Blogging Blaffer

What is “Buildering”?

Egle Budvytyte, Leap, 2005. Video. Courtesy of the artist
Egle Budvytyte, Leap, 2005. Video. Courtesy of the artist

Welcome to Blogging Blaffer, a new, evolving corner of our homepage where we hope to spark conversations about contemporary art and culture–largely, but not exclusively, through the prism of current, future and past Blaffer Art Museum exhibitions and programs. (Sometimes we’ll just link to interesting articles, photos or videos one of us has stumbled across.)

Since we’re in the final days of preparation for Buildering: Misbehaving the City, a traveling group show exploring the unsanctioned use of architecture and the urban environment, now’s as good a time as any to ask: What the heck is “buildering”?

The short answer is that it’s a cross between the words “building” and “bouldering” (a kind of rock climbing performed without harnesses or ropes).

For curator Steven Matijcio, who organized Buildering for the Contemporary Arts Center Cincinnati, the title of the exhibition recalls a golden age of urban acrobatics that climaxed in the 1920s and 30s. After a climber’s fatal fall led the U.S. government to criminalize “urban assent,” the subculture was forced underground until the 1980s, when a group of Parisian free-runners drew a straight line on a map and vowed to go directly from point A to point B, spawning the global phenomenon known as parkour.

Buoyed by online video sharing and underground websites, parkour has spread around the world, turning the cityscape into what Matijcio calls “a readymade obstacle course.” But with rising popularity has come commodification. “The outsider’s escape has been brought inside, but like the Trojan Horse before it, the explosive anatomy of buildering can storm the gates from the inside,” Matijcio writes.

None of the artists in this exhibition is a formal parkour practitioner, and not all the work on view bears as close of a literal resemblance to the title as Lithuanian-born, Amsterdam-based artist Egle Budvytyte‘s Leap (2010). But Matijcio argues that their work “embodies the spirit of parkour’s followers as they perform its expansive political capacity. Buildering is not about anarchism or overthrow, but about a romantic activism that reasserts the strange, unwieldy, thoroughly inefficient presence of the human body (back) into built space. In doing so, the artists in this exhibition find new signs of life in the aging shells of modernism and industry.”

Join us for the opening of Buildering this Sunday, Sept. 21. Blaffer members get a sneak preview from 11 a.m. to noon; then the reception opens to the public from noon to 2 p.m.

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