Making and Unmaking Space

We live space in our everyday life, yet we are constantly creating it ourselves. We tend not to see it and take our spatial existence for granted, moving through a seemingly empty dimension without questioning it. The two artists whose work will create this Saturday’s exhibition have challenged our received experience and ideas of space, unmaking it and making it through their work. They show us that space is full, complex, and never stable. Heide Fasnacht’s work on catastrophe and instability captures and creates turning point and disequilibria, showing how the dynamism of space can crash or take us by surprise. Jenny Perlin makes her own space in films, commenting within it on the one we make around us, on the way we order the world.

Heide’s ongoing project is ‘Boomtown’, a visual chronicle of the explosion of architecture oriented towards consumption. It captures the unreality of casino towns, with the most famous example of Las Vegas’s bricolage of buildings united in an ‘asynchronic, ahistoric collision’. Such ‘enticing’ architecture is itself a consuming one: it engulfs space and it engulfs the past in its constant expansion, as Heide’s work focuses on the demolitions that make possible the constant evolution of such places. This creative destruction is made to consume people, carefully designed to be a vortex that attracts visitors. It creates a split within its (temporary) inhabitants to echo the one between Las Vegas and its surrounding desert. Heide herself cannot help loving this ‘populist’ architecture, without ceasing to hate it.

A love-hate relationship to capitalism was explored by Jenny in her 2004 film ‘Possible Models’. She tells the story of a Somali immigrant from Columbus Ohio who had been arrested for an alleged intention to blow up the mall he was working in. This, however, is the frame for telling a bigger story, that of huge consumer malls, from the failed utopia of Victor Gruen’s first design in 1956, to the immense ‘hyper-capitalist’ project The Freedom Ship. Nurading Abdi, the Columbus Somali immigrant, was indeed enticed by these spaces of freedom and plenty – he ‘loved’ living in the US and ‘hated terrorists’. Yet these spaces of freedom turned, for Abdi, in 6 months of detention without a charge against him, a conviction to 10 years in prison in 2007, and a deportation to Somalia upon completion.

Abdi’s conviction was a way of restoring order to the capitalist space against outsiders and threats. A more recent film by Jenny tells the story of bringing order upon the whole world. In ‘The Measures’ (2014) she tells, together with Jacqueline Goss, the story of Pierre Méchain and Jean Baptiste Joseph Delambre, two French astronomers, and their quest of finding a unique unit of measurement. From 1791, they started an endeavour to find out the distance from the Equator to the North Pole and divide it by 10 million in order to find a universal measurement – the metre. In times of violence and political upheaval, they try to unite the world under one scientific system, ‘taken from the world’s constancy and based on the number 10’. Jenny’s latest project, however, is one which undermines this constancy. Drawing on literature, history, and science, ‘Long Sleepers’ explores the caves of one of Jules Verne’s novels in parallel with the Ohio Caverns. Jenny shows how these underground spaces are not constant at all, but play with our perception of light, distance, and time.

Fasnacht
Heide Fasnacht’s ‘Munich Collecting Point’, mixed media, from LOOT

 Disorder, on the other hand, is Heide’s subject in her 2012 project ‘LOOT’. Works of art and cultural creations are kept in highly regulated settings, uncommon spaces with specific rules and specific purposes. During World War II, however, art turned into loot – the almost sacred spaces of museums and collections was broken. Heide explores this ‘landscape of cultural destruction’ by confronting the viewers of her work with pictures of destruction and of art in situations that make us uncomfortable – thrown, stolen, bundled in boxes. Heide’s work captures disruptions in both space and time, by challenging the orderly peace of the museum we are used to. Her art, as well as Jenny’s, makes us aware of the space in which we live. They show us how it is constructed, ordered, and destroyed, and how it acts upon us, turning into an open invitation to make and unmake our own space.

(Andrei Belibou, Department of Politics and International Studies, University of Warwick)

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