2014-03-20

Time: Thursday 3rd April 2014, 13-15pm
Location: Lecture room 1, 4th floor, Kungl. Konsthögskolan 

Anthea Buys is a young South-African curator who is currently doing her PhD in art history at Colombia University in New York.

About the lecture:

The image of a house in an imagined world 

Maybe it is a good thing for us to keep a few dreams of a house we shall live in later, 
always later, so much later, in fact, that we will not have time to achieve it.” 
- Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, 61

How do we experience space when it is presented to us non-physically, in pictures, dreams and mental images? What kind of correlations exist in our sense of imagined space and of “real” space? How does art deal with these different spatial modalities? 

This presentation considers these and related questions from the starting point of two photographic images both taken in the1960s. The first is a staged photograph of a section of a model for an imaginary utopian city called “New Babylon”, a long-term project by the Dutch artist Constant Nieuwenhuys (Constant). The photograph distorts the scale of the model, which is no larger than 60cm across, giving the sense that the volumes it depicts could be physically inhabitable.

The second, taken in 1964, is one of the only images ever published of South Africa’s rural banishment camps, small prison villages used by the Apartheid government to isolate black political dissidents who were guilty of mobilizing resistance movements within peri-urban and rural black communities. The South African photographer Ernest Cole took the picture of the Frenchdale banishment camp shortly before leaving South Africa in exile for New York, and although it was published in his 1967 book House of Bondage (which was banned in South Africa until 1994), these camps remained a largely unacknowledged part of South Africa’s history until as late as 2013. 

In these very different images we are presented with worlds-apart, places that couldn’t be believed to exist, one because it was consigned to an irretrievable history and the other because it was projected into a fantastical future. Like a dream, Constant’s photograph coaxes the viewer to imagine his or her own body inside a changeable, sensorially environment whose qualities are manipulable and within the viewer’s own sphere of control. Cole’s photograph is comparatively inert - or it is at least supposed to be -, a document of alienation and supreme external control. But however they differ, both images claim to open transparently onto a foreign world.

What is our relation to the space of these worlds, and how are these relations informed by assumptions about visuality, physical extension, time and tactility? In short, is our range of experiences of artworks inherently distinct from our experiences of non-art content in the “real world”? The basic problem these questions get at - the separation of art and life - has been very important for a number of artists and thinkers, particularly in the mid-twentieth century. The ones we will look at, besides Constant and Cole, are the Situationist International, the Brazilian artist Lygia Clark, and the writings of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Gaston Bachelard. 

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Video: Lecture April 3, 2014, at Kungl. Konsthögskolan by Anthea Buys: The image of a house in an imagined world