Interview, 16.06.2017

A Minute with Pascale Obolo
The founder of the African Art Book Fair
gives voice to independent publishers

A profound love for words and images shape Pascale Obolo’s world and artistic output. Hailing from Cameroon and raised in Paris, this prolific creative works between publishing, journalism and cinematography. Bureau N met with her in Basel during the I Never Read art book fair where she’s the first exhibitor to represent independent publishers from Africa. As the founder of the African Art Book Fair and the contemporary art journal AFRIKADAA, Obolo seeks to foster artistic voices from Africa, offering them increased visibility and a platform for widespread discourse.

Pascale Obolo with assistant.

Pascale Obolo with one of her colleagues

When did you establish the African Art Book Fair?

It’s a very young project. We started in 2016 at the Dakar Biennale, but before that we founded AFRIKADAA, an art journal created by a collective of artists, art critics and book lovers. The idea is to present each issue’s content in an actual exhibition space. We want to have a platform where we can show the artists we collaborate with whether they are from different parts of Africa or the diaspora. Most national museums are not interested in showcasing this kind of artists, they go for safer choices. So the journal acts as a sort of laboratory and a curatorial exercise. Also, we invite various writers from around the world to contribute, and thus the result is a great mix of academic writing, clearly journalistic pieces, and experimental texts.

How did your collaboration with I Never Read come about?

INR is the one who found me and initially we were thinking of joining forces during the Art Paris fair but unfortunately we didn’t manage to get financial backing. Then later on, we picked up the discussion again and they invited me to talk about the projects I’ve been involved in and introduce them to indie publishers from Africa — a completely unknown scene to them. It’s the first time that an African publisher is exhibited at the fair, so that’s very interesting.

What kind of books did you bring with you this time for the fair?

We selected three books (award-winning artist Marc Johnson with lacune féconde, books by artist Sammy Baloji from Galerie Imane Farès and others)  and  as well as the upcoming issue of AFRIKADAA, which will be out in September 2017. We publish three issues per year plus one special edition. Last year we collaborated with the Centre Pompidou for their group show “Museum On/Off”. The museum gave us a carte blanche to propose ways on how to reinvent the museum in the future. I suggested a fictional museum including artists that I knew the Centre Pompidou had never exhibited before. We decided to do an extension of what we did there and create “paper museum” of sorts for the special issue.

How many publishers did the African Art Book Fair have first?

Not that many, maybe 25. From different places in Africa. We also invited three artists from South Africa who use the book as their artistic medium.

What would a potential collaboration between the African Art Book Fair and I Never Read look like next year?

We actually have plenty of ideas. For the next edition of the fair in Dakar in May 2018, we’re thinking of doing an exchange with Basel and mixing publishers from the north with publishers from the south. It will be more of an artistic project and we’ll question the role and existence of fairs in the contemporary world. Why are there so many nowadays? And what purpose do they serve, especially for independent initiatives.

 

 

Interview, 23.11.2016

On Urban Planning and the Role of the Contemporary Architect.
In discussion with Something Fantastic

Architecture is linked to everything and vice versa. An architect should be someone who gathers and synthesizes knowledge from a broad array of fields and is ambitious enough to challenge parochial views and foment a shift in perspective. Following a straight-forward dictum—smart, touching, simple architecture—the Berlin-based architecture collective Something Fantastic aspires to foster changes within the industry and initiate discussions about architecture in a wide spectrum. Contemporary politics, materials, energy and the environment are all topics that coalesce into the core of architecture and what it means today; topics that SF seeks to address through their practice and the site-specific courses they teach at ETH Zurich. The trio’s hopeful view on the future is not solely based on unyielding idealism but also realistic expectations and pragmatic plans. Simply put, they aspire to make the world better.

Here, we engage in a discussion with Julian Schubert, Elena Schütz and Leo Streich about the role of the contemporary architect, the inflexibility of city planning and the need for fewer rules.

photo: Kirsten Bucher

photo: Kirsten Bucher

The architectural practice has inadvertently formed a status quo within the industry that’s quite obsolete. How do you approach this state of things?

We do what we do because we think that somehow we’ll contribute to a situation which allows for better architecture and the amelioration of the field. Our specific role is not to be politicians; our role right now is to design and to give shape.

You’ve stated that we need fewer rules. How do you mean that?

In the field of construction, rules are mostly put into effect to cope with the complexity of what is technically and programmatically possible and what is good and safe for the society as a whole. But rules are often too rigid and they can keep you from developing in a more diverse way. For example, there are more and more regulations emerging in order to prevent gentrification and rising rents. Of course, it’s a good idea, I’m glad i don’t have to leave my place, but at the same time you can’t really change anything in those buildings or do anything to improve certain aspects. And that’s where you see the coarseness of rules as they leave no room to distinguish between someone whose motives are to raise the building’s standards and someone who’s out to to make a financial profit at the expense of others. Architecture is suffocated by more and more rules because the essence of the practice is all about vitality, progress and movement.

Your approach is multi-disciplinary. Do you think architecture is more about how we interact with spaces in general, and not just buildings per se?

To better answer this, it might be helpful to differentiate between architecture and architects. Architecture is from the very small scale of furniture and the process of furnishing a room all the way up to cities and structures, landscapes, and how the urban interacts with the rural. On the other hand, being an architect doesn’t necessarily mean that we only focus on architecture. Personally, I don’t have such a wide understanding of architecture, but I do have a wide understanding of what an architect should be doing.

Which is?

It’s more about the idea of the architect being this individual who culls all kinds of information and synthesizes it into forms and into something that maybe manifests architecturally, that can be touched or whatever. That’s our understanding of practicing as an architect nowadays. This was also the starting point and the outcome of our manifesto. We ask ourselves, how can we engage with the world using the tools, skills and knowledge that we possess. In the end, it’s not necessary to produce architecture per se—architecture meaning all that is built—in order to be considered an architect.

How do you see the role of the architect then?

Ideally, architects will get involved in multiple fields, become more interested in processes and accept that the manifestation of their thoughts can happen indirectly and maybe later down the line—instant gratification isn’t the goal. That also involves that students should veer away from this idea of the form-creator and the necessity for tangibility. We should become more independent from form. It’s about the space, not about the form; there is no form. It’s about people, interaction, performance with the space; that’s what we want to discuss. Well, we believe that limiting yourself to a narrow understanding of design as a discipline that invents nice facades using nice materials is counterproductive. Also, if you stay within the traditional spectrum of architecture as the practice that designs buildings, it is important to take into account the mechanisms that have an impact on the building you’re creating on various scales and levels. How does it interact with the city? How could it be used when the original user has moved out? How is the building operated? How does it complement the adjacent buildings? How does it influence the lives of people who live in and around it? Where do the production materials come from?

But it should not stop there. We are interested in the planning of the city; the real estate market; the social and economic developments within neighbourhoods; the meaning of the building sector in global economics; and the flow of goods and resources in relation to architecture.

photo left: fashion show at Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin / photo right: Felix Torkar / photo bottom: Zara Pfeifer

photo left: fashion show at Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin / photo right: Felix Torkar / photo bottom: Zara Pfeifer

 

Tell me more about the kind of discussions you’re trying to initiate as architects.

We get the chance to explore this aspect through the courses we teach every year at the ETH Zurich. The one we did in Brazil focused on favelas which are totally stigmatised; they’re seen as something that city planning should eradicate. And, sure, favelas have a lot of problems but they also have potential. For example, they are extremely pedestrian-friendly, they exude a strong sense of community, and you actually see that in the way space is structured. Favelas are intriguing and inspiring—it’s a matter of perspective. Informally built neighbourhoods have a lot to teach. Our goal there was to describe them as habitats and explore how denizens found solutions for urban development.

Speaking of inhabitants’ needs within the city, right now in Berlin, people want a better cycling infrastructure, and in that discussion arises the issue of seasonality. In the summer, the majority of the population opts for cycling, but come winter no one really wants to use a bicycle. So it seems pointless to retain year-round cycling paths considering that the demand for them drops massively in winter. Of course, this is just an example that pops to our head, but it goes to show that seasonal design can be effective in various fields. Cities need to be more flexible and adaptable to needs and seasons. We’d like to discuss this idea of seasonality but our modernist mindset doesn’t think about seasons; to be modern is to not be reliant on nature’s elements. Being dependent on seasons seems anachronistic or even primitive. However, it would be very smart to consider this logical parameter.

Why are cities reluctant to changes?

Cities are complex, wicked problems. Planning is even a super wicked problem—to use a scientific term here. Complex interdependencies render problems almost impossible to solve. But, if a politician thinks that implementing this or that would make his life easier, then the plan in question is put into effect. But in the end, we don’t just sit here making ourselves increasingly frustrated due to our belief of what is good and what is bad in this convoluted state of affairs. Admittedly, things are somehow moving in the right direction… Which means they are becoming more pressing and more obvious. It’s the sort of development that makes what’s important and viable more acute, present and talked about.

Finally, can you give us a selection of three staple books that have significantly influenced your practice and approach to architecture?

In the field of informal housing, Housing by People: Towards Autonomy in Building Environments by John Turner, and Tropical Architecture in the Dry and Humid Zones by Edwin Maxwell Fry. Generally and conceptually, A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction by Christopher Alexander. And, last but not least, Wie funktioniert das? Technische Vorgänge, in Wort und Bild erklärt (in English: How does this work?) published by Allgemeiner Verlag.

Interview by Effie Efthymiadi

photo left: Jan Bitter / photo right: Helen Levitt, 1988

photo left: Jan Bitter / photo right: Helen Levitt, 1988

Interview, 15.06.2016

Migration:
Defining the Notions of “Home” and “Identity”
Swiss Art Awards 2016

In reference to this year’s graphic and thematic superstructure focusing on migration, we asked the Swiss Art Awards participants to express how their trajectory has altered their perception and how they define the notions of “Heimat” and “identity”. Constantly evolving, the term “home” can be seen as an abstract entity that has procured a number of meanings and is undoubtedly embedded in human consciousness. Even though our introduction to the idea of home is usually situated within a specific topographic context, down the line, it’s denuded of geographical connotations and acquires a much more social and emotional basis. Home ceases to be synonymous to habitat as it assumes a more existential character that demands to be redefined incessantly. In a way, seeking something that you can identify as home is seeking your own identity, something you can genuinely identify with. Much like Homer’s Odysseus who, upon losing track of what he considers home, begins to lose track of himself too. Is home a notion that defines our existence and the extension of our inner selves?

“Both notions are too unstable and dynamic to allow for a clear answer. I can just say that ‘Heimat’, and therefore any understanding of the ‘I’, are in constant mutation, much like our social milieu is. In other words, the constitution of an ‘identity’ is closer to a permanent migration than to any abused values of safety and stability.” Pascal Schwaighofer is an artist who sees metaphors as a conceptual tool to unfold specific subjects, and ultimately to enquire the interconnections between aesthetic concepts and economic regulatory cycles.

“Migration as a fever. A symptom of the state of the world.” Chri Frautschi is a curator and the founder of Lokal-int, a space for contemporary art and experimental happenings in Biel.

“The earth belongs to everyone. Everyone is welcome home. Fuck the concept of homeland and all populist parties stirring up hatred between peoples, just for their little personal benefit. My art is a cry of rage against conformism.” Hayane Kam Nakache is a painter who favours recycling and the concept of DIY. According to Hayane, the quality of the finish is not important, the important thing is to do it yourself.

“In contrast to ‘fatherland’, which is linked to a geographically defined place, the word ‘home’ is more abstract idea and, to a certain extent, is related to impermanence. The possibility of change and migration has altered its meaning—now several locations or communities may constitute a ‘home’ at the same time.” — In her sculptures, video installations and performances, Dominique Koch deals with the communicative and referential limits of language and uses the voice as a communication tool.

“The word ‘Heimat’ doesn’t really mean anything to me anymore – it’s a ceaselessly moving place. Home is an institution without walls, whose architecture is not still or limited.” Jeanne Graff, an independent curator and writer, is constantly trying to develop new contexts to show art in a way that’s engaging for both the artists and the audience.  

“We are not just because we think, we are because of our human and physical context. Migration abandons pre-consolidated ideas of affection and home—that’s why I consider it particularly painful and moving.” Martino Pedrozzi develops architectural, urban and landscape concepts and works as a consultant for infrastructural projects.

“After several generations of relative safety and stability, we often tend to lose our sense of history, and then we come to see the current crisis as a somehow distant phenomenon. Therefore, we fail to perceive that these events are at the core of our very existence. We have to take into account that identity is a process and not a fixed principle, otherwise it can be a dangerous notion.” Aurelien Gamboni develops a practice of critical investigation by means of art, often involving field research and collaborations, and leading to multiple forms of installations, texts and lectures-performances.

Credits: House of Mixed Emotions by Jeanne Graff  /  Sceru, 2015,  Photo: Pino BrioschiAurélien  /  Gamboni, Les corps attrapés par le discours, étagère encastrée, livres et autres objets (detail), 2015. Courtesy the artist

Interview, 12.06.2016

The Concept of Utopia within the Design World
Swiss Design Awards 2016

On the occasion of the 2016 Swiss Design Awards, BUREAU N launched a series of interviews with all the participants of the design competition – organised annually by the Swiss Federal Office of Culture – in the run-up to the exhibition in Basel. The interviews aim to dissect the participants’ personal concept of utopia in relation to their practice, methods and strategies. Selected designers express their definition of utopia and their opinion on whether design is capable of changing societal systems. Is utopia the truth of tomorrow, as Victor Hugo has suggested, or merely an ideal conviction that ultimately pushes us towards a different reality and set of constructs? Utopia. The word celebrates its 500th anniversary this year: Thomas More’s influential and radical text on the term was first published in 1516. The British Renaissance humanist was the first to give a name to an idea that has triggered and empowered imagination ever since—the creation of a better world is possible. Utopia refers, in the original meaning of the Greek word, to both a place with positive connotations and a non-place. It invites us to a traveller’s log portraying an ideal society on a fictional island in the Atlantic Ocean. More’s work continues to inspire us and offers frameworks for innovation today, stressing the importance of the process of imagination as well as dreaming in the here and now.

cavadini_simone_res pvblica_5
“Having an element of utopia in one’s work is very important. The constant search for something that may not ever exist can potentially lead to new ideas, pushing projects and boundaries further and further.” — Simone Cavadini is a photographer who in his current project RES PVBLICA analyses the relationship between performance and power in the Italian media.

“Without the utopian idea which influences my actions in the here and now—and paves the way, so to speak—I would constantly repeat myself artistically.” — Fashion designer Sandro Marzo is a firm believer in the idea that design is everything, and everything is design. In his opinion, design is in fact capable of effecting social change.

“Utopia is looking for an undetectable answer that motivates you to keep working on different projects. In my work, the word utopia relates to a certain hyperreal aesthetic. Through this particular aesthetic, I refer to the hyper-commercialist codes that surround our visual society through advertising, but also internet aesthetics that subtly direct our desires and dreams. Utopia is omnipresent in my creative process. This imaginary element frees me, it allows me to create without limits or restrictions. Then I can see further, beyond the known.” — Maxime Guyon’s work oscillates between research on the constant evolution of technological functions in our current society and the role of a photographer in a post-internet era.

“Utopia represents a stage at which design annihilates itself, which consequently means that design is not capable of changing society. This may sound dystopian but this is exactly what pushes me to come up with both innovative and critical graphic patterns.” — Dan Solbach has established a practice almost exclusively focusing on graphic design for artists and contemporary art institutions.

SDA_3

“The role of the designer is not just to think about an object’s form and function. I see the designer as an antenna capturing moments, moods and needs. The designer helps create new ways of thinking. New approaches encourage a continual renewal essential to any development. Each creation is an interpretation of what surrounds us; a singular vision, a new view of the world. It is vital for our societies to knowingly reinvent themselves and recognize the impact of our collective choices on our future.” — Lucy Authié aims to strengthen the bonds between luxury and sustainability in product development.

 Read more interviews and find out more about the participants here.

Interview, 18.08.2015

Summer Reading Picks
Melancholy and Architecture: On Aldo Rossi

With “Melancholy and Architecture: On Aldo Rossi”  by Diogo Seixas Lopes we learn about obligations to express, “that there is nothing to express”. An interview with the author, who met Rossi by means of a misdemeanour…

Diogo Titel II

San Cataldo, Photo: Nuno Cera

Italian architect Aldo Rossi (1931–97) is, without question, one of the most influential architects of the second half of the 20th century.  In your book titled “Melancholy and Architecture: On Aldo Rossi” – recently published by Park Books and celebrated by the critics – you look at the significant contribution the architect has made to architectural discourse, offering a new perspective on the long cultural history of melancholy. How did you meet Aldo Rossi?

Diogo: My first memory of Aldo Rossi is stealing a pocket monograph of his work published by Gustavo Gili, in the early 1990s. It was a childish stunt, in a bookstore that was setting up shop at the architecture school in Lisbon. I did not know much about architecture, but at least I recognised the name of the architect. Maybe I was drawn by the image of the cover, which I think was the Teatro del Mondo. If I were to believe in certain kinds of biographic explanations, and that is not the case, I met Rossi by means of a misdemeanour.

While the influence of melancholy on literature and the visual arts has been extensively studied, its presence in architecture has been largely overlooked.  Why did you choose to shed light on this specific dark side of architecture?

Diogo: Aldo Rossi frequently mentioned a text by Raymond Roussel, explaining how he had written some of his books. Roussel describes a very methodical process, while his works are anything but clear-cut. A lot of the choices I made, or for that matter anyone else in a similar situation, were of technical nature. Choices of structure and content, choices of form really. True, I was also drawn by a personal proclivity for certain states of mind. And then, the idea to portray Rossi as a dark star of architecture. But, as it is often said, the work should speak for itself.

San Cataldo, Photo: Nuno Cera

San Cataldo, Photo: Nuno Cera

Exploring Rossi’s entire career, you trace out the oscillation between enthusiasm and disenchantment that marks Rossi’s work, and closer explore of one of Rossi’s landmark creations, the Cemetery of San Cataldo in Modena. An emotion built in stone?

Diogo: Your question seems to derive from the famous dictum by Goethe, about architecture being frozen music. I never liked that expression much, it seems too formal and – frankly – too German. Sure, you cannot or – in my point of view – should not discuss the work of Rossi without taking into account a deeply emotional aspect associated to it. That is also what makes his case so interesting, the disruptive side of his personality. But then there is the rest. There are the buildings, the projects, the texts, the drawings and so forth.

Melancholy and Architecture – on Barbas Lopes. As a practicing architect yourself, is there a presence of melancholy in your work? – As the “Teatro Thalia” comes to mind.

Diogo: Originally, I wrote this as a doctoral dissertation at ETH Zurich. It was roughly done at the same time of the project and construction of Teatro Thalia, in Lisbon. Barbas Lopes is a partnership with my wife – Patrícia Barbas – and an architectural office dealing with the basic facts and figures of the trade . There is no underlying theme, just the specific conditions of each work. But contaminations do happen, and we are firm believers in them. In the case of Thalia, by some strange coincidence, they happened to be about ruins and memories retrieved from oblivion.

Melancholy and Architecture: On Aldo Rossi
Diogo Seixas Lopes
Park Books (2015)
ISBN 978-3-906027-47-0

Interview, 11.08.2015

BUREAU N meets BUREAU A in Lisbon

“We are architects, but we also like architecture”, says Daniel Zamarbide, one of the two founders of BUREAU A, a recent – and unusual – transplant to the Portuguese capital, especially while the number of emigrants from the country continues to rise.

BureaA_Collage

BUREAU A’s new space in Lisbon (left) and B.I.G. Biennale des espaces d’art indépendants de Genève (2015), Photo: Dylan Perrenoud (right)

We met with BUREAU A in their new space, a bright and huge old flat located on Rua dos Anjos in central Lisbon, to learn about what brought them to this capital on Europe’s periphery – and what keeps them busy these days.  Earlier this summer, Swiss architectural duo Leopold Banchini and Daniel Zamarbide moved their office BUREAU A from Geneva, the heart of Swiss Romandie, to Lisbon. The move wasn’t prompted by business or personal reasons, nor did they develop a passion when visiting the city, as one might suspect. Daniel hadn’t even been to Lisbon before…

It was more of a decision to step out of our comfort zone, in response to the number of highly qualified young Portuguese architects applying for a position with BUREAU A, and because of an interest in Portugal’s traditional craftsmanship, still highly regarded and increasingly preserved. Why not move your studio and come to your collaborators, instead of having them come to you?

What is your story?

We founded BUREAU A in 2012 as a multidisciplinary platform, aiming to blur the boundaries between architectural research and related projects. With a team of seven in Lisbon and one still in Geneva, we’re seeking to expand our activities to diverse programs, ranging from architecture and landscape design to scenography, installations, and self-developed initiatives. You may remember our mountain shelter, a wooden cabin concealed inside an artificial rock and transported to a remote site in the Swiss Alps, which paid tribute to the central character in the novel Derborence by Charles-Ferdinand Ramuz. Or our intervention in the streets of Hanoi, where mounted a seven-storey mobile performance space and street kitchen on a tricycle. More recently, we finished our Fountain2015 project – a pissoir for a public space in Zürich made out of Portuguese marble.

What is keeping you busy these days?

We are working on more than 10 international projects simultaneously, besides different teaching and lecturing positions, lots of traveling and – very relevant to our work – the constant consumption of architectural culture and history. Leopold is in Paris right now, for our involvement in PerformanceProcess, a project that marks the 30th anniversary of the Swiss Cultural Centre (CCS) in Paris, opening this September. We have been invited to create the spatial design for a 12-week performance programme where each week is dedicated to a different artistic concept. Another project keeping us busy is one that will bring us to Germany: the exhibition Orientations. Young Swiss Architects, a project by the Swiss Architecture Museum, presented by the M:AI Museum für Architektur und Ingenieurkunst in North Rhine-Westphalia.

Are you looking to explore any unusual architectural forms?

Oh – we’re obsessed by waterfalls, which will be relevant for a challenging commission by the arc en rêve – centre d’architecture in Bordeaux coming up soon…

BUREAU-A_Spiruline_2014©DylanPerrenoud_small

Spiruline (2014) – A garden folly by BUREAU A in a public park of Geneva – Quoting the water cascades of the Villa Aldobrandini. Photo: Dylan Perrenoud

As for Lisbon, where BUREAU N first arrived five years ago but BUREAU A is still finding their way around, Daniel tells us that being a foreigner new to the city has formed his working process: “Still working as a tourist – without being one.”

We will keep in touch with BUREAU A, in the hopes that we can collaborate very soon – a joint venture may be in the cards…