The Inverted City: Looking Through the Cracks of a Labyrinth (2011)
Exhibition: Erre: Variations Labyrinthiques
Location: Centre Pompidou – Metz
Date: 12.09.2011 – 05.03.2012
Curated by: Hélène Guenin, Head of Curatorial Department, Centre Pompidou-Metz and Guillaume Désanges, Independent Curator and Art Critic
Project by: Public Space With a Roof (Adi Hollander, Tamuna Chabashvili, Vesna Madzoski)
Installation created by: Adi Hollander, Tamuna Chabashvili
Text by: Vesna Madzoski
Assistant: Giacomo Sponzilli
Construction design: Davide Manzoni – RedeeMade Laboratory
Supported by: Mondriaan Foundation, Fonds BKVB, Centre Pompidou – Metz
Special thanks to: Amsterdam Grafisch Atelier, Keramikos, Aty Boonstra, Christina Hallstrom and Vika Mitrichenka
The project was developed as a commission for the exhibition ERRE: Variations Labyrinthiques. Via the model of a labyrinth, this group show tackles the notions of straying, loss and wandering as well as their representations in contemporary art. Rather than being illustrative, the exhibition strives at being intuitive and sensitive. Extending over 2000 square meters in two of the gallery spaces at the Centre Pompidou-Metz, ERRE presents works by different generations of French and international artists, together with major figures from the collection of the Centre Pompidou – Musée National d'Art Moderne: Vito Acconci, Abbas Kiarostami, Frederick Kiesler, Carl Andre, Constant, Maya Deren, Marcel Duchamp, Harun Farocki, Yona Friedman, Mona Hatoum, Isidore Isou, Kisho Kurokawa, Kasimir Malevitch, Robert Morris, Piranèse, Alexander Rodtchenko, Robert Smithson, Frank Stella, Raphael Zarka, etc.
'Thus the traveler, arriving, sees two cities: one erect above the lake, and the other reflected, upside down. Nothing exists or happens in the one Valdrada that the other Valdrada does not repeat,because the city was so constructed that its every point would be reflected in its mirror. (…) At times the mirror increases a thing's value, at times denies it.
Not everything that seems valuable above the mirror maintains its force when mirrored. The twin cities are not equal, because nothing that exists or happens in Valdrada is symmetrical: every face and gesture is answered, from the mirror, by a face and gesture inverted, point by point.
The two Valdradas live for each other, their eyes interlocked; but there is no love between them.'
Italo Calvino, Cities & Eyes?
Accepting the invitation to realize our new work in the framework of a large-scale exhibition devoted to the concept of labyrinth, among works of many of our idols and inspirations, we also accepted the challenge of redefining our own practice of spatial intervention in a new context. Our previous projects were always conceived as a reflection on urgent issues in art and politics of that moment, a reflection manifested in installations with the aim to open up the discussion by including works of other artists as multiple perspectives. Hence the decision to define and open up the main questions raised by the Erre exhibition, reflecting on three main levels: the concept of labyrinth, the exhibition space of a museum, and the artists whose works are being presented.
The Labyrinth as a Concept
The concept and visual representations of labyrinths seem to be one of the oldest and most persistent images in the known history of humankind. Through different eras, cultures, contexts, and systems, the labyrinth has been haunting human imagination, a fact which does not make it easier to understand. In its final instance, labyrinth can be seen as a metaphor for both life and death, feelings of getting lost and finding one's way, simplification and complication, play and horror. This duality of its nature also complicated our ability to formulate one single definition, prompting us to abandon the possibility of easy graspable rational conceptualization. Instead, we decided to search for the ways to recreate the experience of a labyrinth, testing the ability of senses to translate this experience into particular kind of knowledge.
The Labyrinth as an Exhibition
While defining the experience and narrative created by the structure of exhibition spaces and the works displayed at Erre, we realized we felt like walking around a particular urban structure made of imaginary streets and houses inhabited by works of art. The segments of the exhibition became for us imaginary quarters of the Erre City, neighborhoods with their own stories and emotional charging. On the other hand, the spaces in which we were to create our work, turned out to be located on the borders of those imaginary quarters, simultaneously connecting and dividing them. Therefore, our position became one from a shadow, parallel universe that exists only as a reflection of the exhibition structure. Inspired by the reflections of the city described by Calvino, we decided to create a structure functioning as mirror image of Erre. Just like the upside down Valdrada in the lake, our structure makes certain things become larger, certain things are denied, following its own logic and rules. On the level of narrative, our main questions became: what are the ways in which we can detect the cracks in this labyrinth and what do we see once we look through them?
Led further by a Situationist work whose title 'The Naked City' came from the film noir completely filmed on the streets of New York, we discovered a key how to tell a story about the city previously not being possible to tell. At the end of the film, a main villain is chased by the police all the way to the Brooklyn bridge; trying to escape the trap, he climbs the bridge, and offers us the view of the city previously not seen. As it turned out, in order to see the city from all its angles one requires transgression, or an outcast character who takes us over the borders of perception. Thus, we decided to create a character who could tell our story, a character living on the streets of the Erre City as its shadow, disturbance and provocation; a character liberated from the existing system who can tell us secret stories about this seemingly peaceful, safe and controlled place; a strange character that kidnaps the exhibition visitors by offering them different kinds of pleasures.
The Labyrinths of Individual Minds
In its essence, institutions are haunted by the desire to discipline and order, something museums as institutions do not differ from. At the same time, many of the artworks exhibited in the Erre are the works of individuals who had a strong rejection of institutional confinement and established paths and rules. By being placed in the exhibition spaces, they are turned into objects of silent observation and reflection, simultaneously liberated from their authors and trapped in someone else's labyrinth. Following our desire to look through the cracks of this labyrinth, our imaginary character reveals untold stories about those individual inhabitants. The orderly image of the artworks is disturbed by the revelation of the process through which they were born, revealing also the individual labyrinths of the authors behind each of them. It is in the dark corners of imaginary streets that those different artists meet, becoming friends or starting a fight with each others. Sometimes all we hear are their screams, screams coming from a strange place - the centers of their own individual labyrinths, frightening and tempting us to follow the noise to see if we could beat the beast.
The Map of Emotions
On the upper floor, the visitor is left alone to find his/her way, leaving behind our imaginary character who continues to haunt the streets of Erre. Through our investigations of defining the city left behind, we came to a conclusion that this imaginary urban structure missed one important element – a square. Hence, in the space of the upper floor one will encounter this missing square, where the visitor can rest to reflect on the experience of things already seen, and prepare for the continuation of the walk. On its floor, the image of our self-reflection becomes visible: a particular map marks the emotional experience created (or not) by the structure downstairs. As a map of emotional experience, it is also a tool which allows to question ones own memory, playing with the particular scenes encountered in the Erre City, but also carrying blank spots left open for each individual visitor to re-imagine for him/herself. It is in this space that all those different elements are brought back together, reassembling the bricks of a powerful image consisting of the city and its strange reflection in the mirror of a lake.