#photography & visual arts
Imagine living in a place where everybody has their own Doppelganger. Where one building unites the realities of the kindergarten and a nursing home, of a stadium and a marketplace, and of an apartment complex and a cemetery. In this city, it is possible.
This utopian vision of urban planning is the result of yet another collaboration between Krzysztof Garbaczewski and Aleksandra Wasilkowska, or, to be exact, a collaboration between their collectives: Dream Adoption Society and Shadow Architecture. Before that, the director and the architect worked together for many years on numerous theatre plays. Wasilkowska designed amazing sets that perfectly accompanied Garbaczewski’s crazy imagination. This time, they joined forces as curators to represent Poland during the 14th Prague Quadrennial, an event that dates as far back as 1967 devoted to designing spaces for performative arts.
The Prague Quadrennial (PQ) is an international undertaking on a massive scale: in 2019, the 11-day-long festival (5th-16th June 2019) invited more than 800 artists from 79 countries, making it the biggest event of its kind in the world. As the PQ’s organisers declare, the event aspires to present sets and other designs that:
…are far beyond merely decorative or beautiful, but emotionally charged, where design can become a quest, a question, an argument, a threat, a resolution, an agent of change, or a provocation.
Aporia: The City Is the City undoubtedly fulfils the above intention. It is one of two Polish presentations that became part of PQ’s main exhibition (another was Nowa Wiadomość (New Message) which took part in the Student Exhibition competition). The project, part of the Exhibition of Countries and Regions, consisted of a VR installation, an AR (Augmented Reality) app and a more traditional book-form publication containing an exposé-like written work by Wasilkowska and three micro essays written by other authors. The English-language publication includes images illustrating the described utopia and others that refer to the ideas introduced by the curators. The entire project can be seen as resembling a moodboard.
The unquestionable strong point of the exhibition is its inclusion of the vintage – from the perspective of new technologies – medium, the book. This gesture not only stabilises and ‘grounds’ a project dominated by ephemeral elements (such as a VR installation dependent on individual experience), but also works against technological exclusion. You do not have to be a user of any device to get to know the main idea behind Aporia and to imagine how this fantastical city would look if it came to life. Such visualisations are aided by vivid descriptions:
City systems, that at first seemed impossible to connect, merged organically with each other in a single location. The city is governed by both chaos and order. The shadows of monumental buildings cover spread-out market stalls and favelas made of corrugated iron which grow organically over the cuboid, perfectly designed architecture like slime molds.
Garbaczewski’s and Wasilkowska’s utopia was designed following the ideas of ‘shadow architecture’: the city is built out of hybrid mirrored structures. The buildings are perfectly symmetrical and they complement each other in their functions. The corporate skyscrapers house offices on their even-numbered floors, while the odd-numbered ones are turned into homeless shelters.
The fact that the city is designed to be built out of recycled bricks is an important part of the vision. The role of plants and mushrooms is equally important – they grow to monstrous sizes, becoming non-human persons and, consequently, citizens. As such, the project deals with contemporary theories related to posthumanism which argue that humans are no longer the most important beings and the only ones worthy of respect.
The title is also interesting in the context of the vision presented in Prague. Aporia (from the Greek word for ‘impasse’) is a philosophical concept designating an insurmountable difficulty in reasoning. What does the title say of the vision proposed by Garbaczewski and Wasilkowska? Is the mirrored symbiotic city something ‘impossible to be thought’? Aporia: The City Is the City is without doubt a project fitting the visionary ambitions of the Prague Quadrennial – next to an interesting, super-modern idea for spaces for performative art, it carries with it a concept for socio-political change.
The exhibition was produced by the Zbigniew Raszewski Theatre Institute in Warsaw.
Originally written in Polish, translated by MW, Sept 2019