Tag Archives: Art

Enter urban jungle

In the art/architecture scene there was a period with green hype around 2009. The cities were to become green again; balconies, windowsills, rooftops were to become local farms – to connect us with the food supply, the nature, all the things good and green. (See for instance here or here).

However, nature is not just home made tomato chutney. Greenization comes with issues. Enter nature, enter the battle between man and nature. How about having insects and/or pesticides all over our cities? I can see the rats loving the new urban farms. Some places have recently suffered from an increase in “city rabbits”, and after them, “city foxes”. What’s next, “city wolves?” How about bugs? The bed bugs, that basically disappeared in the 50s (as a result of DDT), are back, having invaded thousands of hotels, camping sites, malls, movie theaters. They’ve even taken over the ladies’ clothes section of Macy’s in New York. Nature making a comeback.

Recent years have brought forth huge rising numbers of youth unemployment. In the west, there are huge numbers of unemployed young people without a sense of belonging to society. This is a threat to the social contract altogether. Take the riots in England, for example, where the laws appear to be out of the window. Ask any 20-year old from England or elsewhere, if he or she identifies with society. Even if they aren’t out on the streets wreaking havoc, the answer might be no. Maybe they say something about everybody looking out for their own interests, or refer to “the law of the jungle”.

Architecture has at times been notoriously naive about the human nature. Take all the housing projects in the 60s and 70s, that were supposed to be all about the good for the people. Well, many of them have become slums now. So, be careful what you ask for when you make visions of an urban jungle. We might get exactly that.


Gossip and art

Detest the yellow press and gossip? Bored with all the ‘stars’ who get their fifteen minutes of fame? Don’t really care for the chitchat and cocktail party yapping?

If you say yes, please consider the following scenario: you are an upcoming artist interested in gaining audience, wondering what way to go. In this situation, I’m not sure if I’d rather try to make my name the new buzzword, or submit my work to an authority figure for approval. The former requires social skills and the latter… well – it’s great if you please the authority figure, but if not, you’re out of the game.

Gossip is accessible, cheap and ‘democratic’, having bypassed authoritarian structures with a selected few as gatekeepers. And it’s the method of choice in today’s world, it seems. Luckily enough, hanba is not an artist.

Words misunderstood

Sometimes it is very interesting to observe people having a conversation where they totally misunderstand each other. Sometimes, when a really juicy misunderstood situation presents itself, it feels like you’ve been handed a front row seat to a farce.

Observing the mimics, body language, intonations is fascinating. Perhaps the participants are benevolent towards each other despite not understanding anything. This is when awkward, sheeplike smiles come out. At other times, more hostile hand gestures or frowns may take place.

Recently, sitting in a train, I witnessed a conversation between a teenage boy and his mother. At the end, I could not help laughing out loud. It was so obvious that the chat I witnessed was merely a small minuet in a larger symphony or a small poem in an epic history. I had a feeling they had gone through this before.  The son was excited about a new hobby, and the mother did not want to hear anything about it. It sounded like the mother was heartless, but I could tell she misunderstood this new obsession as a way of asking for money. Hence, the mother came up with icy remarks. The mother was determined not to be “fooled” and shot down any of the son’s attempts to be cheerful. Those two spoke such a different language. At the end I didn’t know who to side with; the “all-knowing” mother or the arrogant youngster.

I believe misunderstandings are at the heart of many conflicts. I would really like to be better at understanding, to avoid misunderstandings. Still, I’ve surely been a part of these type of train chats, and had other people chuckle at my misunderstandings.

Milan Kundera’s Unbearable Lightness of Being has an entire section devoted to “words misunderstood”. This section is written like an encyclopedia, where words and concepts are presented from different characters’ points of view. One example being: “Living in truth”, a concept presented through Franz and Sabina, two characters having an extramarital fling.

…What does it mean to live in truth? Putting it negatively, it is easy enough: it means not lying, not hiding and not dissimulating. From the time he met Sabina, however, Franz had been living in lies. (TULoB, pp 111, Penguin Books 2003) Franz had told his wife lies about his whereabouts and enjoyed this game and his relationship with Sabina.

For Sabina, living in truth, lying neither to ourselves nor to others, was possible only away from the public: the moment someone keeps an eye on what we do, we involuntarily make allowances for that eye, and nothing we do is truthful. Having a public, keeping a public in mind, means living in lies. Sabina despised literature in which people gave away all kinds of intimate secrets about themselves and their friends. A man who loses his privacy loses everything, Sabina thought. … That was why Sabina did not suffer in the least from having to keep her love secret. On the contrary, only by doing so could she live in truth.

Franz, on the other hand, was certain that the division of life into private and public spheres is the source of all lies: a person is one thing in private and something quite different in public. For Franz, living in truth meant breaking down the barriers between the private and the public. He was fond of quoting Andre Breton on the desirability of living ‘in a glass house’, into which everyone can look and there are no secrets.

The mother and son combo had their own set of words, their own encyclopedia of words misunderstood, very different from this couple having a secret fling. I wonder what my own encyclopedias in my different relationships may be? If you see me get into a big misunderstanding in a train, please let me know. Jot down an encyclopedia entry for me.

Also, sitting in the front row of the mother/son misunderstandings farce, I felt uncomfortable with how close to their lives I had suddenly become. I wonder if the “Big brother” culture has changed the way we feel about hiding personal life from strangers. The train was a “glass house”, where the mother and son were living their lives without boundaries toward strangers. They were exposing their lives and relationship issues in return for fifteen minutes of the other passengers’ undivided attention.

Now, thinking back to the trainride with this particular mother and son, I think I personally agree with Sabina, I think it’s good to keep your thoughts to yourself. Living in truth is possible only away from the public. A man who loses his privacy loses everything.


Edward_Hopper_Road_in_Maine (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Today it feels like autumn. Early morning chill, leaves turning golden. Kids buying notepads and pencil sharpeners. Laptops as well, I guess. This is definitely my favourite season. Rich and mature. Honey-coloured sunlight that comes from the side (not straight down as during midsummer). The atmosphere is alert, bittersweet.

The autumn honey light makes me think of Edward Hopper. Not his most melancholic paintings, but the brighter ones.

Project freedom / untitled nr 2 continues

Remember the project freedom? For those of you who might have forgotten, project freedom refers to  hanba’s and her friends’ attempt at producing art in order to get money through art scholarships. The project is still going strong. In fact, the latest bits of art were produced today!

We chose freedom as a topic, since it is pretty contemporary and vague. It sounds like a theme an artist should be concerning him- or herself with. Lots of juxtapositions to be expected. The nature of art itself and society around us can easily be portrayed through this theme. Since we are essentially ironic and try to be witty, we identify ourselves with the postmodern movement. In order to merge in with the postmodern artist jargon, we have named the project “untitled nr 2”. (By using this name we tell the audience we understand some of the rules in the “art scene”. )Nevertheless, since our primary goal is to ironize the postmodern movement (and not the modern project itself), our art style may be referred to as post-postmoderism. We are every bit as annoying as you may think we are after having read this. We understand that an artist has to be annoying to get by.

So what do we do, then? Here’s an excerpt from project freedom:

Life is an open highway (photo: mrtnkllsn)

Life is an open highway (photo: mrtnkllsn)

“Life is an open highway”

The subject has placed herself on a racer bicycle, implying a desire for speed.  She wants to ride fast, to feel the exhilaration of speed; she believes in the myth of life being like an open highway. She wants the freedom of the long, straight roads and the wind on her face. Ready to pedal as fast and far as she can, she resembles a falcon ready to dash off!

(Now comes the juxtaposition..) Meanwhile, she is visibly uncomfortable with the biking shoes that bind her feet down, anchoring her feet on to the bike pedals. In order to achieve the freedom of speed, she has chosen to lock her feet to the pedals (you know this type of fancy biking shoes).  She is not enjoying the view, she has no attention to spare at the world. The heavy  feet call for all her attention. Her focus is selfish. She is only seeing herself; she is not free enough to even look at the world around her!

Furthermore, her indoors surroundings do not imply freedom. The white walls and floor resemble a jail cell. Why is she not outdoors? Perhaps safety regulations have denied her access to the roads themselves? Or perhaps it is her own insecurity keeping her indoors? – Her lack of ability to handle freedom?

Project freedom on flickr (still a bit of a stub…)

The weather

Olafur Eliasson The Weather Project (photo: coda)

Olafur Eliasson The Weather Project (photo: coda)

Hiking on the fjords of Norway earlier this summer I was reminded of how powerful the weather is. This sounds like a boring, flat statement for us living in the cities. There is, however, a great power in being at the mercy of the weather. Being away from where the weather matters, I believe, is one of the causes of our existential problems. It is comforting to submit yourself to the weather. A higher power without complex metaphysics.

Here are a few photos from the Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson’s exhibition in London’s Tate Modern 2003. Titled The Weather Project, the installation meditates on our relationship with the weather.  All of us have a relationship to the weather; it is powerful, it is universal and it affects us. Eliasson managed to create a space and an atmosphere that touched our common human denominator of being exposed to the weather.  The people visiting the exhibition could connect with each other through experience; the experience they had there and then as well as the multitude of weather-related experiences they had ever had.

The huge Turbine Hall was dominated by a “sun” and mist with a mirror on the ceiling. The installation shifted from moment to moment. The mist formed small cloudlike structures that altered the scene bit by bit. There, in the exhibition hall, as well as in real life,  the weather acts as a great object to meditate the nature of change on. Everything changes from moment  to moment. The impermanence of every moment is reflected on the constant change in weather.   I think it’s such a shame we don’t really observe this amidst our lives in the cities any longer. It’s a shame we need to be reminded of it like this, sublimed in an art installation.

I find it interesting how us modern people have castrated the weather and placed it among trivial things. Rain is nothing more than the need to bring an umbrella along. Sunshine at least may mean a pleasant barbeque dinner with friends, but not really too much more. Even talking about the weather is considered  superficial, pointless. There is something interesting in our denial of the weather that reminds me of our denial of our mortality. (Which I’ve written about in a post called an experiment).

Perhaps our illusion of ruling the planet and choosing our fates, our desire for all sorts  “freedom” has “liberated” us from both our mortality and the weather. Other things we are “liberated” from feature the possibility of the unpredictable affecting our carefully timed lives (as illustrated by our need to obtain insurance policies for everything), the impermanence of our selves, as well as depending on our wit for survival. Hmm I see I should elaborate and give justification for the last sentences, but I’m just gonna leave it at that. A tickling thought in the brain.

There are a myriad of people complaining about the modern world. What to do, then? How to live an unmodern life and still live in the modern one? I don’t know the answer, but I’m going camping again next week. This time, up to the arctic circle.

The Weather Project in the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern (Photo: Simiant)

The Weather Project in the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern (Photo: Simiant)

Green Architecture for the Future

Exhibition review: Green Architecture for the Future in Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Copenhagen, Denmark.

Recently, I’ve come across a lot of talk about transforming cities into green spaces. Not long ago, I wrote about an exhibition in London Building Centre called London Yields: Urban Agriculture. In the article, I speculated on (and modified) a concept first coined by Salman Rushdie, namely tropicalizing cities.

Ecoboulevards (photo: una ballena de seis ojos)

Ecoboulevards (photo: una ballena de seis ojos)

This exhibition also takes on the concept of tropicalization, suggesting how to modify our surroundings towards something greener. Some plans are already under execution, while others are mere scetches. A group called Ecosistema Urbano proposed an interesting (and fully executable) plan as how to increase the amount of trees downtown. As a part of this plan, titled Ecoboulevards, a meeting plaza surrounded by a structure of trees giving shade was presented. Here, community issues can be discussed under trees away from the heat. Simple and interesting democracy/sustainability project.

Some plans were small, others big. Some artsy, others down-to-earth. A common theme was new architectural or city planning solutions to managing energy, water and other resources sustainably. I, as a non-professional, did not understand all of the fine technical details. Nevertheless, I found reading about the technology very inspiring! I was reminded of the Eiffel Tower – made from cast iron, it was an expensive construction with a lot of flaws, but it foreshadowed the era of steel

Transport vehicle in Masdar City (photo:tuexperto_com5)

Transport vehicle in Masdar City (photo:tuexperto_com5)

fortified concrete. Perhaps some of these constructions may be remembered as the start of a greener era? Let us hope these expensive pioneer projects will pave way to what will be mainstream in the future. One very interesting project is the Masdar City, a sustainable carbon neutral city currently being built in Abu Dhabi by Foster architects.

The Endless City (photo:hanba)I forgot to bring my camera along, but it was ok, since a great portion of the exhibition consisted of excerpts from the book The Endless City (Ricky Burdett and Deyan Sudjic, Phaidon) I already have at home. Both this part of the exhibition and parts of the book were a tad disappointing for hanba’s scientist-wired brain. Glimpses of data are presented in a haphazard manner, throwing a figure here, another there in flashy orange writing: “There were 547 million Europeans in 1950” or “121 buildings over eight storeys in 1980 in Shanghai”. It is hard to draw accurate conclusions or predictions from this mess of data. I guess it’s like this so the people would get ANY glimpse of the data. Seeing as percent figures aren’t so sexy to discuss, I guess it’s better to tread on a floor where one can hop over bright colored text stating: “60,981 days to the end of gas”, then to have the data not catch any form of attention at all.

Just as interesting as it is to see the green visions, it is fascinating to see the flip side of the coin. Stefano Boeri decribes in “Green dystopias”, three possible negative scenarios we need to prepare for. One is how to maintain the balance of wild nature and tamed parks if we turn more and more of the city into wildlife. Also, if we turn city into agricultural land, we should make sure that this land will not be “monopolized” for one crop or company. I was reminded of BLDGBLOG’s comment about urban agriculture and disease control (talking about the swine flu); when you mix people and cattle, diseases may catch along.

One of my favorites was United Bottle Project by Instant Architects, featuring water bottles you could recycle just like normal. At the event of a catastrophe, however, you could first use the bottles for clean water and then fill the discarded bottles with sand and use them as building blocks for houses. Very creative.

All in all, the exhibition was  very thought provoking. In fact, since I came home I’ve looked into changing my electricity contract into a green one…

I’d like to finish with a quote on the wall in Louisiana by Stefan Behling, Foster architects: “Consumption is a matter of needs, and needs depend on design. Your need for petrol depends on the design of your car, a need of a car, in turn, depends on how the city you live in is designed. So if you can change the design of your city, you can change your needs and in the end, your consumption.”

See also: New York’s High Line park – a green park that has just opened http://www.thehighline.org/

Upcoming: Since some readers have (with full right) been confused about the term “pink, saccharine architecture”, the next post will provide a definition for this concept. Newly built libraries in a Swedish city will be used as an example…