Coming across this exhibition I was very intrigued. The press release explained that: “Homeless settlements exist as liminal spaces” and naively I was interested in the way identity and home are defined by limited means within precarious environments.
Getting to the AA I was confronted immediately with an absolute contradiction: the highly privileged university decorated by images of poverty and misfortune. It was as if this very contradiction secured even more everyone’s position. The exhibit was displayed at the cafe where no one was sporting anything less than the latest mac. Students, teachers and visitors were having their coffee or tea, working and contemplating their possibly privileged future while all around them the photos were documenting lives of people with a difficult present and most probably very little aspirations for the future. A student was having a tutorial and her tutor was visibly giving her a hard time because she was crying her eyes out. I guess her almost priceless architectural education was breaking her heart, while exactly over her head was a picture of someone’s possessions, thrown in the dirt, attempting to create a home.
That image was enough for me and I walked out of the building to get some fresh air. This incident was as much hypocrisy and conscious blindness as I could take for the day. It makes one wonder about ethics when poverty is examined as a matter of aesthetics.
Franco La Cecla in his very interesting book “Against Architecture” states that “it is terrifying to use the misery of the world just to demonstrate how up-to-date and ahead of everyone ‘archistars’ are. He also says that ‘the world as a problem has the right to enter upper-class drawing rooms and insider studios’ in order for the fake sympathisers to wash their hands from any responsibility for its state.
I am not sure of the photographer Ben Murphy’s agenda in taking these pictures. This article is mainly referring to the decision of having the exhibition in one of the most expensive and exclusive architectural universities in the world, the Architectural Association. After all, the architectural trend of looking at humanity’s pain pretending to care is undoubtedly in fashion. However the built products of the ‘archistar’ practices attest the exact opposite and prove Michael Sorkin statement* : “branding is merely another excuse for power’s concentration at the top.”
*Michael Sorkin “Brand Aid;the Lexus and the Guggenheim (Further Tales of the Notorius B.I.Gness), Harvard Design Magazine 17
Ben Murphy’s work to be found here
AA exhibition information to be found here
photo via http://aalog.net/?p=11153