In the following fragments, transcribed from actual recordings in Spanish, adding aural and oral elements to a delicate thread of ideas about the nature and future of cities and the urban experience in general, Madrid-based Brazilian artist Marlon de Azambuja – rather experienced with the architectural forms of new cities – sets out in this monologue to articulate an horizon for thinking about architecture, not grounded in aesthetics or urban planning, but relating to the practice of solidarity and togetherness as major connectors in his work. Always interested in the future of cities, the artist provides extensive commentary on the Dubai urban experiment with fresh eyes undisturbed by tradition, and taking on his comparative experience with similar past experiments elsewhere. Bringing together innovative ideas about drawing and sculpture, immersed in the expanded field of the city itself, de Azambuja’s cartography is a social survey of temporal possibilities. -Guest Editor Arie Amaya-Akkermans
The exhibition ‘’Brutalism’’ is composed of three principal moments that are divided into species of spatial relations with the city. Walking in, you would find the first piece from the Edicto series that deals with the construction of thought: Texts, words, phrases, from known architects in general, and based on those thoughts, I attempt to generate structures. I began to develop an architectural system based on glass, and these pieces are assembled as a structural group. Due to the angle that the glass panels are laid out on, you have to stand on a very specific position to be able to read the statements. As soon as you move in any direction, they simply vanish from sight; you can only read some part and not the others. I am speaking here about the necessity to adopt a particular point of view in order to understand ideas and thoughts in general, to grasp what others are really saying. The second piece that the viewer faced is ‘Brutalism’, that gave the exhibition its title. More than a sculptural exercise, I conceived this work as real architecture… I started out from the most visible features of Architectural Brutalism: To accept the nature of materials. This was taken to such a radical extreme that there was no other objective in the construction than the materials appearing exactly as they are, the objects themselves, and then to apply to them an idea of construction. For me when you have material at rest, there is only possibility, it is not even construction yet. I am talking about suspended matter, which is why we use the expression ‘rise’ when it comes to buildings or cities, because they are somehow suspended. Thus I initially get hold of the material, accept its nature, and make it rise in a constructive gesture, which for me is absolutely real, like the building of an actual house, speaking poetically of course. This is the main gesture, and that is how I started collecting objects a long time ago. Lastly, there was another installation, Sea of Stability (2014) that played with the concepts of solid and stable; it is a very sensorial work where the floor tiles are loosely installed and some glass panels are incrusted in between with some geometric elements scribbled in black with a permanent marker. Upon entering the space of the installation, it seems as if the elements are floating on air, but upon setting foot on the material, there is a strange sensation of stability as you understand that you are not going to fall but yet notice the elements are somewhat loosely arranged. People begin to walk around carefully, and the enigmatic sensation between stability and fall becomes physical. The exhibition was all about this: Architectural and constructivist thought leads you to an immersion with the city. It was not necessarily clear to the audience what was happening in the work, but what mattered was that they were immersed in the experience.
DUBAI – GRAN FACHADA
The work Gran Fachada (Great Facade)(2014) is a project I developed out of architectural images in which I attempt to ‘cover’ these same images with black marker, crossing out a part of the visual data in order to leave out only the essential lines of this architecture, so that it becomes a kind of a technical drawing. The drawing gives you a clear idea about the project. I am interested in the reduction as a way of thinking about the world… I connected the first works with other art works and the institutional art world, so I began drawing different museums of modern and contemporary art around the world. Suddenly, I became aware how a reading exclusively about art and its institutions would define the direction of the work rather narrowly; the institutional reading was interesting but it was not the only motivation, therefore I decided to work around a number of cities that represented a certain vision of the future. What is the city of the future? Even if they were not any longer, Sao Paulo and New York were once about these futures. I began with Sao Paulo, followed by Dubai and Abu Dhabi and then New York. Why did I go to Dubai? I wanted to experience this idea of a city and how something was built at all? It was interesting indeed to ‘walk’ Dubai, since the city is not exactly made for that, but we wanted to find angles, and it mattered a lot in my work that images would always be taken from the position of the public space and the pedestrian and not from a position of visual privilege. I am mostly interested in public points of view, something available to everyone. These works are particularly important to me because they were an attempt to test the limits of the transformation of images; it is a photographic work to which painting is applied and then becomes a drawing. The viewer does not quite get what is going on, but these drawing lines are actually photographic lines, they correspond to reality from the angle of photography! The final drawing, the result, is not mine. I did not create this; I simply pointed in the direction of something, which already existed and highlighted it. How to make something that is already present visible?
The Metaesquemas (meta-outlines) are a group of works from 2008 or 2009 when I was engaged in a lot of interventions in various cities and became aware about all kind of compositional elements to be found on pavements, sidewalks and the possible dialogue among them that would come down to images and relationships. At first, I tried to intervene in the street itself but I did not exactly like that much. I then printed photographs from my more-or-less-performative work walking and photographing around the city for long hours, thinking about sewers and their covers, electric boxes, etc. I draw lines that establish connections and bring out possible drawings that already existed in the pedestrians’ imaginations. What are these possible connections? It is about a slight modification of the spectator’s general perception, a sense of self-recognition. The title Metaesquemas was inspired by the works of the Brazilian conceptual artist Hélio Oiticica, and his geometrical paintings from the 1950s or 60s, which for me contained something very interesting: There is a kind of tension, nothing is in the right place, something is always in motion, and this kind of motion could refer to the relationships I established between urban objects. Metaesquemas is also about outlines inside outlines, guided by certain particular rules. There is a point of inflexion in this work: People tend to think that those were real interventions and deride them as ‘oh more interventions with tape on the street?’ And it made me think about something else… Can you intervene in urban space without actually going out? How powerful are images? Perhaps you can activate a space outside from within the studio. That is, to me, the power of images!
SEA OF STABILITY
This is Sea of Stability, in an expanded version, but for now it is only a project. When I executed the piece for the ‘’Brutalism’’ exhibition at Max Estrella, I became aware of my interests, for example the position of the viewer’s body in the space. But the physical space of the gallery was very limiting. The room was at best thirty squared meters more or less. I want to experiment with this piece involving so many more elements, in an enlarged space, so that one can experience a real immersion and somehow use the potential of sound when they enter the room. The city tiles that one encounters in Madrid or another city are particular objects. They are usually smaller than the human foot so there is an aspect of instability and noise, and I feel that an enlarged spatial immersion with the tiles would bring so many new elements into play, also the magic of the glass because, at first, viewers do not really see these panels; they only experience the elements or cubes in black as if flying on air. It is sort of a poetic deception. I think about the Argentinean artist Leandro Ehrlich. I like his work but I am not interested in that kind of sorcery where you do not really understand what is going on. How does one conceive the idea of magic based on reality and perception? I want everything in my work to be based on real things, everyday objects that I can find in the studio, such as a book.
Pensamientos Húmedos (Wet Thoughts) (2015) came out of my observations on the notion of architecture of thinking. It is curious how we arrange our ideas or ways of thinking so architecturally: We produce rooms, doors, windows, and we even have this theory about trauma of how trauma is stored in a hidden room where you cannot locate it or see it. It is all very spatial, so these works begin with the metaphor of sculpting thought and the box is a make-do room. Inside, it is filled with plastiline, a type of material with no other real use other than giving shape to thoughts, ideas and representation. It is so malleable. I am interested in the production of thought almost incidentally and also there’s a bit of a dialogue with the work of Eva Hesse, thinking about those structures that grow inside themselves. Can we make architecture more human, say, warmer? It is something inside a shell, a square, so there is an actual container, something that I relate to rationality also to perception, because it is a tactile work. How do we relate the formation of thought to that of perception? I am not interested in the finalized thought as much as the process of construction itself, which is where we are speaking about architecture.
Dubai has indeed played a significant role in my practice, but this work, or my work in general, is not about places or regions. The broader question is more of this kind: How to live together? How do we relate to a common world? How to re-think this place or a place in general? Architectures of thought are about citizenship anyway, about how can architecture redeem the world of politics. Edicto (edicts) is something that I would like to further develop as it is only getting started. And showing just three pieces at a fair context in Dubai is probably just a start. Many stories and points of view converged, and an idea of complexity became obvious. Where do I draw the information in these structures from? I think I am combining a lot of different sources together. Think about the phrase, ‘Architecture is the space inside’, in one of the works, which was attributed to Lao Tse. He said that the tea-house was not constituted by the four walls that ‘wrap’ it around, but by everything that is happening inside. The architect Lloyd Wright came up with a kind of borderline variation of this, along the lines of saying that the house is not the four walls around it but the habitable space inside. He has extrapolated something so specific as the tea-house and conflated it with dwelling space. Then I found this apocryphal saying on the Internet on how the architecture is the space inside. I was thinking about the hybrid origin of this saying, and made me see the ‘bastard’ origin of this idea. This is linked to how we acquire knowledge today, there is no time to read the classics, so all what we get is drops of information, a bit here and there and how it becomes associated with knowledge in general. Edicto (2015) is a work being developed around this complexity of producing a general architectural structure for ideas. Thought attempts to form bodies, it’s something personal, riddled with energy and which borders on ritual. Why is this idea up in the air? Ideas are like that, almost in the air, ideas are never solid, even if we tend to believe otherwise. How to rise this idea up, like a house, yet it is still flying, transparent, fragile. At the same time, it is structured and formed. I’m becoming increasingly interested in connecting architecture to life itself, to our relationships to things. It’s about the person and the city, not just the city itself. I do not want to produce mockups, but to talk about truths and ‘real’ relations between things. Brutalism is not a prototype or a model. There is clearly an element of remembering and representation involved, but it is for me a structure of reality.
One of the questions that I am after is, what will the city of the future look like? I have always loved the idea of the future, where we are going, science fiction and the outer space. I have also been a rather urban person, and my relationship with the city is quite particular. I feel that the cities are like entities or people, the city is someone that you love or hate, the relationship is very personal. A city either works out for you, or it doesn’t. If we’re going to face the future of cities, to be honest, I do not think I see great solutions now and it is very problematic. I have so many hesitations. On the one hand let me look at Brazil for example. I see all the violence and the corruption and the inequality; it all makes you feel that there’s no way to fix it. But then you look at New York, which was proclaimed a lost cause in the 1970s, and it is now recovering, it is madness, it makes you believe that things are ‘possible’. Dubai is a place that I am still exploring. It is so curious how many people see Dubai like a gold mine, where you come and draw resources from. Parallels might be drawn to the way European colonizers looked at the Americas in the times of the conquest; take the gold and leave. I am looking at this phenomenon popping out of nowhere, real estate was built without demand, waiting to fill up and then now there is not enough space! How to create something out of nowhere? The lifespan of Dubai has been short so we cannot predict much but it is energetic and fast. I found it more tolerant than I expected, but I do not know if this is something to do with me being a ‘white man’, but I am quite comfortable with the degree of tolerance in the city. The spaces while empty are still open, open to possibilities, and interested in listening. It is striking also how the trading peoples have less political issues and are often not at war; commerce forces people to be more accepting and they tend to turn a blind eye based on benefits. In this confusion, a certain space of tolerance is created in a part of the world, which is not just constrained but burning down. In Dubai, there seems to be a degree of acceptance, not sure at what price. But I still feel that when looking at the future of cities, this kind of tolerance might be contagious in the region.
Again, the real problem is how to live together? Cities force you to live together because of their dimensions. Think about public transportation, the bigger the city, the more you have to practice this living together ritual. But you cannot possibly control a city, or decide how it will turn out, and a public domain is always based on spontaneity. We don’t know how this will turn out in Dubai and I feel I’m not acquainted enough with it, but I think the city has an important role to play in the future. Think about ‘open-minded’ cities like London where wearing the veil is not exactly well received in many places, so there’s something important happening in Dubai when there’s a degree of openness towards otherness. Dubai is trying to become a big economic powerhouse, and this always comes with a degree of social experimentation. There is also the issue of the climate so that Dubai is not exactly suitable for open public spaces and this confines public space over to very controlled, semi-private spaces, and you wonder about how to truly exercise freedom within such built confinement. Can architecture produce dual spaces, enclosed but free? We do not know yet. Once you are under a roof, there is something very prescriptive but still my relationship to the cities is less academic and more intuitive, a kind of vernacular knowledge, so I am willing to imagine new things. This faculty of the imagination is where I think people from many different backgrounds can connect to my work; it is not connected to specific knowledge but the phenomena that take place in cities. You can call it whatever you want, but it is just what happens when we are confronted with a place. What is happening in your mental space? You can construct anything, on your own, as this space expands, your gestures will be modified accordingly and the world will become bigger and bigger for you.