Category Archives: urban

Kinshasa. Always on the move

Last month, i spent a few days in Leipzig. The food was awful but the quality of the art museums made up for all that over-boiled broccoli. I was so impressed by the architecture and the collection of MdbK that i went twice. But the one exhibition i’d recommend you don’t miss if ever you find yourself in or near the German city is Megalopolis: Voices from Kinshasa at the GRASSI Museum of Ethnography.

The first reason for my enthusiasm is Kinshasa, the fascinating capital of a country that deserves to be known for something else than its bleak politics, painful colonial past and richness in minerals. Kinshasa is a megacity with some twelve million inhabitants (other sources than the museum press release even talk about 17 million inhabitants.) It is Africa’s third-largest urban territory after Cairo and Lagos. It is also one of the world’s largest French-speaking urban area. The capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is a cultural hub with barely any art market or art support. Local artists have thus developed creative, DIY solutions to make the best of the materials available around them. There’s a lot of recycling of electronics that Western countries discarded and dumped on African countries. Or ingenious improvisation with plastic syringes and flip-flops.


Flory Sinanduku, Homme seringue, 2018

The second reason why i suggest you swing by the Grassi museum is that Museum director Nanette Snoep asked Kinshasa-based artists Eddy Ekete and Freddy Tsimba to curate Megalopolis: Voices from Kinshasa. The exhibition is thus entirely in the hands of local talents, not European ethnologists and curators. They selected the artists who best represent the concerns and currents in Kinshas and were not afraid to spark conversations about the way European museums of ethnology deal with (often ill-gained) colonial cultural artefacts.

The third reason i loved the show is Azgard Itambo. I’ll always have a soft spot for street photography. And Azgard Itambo seems to have an eye as keen as Kiripo Katembo‘s when it comes to portraying the everyday life of the “Kinois”, the residents of Kinshasa. See for yourself:


Azgard Itambo, from the series Code K.I.N., 2018. GRASSI Museum für Völkerkunde zu Leipzig, © Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden


Azgard Itambo, from the series Code K.I.N., 2018. GRASSI Museum für Völkerkunde zu Leipzig, © Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden


Azgard Itambo, from the series Code K.I.N., 2018. GRASSI Museum für Völkerkunde zu Leipzig, © Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden


Azgard Itambo, from the series Code K.I.N., 2018. GRASSI Museum für Völkerkunde zu Leipzig, © Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden


Azgard Itambo, from the series Code K.I.N., 2018. GRASSI Museum für Völkerkunde zu Leipzig, © Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden


Azgard Itambo, from the series Code K.I.N., 2018. GRASSI Museum für Völkerkunde zu Leipzig, © Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden


Azgard Itambo, from the series Code K.I.N., 2018. GRASSI Museum für Völkerkunde zu Leipzig, © Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden


Azgard Itambo, from the photo series Moving Kinshasa, 2017. GRASSI Museum für Völkerkunde zu Leipzig, © Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden

Views from the exhibition:


Megalopolis: Voices from Kinshasa, 2018, GRASSI Museum für Völkerkunde zu Leipzig, © Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden. Photo: Mo Zaboli


Megalopolis: Voices from Kinshasa, 2018, GRASSI Museum für Völkerkunde zu Leipzig, © Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden. Photo: Mo Zaboli


Megalopolis: Voices from Kinshasa, 2018, GRASSI Museum für Völkerkunde zu Leipzig, © Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden. Photo: Mo Zaboli

I also enjoyed watching the video interviews with some of the artists in the show (mostly in french with German subtitles.)

Megalopolis: Voices from Kinshasa, curated by Eddy Ekete and Freddy Tsimba, is at the GRASSI Museum of Ethnography in Leipzig until 31 March 2019.

Handbook of Tyranny: a guide to everyday cruelties

Handbook of Tyranny, by Theo Deutinger, an architect, writer, lecturer, illustrator and designer of socio-cultural maps.

On amazon UK and USA.

Publisher Lars Müller writes: Handbook of Tyranny portrays the routine cruelties of the twenty-first century through a series of detailed non-fictional graphic illustrations. None of these cruelties represent extraordinary violence – they reflect day-to-day implementation of laws and regulations around the globe.

Every page of the book questions our current world of walls and fences, police tactics and prison cells, crowd control and refugee camps. The dry and factual style of storytelling through technical drawings is the graphic equivalent to bureaucratic rigidity born of laws and regulations. The level of detail depicted in the illustrations of the book mirror the repressive efforts taken by authorities around the globe.

The twenty-first century shows a general striving for an ever more regulated and protective society. Yet the scale of authoritarian intervention and their stealth design adds to the growing difficulty of linking cause and effect. Handbook of Tyranny gives a profound insight into the relationship between political power, territoriality and systematic cruelties.


Animals slaughtered per second worldwide and slaughterhouse floor plan


Animals slaughtered per second worldwide

The Handbook of Tyranny‘s infographics and texts bring to light the nonhuman entities that restrict, govern and guide our daily existence. They lay bare a vast ecosystem of coercion that is (often insidiously) interwoven into the fabric of cities, of society, of every day life.

Some of these ‘small cruelties’ are engineering innovations, others are small design tweaks. Some are massive and overwhelming, others are subtle, their unpleasantness concealed behind a veneer of propriety, comfort or security. Some affect the existence of only a limited part of humanity (the refugees or the prisoners, for example), others target each and everyone of us as we walk around the neighbourhood, go on holiday or look for a place to sit in the park.


Bunker Buster


Prison cells

We might resent some of these objects and strategies of control but that doesn’t mean that will will automatically condemn them. At least not if we are told that they have been designed to ensure our safety and protect us from undesirable behaviour.

Handbook of Tyranny is a sharp, enlightening and beautifully designed book. It told me about anti-injecting blue light, urine deflectors that ‘pee back‘ at you and bunker busters that delay their explosion until after they have penetrated layers of earth or concrete. It also made me think about the responsibility for the authoritarian features of modern life: they do not reside entirely into the hands of ‘the powers that be’ but also in the ones of architects, designers, engineers and, to a certain extent, the rest of us.

Theo Deutinger & Lars Müller Publishers present Handbook of Tyranny at Pakhuis de Zwijger


Refugee Camps


Crowd Control


Crowd Control


Walls & Fences

Related story: Book review – Unpleasant Design and Design and Violence. Part 2: violence where you wouldn’t expect it.

Public Space? Lost and Found

Public Space? Lost and Found, edited by Gediminas Urbonas, Ann Lui and Lucas Freeman.

On amazon USA and UK.

Publisher MIT Press writes: “Public space” is a potent and contentious topic among artists, architects, and cultural producers. Public Space? Lost and Found considers the role of aesthetic practices within the construction, identification, and critique of shared territories, and how artists or architects—the “antennae of the race”—can heighten our awareness of rapidly changing formulations of public space in the age of digital media, vast ecological crises, and civic uprisings.

Public Space? Lost and Found combines significant recent projects in art and architecture with writings by historians and theorists. Contributors investigate strategies for responding to underrepresented communities and areas of conflict through the work of Marjetica Potrč in Johannesburg and Teddy Cruz on the Mexico-U.S. border, among others. They explore our collective stakes in ecological catastrophe through artistic research such as atelier d’architecture autogérée’s hubs for community action and recycling in Colombes, France, and Brian Holmes’s theoretical investigation of new forms of aesthetic perception in the age of the Anthropocene. Inspired by artist and MIT professor Antoni Muntadas’ early coining of the term “media landscape,” contributors also look ahead, casting a critical eye on the fraught impact of digital media and the internet on public space.


Krzysztof Wodiczko, The Homeless Vehicle, New York, USA. 1988-89

Matthew Mazzotta, Open House, 2013

Yet another book about public space and how it needs to be creatively defended against the attacks of rampant privatization!? I hear you but this one is not your run-of-the-mill publication on public space, i promise.

First of all because the authors. The book brings together the texts and views of artists, architects, critics, designers, practitioners and theorists whose work i’ve been admiring for years: Beatriz Colomina, Brian Holmes, Krzysztof Wodiczko, Andres Jaque, Antoni Muntadas, Metahaven, Timothy Morton, Teddy Cruz and Fonna Forman, Marjetica Potrc, i could go on and on. I also discovered new voices such as the one of Matthew Mazzotta whose Open House looks like a private home but unfolds to create a theater that hosts free concerts, movie screenings and plays for people living in York, Alabama. Or Angela Vettese who wrote a long and fascinating essay about the function of the national pavilions at Venice Biennale in a time of gloablization, fragmentation of the national identity and questioning of what a modern state can be.

A second reason why i found the book so interesting is that it looks at public space through two timely yet often overlooked lenses (at least in this type of book): technology and the anthropocene. The section titled Ecologies extends beyond the environmentalist movement and looks at the new shapes and forms that public space might adopt in a geologically transformed and constantly shifting world. The last section of the volume, Signals, attempts to re-situate our understanding of and access to public space in a digital age characterized by information overload, social media, unbridled surveillance, blending of the physical and virtual but also by ‘post truth’.


Antoni Muntadas, This Is Not an Advertisement, 1985. Photo

Public Space? Lost and Found is a truly exciting book. It has a more optimistic outlook on the issue of public space than i would have myself and it backs its confidence with plenty of examples and thoughts that illustrate the role that creative minds can have in devising, realizing and redefining public space. There is enthusiasm in this book but also lucidity. Many of the projects discussed built a public space but only temporarily. And most of them are not the magical results of the cogitation of a lone, brilliant mind but of a collective effort that has often involved marginalized communities.

Public Space? Lost and Found originated as a symposium and exhibition at MIT’s Program in Art, Culture and Technology. But don’t let this seemingly theoretical background fool you: there’s cultural criticism, rebellion and backbone in this book!


atelier d’architecture autogérée (AAA) / studio for self-managed architecture, The EcoHab unit, 2014


Nomeda and Gediminas Urbonas, River Runs, 2012


Otto Piene, Das Geleucht (Mining Lamp), 1998-2007 (Halde Rheinpreußen, Moers, Germany)


Marjetica Potrč, The Soweto Project: Ubuntu Park, 2014. Photo by Terry Kurgan

Here’s what the book looks like inside:


Inside the book Public Space? Lost and Found. Photo via abitare


Inside the book Public Space? Lost and Found. Photo via abitare


Inside the book Public Space? Lost and Found. Photo via abitare


Inside the book Public Space? Lost and Found. Photo via abitare

Turbulence.org Commission: “Flight Lines”

Turbulence.org Commission: Flight Lines by Ellie Irons and Dan Phiffer:

Flight Lines is a computer vision project that monitors the sky not just for customary birds and planes, but rapidly multiplying drones and increasingly frequent extreme weather events. Emerging from an interest in the ecology of the Anthropocene, Flight Lines is an effort to document the skies as they are today, with the knowledge that they are rapidly evolving and have variable characteristics in different locations at different times.

Irons and Phiffer have created a network of cameras across New York City. Each camera location has its own particular ’sky signature’ that is revealed through algorithmic processing, which would otherwise remain invisible. As you watch, your computer renders the videos into a series of silhouetted frames that trace the arcs of objects that move through them; birds, trash, flying machines. The paths generated by this process are its “flight lines.”

Watch the sky, or leave your browser window open while you attend to other tasks. Either way, you will accumulate hours of processed footage that will provide Irons and Phiffer with material for a series of paintings and videos that respond to this aerial ecology.

Flight Lines is a 2015 commission of New Radio and Performing Arts, Inc. for its Turbulence.org website. It was made possible with funding from the Jerome Foundation.

BIOGRAPHIES

Ellie Irons is an interdisciplinary artist and educator based in Brooklyn, NY. She works in a variety of media, from walks to WIFI to gardening, to reveal how human and nonhuman lives intertwine with other earth systems. Recently she has been an artist in residence at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory and the Institute for Electronic Arts at Alfred University.

Recent exhibition venues include Wave Hill, the Queens Botanical Garden, Pioneer Works and the Center for Strategic Art and Agriculture in New York City, Flora Arts and Nature in Bogotá, Colombia, and garden projects at Sure We Can, a redemption center in Bushwick, and 1067 PacificPeople, an art center in Crown Heights. Her recent writing is published in Feral Research, Landscape Architecture Futures, and the Brooklyn Rail.

Ellie teaches part time at the City College of New York and Brown University. She studied Environmental Science and Art at Scripps College in Los Angeles and received her MFA from Hunter College, CUNY.

Dan Phiffer is a new media hacker from California, interested in exploring the cultural dimension of inexpensive communications networks such as voice telephony and the Internet. Dan is currently a fellow at Columbia’s Tow Center of Digital Journalism, and has had projects exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, MoMA PS1, and SFMOMA.

Ellie and Dan have collaborated on a variety of projects over the last ten years, including work with the collaborative group Future Archaeology and individual pieces ranging from public sculptural installations to web sites. They share an interest in the intertwining of technology, ecology, and public access to information.

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