These two exhibitions, (a)way station: the Architectural Spaces of Migration (October 1999) and 9 Families: Emergency Architecture (January 2005) take a critical look at what home-making means for populations in migration.
Mabel O. Wilson and Paul Kariouk’s "(a)way station: the Architectural Spaces of Migration" was a traveling exhibition with no definite configuration. A set of 15 movable walls was shipped to participating galleries with only a suggestion of how the space may be configured. Each time the exhibition was unpacked, it was transformed. The physical exhibition emulates a condition of indeterminacy, and according to Wilson is "akin to that of the migrant who cannot move fluidly in his/her new context and whose ability is arrested by unfamiliar social, political, and cultural conditions that provide limited choices.”
These plywood walls are referred to as “way-stations,” stops of temporary respite, not permanent homes. Objects suspended in the resin-cast walls of the exhibition posit migration as the mitigation between the most private desires, as reflected by the objects in resin, and public forces, as represented by the rigidity of the walls they are cast into.
"(a)way station: the Architectural Spaces of Migration" was enacted at galleries with unique spatial constraints. After the exhibition was unpacked and re-configured at each location, its spatial arrangement was documented through drawing. Of this practice, Wilson writes, "through a process of accretion of its own site documentation...the project will become a narrative of its own journey."
Wilson and Kariouk’s project uses objects as stand-ins for transitory populations. Though "(a)way station" does not specify who its subjects are, nor does it portray their actual domestic interiors, the crystallized artifacts enable viewers to find a sense of intimacy. Migrants are left anonymous, their discarded possessions are the evidence of their humanity and provide a way viewers find companionship in these anonymous subjects. Objects curated include things easily identifiable as belonging to specific persons such as mementos and articles of clothing, whereas others are more abstract: plywood, linoleum, carpet, artifacts which might compose a built home.
These two exhibitions expose different modes of domestic place-making.
Torolab is a Tijuana-based collective of artists, architects, and researchers. Their project, "9 Families: Emergency Architecture" focuses on families who settled in Tijuana, a fast-growing frontier city which is often considered the gateway to the United States. The psyche of Tijuana means that it is thought of as a “stop along the way” rather than a final destination for many who settle there. Therefore, the community lacks affordable housing, with housing projects lacking basic infrastructure such as sewage, electricity, and even paved streets. Tijuana’s rapid growth has meant that the city could not keep up with the demand for safe, healthy, and affordable housing, though more and more migrants are choosing to settle in Tijuana rather than try to move to the United States.
"9 Families: Emergency Architecture" focuses on an underdeveloped neighborhood called Lagunitas, where many maquiladoras (factory workers) live. Torolab acts as a facilitator rather than the “architect” of a new proposed housing development for the families. Together, Torolab and the families are able to design a master plan for a community that properly meets their needs and desires, finally making Tijuana feel like a home.
Torolab’s project proposed a development that is between the gated suburban community in more affluent parts of Tijuana and the current living conditions in Lagunitas. The exhibition consisted of a documentary, a master-plan for the proposed development, and a video piece which gives context to the project by analyzing materials used.
The documentary interviewed each participant of the project describing their history and their desires.
This video piece, called "Rudio Blanco," was a part of the exhibition which provided visual and material context to the Lagunitas neighborhood of Tijuana.
These two exhibitions act as a way to memorialize a process otherwise overlooked. Though they deal with similar subject-matter, "(a)way station: the Architectural spaces of Migration" and "9 Families: Emergency Architecture represent the findings of research in very different ways.
Wilson and Kariouk’s "(a)way station" consciously omits specificities about the people or places objects in the show belong to. The artifacts alone are given no context, giving them space to stand for themselves. The erasure of context and ownership conjures the idea that migration is largely a global phenomenon: populations from rural areas all over the world are seeking economic refuge in urban centers. In "(a)way station," their owners are left out of the picture on purpose.
Whereas Wilson and Kariouk’s project is enacted in the space of the gallery, Torolab’s "9 Families" takes place in the field. The representations brought back for the exhibition include a masterplan designed by the family participants and videos that are largely guided by their own narratives. A third piece, Rudio Blanco, gives exhibition viewers visual queues of the Tijuana landscape. The architect’s work is kept mostly out of frame, showcasing a process that happened off-site.
In both exhibitions, the architect's role is to make space for other voices to be heard. Whether objects are re-arranged based on the constraints of their context, or people are given the agency to design their own community, the two exhibitions exemplify how and architect can operate behind the scenes to draw out narratives not commonly vocalized.
For more information about the mentioned shows in this exhibition please visit:
- From Destruction to Construction
This Google Arts and Culture exhibit is curated by Parker Limón
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