R-Lab Alpha Beta Ville

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“Once we know the number one, we believe that we know the number two, because one plus one equals two. We forget that first we must know the meaning of plus.” quoted from the film Alphaville, Jean-Luc Goddard.

“R-Lab Reification” is the final exhibition of student’s individual works developed during this year’s R-Lab: Architecture, Design, Media course. Opening on May 26 at 16:00, the exhibit is divided between two spaces: at Mejan Galleri, (Alpha Ville) across from the Moderna Museet and the former Systembolaget in the Beta Passagen leading to the NK department store (Beta Ville). 

Alpha space, Mejan Gallery, across from the Moderna Museet. 

Beta space: Passagen, Regeringsgatan 44, next to NK. 

INTRO R-Lab, Architecture, Design, Media,

Peter Lang, Professor Architecture Theory and History, KKH. Stockholm

 

This academic year, R-Lab basically became an instant fan-club of Index, the Swedish Contemporary Art Foundation here in Stockholm. Axel Wieder, the space’s director, kept a constant pace of new and exciting programs coming our way. And that’s why our initial preconceptions of how we would work together in the Fall gradually gave way to a series of ad-hoc responses to what we found going on there. Within the context of a post-graduate course, this would present a level of unpredictability that in the end suited perfectly our initial premise of dealing with game theory in the exploration of open form as premised by the Polish architect and artist Oskar Hansen. By the end it was evident there were no fixed points to hang on to, and our experience had in fact turned into an all-out free-for-all.

 

R-Lab is designed to operate as a multi-disciplinary study platform for pursuing advanced individual research and collective projects, with this year’s focus on architecture, design and media. Each year, the collective project carries a sub-theme: last year it was the “alternative archive”, this year “game theory.” These sub-themes are directed towards the collective projects, so for example the assignment to discover new alternative archives aided the advancement of the group study on Frederick Kiesler, whose work was featured at the Tensta Konsthall, our partner institution for that year. The alternative archive examples presented in Take a Walk on the Wild Side, Learning from the City and Beyond, ended up insinuating themselves into both the larger group study and in the individual research projects, with impressive results when fed back into the urban centric narratives underway.  The alternative archives indirectly or directly stimulated a number of individual urban based projects, highlighting just how innovative applications can shift or alter the ways we observe and interact in the city.

 

When it comes to this year’s collective study on Oskar Hansen, the ongoing parallel research on game theory succeeded in establishing a kind of working concept with which to tackle Oskar Hansen’s open form methodologies, without necessarily duplicating Hansen’s own procedures or results. The initial premise began with an overview of Oskar Hansen’s work, especially around the courses he conducted at the Art Academy for his students in Warsaw, and his odd but provocative countryside house, built on the principles of open form, and actualized as a kind of hands-on collaborative structure where each domestic element plugged in to a greater puzzle. We were in this manner privileged to join discussions on Hansen led by Axel Wieder, director of Index, and Aleksandra Kędziorek curator at the Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw.

 

Our engagement with Oskar Hansen, through his exhibition Pedagogies of Space didn’t go exactly as we expected. For scheduling reasons, the Hansen show was installed in August, and already down by the time R-Lab assembled in September. What we had to work with were the photos of the installation, and clearly the books, interviews and outside sources. As the course participants developed strategies to create a politicized gaming response, Index introduced their next novelty, an exhibition on Simone Forti, Here it Comes, Works and Collaborations. Shifting gears, the collective project morphed into something that could in fact take excellent advantage of the new installation. The ensuing project, Game Time remained essentially a ludic exercise on the arbitrariness of citizenship, using the gallery space to play out a series of physical challenges that included Forte’s sloped climbing wall to be used blindfolded, a hopscotch across a grid of 50cm2s that designated the official spatial limits of homelessness; and personalized individual interactions,  where members of the public were handed color coded ID cards indicating an alternative of room assignments that could either lead the person to a room inexplicably filled with flowers or a closet filled with storage boxes.

 

As is the case in the work of Oskar Hansen and similarly in the work of Simone Forti, the inherent spatial dynamics in their exhibits, or installations, are not completely meaningful without factoring in a further degree of engagement. In both the example of Hansen’s students splitting into flag waving teams in the Warsaw suburbs, or Forti choreographing banal urban spaces outside of LA, what becomes most striking is that these are not isolated moments, but rather generative processes that approximate public rituals or ceremonies. But to make spaces into places that are socially engaging is not exactly an effortless task. These two artists have each developed particular strategies that act to guide them along. Henri Lefebvre in his 1974 book the Production of Space, spoke of the difficulties of making a critique of space. According to Lefebvre there is no critique of space similar to the arts, or in literature: “Space is neither a thing or a person.” He talks about this detachment between on one hand imagining and the other the reality of the thing itself.

 

A significant goal therefore is how to enact a criticality of space production that both deals with its imagining, that is the anticipation of something not yet there, and what actually is happening there, in the present time and space. This suggests to me that we can critique space by enacting space, through either game play, or through its physical real time mapping, diagramming, documenting. In other words to build a critical understanding of space, to set forth a pedagogy of space and spatial practices, it is critical to perform through the space itself in order to develop a sort of scale of criticalities. That’s how you can read both Hansen and Forti, as experimenting through space with their live works, and in the process actualizing something that is already inherently there.

 

Axel Wieder was once again ahead of us, as a subsequent exhibition at Index, Stephen Willats: THISWAY, billed as the first major exhibition in Sweden by the British conceptual artist, clearly demonstrated. Willats’ artistic career spanning some 50 years brings together field investigations, in some ways similar to Oskar Hansens’ outdoor exercises, with the specificity of bodily engagement, not unlike in the work of Simone Forti. But furthermore, there is Willats’ strong emphasis on tracking where things lead, conceptually something like a cultural mapping in real time and space, with the help of feedback diagrams, charts, and maps. This approach can translate initial research studies into meaningful lessons on how contemporary culture is constantly transformative, especially when we add the power of media into this dynamic equation. Take for example Willats’ observation on the use of Xerox photocopiers, in setting up a cultural revolution:

 

Society appropriates those technologies that will reinforce its cultural ideology and certainly, in the case of communication technologies, facilitate its externalization into the social fabric.  The relationship between communication technologies and the creation of culture is so inextricably bound up that innovations such as Xerox, Instant copying, can be seen actually to shape and create new culture (…) So the underlying but hidden social self-expression within society took the Xerox process out of the office into the agencying of new cultural forms, in which the encoding inherent in the Xerox process itself became a language.

Stephan Willats, “Xerox as an Agent of Social Change” in OE1 71/72 Mix-Up/Dig Out. Stockholm 2015. P 259

 

For Willats, the British Punk scene expanded rapidly thanks in part to the wide circulation of small Fanzine publications made possible by these Xerox copiers going from office spaces into neighborhood shops. What Willats points out is that it’s not enough to understand a phenomenon taking shape on the ground, in terms of a certain kind of socialization and politicalization if one does not also understand the instrumentalisation of related forms of communication. You could say this is where the circle completes itself, when research becomes action, and action becomes communication.

 

Not all the course participants were sucked up into the series of Index related events, as some were preoccupied with work they had initiated earlier in Detroit that took them outside the game theory orbit as they focused individually on issues around segregation and social justice. But overall, our ongoing relationship with Index remains pivotal to understanding R-Lab’s critical framework. The question that I put to Axel Wieder was whether institutional relationships as between public expository institutions—foundations, galleries and others, and academic institutions are increasingly becoming more intertwined, blurring distinctions, over the last couple decades, or are these relations in need of continuous re-negotiations and re-positioning? Below is Wieder’s response:

 

In my experience longer-term institutional relationships between arts organizations and academic institutions are still a relatively new form of collaboration, and there are two aspects: on the one hand, it’s supporting ambitions of arts organizations – let’s be very general for now – to become more aware and active of their role as educational facilities, making a distinction with the role of art on the market, as a commodity. In an educational setting, or with an understanding of an arts program as a tool that engages with an audience and aims to foster debate and the production of knowledge, the work of artists and other practitioners in the field has another role, providing an opportunity for diverse parts of society, which is also important in relation to an ethics of public funding, or the public sector. On the other hand, academic institutions, and especially art and design schools, are in a very direct way a very important part of the audience for arts organizations in a city. It’s a vital part of the scene, and for me, in many ways, one of the most exiting parts, since here there is usually something new in the making, something that’s unexpected and not yet known. Collaborations, or longer-term institutional relationships, help to make these connections more productive, and to create a dialogue in which we are able to learn from each other.

 

The work of institution is, in my view, always in the need of continuous re-negotiation and re-positioning, as you say. An institution is an interface between different interests and social vectors, and activities and policies are a way of negotiating these different aspects, creating relations and forming them into a practical, momentary reality. In our case, in the form of collaboration that we were able to develop, this means that we can’t be sure that we know what education, or learning, means for each of us, and at least for our part, we use this uncertainty productively to both test the concepts of pedagogy and our role as an institution.

 

The opportunity to test this premise arrived once again via Index, in the context of a two-day conference held on the 25 and 26 of February and that revisited the themes of Oskar Hansen, “Pedagogies of Space.”  R-Lab directly contributed to the production of this event, as well as staging a re-enactment of the R-Lab Game-Time workshop held earlier at Index. Organized in collaboration with Aleksandra Kędziorek, from Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw, the speakers included Axel Wieder, Eva Diaz, Oscar Andrade Castro, Anna Molska, Alina Serban, Tor Lindstrand, Kristina Lindemann, Jens Evaldsson, Sam Thorne, Kuba Szreder, Alberto Iacovoni, Peter Lang, Magnus Ericsson, Florian Zeyfang and Christina Pech. The two-day event received the generous support of the Polish Institute in Stockholm. The stated purpose, was to consider “space both as a learning environment and a teaching tool, the seminar gathered postwar and contemporary examples of pedagogical practices that question and reshape established sites and modes of creative education.” It would turn out to be an optimal premise on which to peg these two semesters.

 

The Final EXHIBTION

 

In keeping with the provisional nature of our course, the design for the final exhibition came about with a great deal of unexpected luck. Traditionally all the Architecture courses’ final exhibitions occupy the Mejan Gallery space just across from the Moderna Museet. R-Lab however has meandered around, last year the course projects were installed in the Mindedepartmentet, on the other side of Skesppsholmen island. This year were offered an additional space, “off-site:” the Passagen that connects to the famed department store in Stockholm, NK. This permitted a certain luxury of choice, allowing course participants to choose the space best suited for their works. The high ceilings of the Mejan space appealed to those who wanted to suspend their projects from the beams above, and the 300 m2 shopping space, a segment of the former System Bolaget, provided a special challenge that necessitated the need to respond to the high traffic, commercial character of the Passagen.

 

This left us with the question of the exhibition’s name. Again, as luck would have it the Passagen had itself just been renamed the Beta Passagen. Given that we were to occupy two spaces, it became evident we should call the first Alpha and the second Beta. Then a debate broke out. As instructor, I fed the group my obsessions with AlphaVille, the 1965 film by Jean-Luc Goddard and Colonel Bleep, the first color cartoon to run on US television between 1957 and 1960. I thought channeling these two surreal adventures might help define the mood for our exhibition, and consequently its title, something like Alpha-Beta ville, or whatever…. Cecilie Meng made these remarks:

 

I like Alpha Beta Bolaget, it has a nice ring to it. Fitting in relation to the fact that there are multiple locations, owned by the government, and translated to English it is the system company, if that doesn’t sound Orwellian I don’t know what does. Alpha Beta Store becomes too mercantile. I think Bolaget as, dare I say an institution, is a very interesting concept. 

 

Cecilie Meng suggested this quote from the AlphaVille movie: Once we know the number one, we believe that we know the number two, because one plus one equals two. We forget that first we must know the meaning of plus.” She then qualified her observation: “since alpha and beta has an embedded logic of chronology, and the plus part relating to the two – perhaps separate location – being a whole and that the two location together makes another meaning than the two entities separately.” Michela Barone Lumaga liked the name: Alpha Beta Store, noting: “as I see nothing wrong in embracing the commercial side of what the space at NK was. Another proposal for Alpha Beta Ville could be Alpha Beta Island? As to really strengthen the character of opposition that the 2 spaces have? One in a shopping mall the other on a museum island?

As of the writing of this text, the name has not yet been determined. But then again we might not have to reach a consensus, as the neighboring stores will have had to do. They might not  have realized that their fate is equally tied to chance and uncertainty.

 

 

Course Participants Individual Project descriptions:

 

Michele Barone Lumaga

At the beginning of this course Michela Barone Lumaga introduced a couple key concepts on the  investigation of organic forms and architectural catenary structures, and the human body and its primordial relationship with the environment. The key to her research was to bring these worlds together, a biomimetic process that resulted in her developing  “Synthoflora.” This was a sort of natural evolution, not least of which would be the increasing feminization of the project, given the nurturing function and vessel like shapes that were increasingly emerging from her studies. The breakthrough moment was to invert the structure, detaching it from the ground, with the potential of making a floating overhead canopy, Yona Friedman-like. The prototype, suspended from the roof rafters in the Alpha space, is a trial in synthetic materials and form.

 

Rebecka Engvall

Reflecting on a Romania community’s distressing living conditions in Malmö and the unjust eviction from their camp on the outskirts of the city, Rebecka Engvall introduces her exegesis on love in relationship to boundaries in space. RE plays on this theme in her project Emotional Production of Space through a series of intentionally awkward juxtapositions, dropping top down bureaucratic regulations designed for the evacuated areas conceived by Malmö’s city planners on actual and virtual scenes from the Romania camp. What is at stake is the future of this hybrid free zone, which risks to become transformed into an institutionalized space that ironically would “control” all temporary activities. But it is precisely this contentious planning strategy that RE seeks to problematize, reaffirming in her work the currency of spontaneous and informal social relations that act to bind people and spaces together.

 

Anna Maria Furuland

Cities are never benign constructs, from their formation on, they stand as legible infrastructures of political and economic disparities and social divisions. Anna Maria Furuland worked primarily on issues of urban segregation, taking however a broader historical perspective, in an effort to understand the range of urban typologies and variant social identities and their impact on city form. Taking her cue from the work of Carl C. Nightingale, AMF interpreted his thesis into a set of sound diagrams, that she calls Dividing Lines, and created a set of copper plates representing 8 different city plans compiled in a classification related to different forms of urban segregation. AMF assembled these copper plates and turned them into a curiously low tech surround sound installation in the Alpha space.

 

Marta Gil

From early on in the year Marta Gil studied and experimented with different aspects of constricted vision, from blindness to blind spots. She was drawn to the double portrait by Piero della Francesca’s the Duke of Urbino and his wife at the Uffizzi gallery in Florence. What intrigued MG was the missing bridge from the Duke’s nose, surgically removed to expand his vision with his one good eye. Her fascination grew to include fortified bastions in her investigations on sight lines. MG went on to pursue a hybrid condition where lines of sight marked the limitations of personal space, projections of power and affirmations of resistance citing in her work Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus. MG’s project will be performed with mirrors and a mask at the Beta space.

 

Antonie Grahamsdaughter

Two years ago Antonie Grahamsdaughter enrolled in Urban Remix—an earlier edition of this course—producing  for her final project a video report on an EU migrants in Sollentuna, Stockholm. Her documentation depicted the numerous acts of aggression promulgated by local gangs and hooligans and the longstanding social injustices this community experienced. This year, inspired by her work with refugee children, building Kites and flown in the wind across boundaries, AG chose to make a video on the vagaries of borders, but in doing so she set aside tools of video reportage in favor of more poetic forms of animation and visual narrative. Using a map depicting escape routes and corridors through Europe based on actual accounts told to her by the children she worked with, AG experimented toys and musical scores. Titled the “Tour” the video will be presented at the Beta space.

 

Johanna Jansson

It won’t be much longer before Johanna Jansson has crisscrossed every patch of land on this elongated island of Öland that runs  along the eastern coast of Sweden,  in her quest to fully capture this landscape’s very unique aura. This is JJ’s second year entrenched in her studies on Öland, which began with an investigation on how this narrow sea bound flatland received UNESCO’s recognition as a World Heritage Site in 2000. The advantage of this long term investigation is of course cumulative and evolutionary.  In her first year’s final project the notes and documentation were evidently gestural, unprocessed and in many cases really first trials. What is now apparent is that specifically the audio-notational system of denoting territory has entered a more reflective phase, as the power of the etchings redouble the initial audio essays. As one of the few people working to document this site in detail, JJ’s contribution should help to mitigate the current debates flaring up over the preservation of the landscape and the islands future.

 

Barthélémy Massot

Barthélémy Massot continues to study the means of urban survival, a subject he explored last year in the previous course when he worked on the condition of homelessness in Stockholm. This year BM shifted his research to more utopian constructs, specifically cooperative markets and communal housing.  As his study progressed he began to define optimal strategies developed for the shared housing movement with its long tradition in Sweden in an attempt to blend these features with the participatory driven food collectives originating in New York. When the location of the final exhibition in the Beta Space was announced BM opted to channel his research into a kind of essay on pattern language, through the use of the elemental tent, based on recycled manufacture.

 

Cecilie Meng

Cecilie Meng’s work, Around or About a Perfect Geography,  is about desire and ungroundedness where motivation and destination become essentially acts of faith. Throughout the year CM focused on parking structures, time travel, cyclical thought, DeLoreans, and the construction of landscapes both physical and mental. It was never clear what direction CM was heading, backwards or forwards, rather it was her working tactics that were continuously addressed and readdressed. In effect CM constructs a deep archive of discontinuous geographical experiences that are made accessible by means of the hanging Google Pegman, a clumsy avatar who mediates the known world.  Odysseus’ desire to go home remained a powerful inspiration to CM, but the Homeric figure left his Kingdom soon after he returned. He would be off again vowing to find a place where no one had heard of the sea.

 

Beatrice Orlandi

In Cryptoflora, States of Exception and the Ecology of the Missing Girl, Beatrice Orlandi digs deep into the hidden identities of gender, through the vehicle of camouflage, a sort of art of making oneself disappear and reappear, referencing in the process mythology, literature and artificial intelligence. The quilt BO weaves embraces the image of young girls, whose unpronounced childish features appears to morph between classical pre-Raphaelite innocence and the un-squeamishness of Tai, the AI bot that degraded rapidly into a reflection of the vulgar audience that flocked to her.  The feminine state of metamorphosis, as BO notes, its “plasticity” of form, is for the final exhibition coopted into the public realm where it emerges as a consumer good in anticipation of purchase inside the Beta space.

 

Marie-Louise Richards

Marie-Louise Richards has kept a constant eye focused on what is missing, not what seems to vanish in front of our eyes but rather that which stares straight back at us, and yet remains completely ignored. This is the second year MLR is continuing her research on invisibility, that began by studying how race shaped the geography in several US cities, red-lining, the novel ‘Invisible Man’ by Ralph Ellison leading to her work last year on “hyper-visible invisibility.” This year a relatively innocuous document that MLR discovered published from the archives of the Institute of Architecture and Urban Studies, the IAUS in NY, a photo of the staff and faculty at a dinner table, included the telltale unidentified woman in position no. 14. These subtle but nonetheless significant messages go mostly unheeded confirming the intractability of these harmless daily messages.

 

Valentina Santi Löw

With a background in architecture and hospital care Valentina Santi Low chose to focus her research on a very specific condition afflicting a growing number of people traumatized by the ravages of war and exodus. The project developed into a individualized  architecture of healing or a “decompression chamber ” that would provide the user a safe protected womb like environment with a specifically composed sound track.  VSL’s experiment can also be read as a means of moving beyond the basic forms of architectural exploration by rigging up a one to one scale device with materials and technologies easily available off the shelf. Tackling the immeasurable experience of human suffering VSL is attempting in this suspended structure to make a simple gesture of contact, together with a sound track she developed specifically for this immersive experience.

 

Teres Selberg

In “No Other Than You,” Teres Selberg ponders the meaning of body in space, specifically her body in the space of what could be understood as the space of the other. But it’s not quite that easy, as TS points out, she experiences multiple changes to her own identity, depending on the human nature of her surroundings. As both an architect and dancer, TS repeatedly tested her grit in a multitude of circumstances, joining collective sports training exercises, dances, and other kinds of active performances ranging across some highly unusual public spaces, when she recently took up residence in the West African state of Guinea Bissau. But the unexpected afterglow was gradually recognizing the way these activities spread through the informal city, occupying traffic roundabouts, highway interchanges, and small parks with political monuments, bringing together in close proximity gymnastic crowds and endless streams of bystanders. TS intimately experiences these urban fragments both as an outsider and an insider, but ultimately sweat is the glue and shared space the equaliser.

 

Annika Thörn Legzdins

Anika Thörn Legzdins has been compiling an unusual set of archives on Detroit initiated when she visited the city last year as part of a research trip organized at the RIA. One is about her concern with the growing size of abandoned and cleared blocks in the center city ATL began studying issues of local soil contamination and the efforts of the organization the Greening of Detroit to develop pilot projects based on dendroremediation. In particular one plant, the White Willow, is both used for soil cleaning and is an ingredient in treating headaches. ATL is also compelling an archive made of a growing collection of historic postcards  she is tracking  down depicting Detroit’s botanical gardens and their greenhouses. These postcard images help to ground  a series of “soft ground etchings”, that ATL has developed representing the leaves of the White Willow tree. The etchings serve to mediate a cross historical dialogue with Detroit’s past and present.

 

Anna Tullberg

Anna Tullberg’s project The Library, based on her exploration of Detroit, comes across at first as tale about a declining city and its fading memories. The object in question is the Mark Twain branch of the Detroit Public Library, a once majestic structure whose only remaining traces are the open ground on which it stood and the recollections of those who live around it. A professional radio broadcaster, AT took on this subject as a way of investigating alternative modes of representing oral history.  She chose to transgress her preferred medium by producing instead very physical handmade etchings depicting the extreme locality of her experiences, achieving in the process an inversion of scales-reaching a new level of intimacy.

 

Jakob Wiklander

The mirror is one of those paradigms that have no real depth, yet represent an infinite space that can easily absorb the world around it. Jakob Wiklander has investigated how increasingly our homes, our streets, our cities have become reflected, and frozen into the realms of Google and the common on-line real-estate websites like the English language Realtor.com, or the Swedish Hemnet.  JW has delved into the world of on-line training simulators, revealing the most normal examples, from games about farm tractors plowing fields to transit bus operators pulling up to curbside to let “people” board, demonstrating that whole aspects of our daily lives exist in these banal parallel universes. As a consequence, JW has been working to to create just such a paradigm, a simple domestic room of mirrors in virtual, while simultaneously in the real world servicing the deep cravings of today’s contemporary society for mobile devices, providing an “infinite” amount of electric outlets for recharging that will conveniently be located in the Beta space.