Does an architect always design? It seems to me that your involvement in unitednationsplaza proposes a new model of contemporary architectural practice that fuses allocating space, strategic spatial planning, designing physical matter, knowledge production and teaching.
I am trying to connect what used to be separated parts of my work.
This sounds rather simple, but actually it does create a conflict with the highly specialized discipline of architecture. In this respect the concept of unitednationsplaza questions the role of an architect in a particular way. To produce a building for an exhibition that actually is not an exhibition, but a school, inevitably implies an architectural practice that is more than design. The shift from exhibition to school emphasizes a social situation; a communal condition which changes the way things are manifested physically in space. The effect on myself was a constant negotiation between different role models: planner, craftsman, and teacher. On the one hand I am organizing matter; inert matter that ultimately forms something like an institute.
On the other hand, I am – invited by Anton Vidokle and together with Boris Groys, Martha Rosler, Walid Raad, Jalal Toufic, Liam Gillick, Natascha Sadr Haghighian and Tirdad Zolghadr – part of an academic space.
In a certain way this reflects an approach that understands a work of architecture as both a theoretical model and a physical space. unitednationsplaza is both a model and a real building in Berlin.
What is your personal take on the current trend of institutionalizing future production, that is to say art institutions as places of knowledge production becoming, in the long term, initiators of actualities
and matter. How would you describe the new relation between academies and art institutions such as galleries and museums?
Undoubtedly, there is a new dynamic between museums and academies. This has to do with a critical understanding of knowledge production, and in a larger context, with the arts aiming for
socio-political relevance. If you look back to the history of exhibitions in the past 15 years it becomes obvious that some of the most important shows defined their role as that of an initiator of an active social project. The aim was to reposition the exhibition as a project that would in some way be transformative on a social scale – something that, by the way, architecture even unintentionally always does. Yet, it becomes more and more clear that the problem might be that the exhibition deals with things on the level of representation and might just not be the right format to aim these ambitious goals.
This limitation explains the recent interest of art institutions, such as museums and galleries, in academic structures. Museums are trying to legitimize and reinvent themselves by expanding to new audiences and – always in danger of political instrumentalization – by referring explicitly to their enlightening mission. In a way, unitednationsplaza is trying to start from the other side: from the school model.
Quite true, what with the humanist flair of documenta 12 springing to mind, where one notices a trend towards art as an integral part of everyday culture, in a mass pedagogy type of way. Or sometimes just a mass sort of way.
However I do not think this changes things fundamentally with respect to, say, “risks” of political instrumentalization. A public interface with such a mass agenda that is not susceptible to public accountability is not a pleasant idea. Perhaps this would be different if there were a higher ratio of innovative practice among curators than among party politicians, but this is hardly the case. On the other hand, spaces that do not pander to what Nikolaus calls new audiences derive their strength not from their fundamentally self-determined politics but from their formal intelligence.
The advantage of even the unitednationsplaza itself is not that it is autonomous and immune to any kind of instrumentalization (it isn’t), nor that it lacks an “enlightening mission” (it doesn’t), but simply that it tackles questions of programming and pedagogy from an angle that is refreshingly oblique and unexpected.
The conversation continues on http://www.104.fr/module/104revue/EN/oeuvres/miessen/Place_des_Nations_Unies_construire_le_savoir/page3-4.html