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The walk that never was

Saturday, June 10, 2006
Or…the story of how Lucy turned up breathlessly in Rome to participate in a five day ‘research-walk’…..a month early. Errrrr.

Rome Wall

Because an email from Stalker finally arrived…. including details of a project happening that week (so I thought), Campagna Romana, a five day walk with teams of students led by scientists, artists, poets and architects from eight different locations outside Rome (autonomous towns until they were recently engulfed by the spreading city) into the centre. It marks the ten year anniversary of the first Stalker 'act', a walk around the edges of Rome, which became famous (at least in my current version of the world!) for implying that the imagination of new possibilities for the periphery also demanded different ways of mapping and perceiving them. The walk defied the traditional analytical techniques of planning and architecture in favour of a sensory, experiential approach.

An opportunity I decided I couldn’t miss!

…and because the last weekend in Berlin and the journey home had not yet been fixed ….because the fickle impulsive in me began to stir and the flights were reasonable.…because I still had a lingering curiosity about Stalker which I was loathe to abandon….. because for some reason, no matter how many times I looked at the website I still failed to read July instead of June…..because somehow the corresponding emails with Stalker were ambiguous enough to gloss over my confusion….because I waited until I got to Rome to actually call someone about it…..

…whereupon I enthusiastically confirmed with Lorenzo that I wanted to participate and asked what I needed to do. The first thing he said was ‘be here by July 10th’. I was so MORTIFIED that I didn’t say anything, just a few hmmms and oks……before hanging up the phone as quickly as possible to regain my composure.

It took a full afternoon to swallow my pride and call him back to admit that I was in the wretched city and a month early for his wretched walk. MORTIFIED especially because our correspondence has been so confused to date already. Lesson learnt: pick up the telephone once in a while…

Of course this was a much bigger catastrophe for me than him and I was duly invited to the office anyway. I turned up somewhat humbly….in an area that looks a quite different to the Rome where I had been consoling myself with gallons of gelati and espressos earlier in the day.

Ruins

Garballetta

I coincided with end-of-week drinks with Lorenzo, several interns and an American called Peter…..followed by dinner at a very German family establishment complete with hundreds of screaming kids where delicious bruschetta, steak and wine was had for seven euros….and finally a walk home through the area of Campo Boario where Stalker did a project over several years with communities of Kurds and Roma gypsies. It was dark but we sat under a full moon in a garden they created in the middle of a vast expanse of courtyard which I noticed on a map today is the only unlabelled building in the area.

So the question still remaining of course is what should I do here for five days now there’s no walk to participate in?! I hope my time will consist of bothering Stalker anyway, trying to drink up what information and stories about past and present projects I can, and perhaps doing a walk of my own...on my own! Since I have been here twice before and since their ‘field of inquiry’ is the peripheries of the city it seems appropriate that I should be there while I’m here, instead of guzzling more gelati and getting in the way of other people’s photos around the Trevi Fountain…..which is also quite tempting.

Pantheon Panormanic

FYI: the walk is open to anyone who wants to participate, a month from now! Participants choose their own method of representation and there will be an exhibition of all the compiled documentation afterwards. Go! You should! Tell me what it’s like afterwards!

Sandwich on Map

Who ever said the Germans don’t have a sense of humour?

Friday, June 02, 2006
Berlin Dog Shit

It is June and I am still in Berlin….contrary to original plans…unsurprisingly. I will be here another two weeks. Various forces conspired so that this emerged as a logical decision. Mainly that Stalker, the Italians, continued to be elusive and that I want to be in London for the last two weeks of June. So Rome has been delayed or cancelled, it’s not quite clear yet. But I’m still leaving Berlin before the World Cup starts…..fortunately or unfortunately I’m not sure….

Meanwhile agreeable things have come out of deciding to stay for a while longer - like skinny dipping in lakes in the gorgeous countryside of the Oderburger region….and the opportunity to help with the documentation stage of the Dolmusch project. Most recently Matthias, one of the core Raumlabor members told me how he is a celebrity with the Turkish kids in his apartment block - the ones who caused mischief around the Dolmsuch ‘Reiseburo’. One of the intentions of the project was to explore ‘multicultural hybrids’ of urban systems (the name ‘Dolmusch’ is derived from the private, informal taxi system in Istanbul). Matthias thinks that this gesture was appreciated by the surrounding immigrant community who are disillusioned by the unidirectional ‘integration’ policy in Germany. In other words ‘integration’ normally means the problem of how to assimilate immigrants into German culture, rather than the possibility of a two-way exchange. This is what the Dolmusch project tried to explore instead…..

It might be interesting to put the project into some context with other Raumlabor projects from the last couple of years: I think the most striking are:

- A giant scaffolding mountain (‘Der Berg’) inside the Palast der Republik, the controversial Communist Parliament building which is in the process of being torn down in order to be replaced by the 17th Century Prussian Palace that stood on the site previously (if the required 80 million euros (?) is ever raised!). The mountain, which climbed from the street through the centre of the building and out through the top, featured a guesthouse where you could spend the night and three different tours up to the top of it. It's amazing to hear about the crazy bureaucratic and technical challenges had to be negotiated in order to realise this project!

Der Berg

- The Hotel Neustadt project, which involved transforming an empty housing block in the East German city of Halle into a hotel for the summer, complete with rooms designed and built from scrap materials (for a grand total of 3 Euros each!) by kids from the city and a series of interactive projects orchestrated by artists from all over the world - skateboard parks, film festivals, espresso bars, massage parlours, mini golf courses..... The festival-like project allowed the area to be completely re-imagined by both residents and visitors. There is now a fabulous, graphically-seductive book that documents the project…

Hotel Neustadt

- The ‘KuchenMonument’ – a giant, ephemeral plastic bubble that has been travelling around different cities as a temporary space for events ranging from Christian youth groups to artist discussions to political dinners.

KuchenMonument

The temporary arts project that takes advantage of the massive amounts of empty space either awaiting reconstruction or in a legal paralysis has assumed central importance in the cultural development of Berlin. The notion of architectural permanence is completely undermined here….and instead the Raumlabor projects explode the potential of the temporary project as a medium for cultural activism and political statements, through which new systems and patterns of inhabitation in the city are imagined. I am so inspired by the almost-absurdity and spirit of their projects! And in the meantime the material that is deconstructed and saved at the end of each project is gradually accumulating in a small village near Poland that we visited this week….in order that it might take on yet another life at some indeterminate point in the future.

Barns and Clouds

......I have also had more time to be an obedient tourist recently. Sure that I was basically numb to the ‘starchitect’ sightseeing after being oblivious to the street of Eisenman/Koolhaas contributions, offended by Potsdamer Platz and only mildly interested in Libeskind’s Jewish Museum, I was secretly relieved to find myself blown away by the Neue Nationalegallerie by Mies van der Rohe. It is stark and serene, and the day that I visited it with John Hart (an Austinite landscape architect also visiting Berlin) it was closed, the deserted concrete landscape around it broken only by the occasional lone skateboarder or cyclist. Inside they were in the process of building an undulating wooden landscape for a Berlin/Tokyo exhibition opening next month...hmmmm...sexy contrast to the rigid form of the building.

Small Mies

Abstract Mies

John Hart and I enacted the first shadow drawing, a project I have been idly plotting for a while. We traced the shadow of a sculpture in blue chalk in the courtyard and recorded the time next to it and I was thrilled by a video I made of it disappearing and reappearing as the sun went in and out of the clouds….We were amazed to realise that the shadow had moved entirely out of the boundaries of chalk just five minutes later. Ok, so you can’t see it very well in these photos….or in fact in ‘real life’…..the method definitely needs some tuning…

Shadow Drawing

Meanwhile I’m getting nostalgic about the thought of leaving my neighbourhood. This evening in Gorlitzer Park I marvelled again at the wildness of this place… a truly integrative piece of land, full of punks, Turkish women, young families….where an auditorium sits in ruins because the Portuguse stone was unsuited to the German climate and an old railway station covered in grafitti waits for the trains that never arrived there – a place of bent dreams which somehow cracks open space for new ones to brew….

Gorlitzer Auditorium