#walkingwomen: loitering with intent

Update, April 2017: Step by Step 5 (series), building on the #walkingwomen project, took place on 24 April, while the LADA Study Room Guide was launched on 25 April and is available for download (contents: schedule of events, directory of artists, list of titles in the Walking Library for Women Walking and a list of titles in the LADA bibliotheque)…Geoff Nicholson on walking with women walkersRhythms of fear

#walkingwomen are everywhere this summer, with events in London, Edinburgh and Manchester, plus the media fluff around Lauren Elkin’s Flâneuse. As a woman who walks, what’s in it for me?

Walking Women: Somerset House and Forest Fringe

Walking Women (The Standard) took place as part of Somerset House’s utopia season from 11-17 July, curated by Amy Sharrocks and Clare Qualmann in collaboration with Dee Heddon. Over 40 walking artists were present, with events including a Wikipedia edit-a-thon (based on the rhizomatic Art+Feminism model; Amy Sharrocks, Simone Kenyon), films, pecha kucha, a Walking Reading Group utopia walk and a new walking library walked along the suffragettes’ marching route (report). Three pre-event podcasts from Jo Norcup/Geography Workshop’s ‘Er Outdoors project (one | two & three) on Resonance FM, plus recordings from the event.

Walking Women in Embra (WAN), on 11 August was curated by the same team and organised by Deveron Arts/the Walking Institute, part of Forest Fringe (“unusual events and experimental performance in Edinburgh and beyond” since 2007). More of the same, with Scottish contributions including Jeni Cumming (Edinburgh Walking Workshop) and Invisible Edinburgh leading a Powerful women of Edinburgh walking tour, plus Deveron Arts’ Claudia Zeiske on women walking in wild landscapes. Streamed, but no recording as yet.

Also involved was Rosana Cade, whose Walking:Holding (17-20 August; in the Gdn) “invites you to walk hand in hand with a series of very different local strangers around nearby streets, parks and alleyways. It is a participatory performance for one audience member at a time, offering a gentle meditation on identity, touch and intimacy in urban public space”.

Loitering with intent in Manchester

Loitering with intent: the art and politics of walking is an exhibition celebrating 10 years of Manchester’s Loiterers Resistance Movement (LRM),  organised by Morag Rose and running from 23 July to 14 October at the People’s Museum with accompanying events programme (again). Includes male-led events, such as Chris Wood‘s Spatial machines, exploring GPS infrastructure using walking exercises.

As part of the exhibition Tina Richardson has published the second STEPZ zine (PDF), inspired by Northern Psychogeography. Of most interest so far has to be the Manchester Modernist Heroines Walk, celebrating 10 inspirational women, conceived by the Shrieking Violet (on Issuu) in 2011.

Lauren Elkin’s Flâneuse

Published on 28 July and R4’s Book of the Week from 8 August, Lauren Elkin’s Flâneuse: women who walk the cities (GuardianSpectator | Psychogeographic Review, who has a further flâneuse piece) is a blend of memoir and cultural history, focusing on five cities through the mirror of assorted flâneuses (pl? I have no French).

While the cover is off-putting and much, including the inevitable Guardian article, feels over-familiar, Lauren made some good points in an interview at the London Review Bookshop (audio; worth a listen not least for the audience comment: “most women are very interested in clothes”). She initially found Paris a very “ritualised society”, played out through “performative rituals” – walking was one way of connecting to the city. How you practice flâneurie is specific to a time, place and culture, it’s a subversive way of intervening in space. Today’s flâneu(r)/se is “anyone who feels they don’t quite fit in the space they are walking through”, and who by walking tries to defy “the affective charge” of the field of prescriptions (at c47:48).

Walking is like mapping with your feet, it makes you feel at home. Lauren did not walk in US suburbs, where you are considered weird if you walk without a dog or a tracksuit. In Denmark, walking is similarly restricted, although here by the bicycle rather than the car (you may also cycle with your dog running alongside, although tracksuits are definitely déclassé for the cycling crowd).

(See also Cole Swenson’s Walk, poems exploring the walking and writing of George Sand, Virginia Woolf and Lisa Robertson.)

Update: the library obliged. The best section was on Tokyo, an addition to the slim canon on not liking somewhere, where Lauren makes “an attempt to connect with Japan, or at least with its past”, liking Kyoto (note: To-Kyo) rather more.

For the rest, an editorial dead hand feels to be at play, with the sections of memoir feeling like an afterthought added to catch a current wave and addressed to an assumed ‘we’. The much longer biographical sections, as so often, require an interest in the subject to come alive.

As above what resonates most are the sections on moving to another country: “I came here with a suitcase…denuded of context. You quickly cover yourself with new things, a new persona. But you will live in a state of heightened sensitivity; you will always feel exposed…Although I loved the way it felt to be inspired by Paris, set at an angle to it, able to appreciate the ways in which it was different from home, the initial joy of displacement eventually wore off. I wanted to settle into a slot in Paris which corresponded to the slot I had vacated in New York…I was not a rebel. I was just someone who happened to have moved countries. Displaced, dislocated. I wanted to be re-placed, re-located. (p233-234).

On returning to her ‘home’ city she notes (p282) “My city isn’t mine any more. And yet it always will be, more than any other. We get to know our cities on foot, and when we leave, the topography shifts”.

The best quote though comes from Virginia Woolf:

  • As they grow older, says Rose (who has grown older), they become less visible, and they can walk wherever they like at any time of day. (quoted on p307; source: The Years, p173)

What gives?

Presenting the second #walkingwomen podcast, Dee Heddon and Cathy Turner postulated that #walkingwomen is not about heroic walks or challenges, but rather about how walking transforms the everyday. Walking not as a form of escape, but rather as a way of making connections and relations. See Walking women: interviews with artists on the move for examples.

Can’t it be both? This discourse just doesn’t meet me where I am coming from. Do women really walk so differently from men in the western everyday context? Cathy Turner’s account of the Rural Scapes artists’ talk takes Caspar David Friedrich to task once more – the heroic seems to be at the nub of concern, but don’t we all want to feel the rush sometimes? (Another CDF meme: his heroes are urban outsiders, dressed in city clothes, not part of the landscape.) All too often #walkingwomen reeks of “everything is awesome” (possibly the #some effect), if not the dreaded hygge. The LRM, more about play and inspired by the Situationists, feels a tad more edgy. Update: see also the 4th World Congress of Psychogeography (@TykePsychoGeog | #4wcop | again | report) much of which was streamed by John Popham.

Flâneurie is increasingly reproached for being a) male b) gentrified, an outsider pursuit. Exclusive yes, but not flattening or normative. It’s that which makes it interesting and challenging. (And gender is not a criterion for rejecting, or conversely accepting, something.)

On which note see Deveron Arts’ All roads lead to Venice on 12 August, marking Anthony Schrag‘s (and others) walks to the 2015 Venice Biennale, also involving an ugly walk, and the Guardian’s share your stories feature and follow-up – lots of outsiders there.

As for #walkingwomen, see also Janet Wolff’s The Invisible Flaneuse. Women and the Literature of Modernity (1985; citation) and Helen Scalway’s The Contemporary Flaneuse: Exploring strategies for the drifter in a feminine mode (2002).

Virtual Biennale

The 2016 Biennale Architettura in Venice runs from 28 May to 27 November, curated by Alejandro Aravena with the theme of Reporting from the Front. We were lucky enough to pay a visit in 2014, when I concluded that “a fine line was walked between the effective and the pretentious”.

In contrast to Rem Koolhaas’ 2014 erudite edition Aravena “pitches activism against starchitecture”. Olly Wainwright: “does it make for an engaging show, or a tedious traipse through holier-than-thou humanitarianism and architectural self-flagellation”? His review of the pavilions is headlined “a souped-up pre-school playground”, singling out Belgium and Switzerland for their “refreshingly narrow focus” and Poland for shining a spotlight on the labour conditions of the people who actually build architecture. (More pavilions: Dezeen’s top 10 | A+U.)

Sifting through the coverage from my filter bubble, Dezeen doubtless has loads of stimulating stuff but tl;dr. Worth a look though is the provocation from the Architecture Foundation’s Phineas Harper. Update: see also Cosmopolitan Scum.

After 2014’s Cliff and concrete cows this time Britain’s contribution (interview) is all a bit chest-beatingly downbeat. The curatorial team has come up with Home Economics, a reflection on the home as the contemporary frontline of British architecture, reimagined in timescales of days, months, years and decades.

Compare and contrast with Denmark’s all trumpets blazing celebration of self, entitled Art of Many and The Right to Space (interview). On #some Everything Goes and Art of Too Many have been suggested as alternative titles. The exhibition consists of a “wunderkammer of architectural prototypes”, an overflødigshorn of 130 recent projects from 70 practices, aimed at demonstrating humanism based on cooperation. The pavilion also boasts a video installation with (obv) Jan Gehl and a 520 page catalogue (cost: DK 320, a rather lower krone to page ratio than often seen).

the Danish pavilion (Carl Brummer, 1932)

As well as missing the inventiveness and humour of other contributions, it sounds a tad mundane, tapping into the oft seen Scandi “we know best” flaw. For coverage på dansk see Arkfo and Politiken, largely critiquing the Danish effort, plus commissioner DAC (dansk) bigging it up.

Bylyd has a recording from the launch debate, bringing up some interesting points which get behind the familiar soundbites:

  • Bjarke Ingels is a fan of generous (sic) spaces “proportioned for machines”, who knew, and wants architects to go beyond “little boutique statements” – go him!
  • Jan Gehl, marking his 50th anniversary in research, sees the right to walk as fundamental, preferably in public spaces – as ever, you can’t argue with that; as Gehl Architects’ Helle Søholt points out, public space is “challenged by increased security, climate adaptation, densification, commercialization and data” as well as the demon car (which brings to mind the segment on 9 June’s Urbanist where Skopje’s citizenry fight to retain their Brutalist buildings and wide open spaces)
  • we spend 90% of our time indoors, much of it sitting down, while 40% of the world’s carbon emissions come from construction, yikes
  • issues around professions working together rather than in separate ghettoes – echoes of #FLthecity

Denmark is not involved in the Nordic pavilion, achingly PC in 2014 and in 2016 curated by two internationals, ArchDaily founder David Basulto from Chile and Rotterdam based Brit James Taylor-Foster (interview). In Therapy presents 300 projects exploring architectural themes instrumental in constructing Nordic society with psychoanalysis as a framework, including an abstracted interpretation of Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs. In Dezeen: “the architectural heritage of [Norway and Sweden] is constraining the newest generation of designers”, with Nordic architecture “on the verge of stagnation”. Interesting.

The range of collateral events is overwhelming – see UCL Urban Lab’s Turning Tables and LSE Cities’ Conflicts of an urban age for starters. And whoa! Scotland has a presence under the banner of Prospect North, curated by inter alia Lateral North (Facebook) and part of a nationwide year long Festival of Architecture. The exhibition “delivers a series of innovative mapping strategies, individual narratives, portraits and evocative imagery highlighting Scotland’s place and identity within an economically emerging northern region”. Related events inevitably include How Nordic is it?.

See the Scotland on Sunday report, which highlights co-curator Dualchas Architects‘ accompanying book, in which ten Scottish writers (including Kathleen Jamie) provide contributions about Scotland “when the map is turned and the compass realigned” to remind us that the north of Scotland is closer to the Arctic Circle than it is to London. See also ArchDaily.

Russia’s Fair Enough, a fake trade fair riffing on the lifestyle of architecture, was probably my 2014 favourite. This time they’re exploring the proposed revamp of VDNKh (critique | Calvert Journal), Moscow’s Stalin era exhibition centre. Dare to dream! There’s lots more on the Soviet Union’s failed utopian architecture in Calvert22’s Power & Architecture season: see reviews/articles from Dezeen, PORT magazine and The Spaces. Plus “amidst all the bourgeois romanticism of the humble; amidst all the identikit, tired old dancing on the corpse of modernity, monumentality and utopia” we have in search of progressive architecture, on ‘palatial Communism’ in action.

Literary traces in Trieste and Venice

Update: for a Slovenian literary topography see Aleš Debeljak’s Literary citizenship: cities and their writers. Trafika Europe 5 has a Slovenian focus, with extracts from Maja Haderlap’s Angel of Oblivion and much  more.

Jan Morris’ magisterial Trieste and the meaning of nowhere (Amazon), her Frank Sinatra-like ‘last book’, is the perfect companion for a literary exploration of the city. James Joyce lived there off and on from 1904-20, when disappointed by the new Italian administration he left for Paris. While in Trieste Joyce taught English to businessman and novelist Italo Svevo, a Joseph Roth type and possibly the model for Leopold Bloom in Ulysses. Perhaps best known in English for Confessions of Zeno, Svevo lived for part of his life in Charlton, while working for his in-laws’ family firm (there’s a plaque at 67 Charlton Church Lane, SE7). Joyce also made the acquaintance of Umberto Saba, a Jewish poet and bookshop owner. The antiquarian bookshop on Via San Nicolo Saba ran for more than 35 years is still in operation.

Jim and Italo also share a museum if not a website (Joyce | Svevo) next to the library, and all three are commemorated in sepia tinted walking tour leaflets, available online at Itinerari Trieste with Google maps and pictures from the period, and by life size bronze statues and plaques around the city. A fourth itinerary commemorates novelist Tomizza (1935-99) aka the Voice of Istria, an Italian patriot from Capodistria (now Koper) who left Yugoslavia for Trieste in 1955, working as a journalist for 20 years at RAI. The lives of these four writers represent the changing identity of Trieste in a nutshell.

Claudio Magris of Danube (1986) fame has been a professor of German literature at the University of Trieste since 1978, and his Microcosms (1997, Amazon) is on order. Casanova lived in Trieste for two years from 1772, while Richard Burton (the other one), known for his translation of The Arabian Nights, ended his days as British consul there. Rilke wrote his Duino Elegies while enjoying the hospitality of the Princess of Thurn and Taxis at the nearby castle during 1911-12, while Il mio Carso by Scipio Slataper (1888-1915) deals with the relationship between Trieste and its Slovenian hinterland. Finally, local journalist Corinna Opara’s recent guidebook Three days in Trieste is in a reversible format – turn it over for a reproduction of an 1858 guidebook with a contemporary map.

Bookending her Trieste, Jan Morris’ first book was Venice, and it seems that it’s rare for a writer not to have done their time in the city – from Goethe’s Italian journey and Ruskin’s The stones of Venice to Byron, in town for three years, who swam the Canal Grande, and Hemingway, injured near Treviso during WW1, who financed Harry’s Bar where the Bellini cocktail was invented on the same stretch of water. (Plus his Across the river and into the trees opens in Trieste). See Fictional cities: Venice for an exhaustive list, including non-fiction. Also worth a look is City Pick’s Venice and Blue Guide’s Literary companion, plus Robin Saikia’s The Venice Lido – I’m tempted by all three, although these literary guides are a bit like holiday liqueurs, and best enjoyed in situ.

Updates: new Danish book Venedig eller kunsten at fare vild (Venice or the art of getting lost), a collaboration between beardy Jens Blendstrup and a photographer pal, looks of interest, as does Polly Coles’ The politics of washing (Amazon), discovered via R3’s The Essay. This seems to have caused a level of controversy and is hence an interesting addition to the expat writing canon.

With no time available for the full Venice through literature tour we did manage to fit in a quick peek at the Grand Hôtel des Bains on the Lido where Thomas Mann stayed in the summer of 1911.

 

The Venice syndrome

Venice, tourist attraction or functioning city?

Having only spent two days or so in Venice we obviously didn’t get a chance to get a real feel for the place. As a map fan and public transport nerd I was happy to note that the island of Venice really is the shape of a fish, reached from the mainland via the Ponte della Libertà, a 3.6km bridge built in 1933. The only other bridge over the lagoon is the Austrian railway bridge built in 1846.

Other than the Fish of the other islands in the lagoon we only managed a trip to the Lido at sunset via vaporetto. I’m rather fascinated by the Lido, a seven mile long sandbar completely unlike its Tooting Bec descendent. Not just a summer resort, this Lido has a population of 20,000. As well as the scenic route down the Canal Grande there are car ferries from Tronchetto and quicker vaps along the Giudecca and Canneregio Canals.

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the main square in Mestre

We stayed on the mainland, a 30 minute bus ride to the Piazzale Roma. If it weren’t the antipasto for Venice proper Mestre would be worth a visit for its own sake – we stayed by the clock tower, and spent our first evening joining the Italians in a pre-pizza passeggiata. Much is made of Jan Gehl’s comment that Danes became Italians once Strøget was pedestrianised, but I’m not really buying it, although with artificial islands and cruise ships also dominating, Copenhagen is in with a shout as Venice of the north.

Geoff Dyer in Jeff in Venice, death in Varanesi:

Every day, for hundreds of years, Venice had woken up and put on this guise of being a real place even though everyone knew it existed only for tourists.

With Tronchetto the last of the islands to be created (in the 1960s as a car park), there are very few modern traces in Venice proper. Let’s explore two.

The Ponte della Costituzione, the fourth bridge over the Canal Grande creating a direct link between the Piazzale Roma and Venezia Santa Lucia railway station, opened in 2008 to widespread protest. While it would look at home in Copenhagen, here its minimalist style sits awkwardly. Furthermore, its rise and fall is fairly steep, with irregularly spaced steps and slippery-when-wet see through panels causing further visual disorientation. The addition of a cable car to improve accessibility has barely helped matters.

The station, one of the few modernist buildings in Venice, is undergoing a renovation programme which began in 2009 and doesn’t look like ending any time soon.

Moving on, the most jaw dropping sight in Venice may well be that of cruise ships looming over the horizon at regular intervals as they sail from the port up the Guidecca Canal to appear round the point at Accademia, then breaking free to round the Lido and head back into the Adriatic. While in Copenhagen you can pretty much avoid the 315 cruise ship calls, here there’s no escape, although the ships can look quite picturesque as they sail into the sunset.

See you in Trieste!

Note: The Venice Syndrome is a 2012 documentary – see the trailer.

At the Biennale Architettura

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what news on the Rialto?

Day 2 in Venice took us to La Biennale, this year in its architectural guise. While the art biennale has been taking place since 1895, its architectural sister has only been running since 1980, with this 14th edition curated by Rem Koolhaas.

The venues are an attraction in themselves. Biennale HQ is Giardini, a park including a large hall housing the main exhibition and 30 national pavilions – Belgium’s was the first to be built in 1907. From 1980 Arsenale has been used as a fringe and overspill venue for countries not represented at Giardini, who may also exhibit in other venues across Venice. The number of countries represented is still growing, with 66 in 2014, 10 of which were exhibiting for the first time.

It’s all a bit Eurovision and tending to the random, with some pavilions subject to care and attention from a national hero (Finland’s timber hut was designed by Alvar Aalto) and others sticking with the neoclassical, on the outside at least.

Arsenale is Venice’s answer to Copenhagen’s Holmen, a complex of former shipyards and armouries off the typical tourist track looking for a 21st century identity. Photo heaven at dusk, after we’d made it through the lengthy exhibition.

On the content side a fine line was walked between the effective and the pretentious – it all depends on where you are coming from and how far you will go. The  main exhibition, elements of architecture (book), explored the historical and current components of 15 items such as the floor, the door, the wall, and was nicely done, but the main event had to be the national pavilions addressing absorbing modernity 1914-2014.

Here’s a round up of some of the national contributions – we had an afternoon, but you could spend days taking it all in. For the record, the Golden Lion went to Korea, with Russia (and Canada) receiving jury prizes.

  • Bahrain – not short on ambition, the exhibition consisted of a map of the Arab world surrounded by a circular library containing a brick sized catalogue topped by a dome supporting projections of a reading of 22 national anthems
  • Germany: Bungalow Germania – the 1964 Kanzlerbungalow in Bonn recreated inside the 1938 pavilion, featuring an ingenious toilet roll dispenser style handout machine
  • Great Britain (sic): A clockwork Jerusalem – exploring the diverse cultural influences that shaped and were shaped by British modernism in the post war era and over the last 100 years; the most accessible contribution of the lot, including Cliff and concrete cows, or dumbing down?
  • Korea: Crow’s eye view: the Korean peninsula – inspired by a poem by Korean architect/poet Yi Sang, “the crow’s eye view points to the impossibility of a cohesive grasp of not only the architecture of a divided Korea but the idea of architecture itself”; a prologue for an as yet unrealised joint exhibition of the two Koreas
  • Kosovo: Visibility (imposed Modernism) – massive kudos for the Shkami tower and the postcard wall, “720 images showing Kosovo and particularly Prizren, the most typical Kosovar city in two states, before modernity and after, showing slow but absolute erasure of regional identity”; which one to choose?
  • Netherlands: Open: a Bakema celebration – a critical rethinking of the idea of the open society through the work of Jaap Bakema
  • Nordic countries: Forms of freedom: African independence and Nordic models – “exploring and documenting how modern Nordic architecture was an integral part of Nordic aid to East Africa in the 1960s and 1970s”, or jaw dropping Scandi arrogance in Africa which resulted in some nice buildings?
  • Russia: Fair enough – 20 projects from the past century updated and offered as imagined companies in a trade fair setting to showcase the enduring value of their architecture; the trade fair ‘opened’ in the first week of the biennale then gradually shut down, leaving an abandoned environment to explore…genius!; see also Moskva: urban space, a collaterial event
  • Switzerland: A stroll through a fun palace – the work of Swiss economist and sociologist Lucius Burckhardt, known for developing strollology (the science of the walk), presented alongside selections from English architect Cedric Price’s projects, including the unrealised Fun Palace

At the Peggy Guggenheim Collection

Update, October 2015: Peggy, the biog

On our first day in Venice we visited the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, located in her home of 30 years, the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni on the Grand Canal. Peggy’s father went down in the Titanic, leaving her a tidy fortune allowing her to pursue the life of an arty libertine until her death in 1979 at the age of 81. Most of the collection was created between 1938 and 1946, with works embracing everything from cubism to surrealism and abstract expressionism. Wife of Max Ernst, lover of Samuel Beckett, Peggy was also fond of lhasa apsos and winged sunglasses.

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There’s something about a curated collection that sets it apart from a standard art gallery, and not just because of the stories it can tell. As well as a small room of paintings by Peggy’s daughter Pegeen there were some splendid Jackson Pollocks (another of Peggy’s alleged lovers) and an olive tree in the garden, a present from Yoko Ono.

Piazza (1947-48), a Giacometti bronze inevitably caught the eye:

However closely we may inspect the figures we must know that they are as if seen at a distance. The four male figurines are positioned in such a way that they would not meet even if they were magically to proceed. This need not be taken to indicate urban alienation, but simply the nature of a public place of intersecting passage.

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A temporary exhibition was dedicated to Azimut/h, a gallery and review founded in 1959 by Piero Manzoni and Enrico Castellani. Manzoni, who died at the age of 29, spent some time in Denmark, specifically in Herning, where he was invited twice by local art aficionado and shirt manufacturer Aage Damgaard.

The HEART Museum owns the world’s largest public collection of Manzoni’s works, many of which question the nature of the art object and use alternative materials. His Socle du monde, a pedestal placed upside down, turns the world into a work of art with its base in Herning, while in Venice you could buy one of his more infamous works and try to get a good shot of a fluffy ball on a pedestal: