Few months ago, Joanne Pouzenc from CollageLab proposed that we would have an epistolary conversation in the frame of the CollageLab’s Points of view series which was opened by our good friend Daniel Fernandez Pascual. This conversation is still going on but while waiting for the publication of new articles here, I would like to propose what has been written so far as I suppose that it is a useful definition of the Funambulist’s editorial line:
There is a beautiful image behind the Funambulist: the image of this passionate guy in love with challenge, control and fear, putting himself in danger to either just reach the other side or because of its addiction to tension and adrenaline.
But for you, who and what is The Funambulist? What is the process behind it? And how did it started?
The choice of the Funambulist is based on a series of observations that I have been making about the notion of line. Lines are the tool used by the architect to plan a materialization of boundaries. A line is a simple geometric entity but, through the practice of architecture, it becomes a wall that splits one milieu from another. The Funambulist (i.e. tight rope walker) is the character who subverts this separation by walking on the line. I often use the example of November 9th 1989 to describe this expressive act of freedom: when the Berliners realized that the wall’s effect was obsolete, they did not necessarily went from one side to another, instead, they climbed on the top of the wall, and stayed there for a while, on a 20 cm wide world freed from the coercive power of the wall.
In a more straight forward way, through this name, I also wanted to invoke the figures of Philippe Petit, walking back and forth between New York twin towers in 1974, and the Nietzschean character introduced in Zarathustra who can dies peacefully after falling from his line as he dedicated his life to the danger he dies from.
The blog itself is in perpetual redefinition as the desires I am putting in it are also changing all the time. At first, it was mostly an attempt to approach architecture by indirect means, through other disciplines like cinema, literature or philosophy. This approach is probably still happening but I am trying, for better or for worse, to focus my writings through a political and legal filter, the thesis articulated behind those articles being that architecture is inherently a political weapon.
CollageLab: Architecture as a political weapon? It implies that architecture has something to fight against? The re-new-ed “trend” – which may disappear or not – of engaged architecture in a political level seems to be a strategical solution for survival consequently to the economical crisis. Or maybe a reaction to international events that focuses on protest. As architecture is a tool to divide or to unite, architecture has to be engaged. But can architecture – as a built result – be engaged or isn’t the process of making architecture – which had a tendency to disappear from the focus due to the constant repetition of shiny images of the final built product – able to be engaged. Maybe what is changing is the definition beyond architecture. What is yours?
The Funambulist: Architecture as such has nothing to fight against, just like a sword or a gun have nothing to fight against. My argument is that architecture is intrinsically a weapon as its physicality has a strong influence, if not violence, on the bodies it hosts. The modification or the creation of the built environment in any given society cannot escape from being instrumentalized within mechanisms of power. Architecture is therefore a political instrument whether we, architects, design it as such or not.
About the trend you are evoking, I have to say that I am having trouble knowing what to think about it. On the one hand, a political agenda, when dissolved until only the general consensus is left, seems to be worse than no political agenda at all. But, on the other hand, we might want to think of what is happening right now as a work in progress that is slowly incorporating the political aspect and consequences of architecture as a given that simply cannot be ignored.
The ‘shiny images’ phenomena is frustrating, it is true; however, I think that all eras have known some forms of mainstream until a radical movement ambitiously challenged them, only to reproduce the same process when followed by an opportunist, yet numerous arriere garde. I think that we always need to be engaged within processes of resistance against those non-imaginative opportunist forces. That also means that we have to be even more careful if we become more influential ourselves. We do not need to necessarily refuse ambition, but we have to draw a clear line between it and the principles that fuel it. Many movement tried to change the definition of architecture through their manifesto, sometimes through their slogans (less is more, less is a bore etc.). There is a thin line between a narrow definition that attempts to reduce architecture to only one of its aspects and a holistic definition which rather, while focusing on one dimension that gives sense to architecture, does not evacuate the other ones in order to give it some flesh. I never taught, but I were to teach a thesis studio in an architecture school, I would expect the students to be able to fill the gap of the sentence ‘Architecture is…’ It would not mean that they could possibly give up working on any dimensions that the discipline implies, but rather than all these dimensions would be thought and designed through the notion that they believe should fill the gap of their manifesto sentence.
CollageLab: In one of your latest posts, Official Report on the Question of the so-called New York Commune, you draw delicately the fictional landscape – in terms of time and space – of a past and forgotten New York Commune. In this text, the line you are talking about, the one you are dangerously walking on, separating the ambition and the principles of it, appears really clearly… But what is it really about? About the necessity of a commune? About a necessary revolution? Or about its inextricable failure? At collage, we are looking at the notions of Commune – interested by the initiative of San Francisco diggers and their – too hippie – Free City – or the so called neo-provicialism as a growing and globalized phenomenon (even though completely anecdotic) significant at least of a renewed and affirmed need for community scale and belonging. But what is – for you – the Problem of the Commune?
The Funambulist: This story of the New York Commune has been, and will continue to be, an on-going project that I work on. It is mostly born from my own feeling of integration in New York without feeling attached to the United States and the interpretation of the city as a universal one in which all nationalities and about two hundred languages exist together. In a more historical reading of it, I was interested to superimpose some events from the 1871 Paris Commune on a contemporary situation. My story is certainly a political one, but not necessarily a literal activist one. What I mean by that, is that I am not just imagining a situation where New York would declare its independence through a collective empowerment of its people; I am also trying to see how life in a city could be when comfort has disappeared and that potential suppressive forces are surrounding it. In this regard, more recently, I drew a map of what I called, the Manhattan strip, as a form of comparison of the situation in Gaza with the relentless attacks and control apparatuses it has to suffer from. This story is not therefore a sort of manifesto for New York to declare its independence, but rather a mean to open imaginaries. The latter have been captured by capitalism and “the end of history” which uses a rhetoric that Margaret Thatcher summed up very well with her “there is no alternative”. Fiction is thus a useful tool to fight against this narrow vision of societal models. In this particular story, and probably in its cinematographic version on which I am trying to work now, I am also trying to blur the limits between reality and fiction, to inject some doubt on what is being said or showed, to assume all the subjectivity of the narrative(s) in order to make it easier to dive in.
I think that what you call “the Problem of the Commune” is a way to reflect on an ‘archipelagization’ of governance (sorry for the neologism). Thinking about it is a way to territorialize the way we take decisions for our local society. One might say that it is a sort of feudalism, which is understandable, but exchanges between territories are so important nowadays that we can legitimately think about this archipelagized governance as one where its ‘islands’ would not necessarily behave as antagonists to each other. It is a way for me to exit imperialism but, of course and as always, such a societal model needs to be thought through by all. Reading the poetic philosophy of Edouard Glissant is probably a good way to start…