A black Renault Clio II drives into frame and stops with a screech of tyres as the front wheels lock. The driver steps out of the vehicle, attaches a cargo strap to the tow hook and starts pulling the vehicle with pure muscular power. The video is entitled Man Pulling Tugboat, but suggests a different relationship between the macho man and the machine: one in which they are working together or against each other with excellent choreography. Radical Cut-Up graduate Fabian Reichle is reversing the car – dragging it back to where it came from in a painful, slow and tedious process compared with its gracious entry into frame. As an automotive enthusiast, I look for cars in the works of this year’s graduates and hope to find parallels with a motor show.
The Nissan Navara floats effortlessly across a dirt road on a salt flat, leaving a cloud of dust in its wake. In a drought stricken Chilean village, the utilitarian vehicle serves its purpose transporting what is left of the harvested wheat. In Tom Burke’s From Here We Go Extreme, we hear the account of a boy living on a local farm: “... every five days we buy water for us. For drinking, for showering, for the animals. And sometimes if we don’t have money we don’t buy bread because water is more essential.” In one scene a group of elderly men from the Penablanca community are giving their first-hand accounts of the devastating impacts of climate change. The man speaking has an almost melodic voice, somewhere between crying and singing. The film ends with a powerful dance performance from a young girl and what looks like her dad, featuring rapid cuts scored with ominous electronic music. Burke uses the wisdom of the people with the closest relationship to the land, rather than scientific facts and statistics, to provide an informative and incredibly emotional climate-change video. The salt flats in Chile are used for lithium extraction, a process that pollutes potential drinking water. Demand for lithium is increasing due to its application in electric cars – part of the current green revolution, aimed largely at continuing business as usual. We are used to seeing cars in music videos, a format used almost exclusively to sell products. Tom Burke blurs the line between documentary and music video, and uses the format as a tool for education and information about an urgent topic.
Van Ostadestraat in east Amsterdam is filled with parked cars, but offers some public amenities. Occupying one of the street’s parking spaces is an oversized back-garden kiddie pool with light structure suggesting some sort of functional ritual. The thin wooden frame holds an opaque plastic sheet resting on a bed of straw and grass, offering benches, a foot bath – and a degree of privacy from passers-by. In this communal foot bath you encounter people in a new setting in public space. A girl from the neighbourhood joins in and a bulky personal trainer peeks his head over the partition wall, wondering what’s going on, and says, “Whatever it is, it’s cool”. Elizaveta Strakhova’s Heterogeneous Waters shows us new possibilities for the occupation of communal space and shared public functions – if the city is willing to sacrifice a few parking spots. Farther down the same street, a builder’s skip has been converted into a wood-burning oven where Antoine Guay is baking bread that he serves to local residents and grad show visitors. Guay’s work cleverly exploits the liberal regulations afforded to the construction industry – a skip is allowed to stay in the same place for six weeks without any form of licence or permit – and shows how public space can also facilitate production. Strakhova and Guay both offer citizen-driven solutions to pressing urban issues.
When your workplace is your parking lot the commute is obsolete. And when every parking space is a potential bakery, the relationship between living and working in a city is altered drastically. Guay’s work effectively cuts out the middleman, but remains mobile – delivery and pickup are included in the cost of renting the skip.
Davide-Christelle Sanvee’s Everything Around, Including You also deals with transport, through a one-to-one performance in a parked car on the same street. It is hard to tell if the vehicle is a specific choice for the (SIS) graduate or if dealing with any urban context means including the omnipresent car. Either way, these works show what is possible in spaces currently occupied by parked cars. They give value to the parking lot and make the argument for the urban car a lot weaker.
More immediate than questions of transport, the street itself is very important. SIS chose a street with genuine diversity: at one end it has a launderette, at the other a natural wine bar. A street with a strong history of squatted spaces, activist headquarters and an anarchist print workshop, community centres and a homeless shelter. Here, graduates’ works interact with the street’s usual population, standing out and blending in to various degrees – and changing its programming through simple interventions. Plastic garden chairs offer stages for assembly, and add public seating next to existing fixed benches and Aldo van Eyck playground elements. When walking down the street, a performer might approach you pretending to be a member of the public. The result is a heightened focus upon everything happening in the urban context, a paranoia making you both question and appreciate what goes on in a city street.
A graduation show is often very much like a motor show: a place where manufacturers exhibit a concept as a proposal of their products to come – often depending on the success of the exhibition and the reaction from the visiting crowd. Its own commodification is of course inherent in any presentation of a work, but this SIS presentation explicitly manages to break the typical grad-show dynamic. While seeing promising futures for the participating graduates as spatial designers, we also see in it a promising future for the city where public space offers generous affordances to its users. Despite this year’s show (annoyingly) being anything but a motor show, in it the role of the car is directly or inadvertently questioned in a constructive way by the graduates. They are not afraid to take on global issues, either, sometimes even skipping the steps of outlining, critiquing and proposing and going straight to a viable solution. One similarity to automotive expos remains, though: they both present exciting but grounded visions of what is to come.
Herman Hjorth Berge is a student currently based in Amsterdam, but rooted in his native Stavanger, Norway. Studying Architectural Design at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie, his evolving practice focuses upon providing alternatives to current states and uses of space, grounded in social and environmental ideals.