The following research has been conducted and written by Justin Tyler Tate in the development of Dialectics Of Space.
On page 8 of Henri Lefebvre’s book, The Production Of Space, the author writes:
“We are thus confronted by an indefinite multitude of spaces, each one piled upon, or perhaps contained within, the next; geographical, economic, demographic, sociological, ecological, political, commercial, national, continental, global. Not to mention nature’s (physical) space, the space of (energy) flows and so on.” (Lefebvre)
This description depicts something like a cake or a matryoshka, where layers are built upon each other, upon a foundation of those underneath or inside. There is a natural hierarchy through this production of space which cannot be ignored. Space, as such, is no longer a democratic entity, accessible and free, but rather it becomes another constraint of the structure of society where the elevated tiers of space devalue others. The production of political, commercial and national spaces are built upon the sociological which is built upon the ecological. The weight of upper layers crushes those underfoot. Different kinds of space, however, are not something to be produced nor can they be controlled but they can only be inspired. Spaces are non-hierarchical as they communicate with each other, informing one another in the creation of a unified space-time.
In looking to define spaces which cooperate, where entities/topics/ideas fluidly pass through the porous membranes as a dialectic is created between them, we will explore examples of works which manifest different types of space and how those spaces converge. We will look at identifying architectural, pedagogical, experimental, environmental, playful, dialogical as well as laborious spaces as those which are necessary for the creation of democratic, open and non-exclusive, and participatory formulations of space-time. The goal of this is to define the production of space-time through different criteria which is overlapping and undulating, its fluid nature allowing one sphere to seamlessly blend into the next, eroding any identifiable borders. In looking to identify these spheres of space and points where they are
able to merge into one body, we can focus on those methods of production which manifest space able to promote a better quality of life. As Henri Lefebvre identified a dominant form of space which sought to overpower, so too did he point towards an alternative form of space which “straddles the breach between science and utopia, reality and ideality, conceived and lived” (Lefebvre) and that is what we are looking for by identifying nexus points where architectural, pedagogical, experimental, environmental, playful, dialogical and laborious spaces can converge.
In developing a trajectory for the concentration of such spaces, we will begin right before the midpoint of the 20th century, in 1947, when Aldo Van Eyck designed the first, out of hundreds, of his playgrounds which were installed in Amsterdam (Oudenampsen). Through his work, Van Eyck grew play spaces out of urban space using minimal, multi-purpose, modular structures which are simultaneously sculpture, toy and architecture. The simplicity of such structures and their materiality engaged with the materials of modern cities and labor, predominantly steel and cement, while accessing children’s imagination to use a static play space in a myriad of ways. Because of Van Eyck’s playgrounds, urbanity was infected by play as he appropriated existing sites around Amsterdam.
Play, however, is not a thing unto itself but spaces of play, according to Johan Huizinga in his book Homo Ludens, are necessary in the generation of culture (Huizinga). By this creation of culture, Van Eyck’s play spaces also create social spaces; children playing in those minimal interjections into Amsterdam’s urbanity developed momentary communities among those who were there in any moment while simultaneously encouraging those children to develop social, motor and cognitive skills, aiding to their perception of their own environment. The playgrounds of Aldo Van Eyck manifest multiple different types of spaces, all converging into one undulating form stretching across the urban landscape where each one is able to reflect and refer to the others, through materiality, form as well as function.
A peer of Van Eyck, Constant Nieuwenhuys also looked to play as an integral part of urbanity but rather than attempting to infect the city with play, he instead tried to imagine a kind of city, a New Babylon for Huzinga’s Homo Ludens to inhabit. In a text that Nieuwenhuys wrote for a Haags Gemeetenmuseum exhibition catalog published in 1974, he states:
"As a way of life Homo Ludens will demand, firstly, that he responds to his need for playing, for adventure, for mobility, as well as all the conditions that facilitate the free creation of his own life." (Nieuwenhuys)
The city Constant Nieuwenhuys envisioned was a futuristic expression of architecture that presented a blank experimental space for potential inhabitants who would be incorporated into its body as participants. New Babylon was a modular proposition which could be modified, customized and played with, according to the needs of the population. The proposed architecture would become an event as it changed over time and use, conforming to the needs of social space. New Babylon would have been a kind of living body, working symbiotically with the smaller organisms (humans) living within it. The work speculates on a society where all non-creative labor has been automatized, providing ultimate freedom to play, explore, learn and create. Nieuwenhuys designed an architectural ideal, utopian and free. The very conceptualizing of New Babylon is play according to Huizinga’s five characteristics of play, especially because it is so far from “ordinary” or “real” life while attempting to become the alternative form of space talked about by Henri Lefebvre.
Unfortunately, New Babylon was never realized but some quarter of a century later, it started to become generally apparent that the future would need something more than what Nieuwenhuys was proposing. Millennium Hut (1998), a project by artist Claire Barclay who collaborated with the architectural firm Studio KAP and was commissioned by the Govanhill Housing Association in Glasgow, Scotland, was a response to the looming future of energy resources and global overpopulation. Perhaps coincidentally, Millennium Hut’s construction coincides with the beginning of the Tiny House Movement (Wikipedia). Barclay’s project was constructed out of a combination of new and recycled materials, occupied a footprint of just 2 square meters of space and had solar panels on its roof. The project was supposed to be a community facility that functioned in a number of different ways: as a garden store, workshop, library, viewing platform and also included shelves for growing plants on (Thompson).
Millennium Hut was commissioned to function as a social space in order to rejuvenate the local area of Govanhill while acting as an example of good ecological practices. It tries to be an alternative space which engages with the local community, creating a dialogue about the different spatial spheres which are contained within it (architectural, environment, pedagogy, labor, social, et cetera) but any documentation about such activities are rare, if they exist at all. There is very little information about it online, only briefly mentioned on the artist’s website in her CV while there is a short description of it alongside some images on the Studio KAP website as well as www.discoverglasgow.org. There is one blog post from 2010 by a Glasgow resident which asks “Is the structure ever open to the public and is it still in use? Does anyone know?” (Blogspot). Though it is nearly two-decades old, Millennium Hut seems like an important work, especially as it is described in Living as form: socially engaged art from 1991-2011 to have generated “an economic benefit of 34 million pounds and served as a catalyst for further urban regeneration” (Thompson) so why does it have such a lack of presence on the artist’s website and on the Internet? In consideration of other work presented on Barclay’s website, there are no other apparent attempts at community engaged art, so perhaps Millennium Hut was an aberration of her practice and perhaps its lifespan was limited as the community never assumed ownership of it. It attempts to encompass the types of space that we are seeking but perhaps it just misses the mark.
If we traverse space-time a bit, from Barclay’s Millennium Hut, journeying one year previous and all the way to northern Thailand, where we arrive at a project called The Land (1998) by the collective which goes by the name, The Land Foundation. The project started as a way to reclaim the land as in recent years frequent flooding had caused rice farming in the region to become unproductive and local farmers have offered their lands for other development as they searched for better prospects (The Land Foundation). As The Land was cultivated through agricultural experimenting, so too were artists and architects invited to develop its infrastructure of buildings and alternative sources of energy. Assuming the methodology of an artist in residence program, the project hosts international artists who then work with locals to develop art/architecture as components to be incorporated into the natural surroundings.
Through cultivation, collaboration and community development, The Land is enveloped within a social space where experimentation is encouraged for the purpose of developing sustainable methods for land use. The project is a holistic, non-for-profit approach to land development and is currently continuing their activities with two “huge” construction projects (firstname.lastname@example.org). The Land is a permanent project which obscures the definitions of art, activism, architecture, agriculture and economy.
The next project we will look at was partially developed at The Land. SUPERFLEX, a collaborative art group out of Denmark “challenges the role of the artist in contemporary society and explores the nature of globalization and systems of power” (SUPERFLEX). The work that they implemented in a number of different locations including at The Land, titled SUPERGAS (1996-2010), is a simple biogas production system which is able to create enough gas to satisfy the cooking and electricity needs of a family (Thompson).
The project, through collaborations and experimentation, addresses the basic needs of the rural global south as individuals in such locations strive to acquire the most basic of amenities which are taken for granted by those living in more privileged regions. SUPERGAS also contributes to dialogue surrounding the use of biogas (primarily methane) which is a sustainable, renewable energy source that is produced from waste and is a greenhouse gas. Though burning biogas is similar to burning natural gas in terms of its CO2 emissions, it is carbon neutral in the production and can reduce pollutants that would have otherwise entered wastewater (Wilkie).
In looking for solutions to basic needs of households in developing regions, SUPERFLEX, through this project, is able to create a space within domestic architecture for those activities which naturally occur within such as learning, social interaction, as well as play. SUPERGAS is not just an object or an installation but goes beyond that to encourage groups of people to spend time together with the heat for cooking and the light it can produce while addressing environmental and economic needs.
Another group utilizing waste as the material for their collective research and creation is Basurama. Formed in Spain during 2001, the group has almost become an institution with permanent offices in Sao Paolo and Bilbao with Madrid as its base (Basurama). Unlike SUPERFLEX’s SUPERGAS, Basurama uses primarily non-biological waste for its activities. Finding those waste materials which are abundant in a location, Basurama then looks to repurpose them as they incorporate local peoples/communities into their practice. Resuduos Urbanos Solidos, also known as RUS or translated as Urban Solid Waste is one such project which has taken on many different formats and in various locales (Asunción/ Buonos Aires/ Cordoba/ Jordan/ Lima/ Miami/ Santo Domingo) between 2008 and 2011. Through Resuduos Urbanos Solidos, Basurama is able to engage with the city in a site specific manner which directly addresses the lived experiences of the local community while speaking to global issues of climate change and environmental destruction. Many instances of RUS have had the objective of utilizing that local waste as material to be used in the creation of play spaces, directly interacting and modifying the architecture of the city. Other instances have seen waste used to create spaces of learning and experimentation as common waste materials are transformed into new products, interventions and experiences. Basurama gives new life to materials as they repurpose them, reducing the weight of the labor and environmental exploitation that went into those plastics, pallets, tires, et cetera, so that they can be reincarnated and prevented from journeying to those spaces where waste coalesces.
While art collectives like The Land Foundation, SUPERFLEX and Basurama reject the idea of individual authorship, Theaster Gates utilizes it to “dupe” himself into putting all of energy into a project, allowing him to work on something which ultimately goes beyond his own needs as his studio work (Linden). For Gate’s Dorchester Project (2009), the artist imbues his own methodology into disused spaces, essentially, as Henri Lefebvre puts it:
“Architecture produces living bodies, each with its own distinctive traits. The animating principle of such a body, its presence, is neither visible nor legible as such, nor is it the object of any discourse, for it reproduces itself within those who use the space in question, within their lived experience.” (Lefebvre).
There are food deserts in some highly urban places, where fresh, healthy foods are relatively unavailable, but there are also cultural deserts which is a problem that The Dorchester Project addresses by buying abandoned architecture, laboriously repurposing, and transforming it in order to create social or community spaces where participants can learn, explore, develop and interact with other members of the community. Through this project, Gates, honors place and objects through his personal rejuvenation efforts. Instead of buying new materials he cherishes the inherent history of things, reusing material, upcycling and imbuing value into the architecture, the neighborhood, the discarded archives, as well as the matter which composes the production that is The Dorchester Project. It is also important to note that this project is not about short term interaction where an artist moves into a place as an outsider, like so many other community-based art engagements, but is a long term commitment to respond to site through available local resources and an intimate, long-term relationship with the local population.
Thomas Hirschhorn, is an outsider in every sense to the community where his project, The Gramsci Monument (2013), was situated. During the summer of 2013, the courtyard of Forest Houses (Bronx, New York, USA) was transformed into bustling center for community engagement, socializing, debate and learning. Hirschhorn has received a lot of criticism because of his own ethnicity and cultural background as a white, well-to-do European who produced this work in a public housing estate with a primarily Black and Hispanic, lower-income population as “colonialism” and “exploitative”. The artist brought the money, he created the concept and provided the context (Kester) but the community of Forest Houses owned the experience. In a writing published in the Dia (the organization who commissioned The Gramsci Monument) catalog, Lex Brown, who was running the children’s workshop for 11 weeks without a day off, wrote:
“Love was an explicit and crucial part of The Gramsci Monument. It’s the word for the kind of energy that people could feel when they were standing in it and on it. The way the kids reacted to the 'Monument, the work and participation that the residents put into it, the dedication of the people working there, and the reception of the people living in the neighborhood all contributed to make something that still feels too enormous to aptly sum up in words.” (Brown)
Though the project lasted only for a summer, it ripples across space-time as the project lasts in the minds of local residents who, primarily, look upon it as having a positive impact on the community (Kimball). The project actually has the reverse effect of colonialism as the community took ownership of it, whereas art-tourists coming from the more affluent and primarily white parts of New York City could feel their otherness and discomfort because of it as they entered the space surrounding The Gramsci Monument (Brown). Through that ownership of the space, the community was not a recipient of social welfare but were able to collectively activate their own alternate reality that was merely catalyzed by the artist.
Thomas Hirschhorn himself stated that “I don’t do something for the community. I do something, I hope, for art” (ART21). The aesthetic of ‘Monument’s architecture is a physical embodiment of the project’s non-exclusivity; pallets, plywood, 2” x 4” (5cm x 10cm) lumber, spray paint, linen, paper and cardboard are materials which surround us as the invisible matter which allows systems of labor as well as economy to function but also that of tree houses and every-day use. The work creates a pedagogical space, not just for participants to learn about Antonio Gramsci but for a space of peer-learning to develop from the community that chooses to actively engage in the project.
The handful of projects we have explored over the seven decades between the middle of the 20th century until the teens of the 21st century draws a visible trajectory for the exploration of alternative methods of spatial production that is reactionary to the dominant, dominating space of wealth and power (Lefebvre). In one way or another, these projects have demonstrated the potential of architecture, labor, experimentation, pedagogy, play, environment and social spaces as working together, often times as seamless convergences. These projects desire for creating places which impart transformative effects upon their participants (real or potential) as well as the space-time in which they inhabit. Such projects become, only through the process of performance that participants bring to them (Kester). Though the care that is imbued into materials and designs in all of these examples, spaces are manifested that debate and discuss with one another. At the singularity where these spaces we’ve been proposing coalesce, in a nexus of swirling ideas where space-time collapses in on itself, is the truth and the totality in the dialectics of space. It is a Hegelian dialectic, not a Platonic one (Maybee). In identifying and exploring the relationships between these different spaces, in as much as they exist or do not in each of the works we have reviewed, their boundaries have become malleable. The frequency of such places and projects, where these nexuses happen are increasing but they are not utopos (a good place) but rather they are outopos (no place). They exist as windows into another reality, they are ephemeral, always occurring and always shape shifting. The truth in possible utopias is that they are impossible to permanently maintain in a finite world. The nexuses we have been looking for are that which come into being like bubbles from a wand; emerging from reality that comes into existence only to disappear, just as quickly, leaving ripples in the fabric of space-time. Nexuses where architecture, pedagogy, experimentation, environment, play, labor as well as social space are able to coalesce into one.
Dialectics of Space, as a project, looks to extend, experiment with and explore this history by way of purposefully creating modular installations using waste materials within different types of venue. Through trial and error, the project is able to develop a methodology in creating ephemeral nexus points where the types of spaces we have been talking about coalesce and produce alternate realities, where the typical values of daily life no longer function as such. The fabricated space is able to envelop participants in a functional, though perhaps unusual, space where different elements work symbiotically and without hierarchy. Individuals are actively integrated into its body as participants, as they are encouraged to cooperate with others while the space itself imbues itself into them.
Clicking on the button to the right will take you to the ABOUT page where you can read more about the flaws and successes of the different D.O.S. versions.
- ART21. Thomas Hirschhorn: “Gramsci Monument”. Ed. Michelle Chang & Morgan Riles. Prod. Ian Forster & Nick Ravich. New York, 22 May 2015. Documentary. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O5yyegM2u88>.
- Basurama. Sobre Basurama. n.d. Website. 26 June 2017. <https://basurama.org/basurama/>.
- Blogspot. 29 July 2010. Blog. 23 June 2017. <http://southsidehappenings.blogspot.com/2010/07/millenium-space-govanhill.html>.
- Brown, Lex. “Monument Time.” Thomas Hirschhorn: Gramsci Monument. Ed. Yasmil Raymond, and Kelly Kivland Stephen Hoban. London: Dia Art Foundation and Koenig Books, 2015. <https://static1.squarespace.com/static/518d39ece4b09f9c47757fcc/t/53fc050ce4b00e21d4f0a703/1409025292360/LexBrown_GramsciMonument.pdf>.
- Huizinga, Johan. Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd, 1949.
- Kester, Grant H. Conversation Pieces: Community + Communication in Modern Art. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013. Print.
- Kimball, Whitney. How Do People Feel About the Gramsci Monument, One Year Later ? 14 August 2014. Interview. 27 June 2017. <http://artfcity.com/2014/08/20/how-do-people-feel-about-the-gramsci-monument-one-year-later/>.
- Lefebvre, Henri. The Production of Space. Oxford, OX, UK: Blackwell, 1991. Print.
- Linden, Kadist and Christina. Theaster Gates: Dorchester Project in Living as Form on Vimeo. Ed. Pete Belkin. Kadist Art Foudation. Chicago: Independent Curators International, 2012. Video. <https://vimeo.com/channels/740427/43004580>.
- Maybee, Julie E. Hegel’s Dialectics. Ed. Edward N. Zalta. 3 June 2016. Website. 27 June 2017. <https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/hegel-dialectics/>.
- Nieuwenhuys, Constant. New Babylon. The Hague: Haags Gemeetenmuseum, 1974. Exhibition Catalog. 22 June 2017. <http://isites.harvard.edu/fs/docs/icb.topic709752.files/WEEK%207/CNieuwenhuis_New%20Babylon.pdf>.
- Oudenampsen, Merijn. https://merijnoudenampsen.org/2013/03/27/aldo-van-eyck-and-the-city-as-playground/. 27 April 2013. 22 June 2017.
- SUPERFLEX. SUPERFLEX. Information. 21 January 2012. Website. 26 June 2017. <http://superflex.net/information/>.
- The Land Foundation. About The Land. 21 January 2012. Website. 25 June 2017. <http://www.thelandfoundation.org/about>.
- email@example.com. Info from the land 1/3. 24 June 2017. E-mail.
- Thompson, Nato, ed. Living as Form: Socially Engaged Art from 1991-2011. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2012. Print.
- Wikipedia. Wikipedia: Tiny house movement. 22 June 2017. 23 June 2017.
- Wilkie, Dr. Ann C. Biogas FAQ. 27 April 2017. Website. 26 June 2017. <http://biogas.ifas.ufl.edu/FAQ.asp>.
SOURCES OF IMAGES