Anywhere, Possibly Including Here
While preparing for Wednesday evening’s roundtable discussion on Buildering: Misbehaving the City (you should come!), we came up with a solid handful of possible topics around the show’s themes of athletic bodies in the urban playground; displacement and otherness; politicized readymades; failed or dislocated utopias; the subversive yet sincere repurposing of aging monuments erected under defunct regimes; and the changing face of domestic normalcy.
Reviewing that list, it’s striking to realize that one of Buildering‘s many interesting quirks–and perhaps one reason it adapts so readily to a very different urban environment (Houston’s) than the one in which it debuted (Cincinnati’s)–is that for all its diverse plenitude of work about architecture and built environments, it has comparatively little site-specific work. The pieces we’ve discussed by Antal Laknar, Lee Walton, Bestué-Vives and Egle Budvytyte could have been made or performed in many if not most modern cities, while works addressing specific architectural projects, like Alison Moffett‘s Case Study Houses series, defamiliarize them by relocating them–in Moffett’s case, to the moon.
Of the artists we’ve discussed so far, Hector Zamora‘s Brasil is perhaps the most site-specific, being a Duchampian portrait of the Mexican artist’s adopted country, along with Ivan Argote‘s Turistas (Isabel giving a contract, and Christopher pointing out the south, at Bogota), which after all documents an action in a specific city–and the fact that Argote put Bogota in the title suggests he cared that we know which one.
By contrast, although Argote performed Atruisme on a Parisian subway, he did not call the piece Altruisme, Paris, perhaps because the fundamental gesture–passionately kissing a subway pole bearing countless passengers’ germs–is transferable to virtually any city’s public transit system. However, knowing performed it as a foreigner adds a poignant layer to his “reconciliation gesture … to thwart the disgust of the other.”
Another artist performing small, absurdist gestures in a strange land is Iman Issa. In her Making Places series, small, simple gestures such as pouring a bucket of water into a large city fountain grew out of her desire to ease the transition of moving from Cairo to New York by responding to intimate, inconspicuous urban spaces that could be found in virtually any city around the world.
“Taking it upon herself to find the reciprocity that impersonal urban design has not delivered, she explains, ‘each action aims at changing, charging, or completing the structure of an urban image,'” writes exhibition curator Steven Matijcio. “And while such small gestures may seem futile in proportion to the monumentality of these imposing structures, there is a fundamental value asserted in the intentions of this diminutive, but determined protagonist. Amidst the generic facades of what could be any city in the world, Issa can be seen transforming anonymous spaces into something more specific, memorable, and human.”