Danser en attendant (la fin du monde)

Kaysie Hawke
Festival international d’art numérique Sight + Sound, Montréal
du 26 octobre au 12 novembre 2022
Festival international d’art numérique Sight + Sound, Montréal
du 26 octobre au 12 novembre 2022
[In French]
Chapeauté par le centre d’artistes Eastern Bloc, le 12e festival international d’art numérique Sight + Sound se déploie sous diverses propositions : exposition, performances audiovisuelles, conférences et ateliers. Cette nouvelle itération, commissariée par Nathalie Bachand et Sarah Ève Tousignant, s’attarde aux enjeux de la virtualisation de nos interactions et de notre existence à l’aube d’un retour à une certaine « normalité » postpandémique. Sont présentés, dans le cadre de l’exposition à Eastern Bloc, des projets qui investissent de nouveaux paradigmes de socialité ayant émergé au cours des dernières années.

À l’entrée de la galerie, les installations Detumescence (2021) de Faith Holland et calling upon the digital touch (2020) de Marie-Eve Levasseur introduisent les enjeux liés à la nécessité et au désir de proximité pendant les situations d’isolement. Agissant à titre de monument commémoratif pour souligner les morts de la COVID-19, l’œuvre de Holland est composée de peluches reproduisant les ordinateurs Apple aux couleurs vives et transparentes emblématiques du début des années 2000, d’appareils téléphoniques désuets et d’arrangements de fleurs et de fruits voués à se dégrader au fil de l’exposition. L’œuvre a d’abord été diffusée en direct afin d’offrir un espace collectif de deuil aux internautes à un moment où toute réunion demeurait impossible. Approchant ces thèmes avec désinvolture, Holland confronte le paradoxe de l’obsolescence programmée de nos appareils numériques et de leur empreinte écologique au caractère éphémère de notre existence humaine. Cette nouvelle configuration sociale autour d’un évènement fondamental met en relief autant les frustrations qu’il peut susciter que les possibilités qu’offre le Web pour générer proximité et collectivité.

Faith Holland
Detumescence, 2021, vue d’installation,
Eastern Bloc, Montréal, 2022.
Photo : Alexis Bellavance, permission du Centre de production et d’exposition Eastern Bloc, Montréal

Cette réflexion se poursuit dans l’œuvre de réalité augmentée de Marie-Eve Levasseur, dont l’intervention vise l’espace physique de la galerie, d’une part, et celui, virtuel, d’une application mise à la disposition du public, d’autre part. Des sculptures molles reproduisant des mains de taille et de forme exagérées ainsi que l’impression photographique d’un sofa recouvert par l’artiste sont les véhicules à partir desquels se manifestent, dans l’application mobile, des mains fantomatiques aux teintes verdâtres. En tenant l’appareil devant les éléments présentés, ces mains surgissent, ondulant sensuellement dans l’espace virtuel et effleurant avec douceur les objets à leur portée. Des phrases jaillissent à l’écran : « to touch you beyond the physical » (« pour te toucher plus que physiquement »), « and then, it did cast a spell upon this place (through my phone) » (« ensuite, ça a vraiment jeté un sort sur cet endroit [à travers mon téléphone] »). À la fois appendice et spectres numériques, l’œuvre rend possible l’incarnation du toucher à distance, d’une proximité retenue.

MarieEve-Levasseur
Marie-Eve Levasseur
calling upon the digital touch, 2020, vue d’installation,
Eastern Bloc, Montréal, 2022.
Photo : Alexis Bellavance, permission du Centre de production et d’exposition Eastern Bloc, Montréal

Alors que Holland et Levasseur détournent et étudient les technologies à notre disposition pour réactualiser nos relations de proximité et d’intimité avec autrui, Johanna Bruckner propose, avec Molecular Sex (2020), une vision du futur dans laquelle on a enrayé les distinctions entre technologie, animalité et humanité afin d’accéder à de nouveaux modèles existentiels. L’installation est composée d’une vidéo sur deux canaux accompagnée d’un manifeste diffusé en continu, lequel explicite l’évolution de la situation biopolitique dans ce futur peuplé de « robots sexuels ». Nés d’enchevêtrements moléculaires relevant de l’humain et de technologies futuristes et présentant certaines particularités des ophiures (classe d’échinodermes apparentée aux étoiles de mer) et de la bactérie Wolbachia, ces cyborgs promettent l’éclatement de notre conception binaire du genre et de la sexualité. L’œuvre pose un regard sur la plasticité reproductive de ces espèces (soit la scissiparité ou capacité de se cloner des ophiures et la féminisation des mâles causée par la présence parasitaire ou mutualiste de la bactérie Wolbachia chez un hôte), laquelle permettrait l’avènement d’une nouvelle « humanité ». Par cette danse moléculaire que représente l’artiste à travers une imagerie modélisée de la créature en question, ainsi que celle d’une humanité en redéfinition dont les corps s’enlacent dans une atmosphère partagée, Bruckner nous invite dans un futur quantique qui résiste à notre conception dualiste et anthropocentrique du vivant.

Dans ROSS 128 (exoparty) (2020), expérience immersive de rave interespèces aux tonalités postapocalyptiques, Elisa Gleize et Thomas Lopez entreprennent à leur tour une exploration spéculative et festive des possibilités que permet la réalité virtuelle (RV). Cette plateforme numérique fictive accessible avec un dispositif de RV souligne le potentiel rassembleur de la fête au-delà des barrières interstellaires et biologiques. C’est ainsi qu’on se retrouve aux commandes d’un avatar interagissant avec une communauté d’avatars d’extraterrestres dans un cyberespace qui engendre un environnement inclusif et égalitaire où tous et toutes sont libres de moduler leur identité à leur guise. Si le projet permet d’entrevoir des futurités insoupçonnées, il demeure qu’on y possède une agentivité restreinte.

Johanna-Bruckner
Johanna Bruckner
Molecular Sex, 2020, vue d’installation,
Eastern Bloc, Montréal, 2022.
Photo : Alexis Bellavance, permission du Centre de production et d’exposition Eastern Bloc, Montréal
Elisa-Gleize&Thomas-Lopez
Elisa Gleize et Thomas Lopez
ROSS 128 (exoparty), 2020, vue d’installation,
Eastern Bloc, Montréal, 2022.
Photo : Alexis Bellavance, permission du Centre de production et d’exposition Eastern Bloc, Montréal

En contrepoint de cette incursion dans un cyberespace festif, Max Lester propose, avec Behind These Strange Sensations Are Hidden Structures (2020-2022), une réflexion sur les structures de pouvoir et de contrôle que représente l’architecture urbaine. L’installation prend la forme d’un échafaudage oxydé dans lequel sont perchés trois vidéos, des impressions sur papier gommé aux grillages et de vieux gants en nitrile évoquant autant de détritus. Les vidéos présentent un avatar composite de l’artiste errant dans une ville aux gratte-ciels modélisés ou encore au sein d’une grille virtuelle où se déplacent des formes organiques, des amoncèlements de papiers et des déchets épars. Dans ce contexte anxiogène, le protagoniste, désemparé, échange des commentaires et des réflexions parcellaires autour du rapport à la ville avec une créature humanoïde. L’échafaudage et les autres structures de construction éphémères, tout comme le travail de maintenance invisibilisé, deviennent des sujets sur lesquels rebondit l’artiste pour réfléchir aux dispositifs stratégiques du pouvoir et leur rapport à l’individu.

Max-Lester
Max Lester
Behind These Strange Sensations Are Hidden Structures,
2020-2022, vue d’installation, Eastern Bloc, Montréal, 2022.
Photo : Alexis Bellavance, permission du Centre de production et d’exposition Eastern Bloc, Montréal

Parallèlement, Pascale LeBlanc-Lavigne se penche, avec Mort au bureau (2022), sur le renversement du rapport au travail durant la crise sanitaire et après, notamment le télétravail et l’anticipation du retour au bureau, deux phénomènes portant leur lot de désagréments et de bénéfices. Entretenant cette posture ambigüe, l’artiste présente un bureau inoccupé où les outils omniprésents dans notre quotidien professionnel développent une vie propre et orchestrent une danse cinétique aux mouvements répétitifs. L’œuvre s’articule en deux lieux : une caméra de surveillance mise en place dans les locaux de Sporobole, où l’artiste a poursuivi une résidence, diffuse en temps réel les interventions cinétiques réalisées dans un second bureau. L’œuvre souligne, par la mise en scène de l’agentivité oisive des objets abandonnés à eux-mêmes, les attentes envers les employé·e·s et les dispositifs de surveillance de leur rendement, exacerbés durant la pandémie, tout en jouant sur cette tension entre l’autonomie et le contrôle propre au travail à distance. L’exposition présente également une série de cinq vidéos (Raphaël Moreira Gonçalves, Lanéya Billingsley [Billie0cean], S4RA, Steven Sych, Santiago Tamayo Soler) illustrant à leur tour les potentialités du numérique, qui, en générant des univers virtuels où l’on peut appréhender différemment les enjeux d’une socialité postpandémique, nous aident à combattre les sentiments d’isolement et d’austérité, notamment, et à nous réapproprier ces expériences de manière à la fois ludique et critique.

Pascale-Leblanc-Lavigne
Pascale LeBlanc-Lavigne
Mort au bureau, 2022, vues d’installation,
Eastern Bloc, Montréal, 2022.
Photos : Alexis Bellavance, permission du Centre de production et d’exposition Eastern Bloc, Montréal
Pascale-Leblanc-Lavigne

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The Museum of Modern Art,, New York November 21, 2020 — August 15, 2021
Aki Inomata
Think Evolution #1: Kiku-ichi (Ammonite), 14,5 × 12 × 6 cm, 2016-2017.
Photo : courtesy of the artist and MAHO KUBOTA GALLERY
In the Western world, art and nature have been at odds for a long time. During the seventeenth century, artworks focusing on plants, animals, and landscape were relegated to the lower ranks of creative production by Italian and French academicians. History, mythology, and religion were considered much more important because they reassessed our centrality as humans. Our anthropocentric obsession predates this historical moment, but its art historical theorization, which roughly coincided with similar affirmations in philosophy and literature, had a tremendous impact on our existential myopia. The mountains of flowers cascading from opulent vases in Baroque still life paintings are all about us, not flowers; they are symbolic mirrors in which we contemplated our virtues and our dreams, and came to terms with our fears of the passing of time and the fading of youth. Is it much of a surprise that we currently find ourselves on the brink of an irremediable climate crisis and interrelated mass extinction? Of course not. But while art is not the cause of the Anthropocene, painting and other media have been symptoms of an underlying condition that has plagued most of what we call Modernity. Art’s complicity in the marginalization of nature in culture is undeniable.
That said, artists are not the only ones to blame. Institutions and art historians have for centuries promoted anthropocentrism while marginalizing artists whose work focused on environmental degradation, ecology, and biodiversity. But the situation is changing, and changing fast. The popularization of the word Anthropocene has certainly worked wonders in awakening the artworld’s interest in the state of our planet. Innovative perspectives by contemporary thinkers like Bruno Latour, Donna Haraway, Anna Tsing, and Dipesh Chakrabarty, among others, are beginning to inform the work of today’s artists.


But the all-important question still stands: Can art save the planet? The answer is most likely “no.” Not because it’s too late, but because since the twentieth century most modern art has intentionally isolated itself from the real world. And in recent years contemporary art has too keenly embraced hyper-highbrow Conceptualism as its baseline, nurturing an unnecessarily conflicted relationship with beauty that has discouraged the neophyte and alienated the non-specialist museum visitor. In order to instigate real change, artists and institutions need to reach out to vast audiences in engaging and accessible ways.

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Monstrous Matter

Marie-Charlotte Carrier
Matter fell from grace during the twentieth century. What was once labeled as inanimate became mortal1. 1 - Karen Barad, “No Small Matter: Mushroom Clouds, Ecologies of Nothingness, and Strange Topologies of Spacetimemattering,” in Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet: Ghosts and Monsters of the Anthropocene, eds. Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, Heather Anne Swanson, Elaine Gan, and Nils Bubandt (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2017), 103.. – Karen Barad

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Cannibal Actif: The Artist Book as Threshold for Material Encounters

Joëlle Dubé
María Castañeda-Delgado
Two feet emerging from a pool of black oil touch the edge of a bathtub. The dark ink contrasts with the shimmery copper highlights. These feet belong to a bather in Baku, Azerbaijan, where bathing in crude oil — rich in naphthalene — is said to have healing properties. On the left, a white page with barely discernible letters reads, “But to de-privilege our bipedal flesh. Cannibalism as taboo barriers the partnership across species lines. As if we are not also consumed. As if we don’t consume ourselves. Denial. Crying. Even the cannibals are leaky.” I suddenly realize that I have stained the coppery image with the oil of my fingers.

Cannibal Actif(2017), co-created by artist Rochelle Goldberg and editors Frances Perkins and Katherine Pickard, is an artist book centred around an intricate reflection on materiality. It was published on the occasion of Goldberg’s exhibition at the Miguel Abreu Gallery in New York in 2017. The Vancouver-born artist’s oeuvre is composed mostly of sculptures and installations thought of as intra-actions — thresholds — that explore the materiality of blurred spaces where living and non-living entities meet.

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Sinks and Spills: The Containment and Entanglements of Matter-Bodies in Frédéric-Back Park

Philippe Vandal
Landfills are human and non-human assemblages, situated between territorial and cultural politics. Their material characteristics are multidirectional: horizontal in terms of their spatial orientation on land; vertical in terms of their accumulated waste and layered bacterial processes. They are contained and controlled by physical and chemical constraints, yet their transformations are highly unpredictable. They leak metabolized matter that has been turned into hazardous liquids and volatile toxic compounds through bacterial processes. They cause multispecies health issues and impact real estate development and local economies. Yet, they lurk throughout urban environments. Montréal hides many of them, with a few rehabilitated as green spaces. Parks such as Sir Wilfrid Laurier, Rosemont, Père Marquette, Baldwin, Pelican, the Montréal Botanical Garden, and many others are former sites of accumulated waste. The newest is the Saint-Michel Environmental Complex, also known as Frédéric-Back Park.

Frédéric-Back Park sits on the former Miron Quarry, which was filled with garbage accumulated from the early 1960s to the mid-1990s. The park is the result of historical protests against, and political responses to, the noise and hazardous waste that caused the community’s quality of life to deteriorate. Officially open to the public since the summer of 2017, the park embodies the counterimage of its subterranean infrastructure: a 192-hectare curated landscape designed by the Lemay architectural firm, with trails blazing through different ecosystems, sustainable buildings, and cultural centres. Biogas wells, dispersed throughout the landscape, aggregate toxic bacterial anaerobic fumes and redirect their flow to an on-site electric generator and geothermal facility. The spherical design of their architectural enclosures, a collaboration between Lemay and Morelli Designers, conceals the pipes from the public and creates a “new landscape’s feeling of otherworldliness” while adapting to soil movement.1 1 - Lemay, “Frederic-Back Park Landfill Rehabilitation: LEMAY — Architecture and Design” LEMAY, 1 July 2020. https://lemay.com/fr/projets/parc-frederic-back This “new” landscape’s “otherworldliness” is othering, resonating with Hortense Spillers’ associating the colonial Other with the alien figure2 2 - Hortense J. Spillers, “The Idea of Black Culture,” CR: The New Centennial Review 6, no. 3 (2006): 7-28., and simultaneously acting as a “material enactment of forgetting.”3 3 - Myra J. Hird, “Waste, Landfills, and an Environmental Ethic of Vulnerability,” Ethics and the Environment 18, no. 1 (2013): 106.This With forty million tons of garbage under its green and sustainable infrastructure, the Frédéric-Back Park embodies an ambiguous sight. Environmental gentrification, or “the process whereby the seemingly progressive discourse of urban sustainability is used to drive up property values and displace low-income residents4 4 - Miriam Greenberg and Susie Smith, “Environmental Gentrification,” Critical Sustainabilities, https://critical-sustainabilities.ucsc.edu/environmental-gentrification/“, plays out through the absence-presence of highly designed environments and the dissimulation of unwanted matter-bodies.

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The Sketch Artist: Interview with François Morelli

jake moore
Like many of his generation who developed alongside the materially fluid trajectory of Conceptual Art and related movements such as Fluxus, Québec-based artist François Morelli’s projects have grown into events and situations, but he has maintained a connection to the physical act of drawing that is beyond the preparatory or the requisite speculative action for other works. Exceeding the mere commodity that the market so often demands to build a currency for performance-based or social practices, the marks Morelli makes are in parallel to his performance works and performative of the same conceptual content of presence and contact between people and things. They sharpen focus on how we weigh our response ability and intertwine it with responsibility.

Morelli came forward at a time when tenure-track teaching and conceptual practices held new currency within the academy. After part-time precarity in New York, New Jersey, and Québec, he arrived at Concordia University in Montréal, his hometown. Unlike so many artist-professors, teaching for Morelli is not a necessary exchange for the time and money that artistic development requires; his teaching is of his practice. This holistic ecology of making-thinking and thinking-making brushes up against the neoliberal framework of “research-creation,” in which predetermined outcomes and equivalency between art and science are sought in ways that often undermine the truly creative and generative potential of each.1 1 - Although I have used the term “making-thinking” for some time, I wish to acknowledge the proximity of an interdisciplinary and pedagogical project, The School of Making Thinking, co-founded by Aaron Finbloom, Matheson Westlake, and Abraham Avnisan. In some ways, their project aligns with Morelli’s conflation of art, thought, and life, though they are not personally connected in any way. See http://www.theschoolofmakingthinking.com. Instead, his hybrid art practice of drawing, rubber-stamping, stitching, grommeting, gathering, cleaning, cooking, walking, measuring, teaching, talking, adding, and subtracting is more aligned with Chus Martinez’s analysis of art as knowledgeable instead of producing knowledge, a perspective she elegantly put forward in her book Club Univers:… the fashionable phrase “art is the production of knowledge” hides a truth — though hardly the causal and productivist one that is implied. Art bears a strong relation to knowledge because thinking takes place in art, in the interstices of visibility and discourse. But this is different from being a site where arguments are produced, proof is developed, and conclusive evidence is given. Thinking makes seeing and speaking reach their limits.Morelli entre en scène à une époque où les postes permanents en enseignement et les pratiques conceptuelles commencent à se développer au sein du milieu. Après une période de précarité d’emploi à New York, au New Jersey et au Québec, il débarque à l’Université Concordia, à Montréal, d’où il est d’ailleurs originaire. Contrairement à tant d’artistes-professeurs, Morelli ne voit pas l’enseignement comme un mal nécessaire pour avoir accès au temps et à l’argent essentiels au développement artistique. L’enseignement fait partie intégrante de sa pratique. Cette écologie holistique du créer-penser et du penser-créer flirte avec la « recherche-création », cadre de travail néolibéral qui favorise des résultats prévisibles et une équivalence entre science et art qui, souvent, mine les perspectives véritablement créatives et génératrices de l’une comme de [NOTE count=3]l’autre2 2 - J’utilise le concept de créer-penser depuis un certain temps, mais je tiens à souligner la proximité d’un projet interdisciplinaire et pédagogique, The School of Making Thinking, cofondé par Abraham Avnisan, Aaron Finbloom et Matheson Westlake. Bien qu’il n’y ait pas de rapport entre Morelli et eux, d’une certaine façon, leur projet cadre avec l’amalgame que l’artiste-enseignant fait entre l’art, la pensée et la vie. Voir <www.theschoolofmakingthinking.com>.. En lieu et place, la pratique artistique hybride de Morelli, où se mêlent le dessin, l’estampe, la couture, le rivetage, l’amalgame, le nettoyage, la cuisine, la marche, la mesure, l’enseignement, la conversation, l’addition et la soustraction, se rapproche plutôt de la vision de l’art de Chus Martínez, pour qui l’art est détenteur plutôt que producteur de savoir, notion qu’elle expose en toute élégance dans son ouvrage intitulé Club Univers : « […] l’affirmation à la mode selon laquelle “l’art est la production de savoir” dissimule une vérité – mais pas celle, causale et productiviste, qui est sous-entendue. L’art entretient des liens solides avec le savoir parce qu’une réflexion est à l’œuvre dans l’art, dans les interstices de la visibilité et du discours. Mais il ne s’agit pas d’un espace d’où émaneraient des arguments, s’élaboreraient des preuves et jailliraient des données probantes. Réfléchir pousse à leur limite le voir et le parler4 3 - Chus Martinez, Club Univers (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2016), 33.. »

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Bonnie Camplin
The Eight Pieces

Emily LaBarge
Camden Arts Centre, London, September 30, 2016 — January 15, 2017
Camden Arts Centre, London, September 30, 2016 — January 15, 2017

“Philosophers have not hesitated to identify the real and the rational,” writes Roger Caillois, in his 1970 book, The Writing of Stones. “I am persuaded that a different bold step would lead to discover the grid of basic analogies and hidden connections that constitute the logic of the imaginary.” Caillois’ book is a meditation on his vast collection of stones, chosen for their imaginative properties: agate resembles an early morning sun through the clouds, another appears as a landscape of Tuscan ruins, and yet another, “le petit fantôme,” a ghost gleaming out of the dark.

To uncover the logic of the imaginary, to apprehend that which lurks just beneath the surface of the visible, to investigate the interstices embedded within the normative everyday — these ambitious and ephemeral aims are central to Bonnie Camplin’s wide-ranging practice. An intriguing, if at times gnomic, exhibition of new work at Camden Arts Centre reveals a new avenue of the artist’s persistent interest in the nature of consciousness and the means by which we perceive the world, including the “psychic relations” that underpin our connections to other people, environments, and non-human entities. What tools might we use, Camplin asks, to cognitively and creatively excise ourselves from the morass of “consensus reality” to experience alternative coordinates of truth that exist outside of the Enlightenment model confines of body and mind as bounded and discrete?

89_CR08_LaBarge_Bonnie-Camplin_The Eight Pieces89_CR07_LaBarge_Bonnie-Camplin_The Eight Pieces2
Bonnie Camplin
The Eight Pieces, installation views, Camden Arts Centre, London, 2016-2017.
Photo : Mark Blower

The information presented in The Eight Pieces, we are told, was “transmitted to and downloaded” by Camplin through psychic communication. What the information is and how this process occurred, remains ambiguous in the series of schematic drawings: simple black figures and shapes on white board backgrounds, which lie on the floor or lean propped against the walls in austere groupings. A larger than life-size outline of a gender-neutral human figure, bald and faceless, holds a bubble-lettered “is” in its palm, other hand on hip, body tilted to the side; five cat heads, each tethered by a snaking line attached to a node in the centre of its forehead, float in a circle around a central point; tripartite arrangements of circles within circles within circles, on a circular segment of white board, recall Venn diagrams, geometry formulas, or probability models. Two small ink drawings gesture at other elements of Camplin’s wider practice, which often involves large-scale, sensitively rendered drawings that evoke mysterious narratives through their peculiar arrangement of figures and arcane aesthetic symbols.

In a video that accompanies the exhibition, Camplin ­states, “When I’m drawing, I’m accessing information remote in space-time. I’m decoding and objectifying information.” The Eight Pieces borrows the didactic language of infographics and instructive illustration only to render its simplicity indecipherable — a deliberate, sleight-of-hand occlusion that highlights the hopeful folly of semantic technology and schematic devices. To create is not simply to convey information, but to provide productive elisions within which the individual mind perceives the pure pleasure of de-instrumentalized experience and idiosyncratic meditation, the happy embrace of not knowing, but of reaching for the logic of the imaginary.

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This article also appears in the issue 89 – Library - Library
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In her exploration of reality, Sarah Anne Johnson amplifies and shifts the documentary effects of photography by interfering in the medium. She integrates into her images a variety of artifices, using techniques ranging from diorama to Photoshop and painting, thus adding to the initial pictures a long process of re-creation of their content. Like alterations of the pure image, the artist’s manual work somehow critiques the utopia of objective information. She works at the intersection of reality and perception. In this sense, she does not limit landscape to its material composition but integrates emotional and physical aspects as well. Her manipulations evoke the sensitive node that acts under the surface of the image; they also articulate the relational issues, complex and invisible, between humans and their environments and communities.

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Engaging with Vegetable Others

Amanda White
The central question in Jane Bennett’s book Vibrant Matter is, “How would the political responses to public problems change were we to take seriously the vitality of non-human bodies?”1 1 - Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009), viii.

For Bennett, among others, the non-human is not just animal but what Bruno Latour describes as “actants”: all “things” that have the capacity to act as agents or forces with their own trajectories and tendencies.2 2 - Ibid. Bennett refers to Latour’s theory from his book The Politics of Nature (2004). This question stems from the larger — and admittedly complicated — project of decentring the human in the current anthropocentric era. To this end, the lowly plant is, both physically and conceptually, an excellent model and point of departure for exercising this decentralizing impulse.

87_DO02_White_Benner_Your Disease Our Delicacy
Ron Benner
Your Disease Our Delicacy (Cuitlacoche), Justina M. Barnicke Gallery, Toronto, 2012–2016.
Photo : © Ron Benner

Our relationship with plant life is fundamental, and yet so are our differences. From the human position, understanding or relating to plant being, both as a distinct kingdom of life and as singular organisms, seems like an impossible task. Although individual plant bodies are decentralized, without a central node or “brain” as we understand it, plant communities are equally without human equivalent. In his book Plant-Thinking: A Philosophy of Vegetal Life, Michael Marder contends that plants are “capable, in their own fashion of accessing, influencing and being influenced by a world that does not overlap the human but that corresponds to the vegetal modes of dwelling in and on the earth.” 3 3 - Michael Marder, Plant-Thinking: A Philosophy of Vegetal Life (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013), 8. Until recently, plants were often rendered invisible or secondary in our cultural imaginings, and were used as a background against which to explore human or animal concerns, a phenomenon known as plant blindness. By contrast, the recent “plant turn,” which is described by anthropologist Natasha Myers as a “swerve in attention to the fascinating lives of plants among philosophers, anthropologists, and popular science writers,” 4 4 - Natasha Myers, “Conversations on Plant Sensing: Notes from the Field,” NatureCulture 03 (2015): 35 — 66, http://natureculture.sakura.ne.jp/wp/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/PDF-natureculture-03-03-conversations-on-plant-sensing.pdf. involves just such a shift away from the human-centred or animal world and toward a consideration of plant actants. This interest in looking at plants across a range of disciplines intersects with various ideas, such as plant being, thinking, and sensing. Many contemporary visual artists also seek to intervene in, and comment on, the connection between people and plants. Even if a project involving living plants is conceptualized as a metaphor for human issues, the material alone may speak to this cross-species connection. If a work is grown, not made, it requires the participation of plants in order to exist and necessarily brings them to the foreground, involving a measure of intersubjectivity between the artist, the viewer, and the plants that should be acknowledged as part of the piece.

Weinberger_Wild-Cube
Lois Weinberger
Wild Cube, Ruderal Enclosure – a Poetic Fieldwork, Innsbruck, 1991/1999.
Photo : Gerbert Weinberger, courtesy of the artist

Artistic production involving living things presents many limitations and challenges; in the case of plants, the work relies on their participation to varying degrees by requiring their presence or growth. Additionally, there is a loss of control inherent in the inclusion of living organisms in such a process, rendering the outcomes unpredictable. There are also ethical challenges; just as any community-based or socially engaged practice must consider ethical questions around its participants, so to must the participants be considered when the community includes non-human others.

In the 1982 Documenta 7 exhibition, German artist Joseph Beuys initiated the participatory project 7000 Oaks — City Forestation Instead of City Administration,in which seven thousand oak trees were planted across the city of Kassel, Germany, by Beuys and a multitude of volunteers. Over forty years later, this piece is still developing, as it takes sixty to eighty years for an oak tree to mature. Here, the work is produced on the time scale of plants rather than humans, as “the work lives and breathes with generations of people as they pass through life.” 5 5 -  Ackroyd & Harvey, “Beuys’ Acorns,” Antennae 17 (2011): 63. Beuys intended for this work to function as a “social sculpture,” a term that he developed to describe a way of working in the social realm with the objective of transforming society. 7000 Oaks does have real, lasting effects on the community that it occupies by engaging with the interconnectedness of plants and humans in the urban ecology, transforming the biology and the design of the city space around the inclusion of these trees. Beuys’s concept of the social sculpture is acknowledged by many to be one of the precursors to the current social turn in contemporary art practices; the proliferation of artworks characterized by an emphasis on intersubjectivity, collectivity, and social interaction; and a motivation to “channel art’s symbolic capital towards constructive social change.” 6 6 - Claire Bishop, Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship (London: Verso, 2012), 12. In works such as 7000 Oaks, ecological concerns merge with social art practice, and the projects of decentralizing the artist and decentralizing the human are drawn together and converge.

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Lois Weinberger
Wild Cube, Ruderal Enclosure – a Poetic Fieldwork, Innsbruck, 1991/1999.
Photo : Gerbert Weinberger, courtesy of the artist

Participatory works in which the viewer physically engages with plants may work toward these forms of social change, and they may allow a deeper understanding of plant biological processes, which are nothing like our own. In recent years, there has been a proliferation of new media artists using various technologies toward these ends, such as using imaging technologies or biometric sensors to capture and visualize plant bio-data and act as translators. The collaborative interactive work Akousmaflore (2007), by France-based artists Grégory Lasserre & Anaïs met den Ancxt, is such a translation. Exhibited as a grid hanging from above, the plants in Akousmaflore create a symphony of sounds in reaction to human touch and proximity — a sonification of the electrostatic energy between humans and plants. Botanicalls, an ongoing project developed jointly by Rob Faludi, Kate Hartman, and Kati London in 2006, is another work involving translation through technology. Using moisture sensors and microcontrollers, Botanicalls enables plant individuals to send text messages, phone calls, or social media updates to let their human care­givers know when they need water.

Many theorists have suggested that visual differences, such as the absence of observable movement, are the most salient barriers to dismissal of culturally constructed distinctions of intelligence between plant and animal life.7 7 - Gunalan Nadarajan, “Phytodynamics and Plant Difference,” Leonardo Electronic Almanac 11, no. 10 (2003), accessed October 24, 2013, http://www.leoalmanac.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/LEA-v11-n10.pdf; Michael Pollan, “The Intelligent Plant,” The New Yorker, December 23, 2013, 92 — 105. Projects such as Akousmaflore and Botanicalls make the invisible biological processes of plants apparent and relatable by expressing animal-like qualities such as movement or sound, which we can understand and connect to.

87_DO02_White_Scenocosme_Akousmaflore, Bòlit
Scenocosme : Grégory Lasserre & Anaïs met den Ancxt
Akousmaflore, Bòlit, Centre d’Art Contemporani, Gérone, 2011.
Photo : courtesy of the artist

To fully appreciate our anthropocentric worldview would be impossible; however, we can become more sympathetic by examining our interactions with other species more closely and attempting to relate. The Plant-Sex Consultancy, developed by Pei-Ying Lin, Dimitris Stamatis, Jasmina Weiss, and Špela Petrič in 2014, demonstrates an effort at this kind of relatability. The consultancy attempts to create an awareness of the reproductive needs of plants by proposing augmentations to supplement or enhance them. Each of the consultancy’s hypothetical products is developed with the needs of a specific plant species, or “client,” in mind. For example, a cyclamen flower that has relied solely on the frequency of vibrations emitted during visits by a now-extinct species of bee for pollination is fitted with a perfectly tuned vibrating apparatus, allowing it to release pollen onto other insects. The artists note that the anthropomorphism of the Plant Sex Consultancy is intentional; rather than being actual design solutions, the works function as critical tools aiming to respect and consider plant others.8 8 - Pei-Ying Lin, Dimitris Stamatis, Jasmina Weiss, and Špela Petricˇ, “Designing for the Non-Human Other,” accessed February 6, 2016, http://psx-consultancy.com/booklet/psx_consultancy.pdf. By creating a vegetal analogue for sex toys, the work emphasizes the common experience of reproductive sex across species.

87_DO02_White_Pei-Ying Lin_PSX Consultancy sex toy concept 2
Pei-Ying Lin, Dimitris Stamatis, Jasmina Weiss & Špela Petrič
PSX Consultancy sex toy concept, 2014.
Photo : Pei-Ying Lin & Dimitris Stamatis,
© Pei-Ying Lin, Dimitris Stamatis, Jasmina Weiss & Špela Petrič
87_DO02_White_Pei-Ying Lin_PSX Consultancy,
Pei-Ying Lin, Dimitris Stamatis, Jasmina Weiss & Špela Petrič
PSX Consultancy,
installation view, BIO50, MAO, Ljubljana, 2014.
Photo : Pei-Ying Lin, © Pei-Ying Lin, Dimitris Stamatis, Jasmina Weiss & Špela Petrič

Our relationship with eating is another point of departure for this exercise in relating to the vegetal. Michael Marder suggests that how we eat — by dominating and devouring entire beings — is particularly symptomatic of our human-centred worldview. By contrast, for plants, eating is “a sort of receptivity, a channeling of the other, rather than an endeavor to swallow up its very otherness.” 9 9 - Michael Marder, “Is It Ethical to Eat Plants?,” Parallax 19, no. 1 (2013): 33. Marder considers the experience of eating like a plant, absorbing nourishment from the environment rather than consuming whole bodies. Diane Borsato similarly considered this notion in her performance work How to Eat Light (2003), in which she sat alone with a community of plants for the duration of their day, from dawn to dusk, attempting to learn from them. Her performance expresses both a desire to communicate with plants and the impossibility of understanding the lived experience of other species, acknowledging a potential wisdom and ability beyond our own.

Before eating even occurs, there is the production of food, which is arguably the most fraught relationship between humans and plants. It is here that the messy politics of domestication, colonization, and genetic manipulation come into play. Canadian artist Ron Benner works with domesticated, captive plants, creating gardens in which he purposely cultivates select species in order to comment on the relationships between humans and their agricultural plant subjects. In a recent garden installation outside of the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery in Toronto, Your Disease Our Delicacy (cuitlacoche) (2012 – 15), images, texts, and plant life are combined in a garden that examines the locations and politics of both indigenous and introduced cultivated species. In this work, the focus is a fungal growth on corn that is considered a delicacy to some and a disease to others. Like much of Benner’s practice, this piece looks beyond the static position of plants as rooted in the soil and considers their participation in mobile aspects of human culture such as global capitalism and the legacy of colonialism, unearthing what our various geographies, histories, and migrations may reveal about our shared experiences with plants.

87_DO02_White_Weinberger_Burning and Walking,
Lois Weinberger
Burning and Walking, documenta X, Kassel, 1997.
Photo : Werner Maschmann, courtesy of the artist

Austrian artist Lois Weinberger’s work, on the other hand, represents a disruption in this narrative of subjugation, pointing to the collective political potential and power of the plant body. Referring to Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of the rhizome, Weinberger connects this concept to the way in which ruderal plants (what many would describe as common weeds) grow, migrate, and proliferate as a metaphor for human communities and forms of resistance against hierarchical systems. Weinberger’s “vegetable subversives” are the ever-present underclass of the plant-world, “the ‘multitude’ constantly threatening to rise up and disrupt the orderly regime of the city.” 10 10 - Tom Trevor, “The Three Ecologies,” in Lois Weinberger, ed. Philippe Van Cauteren (Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2013), 217. In Weinberger’s public, site-specific installations, ruderals are provided with opportunities to take over spaces. An intervention in Salzburg in 1993 — which has since been re-enacted in other cities — titled Burning and Walking, involves breaking up the asphalt in a section of public space and revealing the earth underneath. No planting takes place. However, by opening up potential living spaces for these contested species, Weinberger facilitates their growth, relying on the will of plants themselves to arrive and complete the work, proving their ever-present and opportunistic nature. In the related series Wild Cube (1991/2011), Weinberger creates plant enclosures, “inverted” cages constructed to keep humans out rather than to keep plants in, placed over areas of exposed earth in public city spaces. The cubes are installed and then left to be repopulated by “plants who arrive by wind, birds or seeds already living in the earth.” 11 11 -  Lois Weinberger, artist’s website, accessed June 23, 2015, http://www.loisweinberger.net/. Like Beuys’s 7000 Oaks, this work is decades in the making, relying on the timeline of plant lives to be fully realized. Whereas Benner’s plants are captives, Weinberger’s enact resistance to captivity, illustrating the tenuous superior position we hold over them.[consulté le 23 juin 2015]. [Trad. libre][/REF] ». À l’instar des 7000 chênes de Beuys, l’œuvre évoluera pendant des dizaines d’années et son achèvement sera tributaire du cycle vital des végétaux. Alors que les plantes de Benner sont captives, celles de Weinberger résistent à l’emprisonnement, illustrant la fragilité de la domination que nous exerçons sur le monde végétal.

Artists who engage with plant actants through social, collaborative, and participatory practices present us with various imaginings of plant being and alternatives to human-centred approaches by relying on the intersubjectivity of human-plant exchanges to realize their works. These projects and practices attempt to produce real relationships or effects by engaging directly with plant life, through interventions on the existing relationships between human and plant populations.

This article also appears in the issue 87 – The Living - The Living
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Architecture of Network vs. Geometry of Separation

Lina Malfona
Although the mechanisms of intense global connections appear to be prevailing over both solid physical boundaries — such as the Great Wall of China and the Green Line in Cyprus — and virtual limits — such as ideological barriers posed by censorship, religion, and xenophobia — the world’s geography still appears to have deep divisions. In other words, to use stronger imagery, the globe is still marked by deep cracks, just like Alberto Burri’s famous land art work in Gibellina, Sicily, known as Cretto.1 1 - Cretto means fissured and arid land, in reference to the artist’s land art work created as a memorial to the Italian city of Gibellina, which was destroyed by an earthquake.

In the era of the extra-spatial and extra-temporal pervasiveness of the World Wide Web, we are still witnessing conflict between two world models: one based on the concept of the wall, intended as a device producing fragmentation, ghettoization, and division; and one based on the concept of the network, in reference to the development of a new kind of virtual space based on connection and space-time continuity. Therefore, on the one hand the world map is marked by deep lines of separation — physical boundaries, frontiers, walls, and so on. On the other hand, the world appears as a network of connected places in which the city has lost its role of accumulator. As a matter of fact, the demands of competitiveness and efficiency, combined with the logic of entrepreneurialism, make cities as if they are corporations in order to attract investments, while the need to occupy large areas requires enterprises to locate outside the city centre. Therefore cities are splitting into different clusters — each one with a specific activity — and public space is being concentrated in large arenas, wellness centres, and huge spaces for meetings, expositions, and fairs, following a model of physical isolation and virtual connection. Furthermore, a different kind of space is destined for social relations — the post-public space,2 2 - See Daniel Van der Velden, Katja Gretzinger, Matthijs Van Leeuwen, Matteo Poli, and Gon Zifroni, “Hybridity of the Post-Public Space,” Open 11 (2006): 112 — 23. in which the power of the Internet is concentrated. Post-public space is made up of private hubs of technological power, techno poles, headquarters of Internet giants, universities, and research centres where inventors live and work. This network can be visualized on a map that puts the above-mentioned hubs in relation to the air routes that connect them. Physical, political, ideological, and architectural borders — intended as places where conflict is materialized — act as a counterpart to this map by creating a sort of diagram of the world that shows places of exclusion. According to this perspective, the squares where clashes happen can also be considered to be points on the map.

These considerations can be visualized in a global map composed of points (connection nodes) and segments (separation lines) that unveil the conflict between the pervasiveness of the Internet and the existence of physical barriers. This diagram provides a figurative projection that resembles Alighiero Boetti’s artworks.3 3 - Alighiero Boetti’s planispheres and alphabets explore the issues of classification and the list mode as a system of writing. Moreover, these considerations outline a new paradigm in the study of social space, intended as both a physical and a digital space.

Hugh-Broughton_Halley-VI
Hugh Broughton Architects & AECOM
Halley VI British Antartic Research Station, 2005-2012.
Photo : © James Morris

In the second world model mentioned above, the globe is understood as a network, a system of continuous, fluid connections. This model was quickly established as the expression of a new democratic paradigm, thanks to the development of three components of the post-industrial era: globalization, the ICT economy, and the Internet.4 4 - See Lina Malfona, “La Critica in rete (Online Criticism)” in Riti di passaggio dell’architettura italiana contemporanea, ed. F. Purini and L. Malfona, special issue, Rassegna di Architettura e Urbanistica 133 (January 2011): 94 — 107. However, the relational model of the metropolis as a boundless territory, dominated by the interplay between real and virtual connections, still needs to be verified.

The birth of the World Wide Web introduced a change in the relationship between the city and its urban topography; in fact, the network of global financial centres, multinationals, industrial sites, computer-technology companies, and manufacturers of software and online products constitutes a global city, made up of fragments located on various transnational circuits. What is interesting is the nature of the nodes, the points at which the networks lose their properties by becoming the control centres of the reticular system. It is precisely in these real and virtual hubs that the conflict — implicit in architecture — between connection and separation may be grasped.

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Alfredo Jaar
The Cloud, Valle del Matadar, Tijuana-San Diego, frontière U.S.A.-Mexico border, 2000.
Photo : courtesy of the artist

New architectural models seem to be introduced by the Internet: consider, for instance, the designs for the new headquarters of the Internet giants. The new centres where the power of the Internet is concentrated (San Francisco Bay and, in particular, Silicon Valley) offer the largest collection of buildings of this kind — are still under construction; projects and partial realizations seem to bring out new perspectives in designing spaces for the “creative class,”5 5 - See Richard Florida, L’ascesa della nuova classe creativa. Stile di vita, valori e professioni (Milan: Mondadori, 2003). but it is necessary to verify this position. The question is: Even if the Internet is a metaphor for freedom, democracy, and globalization, are the physical nodes of the Internet real spaces of freedom? Or, rather, are these centres of technological control and power a kind of self-referential stronghold? On closer inspection, the main centres related to production and consumption of the Internet are materialized as a reticular system of hubs of technological power but also an example of fortified areas. Therefore, the network of the main research institutes, technopoles, and worldwide centres of knowledge production related to the Internet could be intended as the realization of a sort of neo-colonialist thinking, if we take into account Manfredo Tafuri’s theories about the technocratic aspects of the American economy.6 6 - See Manfredo Tafuri, “Lavoro intellettuale e sviluppo capitalistico,” Contropiano 2 (1970): 241 — 81. Right now, these building projects are moving from interior designers’ offices to those of world-renowned architects. Frank Gehry, for instance, is currently designing the new campus for social media giant Facebook, which claims that it will be the largest open-plan office in the world, and Foster + Partners is designing Apple’s new campus, which looks like a whimsical flying saucer.

In the second model, the world is under­stood as a cretto, marked by thick, hard-to-demolish walls; a world carved up by real and virtual barriers, boundaries, and customs. The lines of separation display many configurations and typologies.7 7 - See Claude Quétel, Muri (Turin: Bollati Boringhieri, 2013). Among them are physical boundaries that are causes of conflict, such as the Ussuri river, on the border between China and Russia; and places of exclusion and contended borders, such as that between North and South Korea and the Green Line in Cyprus, mentioned by Michalis Pierìs in his collection of poems Metamorphoses of Cities. In this category are also public spaces where political clashes occur, such as Tahrir Square in Cairo; forbidden places such as military areas; and walls with symbolic meaning. Consider also ideological barriers, which can operate as walls (think of Chinese censorship), segregation enclosures such as gated communities, and city walls such as the ancient inhabitable Aurelian Walls in Rome.

Many artists work on projects aimed at sensing the signs of a possible overturning of spaces of separation. There are situations in which people form alliances with designers in an attempt to transform these spaces into places of inclusion. This happened in a village in the vicinity of Tel Aviv — filmed by Amos Gitai in the movie Ana Rabia (2013) — a boundary along which different, yet communicating, identities live together. Architects, artists, and photographers — such as Eyal Weizman,8 8 - See Eyal Weizman, A Civilian Occupation: The Politics of Israeli Architecture (London and New York: Verso Books, 2003). Alfredo Jaar, Teddy Cruz, Bansky, Guy Delisle, Fred Lonidier, and Josef Koudelka — have pitted their skills against well-known boundaries: from the wall between Mexico and the United States in Tijuana, to the concrete wall in the West Bank between Israel and Palestine that is more than seven hundred kilometres long.

Alfredo Jaar, through his work as both an architect and an artist, has been exemplary in denouncing the military measures designed to prevent immigrant workers from crossing borders. In fact, although the power of globalization has invalidated the very concept of a boundary, people still die simply trying to cross borders between two countries. Jaar’s installation The Cloud (2000) is an ephemeral monument in memory of those who lost their lives trying to cross the border at Tijuana.

Activist Fred Lonidier has also investigated the Tijuana wall by framing surveillance structures, unruly topographies, and migrants’ and workers’ crossings. In particular, he participated in the exhibition inSite_05 San Diego/Tijuana transborder mobile archive project (2005), organized by Ute Meta Bauer and curated by Osvaldo Sanchez. The task of the Transborder Archive was to form connections among activists, practitioners, and researchers in San Diego and Tijuana, on both sides of the border, by creating an exchange between their respective archives. However, the project also made these works known to various audiences and visitors: mobile units held events, discussions, and film screenings in the locations that they visited. The stationary exhibitions covered such topics as work, migration, human rights, and questions of identity and youth culture in the border region, through a combination of texts, books, postcards, photographs, films, videos, and online resources. According to Sanchez, the Transborder Archive served to make the structural similarities and specific differences of border regions more visible.

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LOT-EK
Mobile Dwelling Unit, 2003.
Photo : courtesy of Walker Art Center, Minneapolis

Without a doubt, the global city is the playground where a new paradigm is emerging for designing public spaces beyond the piazza. According to jurist Stefano Rodotà, who wrote the book Tecnopolitica,9 9 - Stefano Rodotà, Tecnopolitica (Rome and Bari: Laterza, 1997). the process started with Marshall McLuhan’s “global village,” which introduced a strong relationship between the virtual world and the urban space. Then, new urban metaphors, such as the technological agora,10 10 - See Simon Nora and Alain Minc, L’informatisation de la société (Paris: Seuil, 1978). the telematics square, and the virtual city, proposed a kind of correspondence between the two terms. Moreover, the new world of global communications has been inspired by both the spatial and the political organization of the city; in fact, the term agora refers to a model of direct democracy.

Among the analogies for digital and real space, the metaphor of the e-highway, which allows for navigation on the Internet, introduces a new model of nomadism, quite remote from the concept of the global village. It conveys the idea of an endless trip without a landing place. In the field of the arts, this concept can be found in the latest developments of mobile architecture, which conceives of buildings as innovative, adaptable, removable, and easily transportable structures. Think of the recent creations of Atelier Bow-Wow (such as the mobile restaurant White Limousine Yatai, 2003), Hugh Broughton (Halley VI, the scientific research station in Antarctica, 2005) and LOT-EK (MDU, Mobile Dwelling Unit, 2003). Furthermore, architectures for emergency facilities, cockpits, and inhabitable cars, space stations, and temporary shelters display a new dynamic idea of dwelling, connected with the concepts of ubiquity and instantaneity adopted from the Internet.

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Ute Meta Bauer & Osvaldo Sanchez
inSite_05 San Diego/Tijuana Transborder Mobile Archive Project, Tijuana, 2005.
Photo : © Fred Lonidier

At this stage, the virtual city has handed its rules and regulations over to the physical city, so the real city watches itself in the mirror and sees its electronic alter ego. However, the virtual world needs its physical places, which are becoming more and more like enclosures than free and open places. If it is true that we live in a post-city age11 11 - See Joshua Meyrowitz, Oltre il senso del luogo. L’impatto dei media elettronici sul comportamento sociale, trans. N. Gabi (Bologna: Baskerville, 1994). in which the concept of territory, intended as a delimited space, is increasingly evanescent, it is also true that the corporeality of architectural territories is hard to demolish or overcome. Given that the model of global connection cannot forgo the corporeality of architecture — Manuel Castells speaks about a city that is globally connected and locally, physically, and socially disconnected12 12 - Quoted in Francesco Moschini, “Roma verso sud,” Anfione e Zeto 24 (2012): 122, n.24. — we can only try to deconstruct the vision of a border intended as a wall by working on a conceptualization of the wall itself as a membrane, that is, as a zone of contact, a multiple and heterotopic boundary, similar to the light edge between the arts. Indeed, the world of art is not a separate and autonomous sphere, defined by an internal matrix; rather, its borders are deformable in order to trigger an unstable equilibrium between different and often opposing forces.

After all, architecture is a controversial art, suspended between the need to build walls, divisions, and enclosures and its vocation for designing spaces in which human beings can feel free, as if walls were not spaces of limitation, but a place of origin.

This article also appears in the issue 86 – Geopolitics - Géopolitique
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