Territorial and social dislocation, S.Zürcher (English)


Sarah Zürcher, 2009

Monograph, Service après-vente, HEAD Haute Ecole d’Art et de Design – Genève

“The urbanisation of the 21st century will cover 50% of the surface of the planet for 80% of its inhabitants. A sort of continuum of human activities, with no end or beginning, with no centre or periphery. This tangle of networks, housing estates, illusory “green spaces” and a few totems will be the heritage of the 20th century”.[1] The global population will be urban and as François Roche says, the “genetic code of territoriality is not to be stamped, but is to be renewed on each experience.” Only, are we able now to theorize and make tangible observations about the future of the planet? Is it not artistic work like that of the collectif_fact – comprising Annelore Schneider, Claude Piguet and Swann Thommen – which permits not only a singular reconstitution of this world in mutation, but also a real awareness of territorial and social dislocations?

The Global City [2] of Saskia Sassen, the Mutations exhibition at the CAPC in Bordeaux as well as the article The Generic City [3] by Rem Koolhaas and “The Capsular Civilization” [4] of Lieven De Cauter raise questions essential for the understanding of this globalizing world. “ How will local differences be affirmed in the face of globalization? How is the city redefined by the virtual? Is the city for sale? How far will the limits of the city stretch? Will the European city become an international tourist centre?” It seems that the differences between one city and another will no longer exist. Whether it be Geneva, London, Paris or New York, the differences and the singularities will decrease and disappear. The cities will contaminate each other by chain reaction or by the proliferation of identical chains and brand images. Shopping will become the principal rite of urban life.

In this respect, datatown (2002) by the collectif_fact illustrates as much through a series of photographs as in its video to what extent the media and advertising have taken over the public space at the expense of those who inhabit it. The video shows a form of descent into hell in which the body is mobile, “mutant”. Its wanderings constitute the only anchorage point in the city. Produced following the example of Learning from Las Vegas, [5] datatown no more represents Geneva than the Strip of Las Vegas in the middle of the night – the harmony and the purity of architectural masses in the light, extolled by the moderns, have completely disappeared. People merely drive around here or migrate towards an airport. This post-modern city itself resembles a space station or an artificial and superficial place of transit with multicoloured, flashing signs. Nothing seems to tie it to reality any more. Its history has disappeared, its power is illusory and virtual like that of its banks perhaps soon. This urban zone is isolated, fragmented and even necrotic ; it is merely a setting, a simulation, a form of global entertainment. This leisure park mirrors a Disneyfication which combines control with amusement, clearly heralding the “capsular society” of Lieven De Cauter.

As for DOWNtown (2008), this city can repeat itself to infinity in a neutral and fractal way. It modifies itself and constantly reinvents new scenarios. Only the last floor remains of the buildings which extend horizontally. The historical architecture and the verticality of an urban centre have been cleared in favour of its suburbs. This recognizable Genevan urban area finally peters out into the peripheral zones and appears to be an extension of them. This series of seven photographs openly criticizes the proliferation of “no-places” and specific architecture dedicated to the real estate speculation of certain developers.

Expanded Play Time (2004) pays homage to the film Play Time by Jacques Tati and is a direct critique of the technocratic society, inherited from modernist functionalism. The juxtaposition and the splitting of the screens in Expanded Play Time echo Circus (2004) which transforms itself into a merry-go-round. You wheel around here and lose your bearings. The double projection divides, fragments and endlessly repeats this question of territorial development and, through this, the foretelling of its disintegration. The human being no longer has a hold on reality. The signage codes of this city float and are held in suspension like atomized particles ; they no longer coexist. Life there has become alienating and dehumanized. Information and communication are incomplete and appear interchangeable. They have lost all meaning; they no longer make any “sense”.

In habitA (2003), the structure resembles a Panopticon, [6] extending outwards at regular intervals from a central axis. It governs everyday life and human contingencies as would a gated community or a protected and perfectly-controlled residence. Here, human beings are also perfectly programmed and live “a Utopia of imprisonment”, defined by “the relations of power to their everyday life.” The spaces all look alike and recall a menagerie in which the animal has been replaced by man. Here once again, mechanical sounds such as a lawnmower or birdsong are dominant.

The technique used by the collectif_fact is certainly the only real instrument. In it, morphing or image warping permit the deconstruction of reality. As an instrument of digital representation, these technical processes paradoxically reveal the relocalization or the recontextualization of the work, by making it possible to link the project to its context through a distortion of the real. Like surgeons or magicians, the collectif_fact dissects reality and transforms images, metamorphosizing them by addition and subtraction, multiplying them to infinity and proliferating them uncontrollably. Influenced by electronic games, the collectif_fact works and programmes the computer-generated landscapes and characters which no longer seem to offer a horizon of meaning. Here, the human adventure is obliterated and has neither future nor past. It is chimeras or artificial lives which people a world and rival nature in trying to reproduce it. The images duplicate, replicate and reproduce themselves endlessly. The pixels deconstruct and reconstruct themselves through “a genetic mutation series”. “The virtual instrument paradoxically becomes a reality principle. The folding, scarification, or cutting actions” metamorphose and challenge our perception of what is real to take the architectural object out of its reality and to create ambiguous, hybrid architecture. It “encapsules itself ” and displays the conditions of an equivocal hybridization, thus revealing the divided and dehumanized questioning of multicultural identities, on the one hand, and the fragmented investigation of territorial development on the other. The world would transform itself into a “no-place” where human relations would be constructed virtually as in a facebook. It is a world in which people pass each other without meeting, and friends, like images, proliferate and replicate themselves by this means to infinity.

The work of the collectif_fact underlines this dislocation of territory, this museumization of urban centres which fragments and isolates more than it unites. Indeed, what has become of our public spaces, the agora where people came to debate since antiquity? Does this work reflect not only this dissolution of territory in favour of virtual representation, but also this distortion of society from a geographical point of view? With public spaces removed from the city centres, does not this artistic work seek to redraw a common territory in order to try to experiment with the possibilities of contemporary urbanity and to invent a new social cohesion?

1. François Roche, Te(e)n Years After, Paris : Les architectures hérétiques, 1991
2. Saskia Sassen, La ville globale : New York, Londres, Tokyo, Paris, 1991
3. Rem Koolhaas, La ville générique, in cat. Mutations, Bordeaux : arc en rêve, 2000
4. Lieven De Cauter, The Capsular Civilization. On the City in the Age of Fear, Rotterdam : NAi Publisher, 2004
5. Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, Steven Izenour, Learning from Las Vegas: The Forgotten Symbolism of Architectural Form, Cambridge, Massachusetts, and London : MIT, 1972
6. The concept of the Panopticon, developed by Jeremy Bentham in 1785 was then to be studied and widened by Michel Foucault in Surveiller et punir – Naissance de la prison, Paris : Gallimard, 1993

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