Bureau Phi

Art projects that make a difference

Four Houses, Some Buildings and Other Spaces

80WSE, NYU Steinhardt's, New York. January 29–March 16, 2013

An exploration of the bond between architecture, memory, ruins and history, Four Houses, Some Buildings and Other Spaces is not a show based on the intersection of art and architecture, disciplines which seem "to meet more often and more profoundly today than ever before," according to a recent Artforum round table on the subject. Nor is this exhibition a survey of public art, or an occasion to marvel at the spectacular tall buildings and new museum structures designed by brand names that appear in glossy magazines like celebrities. Far removed from "form follows function," this exhibition sits on the cutting-edge of art research, providing deeper insight into the nature of place and its historical, social and cultural implications. These are "cultural treasures" in Walter Benjamin's sense, as well as "document[s] of barbarism," a word that can be interpreted in many ways as the destruction of history and culture.

Four Houses, Some Buildings and Other Spaces looks to places that once had significant cultural identities – landmark houses, municipal buildings, centers of economic production and social development – which have either become blind spots in contemporary society or have lost their "historical imagination," a term from Jean Baudrillard's essay The Anorexic Ruins (1989). Even dispossessed of their original importance, attractiveness or meaning, the mere fact that these particular sites and their histories have captivated the creativity and imagination of a group of artists brings a new sensibility to the expanded field of art and architecture.

It was not nostalgia that guided the selection of these sites. They rebounded in many directions, reflecting the collapse of progress or the loss of cultural memory, but also human desires, dreams and political aspirations. In some cases, Four Houses, Some Buildings and Other Spaces looks at the complex (and often confused) history of the aesthetics of ruins, a phenomenon that has been part of the art vocabulary for many decades and extends beyond art. A group of ten artists from different generations and cultural backgrounds and their multimedia projects (photographs, videos, slides, books, and drawings) reflect on similar situations of decay and abandon. Their political or aesthetic themes hail from sites located around the world: Latin America, Japan, United Arab Emirates, Europe and Canada. Some of these constructions have evolved far from their original identities in a past landscape and society, and should be grasped in absence through the imagination.

Images: Courtesy of the artists
Nina Fisher and Maroan El Sani; Leandro Lattes.