotidianos. Notas de cursos y seminarios en el Collège de France, 1976-1977. Siglo XXI Ed. Buenos Aires, 2003.
² Frederich Engels. Contribución al problema de la vivienda. Fundación de Estudios Socialistas Federico Engels. Madrid, 2006.
³ Moisei Ginzburg. Escritos: 1923-1930. El Croquis. Madrid, 2007.
?Keith Melville. Las comunas en la contracultura. Kairós. Barcelona, 1980.
? Roland Barthes. La preparación de la novela. Notas de cursos y seminarios en el Cóllege de France 1978-1979 y 1979-1980. Siglo XXI ed. México, 2005. p. 233.

(Español) Potencia de melancolía. A propósito de Rakentajan käsi (La mano del trabajador). Martí Peran


La época de las redes no es la de los vínculos. A medida que se multiplican las herramientas para la comunicación solo se incrementa la soledad conectada. A pesar del imperativo de flexibilidad que nos obliga a una multitarea desbocada, todas las actividades remiten a la única obligación de alimentar la conexión. El resultado es desalentador: hablamos de manera incansable con todos, pero sobre nada y para nada que no sea prometer conectar­nos de nuevo. La mayor parte de nuestras habilidades permanecen erráticas si no competen a una habladuría general que, en última instancia, nos descalifica para la práctica de una cooperación que podría aventurar algo distinto. Participar y colaborar no significan lo mismo. Participar conlleva ingresar en un marco de acción que ya está establecido y que no se modifica con la incorporación de nuevos participantes. Colaborar, por el contrario, comporta redefinir el marco de acción hasta hacerlo distinto de aquellos marcos previos de los que proceden cada uno de los colaboradores. Por esta ecuación se deduce que, en la medida que participamos de la conexión, de un modo lento y simulado somos desactivados como fuerza de colaboración.

En esta tesitura y para ponderar los efectos de este revés, se hizo común hablar de lo común. Pero es probable que muy pronto ­ a medida que escale posiciones en las preferencias de búsqueda ­ lo común deje de serlo hasta quedar reducido a la mera condición de palabra clave en la multiplicación y distribución del tráfico de ruido. Ruido en común. Es imprescindible apresurarse y encontrar los atajos que permitan rehabilitar las políticas de colaboración frente a la cooperación política que solo promete universalizar la mera conexión. En esta urgencia es donde se hace legítima la melancolía de la “nostalgia reflexiva”1 .

La nostalgia reflexiva es prospectiva y por ello política. En oposición al humor triste de la mera añoranza, la nostalgia reflexiva es un modo de conjugar el tiempo capaz de revertir la amenaza del futuro pasado (la repetición de la participación que perpetúa lo mismo) en la posibilidad de un pasado futuro ( la apertura de un antaño que colabora en la construcción de un mañana distinto)2. Los ecos del pasado cargados de elocuencias futuras siempre corresponden a la voz de los vencidos. Solo aquello que todavía no tuvo cumplimiento puede retomar su pulso sobre el horizonte del presente para abrirse nuevos espacios futuros de posibilidad. La nostalgia reflexiva, en consecuencia, lejos de operar como una mera memoria en bruto, incapaz de distinguir entre lo remoto y lo promotor, transforma la evocación de las derrotas en una potencia de melancólica, una fuerza competente para anticipar su reparación. Lo que nos incumbe en este escenario es reconocer el objeto melancólico: dar con la ruina prometedora de una idea de lo común colaborativo distinta de las lógicas de lo usual y lo corriente que hoy la acechan por doquier.

En la historia moderna de la cooperación3 cabe distinguir, al menos, dos procesos bien distintos. De una parte, la acción conjunta y unitaria para articular un contrapoder; de la otra, la acción colaborativa y solidaria concebida como un fin en si misma y capaz promover un tejido comunitario. La vieja y torpe distinción entre los objetivos de la una “izquierda política” y una “izquierda social”. La primera dinámica se funda en un modelo de cohesión social predeterminado y antagónico frente al modelo hegemónico; la segunda, por el contrario, no disfruta de ninguna prefiguración sino que mantiene abiertas todas las posibilidades futuras con las que podría formatearse lo común. Pudiera ser que, así como la política clásica exige un combate entre modelos antagónicos, la cuestión germinal de la experiencia política primitiva se reduzca a mantener en abierto los procesos de constitución de grupos. En otras palabras, así como la ortodoxa cooperación política exige una disciplina anónima y fiel al programa definido de antemano; la difusa política de colaboración permite conservar la singularidad en el marco de un proceso comunal sometido a una constante redefinición. Si esta suerte de disyuntiva es pertinente, la cifra de nuestra nostalgia reflexiva parece condenada a sucumbir. De una parte, es evidente que no podemos evocar ninguna idea de lo común colaborativo bajo el estigma de un programa preestablecido que ya disfrutó de alternativa para conquistar el futuro. De otro lado, tampoco parece factible el puro evocar episodios libertarios en la medida que solo conservan como modelo su propio carácter dinámico sin ninguna forma adecuada para el recuerdo. La estrecha posibilidad que se mantiene abierta para la nostalgia reflexiva es la que remite a una experiencia política clásica que la potencia de melancolía actualiza como experiencia política primitiva.

Bajo el modelo de los Clubs Obreros que Rodchenko o Mélnikov levantaron en la Unión Soviética a finales de los años veinte, cuando en 1950 el SKP (Partido Comunista de Finlandia) accede episódicamente al poder, encarga a Alvar Aalto la sede social del Partido, una Casa de la Cultura que de inmediato se convierte en el principal símbolo del movimiento obrero finlandés. El edificio se construye gracias a la cooperación de numerosos voluntarios que de un modo entusiasta y entregado ofrecen su fuerza de trabajo para consumar un objetivo común. La recesión económica de los años noventa provocó la pérdida del edificio, convertido desde entonces en una arquitectura amnésica, reubicada sin complejos en la historia de la arquitectura pero ajena a los derroteros de la historia política de Helsinki. Rakentajan käsi (la mano del trabajador) es un proyecto que evoca aquel episodio pero, ante todo, lo actualiza mediante la voz de aquellos cooperantes que recuerdan con nostalgia aquella aventura colaborativa. Los distintos testimonios coinciden en la tonalidad explícita de la nostalgia reflexiva: no se recuerda tanto el programa que auspició el proyecto como el acto mismo, la pura experiencia de sus encuentros y la confluencia de habilidades que entonces se produjo. El conjunto de relatos crece en la derrota política de lo planeado, pero también compone una orgullosa partitura coral sobre la fuerza abierta y difusa de la pura colaboración.

1 Véase para esta noción : Svetlana Boym. El Futuro de la nostalgia. Antonio Machado Libros. Madrid, 2015. Sobre la noción de melancolía en este contexto, véase Wendy Brown. Resisting Left Melancholy, “ Boundary 2, vol. 26, n.3 (1999).pp.19?27.

2 Sobre estas conjunciones heterodoxas del tiempo, véase: Reinhardt Koselleck. Futuro pasado. Para una semántica de los tiempos históricos. Paidós. Barcelona, 1993.

3 Puede reconstruirse en Richard Sennett. Juntos. Rituales, placeres y política de cooperación. Anagrama. Barcelona, 2012.

Accumulation through dispossession and the “security” paradigm. Domènec and the capture of the post-modern ethos. Jordi Font Agulló

“[…]A curvy wall, not a straight one, should be built.”

Flavio Vegecio Renato, Compendio de técnica militar, segles IV-V


“[…] since the social world is wholly present in each ‘economic’ action, we must resort to instruments of knowledge which, far from questioning the multidimensionality and multifunctionality of practices, enable us to draw up historical models capable of rigorously, minutely explaining the actions and the economic institutions as they are offered to empirical observation. […]”

Pierre Bourdieu, Las estructuras sociales de la economía


“[…] Our blood is outside the law, it can be spilled, we can be killed, massacred, with total impunity.

Yitskhok Katzenelson, Le chant du peuple juif assassiné


“[…] Shadowy shall be the night… scarce the roses.”

Mahmud Darwish, Menos rosas



1. Since 1948, when the state of Israel was created, something very significant has been happening in Palestine which stretches beyond this plot of land and has gradually taken on the air of a transcendental dispute, at least in the Western world. The clash between the antagonists is extremely harsh, and there is increasingly little room for dialogue. Even compassion, if it has ever been present, has wholly disappeared. In this sense, the latest large-scale deployments in Tsahal (regular Israeli army) in both Lebanon in the summer of 2006 and in the Gaza Strip in early 2009 confirm the prevalence of a bellicose logic that makes it very difficult to reach even minimal peace agreements between Israelis and Palestinians. The coexistence of these two peoples seems to be eternally condemned to roaring failure. In fact, it is actually an ancient enmity almost a century old whose point of departure was Zionist nationalism’s desire for a return to the hypothetical lost fatherland: the biblical Israel of the Old Testament. When Zionism began to talk about an unpeopled land for a landless people is when the conflicts, of course, began to break out.

As is common knowledge, despite its low population density in the 1940s, Palestine was not exactly an unpeopled land. Under the domain of the British Empire, the Palestinians, most of them Muslim Arabs, already had problems sharing with increasingly numerous groups of Jews from all over the world the scarce, exiguous resources of a place with highly limited productivity. The tone of this conflict grounded in the prevailing scarcity rose after World War II, especially due to the consequences of one of the most horrific episodes associated with war devastation: the Shoah or destruction of the Jewish people in Europe. After having taken such a beating, the Jewish people only had a more zealous desire to tread on that supposed Promised Land. The symbolic charge rose exponentially as the mythical place also effectively became the host to thousands of survivors of the anti-Semitic genocide policy conducted by Nazism. Despite the fact that quantitatively the most significant number of immigrants were Jews from the Near East and North Africa, the arrival of boats overflowing with Jews recently released from the extermination camps and the ghettos scattered around Eastern Europe had – because of the emotional effect prompted by the genocide perpetrated by the Nazis – a foundational meaning. Indeed, in 1948 the state of Israel was born. However, the edification of this new political, administrative and also military entity did not materialise fluidly and peacefully in an unpeopled land, as the more doctrinaire Zionist propaganda heralded it, rather the entire process became yet another story of violence.

Still, the victorious international community consented and even actively contributed to this, especially the United States, when it attached the existence of Israel to its geopolitical interests. Ultimately – and some scholars of the Palestinian plight like Norman G. Finkelstein make well-founded mentions of this – both in the period between the wars and during and after World War II, the use of methods such forcibly displacing people to resolve ethnic conflicts was habitual, and not exactly the subject of condemnation. Despite that apparent, consented normality, what happened was unquestionably a terrible chapter of pain, uprooting and exile that affected a considerable proportion of the local Palestinian population. It was the year of the Nabka (misfortune or catastrophe) as the Palestinians justifiably call it. And in the end, not even all the suffering of the Jews in Europe has managed to offset the trauma caused by the founding of the state of Israel. Some revisionist Israeli historians such as Ilan Pappé have dismantled the founding myth and turned it upside down using solid arguments. The new studies link the newly-found Israeli nationality – apart from the mythological re-creation of a lost past that is present in all the processes of nation-building – to dishonourable episodes of violations of fundamental human rights, and even abominable ones like ethnic cleansing.


2. Therefore, we should consider that the founding of the state of Israel was not only induced by the suffering of Nazi persecution, but that it was a factor that precipitated it and somehow legitimised it. This is true to such an extent that engendering further suffering on the people that had lived and worked in that corner of the Near East for centuries did not initially pose any moral impediment to the Zionist enterprise. In the history of modern Israel, it is very meaningful – because of its controversy and the repercussions linked to it – that the victims – surely the victims par excellence of the 20th century – have engendered other perennial victims that delegitimize the viability of the state and place it in a constant state of war and mobilisation. From this accumulation of historical circumstances, a state organisation has emerged with certain peculiarities that situate it in the avant-garde, based among other things on the treatment, invention and forging of collective memories and particularly on global capitalism’s latest forms of management and production. Israel is a radical paradox. As historian Régine Robin has pointed out, it is a fragmented, ethnicised, communalised society which at the same time is modern, linked to the development of high technology and the most advanced media, Americanised, globalised like all Western societies. Surely Israel is a privileged place to capture that post-modern ethos where the most rampant modernisation, combined with the most deregulated capitalism, coexists alongside identity and religious elements ruled by unbridled atavism.

As Régine Robin has noted, blindness has prevailed in Israel for some years now. In fact, what reigns in a kind of sentimental and visual indifference that makes it difficult to perceive the Palestinians and their history. Everything has led – and has been accentuated in recent months as bombs have rained down from the skies to the depressed land of Gaza – to a wholly oppressive policy that involves, using the exact words of the author herself, […] transformation of the landscape, destruction of the ancient cities and towns, reconstruction of the towns and creation of other settlements; everything falls within a different symbolic organisation of space, a radical transformation of the toponymy, a straightening of the modern motorways that have nothing to do with the ancient roadways. The goal is to re-create the country, to re-constitute the geography, to re-design the landscape, to ensure not only physical but also symbolic domination. And based on this, later on, the new colonies and settlements, the detours in the networks of conduits and irrigation, the beltways, and the web of territory and the ‘Bantustanisation’ of the occupied territories. […] This is unquestionably a highly accurate description of the climate in which Israeli nationalism has unfolded for a long period of time. According to another historian, Mark Mazower, spatial planning has always played a prime role, plus this nationalism has had inspirational sources whose referent was the German school of economic geography from the between-war period. This is not strange if we bear in mind – as already mentioned – that the belief in the ethnically pure nation-state as a solution to the distribution of the population and resources was the currency of exchange in the cartographic redesigns after the war and in many processes of decolonisation. Therefore, in this sense we could say that the architects of the new state of Israel were not at all singular in using criteria – debatable and human, as demonstrated – already used by many other peoples. Nonetheless, there was one difference: the creation of Israel was a classic act of colonisation at a time when the empires were disintegrating. Given this, it could only have led to conflict, the victims’ tenacious resistance and the weakness of the democratic system.

As a result, this state that is vainglorious about being the only state in the Middle East where a parliamentary system comparable to any other Western country is actually a curious form of democracy. In reality, just like many other issues, Israel is on the cutting edge in terms of a conception of democracy that is increasingly fashionable and characterised by restricting democratic participation, by enshrining individualism and by the pre-eminent role of the elites. Political scientist Sheldon S. Wolin has described it quite accurately using the terminology ‘managed democracy’ and the development of the notion of inverted totalitarianism, which means a connivance between the state organisation, the active, politicised participation of the large corporations and the acritical political passivity of the majority of citizens. In Israel, this phenomenon is largely visible, but with a difference worth highlighting: the degree of military mobilisation which is required by a people drilled based on the cultivation of a culture of fear and external threat. In short, from its very origins it has been a nation at arms against real and potential enemies – the PLO, Hamas, Hezbollah, Iraq, Iran and others depending on the point in history – which might endanger its territorial integrity and the survival of its identity.

This situation of constant alert has placed Israel among the ranks of the pioneering countries in the generation of security technologies and action protocols to handle both low-intensity conflicts and open warfare. This technological progress has gained unexpected momentum since 9/11, which, as is common knowledge, ushered in the age of the war against global terrorism. Through America’s unbridled, militarised policy, Israel has amply confirmed its status as a “security” laboratory and testing grounds for the garrison society, as French sociologist Armand Mattelart calls it. As a perfect illustration of this “security” practice, the author himself spotlights the 29-metre tall concrete security fence with electronic alarms, reinforced by trenches and barbed wire in some places, which is expected to run 700 kilometres long, as long as the West Bank’s “green line”, which marks the boundary set in 1967 during the Six-Day War. Yet things are even more serious because as we speak, the construction of the wall now arbitrarily invades the line set as a result of this conflict. The Israeli administration is consciously carrying out an aggressive territorial policy of deeds consummated with the excuse of protecting the Jewish colonies that are located inside the Palestinian occupied territories. With the sophisticated surveillance defences and networks surrounding them, these clusters of homes contribute to illegally expanding Israeli land and reducing the Palestinians’ living space. It is a way of acting that takes into account the perspective of a future partition of Palestine into two states. In this way, Israel, with part of its job already done, would keep the best part of the pie.

As pointed out, one of the priorities of whomever holds the political power in Israel, at least until now, is stressing its modern, Western personality, which means publicising its democratic credentials and public policies, which somehow conceals the chilling scene that is wreaking havoc on Palestinian territory and its displaced inhabitants, as well as those confined to residual areas without no rights whatsoever. These wastelands where the Palestinian people are suffering are a stumbling block that still needing resolution on the planning agenda of a territorial restructuring that Israeli authorities deem unfinished. In fact, the masking manoeuvres in which culture plays an active role are quite inherent to the capitalist West, especially since the 1980s when the large private corporations and the state, in a subsidiary role, forged a close relationship, a link that merges corporate sponsorship with public policy. As a result, according to researcher Chin-tao Wu, this unit connected the arts and culture with the spirit of the free market so highly prized in the Reagan and Thatcher decade. However, not only did it entail this meaningful mutation, rather it also involved, based on the modus operandi in the sacrosanct market, art playing the role of identity-merchandiser and consensus-reacher. Despite this, it should be pointed out that at times, in institutional art policies – both public and private – ambivalence arises that open up avenues where antagonistic discourses with little sympathy for the powers-that-be may circulate.

In such an unedifying juncture as Israel, from the moral standpoint, therefore, it should come as no surprise that cultural and artistic exchanges with other states are promoted, states that in theory are exemplary in relation to the defining parameters of what is considered to be a democracy. In this sense, conducting artistic exchanges could be viewed as a sign of normality, and it was largely based on this pathway that Domènec made his first journey to Israel in 2006. However, as mentioned, there are also cracks within the institution that enable some artists, managers and curators to work from a somewhat critical standpoint and desire for subversion. As can be clearly seen in these projects, Domènec and his Israeli hosts exploited this crack. Likewise, if we bear in mind his career in the past 15 years, it is not surprising that he ended up in Israel.

What stands out with this artist is his work revolving around the crisis in the modern project and the post-modern mutations that have taken place since the last third of the 20th century. Domènec accomplishes this artistic choice through an increasingly expanded conception of sculpture, with the use of technical devices and diversified presentations in which proto-architectural recycling and the para-documentary process play a predominant role. Therefore, we could state that, by using architecture as a means of approaching metonymics, Domènec has confected a veritable survey of the utopian pretensions of modernity. In this way, situating himself in the terrain of critical post-modernism – which he distinguishes from that lame statement that does nothing other than apologetically intone the undoing of radical humanism and the social propositions that defend equality – he choose to adopt a rebel commitment which, although it questions the limitations of modernity, insists on showing that the inherited order is more the expression of a shipwreck than the rendering of a positive solution to something that is exhausted. In short, his critical position has led him to inquire into the marrow of the potential modern utopia in order to reinterpret and resituate it. That is, his goal is to give it back meaning in the midst of the systemic, fragmented chaos that surrounds it. He has mainly conducted this operation, as mentioned, by exploring the transformational potential and the utopian imagination of modern architecture. In the past, reinterpreted projects by architects like Alvar Aalto, Le Corbussier and Mies van der Rohe, just to name three, have served the artist to bring to light in a very productive, educational way the deficiencies, paradoxes and desires to change contained in polyhedral modern thinking. In this way, his reinterpretations, which are objectually captured in scale models often decontextualised from their original setting and purpose, become the mirrors of a kind of modernity in crisis and of post-modern disorientation, plus after a process of stripping away any pretensions at grandiloquence, they re-launch the utopian modern virtues to apply them in an everyday context.

His journey to Israel, invited to a residence by an Israeli organisation (Jerusalem Center for The Visual Arts) may likely have led him to continue along this avenue of inquiry. In fact, a significant number of architects identified with rationalism ended up building in Israel. Tel Aviv is one of the cities on the planet with the most buildings of this kind. At first, it would not seem contradictory that the place envisioned and so often designated as the Promised Land would end up being the home to a kind of architecture designed to improve humanity’s living conditions, but if we examine the process through which this state was founded, along with its history and current status, the contradiction unfortunately becomes clear. What is more, it is not brazen to state that these paradoxes implicit in modernity take on an unforeseen visibility in each of Israel’s actions in Palestine. Certainly, one of the places on the globe where the humanistic route coupled with the modern discourse has encountered its most striking failure is Israel. For example, we should bear in mind that early on the reality of a Hebrew state had very direct connections with versions of unionism and socialism. Yet, as is known, this did not prevent the forced isolation of many of the Palestinian inhabitants who lived there, and this segregation has not stopped, rather today it is even more accentuated.

Domènec did not remain impassive when confronted with this scene in which the brutalisation of everyday life flourishes. It might have been interesting, but it was not enough for him to just set his scrutinising sights on some emblematic architectural construction. The metonymic speculation about some modern architectural remain amidst so much injustice and barbarism might have taken on the air of a mere formalist exercise, a choice inherent in a kind of inoperative, depoliticised refolding, as Dominique Baqué would say. Domènec, then, saw himself – and kept seeing himself –trapped and enthralled by a living, vibrant universe that exposed the ultimate condition of post-modern policy to plain view. Even further, we could agree with George Arthur Goldshmidt – the journalist cited by Régine Robin in her book on the dynamics of memory in terms of history – that perhaps the very fate of collective Western memory is at stake in this minuscule part of the planet. Without any hesitancy, we must assert that Israel’s warlike, humiliating conduct towards the Palestinian people defames the memory of the Jewish people’s tragedy at the hands of Nazi criminality. As is common knowledge, Auschwitz checkmates the intellectual monument of modernity. But at the same time, the massacres at Sabra or Shatila or the latest bombardments of the depressed Gaza Strip, with all the distinctions and nuances that you will, follow a determination that can only end up feeding the dark universe of barbarism.

Having reached this point, even the arguments used by all those who, from the memory of the Shoah, have made and make the model for erecting a negative criticism of the modern Western way are questioned and lose importance. Obviously, this does not mean that there are no longer reasons to evaluate the modern project with all its latent and visible contradictions – the founding origins of Israel cannot be understood other than in this paradoxical key of modernity – but the real problem arises when that memory of the hurt from the extermination camps becomes an instrument used to justify execrable behaviours. The moral incongruence is lethal, and the victims’ sublimated memory becomes something banal, liturgical and ritual at the service of a cause that consciously ignores the immorality of the means used. The after-effects are a dually outraged modernity and the manipulation of the memory of a crime committed on the Jewish population during the leaden years as a result of the criminal expansion of German imperialism. This episode has left a moving remnant thanks to thousands of witness reports and exceptional literary works such as the long poem written in Yiddish, The Song of the Murdered Jewish People, written by Yitskhok Katzenelson, the spokesman and emblem of the suffering caused by the annihilation of the Warsaw ghetto, who ended up being gassed at Auschwitz. In truth, this is the vast disappointment that overwhelms us as we perceive the testimonial legacy of the Shoah (indisputable humanist cultural edifice) sullied by the often infamous behaviour of the state of Israel. In this sense, and on an individual level, the life story of the Bergen-Belsen camp survivor Hannah Levy-Hass, the mother of the eminent Israeli journalist Amira Hass, is quite meaningful. This woman saw all her worlds collapse: the devastation of the Jewish minority in Europe, the implosion of socialism in her birthplace, Yugoslavia, and finally the huge disappointment of her adopted home, Israel, which whose colonialist character soon reared its head.

For all of these reasons, and without ignoring other aspects already mentioned about the capitalist organisation of production, Israel has this close tie with the condition of post-modernity. Israel-Palestine is therefore a reality and a metaphor of the terrible dead end in which contemporary mankind finds itself. With his trip to the Middle East, Domènec’s artistic oeuvre has undergone a change, but not in the semi-mystical neo-Orientalist sense of reencounter with the deepest essence of his being, rather one that should speak about a re-politicisation of his aesthetic procedures. This transformation, vivid and without signs of having finished, has enabled him to capture the routes through which the political economy and symbolic capital of the latest generation move. As a result, the journey, more accurately, the different sojourns, in Palestine, far from being well-intentioned cultural tourism, have helped him to even further fine-tune his artistic procedure, which has shifted, by shedding light on the deficiencies of modernity, to reveal the dysfunctions of the post-modern period in a specific place.


3. Even though we are living in an age in which the act of travelling has degenerated into a frivolous, consumer activity, it is also true that some people extract fascinating lessons that they then process in creative and knowledge-based acts that may have a public, general interest. The British playwright, David Hare, is one of them. His monologue Via Dolorosa was written after a stay in Israel and the Palestinian territories in 1997. It is a quick, ironic work as confirmed by this excerpt: “There is nothing that prepares you for the physical shock of entering to Gaza. A writer said that to go from Israel to the Gaza Strip by car is like going from California to Bangladesh. You get so used to wide highways and the easy sensuality of Israel that it is the vision of dust, a sudden dust, a giant, brown storm of real filth that warns you that you’re about to enter a society where people earn exactly 8% of what their counterparts in Israel earn. […]” Without a doubt, this impressionistic description clearly shows the drama and deterioration in the disputed Palestine. Without going to Gaza yet developing an intense work halfway between detective work and the situationist drift of the divided city of Jerusalem and the occupied territories on the West Bank, Domènec, in turn, has managed to convey to us the disturbing nature that the Israeli economic and political project has taken on recently. As is common in his oeuvre, with an austere exercise in style surmounted by critical distance and irony, he shapes a dissident portrait whose innovativeness shapes an effective, accessible critique.

In order to examine what he sets out to do – we have already mentioned that this time he is not working around any specific, authorial architectural paradigm – the procedure with which he has deployed his aesthetic re-appropriation has borne in mind three vertexes of Israeli society: security and war, the fact of living associated with an economy with highly singular colonial features, as we shall see, and finally the victims and their memory. It is clear that the expository approach entails a prior disorientation which, however, is transmuted into a brilliant instrument of critical reflection. The vague re-creation of a real estate office, with its hypothetical promotional materials, might seem like a provocation when examining the reality of a society in such upheaval. However, the artist’s incursion into everyday life makes it clear that there is no neutral economic activity; rather that it always responds to the intense presence of the social world, as Pierre Bourdieu stressed.

In the case of Israel-Palestine, given the gravity of the conflict, the very fact of inhabiting and situating oneself in the territory – even though this holds true everywhere – takes on a much stronger political connotation, and even becomes an act of colonialist violence with odious consequences for the vast, disadvantaged Palestinian majority. Domènec presents it ironically in order to get us to grasp it, but real life is much worse. It is cynical, and there is nothing hindering the fact that real estate ads appear in the Israeli press showing homes located inside the illegally occupied Palestinian territories. The sale of these homes is possible, and what is more, is encouraged as yet another tool in Israel’s dominance strategy. However, putting into practice everyday questions like the gradual entrenchment of these settlements of colonisers who view themselves of pioneers in a messianic cause and, furthermore making it viable, requires the assumption of an extreme security-based policy that has catastrophic after-effects in civil society. It is democratic restriction without any stops on it, which unfortunately confers on it an exemplary role. Naomi Klein has expressed what this prominent Israeli role in the global security race consists of in crystal clear terms. About this matter, the Canadian analyst said the following: in South Africa, Russia and New Orleans, the rich build walls around themselves. Israel has taken this process a step further: it builds walls to encircle the dangerous poor. As Naomi Klein states, this is the best exponent of disaster capitalism. In no way it is anti-capitalist rhetoric. For example, quite recently, a project was unveiled in the city of Rio de Janeiro that will consist of erecting a large wall around the impoverished neighbourhoods known as favelas.

This latter definition appealing to disaster fits in perfectly with everything that Domènec captures and shows us through the materials that complement and give meaning to his purported real estate office. First, a fragmented documentary – far from the linearity of television’s visual narrative – expanded into four thematic propositions that reflect the civil and territorial rupture and therefore the impossibility – despite the existence of Jewish leftist activists who seek an alternative route to reconciliation – of instilling a certain degree of social cohesion in view of the inexorable advance of a kind of communitarianism that is grounded on inequality and exploitation. This last word is gradually losing weight because, ever since the arrival of the Jews from the former Soviet Union in the early 1990s, the Palestinian population is no longer considered productive, and herein lies the singularity of late Israeli colonialism. Treated as a bothersome residue, they are displaced and locked up in vast prisons, the occupied territories themselves, and their presence becomes the essential pretext – by maintaining a ongoing, low-intensity conflict – for driving a prosperous security industry. Despite the disaster, the economy’s growth rates are vast, comparable, according to Naomi Klein, to those of China and India. The latent state of war is the backbone of Israeli capitalism. Maintaining this climax of tension is expressed, according to Ariella Azoulay and Adi Ophir, in the unstable balance between the suspended everyday violence (that is, the sure yet hidden threat of a hypothetical use of force) and the spectacular violence that the media pay no heed to which is applied in certain situations in which the oppressed people’s resistance is heightened. What is more, thanks to the planet-wide extrapolation of the state of exception promoted recently by the US administration of former President G.W. Bush, the benefits have only risen.

Next is a special edition, a kind of publication inspired by real estate advertising supplements, which Domènec turns into a catalogue that documents and photographically verifies what is in fact a segmented society imprisoned in unscrupulous economic dynamics: Jewish settlements in the Arab and Palestinian neighbourhoods of Jerusalem, the Wall of Shame being built, demolished Palestinian houses, refugee camps, Jewish colonies in the occupied territories, bothersome checkpoints, the remains of old Palestinian towns dating from before 1948. In short, the strident declaration that the prevailing sectors in Israel have chosen the route of a futuristic fortress that views itself as capable of ensuring its survival and primacy despite being surrounded by enemies and chaos, and the indignant humiliation that it causes. Suffering is the business: surveillance technologies, security companies, more privatisation and restrictions in social services, the weapons industry and the construction of a sinuous, undulating wall that is ready to shape – and offensively penetrate when it needs to – the territory of the population considered left over and unproductive.


4. A song by composer Kurt Weill mentions a supposed utopia, called Youkali, which is supposed to be a haven of happiness and pleasure, the country of our fondest wishes that fades away when we realise that it has only been a dream, a fleeting folly. In Israel, the madness is not fleeting; it is chronic and negative, plus it aims to achieve a degenerate utopia which could well be embodied in the enigmatic name of Baladia. In the middle of the Negev Desert, Tsahal and the United States army are experimenting with counterinsurgency fighting techniques in the streets and homes of a simulated city, Baladia, which is a precise replica of a Palestinian town. This is the workshop, the incubator of companies from the security age. Unfortunately, Israel-Palestine is heading towards extreme polarisation: first the city-citadel, and secondly the proliferation of gigantic segregationist ghettos in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Lebanese writer Elias Khoury drove it home when he wrote that the Israeli politicians in charge of confinement via military force are not only forgetting the history of their own people’s oppression rather they seem to have actually decided to identify with their murderers and make the Palestinians become the Jews’ Jews. This play on words is not exactly a diversion; rather it is a bloody reality which Domènec has examined with Sàgar Malé in a sober, convincing way in the stills of the videographic work 48_Nakba. Indeed, five interviews with Palestinians who have lived in squalor in refugee camps inside their own country – what a paradox to be exiled in one’s own home – reflect the marginalisation of an entire people and the attempt to annihilate their culture and identity, a form of destruction that is conducted on a daily basis by executing a systematic plan whose goal is to erase all referents that might give the hope of maintaining in the present ties to the lost recent past. However, there is more than that, as there is evidence of aggression and physical mutations on the Palestinian geography through a process of dispossessing the resources whose only destination is capitalist accumulation. This is a sort of spatial reorganisation, using the terminology of geographer David Harvey, which is materialised under neo-conservative political guidelines targeted at imposing a territorial logic of order and control, and under the economic impetus driven by the liberal privatisation of a place where there is not an abundance of resources. Water, for example, is an explicit case of this. All in all, it offers the security-military complex vast opportunities, and it is legitimised with the mask sculpted by the discourse revolving around combat against purported Palestinian terrorism – whose actions at time also entail a violation of fundamental human rights – otherwise already included in the global catalogue of the Axis of Evil.

One could say that the incursion into Israel-Palestine signalled the addition of a variation in Domènec’s artistic oeuvre. That is, the fact of resizing the rationalistic architectural political and philosophical paradigm by subjecting it to a strategy of dismantlement as a way of accessing a stripped-down analysis of the insufficiencies of modernity is joined by an attitude more commonly found in an agitator – which does not mean that it is any less complex or reflexive. This gesture becomes clear in the prominent role granted to human relations and in the establishment of connections with the social and political milieu that does not accept a present tainted with opprobrium and oppression. Domènec’s foray – somewhere between urbanistic investigation, sociology and cultural anthropology – has not gone in the direction of constituting artificial forms of social life as in the majority of propositions from relational aesthetics; rather its purpose is to documentarily show us the vestiges of an archaeology of what might be a widespread future, with fear and violence as the underpinnings of the social order. Israel-Palestine is a very credible example of the obscurity that our future might embrace, and at the same time this binomial has already taken on tragic proportions deriving from the lament for the perversity that the human condition can harbour within it. That is, the unease that seeps out from the fact, as Eva Figes pointed out in her novel-essay, that the victimism of the Jewish population may justify acts that produce more victims. What should have been a moral referent for humanity, the Holocaust, runs the risk of losing its dignity and becoming a mere propaganda tool in the falcon-like talons of the state of Israel.

With regard to the situation in the United States, which, we should recall, often acts as both a sounding board and a pole of influence on official Israeli stances, historian Peter Novick has warned about these simplifying banalisations which, in his opinion, are closely related to the closing of the ranks of the Jews in the United States and the fact that they have gradually drifted to the right in politics. This has led them to adulterate and distort the cultural weight of the tragedy linked to the Nazi death camps. Without a doubt, the recent Israeli governments’ policies towards the Palestinians put up further hurdles to the possibility of keeping this humanist reference universal. The combination of racial identity and religion with state-of-the-art technologies makes Israel the breeding grounds par excellence of the post-modern ethos. Nonetheless, in accordance with everything said until now, within post-modernity there is also room for critical dissidence and resistance, even in the Palestinian places where roses no longer abound, as Mahmud Darwish’s verse says. Domènec already travelled along this pathway of resistance some time ago, and for this reason it is no coincidence that his aesthetic, so appropriate for these times of urgency, has operated in Israel-Palestine.

In short, to conclude I would only like to add that despite the fact that some authors continue to stress it – especially within the Jewish cultural world itself – it no longer makes much sense to calibrate whether or not founding the state of Israel in Palestine in 1948 is relevant. The reality of the present imposes itself, and therefore the most important objective is to make that plot of land inhabitable for both peoples. The difficulties are vast, perhaps insurmountable, but the only way is a deepening of democracy coupled with a transformation in the socioeconomic model – which, on the other hand, is only possible it if takes place in parallel on the global scale – and the complicity of the pacifist and more progressive sectors on both sides. A continuation of the option of force will lead to a cataclysm. Have the powers-that-be in Israel thought about – as Peggy Anderson suggests – what might happen if the Arab countries in the Near East shake off the American neo-imperialist domination one day? It is likely that Palestinian captivity would cease to exist as we know it today. At the same time, it is virtually certain that the opportunity to redefine a country with room for democracy and secularism would have been squandered. As is palpable every day, Israel’s radical nationalist and extremely neo-conservative social actions are the best fuel for their most fundamentalist, reactionary adversaries. In the end, the fact that the state of Israel is determined to forge ahead with the security paradigm and disaster capitalism cannot be anything but an evil omen. It is the most transparent expression of the very fragility to which it is exposed.


Bibliography cited and used


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