Widthwise cross-section


Archaeology in the offing. Documents of urban change


Best demolitionists in town. When the Bucuresti Hotel on Calea Victoriei went into all-out rehabilitation, a large mesh overhung the scaffolding on the street façade. It read: “So-and-so Company. Construction and Reconstruction Works. Best Demolitionists in Town”. A strong statement indeed in a place where removing a building, or its facing (as it was the case), or even considering the removal of whatsoever was taboo. A decade or more after the 80s’ wreckage in the Civic Centre development, the bulldozero-phobia haunted the minds of so many people.
    So, it took some time to temper the instinctive rejection of any demolare. And allow radical restructuring to enter the urban stage. First, a “steel and glass” office building replaced a five-story garlanded pile torn down near Piața Romană. The whole operation went unnoticed by the otherwise emotional media and not less emotional public. Encouraged by tacit acceptance, the developers moved in. The hunting season for central sites that can be cleared opened shortly after. Since, pressure builds up, money and ambitions play hard. Moreover, the occasional indignant criticism of an occasional colossus casting oversized shadows on diminutive Bucharest vedutas gradually loses impetus.
    As for diminutive vedutas, they move underground, in the realm of archaeology. Replaced for a while by three-dimensional replicas of architectural drawings scale 1 to 1 and in real material: foundations holes, nude cross sections, and details of constructive joints.
    Other dossiers. Widthwise Cross Section is the third in a series of dossiers about how places in this city are changing. For several years, we were looking into what is temporary, transient, or accidental and how all this negotiates its rights against the existing tectonic background. To capture the vanishing, to record the fugitive.
    After Tinseltown – the first dossier about the Disneyland-esque Rroma residences – the next file Triage documented how the “socialist” compounds of collective dwellings are eventually accommodating the “capitalistic” newcomers: pre-communist land property patterns, small-scale entrepreneurship, segregation, poverty, ethnicized ghettos. Triage is also about the queer post-communism aesthetics, product of folkloric energy that puts a different colour on one’s prefab balcony, opens new entrances in the ground floors, and extends them with improvised sheds on the sidewalk. Unacceptable kitsch, collapse of social discipline, disregard for public realm – claim the critics. As with the Rroma settlements, where transformation never stops, the future of the former “socialist city” is adjudicated by a quasi-vernacular stubbornness to obliterate the dull total design and to impose a different visual and functional order in the city.
    The third dossier is titled Cross Section, after the architectural drawing, longitudinal or widthwise, that cut across the structure pared of its final rendering. One hardly ever sees a cross-section in reality. Except for those brief intervals when structures rise or fall.
    Instantaneous shots and longue durée. In terms of recording procedure, the common ground for Cross-Section, Triage and Tinseltown are Iosif Király’s collages. When commenting on his work, Király invokes Braudel’s concept of longue durée. For people (and their history) – Braudel dixit – at work are geographical constraints, there are natural regularities of behaviour, traits conditioned by climatic or conventional changes; there are social customs and economic pressures; and there are short-term events – battles, rulers, conquests, reforms, famines, tribal loves and hatreds. The urban image builds up in a likewise manner. As historic time does, the city swallows up immutable givens and fluxes that proceed at different speeds. On the bottom of all, the petrified ground, the geology is the most stable. Here is the succession of architectural commissions, initiatives, aesthetical attitudes, fashions and fancies, obsessions and idiosyncrasies. There are periodical regularities, seasonal changes, social and political disruptions, new economic players, or seismic tremors, vandalisms, short-term casual occurrences, ideologies.
    Király composes subjective reconstructions “compressing“ several layers in a “flat” image. When he calls them “poliperspectival” it is because shots from different optical viewpoints or taken at different moments in time are glued together.
    It takes time to gather a sufficient collection of stem images, to store them and organize a usable archive. At the beginning, for installations and shows, adhesive band held together the prints. Then digital techniques replaced prints on photo paper with virtual images. Computer software is there to assist the procedure. And Király’s remixed pictures lost the yellowish patches of tape that for a while were the trademarks of this work. The resulting renderings are “unrealistic” and definitely subjective. Behind a certain mixed image, there is a definite person, an author, whose wanderings, memories, reactions marked the rhythm, the succession, and the composition of each collage.
    The conservation of stem images ought to allow the composition of new poliperspectival collages. Every collage is a movable not-ended item; new layers could be added or subtracted. The resulting text-image could be read in every “direction”, forward or invert. At any point, other observers may add their layers, remix the images stored in depots, and expose the result to debate. Putting together the subjective collages made up by different observers – be they coeval or separated in time – will allow for a “wikipedic” assessment. Not solely the artistry of this work’s concepts is at stake, but also its capacity of tracing the places memory back to its sources.
    The Cross-Section file stands for the author’s interest for marginal transitional events. A collection of b&w negatives on architectural work in the 1950-60s, another time when scale changed and ideological factors intruded forcefully into the city’s image, may add some surprising “stems” to this experience.
    Widthwise Cross-Section. The urban fragments selected as subjects of poliperspectival exploration and their subsequent reconstructions as collages harbour energetic developments that unfolded after 1990. Those are places where the solid immutable pre-existing background of buildt environment collides with the abrupt dynamics of the quotidian and, as it often happens, prompts counterintuitive reactions. In such enclaves, people’s behaviour and economic and cultural changes translate into obvious visual manifestations that the camera could capture. Places in transition – to put it shortly.
    Cross-sections are looking for urban niches. In such places people identify and turn in their favour the stalemate generated by over-regulation in urban matters. Our subjects usually shun the restrictions of urban bureaucracy in order to promote initiatives beyond the boundaries of laws and norms. This procedure is not new: on cities’ fringes, people resorted to quasi-vernacular building procedures to model their environment and living space for a while. One can say that, at least for Bucharest, the mechanism that transferred into the realm of vernacular the forms of cultured architecture and vice versa played an important part for at least one century and a half and is omnipresent in contemporary images. Under anaesthesia during communism by safety rules and regulations and centralized state control, this historically refined procedure is back on the city stage as a considerable modelling force. For large areas, including the socialist high-rise residential compounds, it cannot possibly be regarded as a remnant of urban backwardness to be swiftly eradicated: it has become indeed an identity mark.
    Finally, the wanderings in search of stem images took us mainly to places and urban fragments – some of them large enough – where viewpoints collide and controversies are vivid. If put at trial, in such places, poli-perspectivist reconstructions together with comparative analysis and critical assessment could possibly shed some unexpected light on the peculiar aesthetical topography of this city.
    And explain why it looks as it looks and behaves as it behaves, to the dismay of such different minds as of theorists or self-conscious architects, or of politicians or city regulators, or of adepts of consumerism and globalizing markers.
    That to happen is less than probable. Bucharest is forgetful, open to fancies, ready to show a new image. Stubborn collection of documents and manageable archives of images (urban or others) is not this place’s point fort. Neither is the prestige of public benefit or of good design of public space – the virtual beneficiaries of a systematic critical scrutiny of emerging urbanscapes. As we experienced ourselves, so far plural perspective on place and urban affairs and interest for the upcoming development and for archaeological stratum in the offing will remain matters of personal adventure.



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