Shanghai Biennale 2017


Together with Ana Boranieva, Charlotte Maltere and Jasna Stefanovska

Location: Shanghai, China

Status: Under construction.

Year: 2017

Developer: Private

Collaborators :

Lola Viega

Daniel Leiva

Photo: Baum

SKOPJE’S PLASTIC SURGERY

Distorting urban tectonics for a new identity.

(An entomological collection of urban artefacts)

Baum has been selected for Shanghai Urban Space Art Season Biennale, Curated by Xiangning Li and Stefano Bieri. Among some interesting international offices, including top architecture practices such as as West 8, James Corner/Field Operations or Weiss and Manfredi, Baum will be presenting an installation on Skopje case study. In 2011, Baum directed an international workshop in collaboration with the Cyril and Methodius University Skopje, ETH Zúrich, Arhitektri and University of Seville. For Shanghai Biennale 2017, and wandering in-between art and architecture research, Baum has shipped 185 kgrs. of touristic suovenirs from Skopje to Shanghai for its installation. Reflecting on the ideas of repetition, fake heritage, style, heterotopias, mass identity control, tourism …

Since 2010, Skopje has been undertaking great urban changes, aiming at an Europeanization of the city and rejecting its mestizo-cultural background, with Ottoman, Balcan and Byzantine somewhere in.between Asia and Europe. In its desperate attempt to get culturally closer to a distorted idea of what Europe is or should be, Skopje has been deliverately manipulating its own identity. A series of eclectic neo-styled buildings has been popping up, turning the center of Skopje in a sort of theme park. Beyond stylistic considerations, there are complex social and political intentions behind this operation.

Here you have a short extract from the installation comprehensive text:

In 2010, a new Master Plan for the city of Skopje was launched. The urban planning, known as Skopje 2014, aimed at a great transformation of the urban realm, including new public facilities, a big number of public sculptures, the refurbishment of a series of buildings, two pedestrian bridges and the reactivation of many public spaces. After the metamorphosis of the riverfront, the Vardar River would turn into the urban spine of the city, a brand new urban landmark for the expected hordes of tourists. At the time, with around 600.000 inhabitants, Skopje was the capital of a young new country with a European Community dream.

Nothing seemed to make this different from most urban reactivation initiatives in Europe. The system of public spaces was lacking a greater cohesion. It had reached an archipelago condition and the city needed a renovation.

It is when it comes to the matter of style that the first attention calls pop up. All the projects were designed in eclectic, historicist styles: neoclassical, neo-baroque, neo-Renaissance… All the statues were figurative, historicists and representing glorious citizens from the time before the ottomans. What could make a city like Skopje, with such an interesting background of Western-Ottoman mestizo diversity, try to inflict to itself a violent plastic surgery of this nature? Why would the city choose to put neoclassical make-up on, in the form of a series of styles that necessarily cannot belong to its Ottoman tradition (1395-1912 A.D.), neither to its Byzantine roots, nor to its more recent Socialist’s brutalism?

Already in 2001, the city had crowdfunded a gigantic cross on the top of mount Vodno. That was the first urban operation of this type. Somehow, Skopje 2014 began in 2001. But the seed for this makeover has to be found decades or even centuries ago. Friday, July 26th 1963, at 5:17 AM, an earthquake flattened four fifths of the city of Skopje. The city was at ground zero. Many connections with the past were suddenly cut. The urban palimpsest had been brutally discontinued in a matter of seconds. The international community offer its help to rebuild the city. Kenzo Tange wins the International Competition launched by U.N. A series of vicissitudes finally distorted the general idea and it was never accomplished as a whole. However, several wonderful examples of brutalist architecture still remain from that time.

In 2010 government’s eyes, both the Ottoman tradition and the socialist’s heir (with very distinctive, specific features) were pulling Macedonia towards East. That was seen as a problem in their hopes of getting closer to the core of Western Europe. Moreover, the earthquake had destroyed many buildings from the time of the Serbian-Croatian Empire, in which there was a certain influence of Austrian-Hungarian-styled architecture.  The Skopje 2014 plan claimed for a recovery of this destroyed neoclassical heritage that the “communists” had contaminated with their brutalist conception of the new city.

Nowadays, Skopje is still actually a dual city. Many urban vectors tense the urban core, and there are subtle conflicts in terms of social, ethnical, religious or urban relationships. Orthodox (with a Slavic origin) and Muslims (with an Albanian origin) coexist but do not mix much. This situation was especially hard during the years after the communism collapsed, when religious feelings remerged strongly. The Muslim neighborhood, with the Old Bazaar, once the economical center of the city, is now disconnected from the activity areas. From the Muslim areas, in the night, the shining Millenium Cross, at the top of Vodno Mount in the Orthodox zone, hangs in the black sky.  A 66 meters high Christian Cross imposed to the Albanian-Macedonian’s view of the urban skyline.

Just as an anorexic’s perception of her or himself is distorted in the brain, Skopje tried to erase its own past. Suddenly, brutalist and ottoman heritage was considered not European enough. The city thought it was a problem to be integrated in the EU. Ashamed of its own body, Skopje decided to go into plastic surgery. Inventing a new tradition retrospectively, Skopje was desperately trying to “Europeanize”. The result was just an empty reflex blurring a rich mixed tradition. This is what the French philosopher Foucault would call a “Heterotopia”, a situation in which two or more incompatible cells are able to co-exist, completely isolated from the context. However, maybe this time they turned into cancerous seeds, able to metastasize massively, in order to change city’s identity.

This installation, just as ancient explorer of the new world did in the 19th century, tries to collect and classify a series of specimens of the artefacts that popped up in the city.

Beyond stylistics considerations, there are clear political and social intentions behind this operation. Tourists never came. The collection of kitsch, new urban elements cost millions. Eventually, economic and migratory crisis momentarily prevented Macedonia from getting closer to the EU.

 

Marta Barrera Altemir, Ana Boranieva, Javier Caro and Miguel Gentil. 2017

 

 

 

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