In Plattenbau, Daniel Silvo (Cadiz, 1982) reflects on the political dimension of art, particularly architecture, which is most evident in the urban environment. The relations to power and its different meanings are shown as hegemonic with respect to artistic principles, despite the emphasis placed on them, given the role that form has always played in transmitting ethical and referential content into the corresponding cultural surroundings. Josep M. Montaner and Zaída Muxí, in their essay Architecture and Politics, explore a set of questions that the artist raises in the exhibition and that we will briefly analyse in the informative leaflets provided to accompany the works on display.
Silvo, whose multidisciplinary work focuses on the political implications of everyday objects, has chosen for this project the socialist paradigm from the Cold War, in which the phenomenon is expressed with little subtlety, as is always the case in totalitarian conditions. Therefore, the artist consistently draws on the enduring memories we have of events that took place at that time, and makes use of his own knowledge to facilitate us with a bridge to the current situation, which requires a more complex analysis. The artist purposely alludes to memory in an environment in which its erasure and reprogramming was experienced quite systematically on repeated occasions -e.g. Berlin- and he utilizes the isolation and recontextualization of landmarks and symbolic elements that embody the singularity of urban existence, as opposed to the homogenization exemplified here in Plattenbau, a constant imposed by the Global Market. The capacity of the contemporary city to be meaningful -especially the meanings that are related to collective memory- is controlled by political power and conditioned by the Market, authors of the symbolic organization of public space. Nevertheless, there is tension between authorities and individuals that vigorously surfaces during periods of crucial changes, according to the conclusions of the study by Antonio Ontañón, which defines it as a living entity of action and transformation. In this respect, the sculpture that is reminiscent of the Palace of the Republic of Berlin, symbol of the GDR that was recently dismantled because of its high risk as a pollutant due to the large quantities of asbestos it contained, looks rundown and off balance, and represents the failure of a societal model. The display area that consists in the furniture-sculpture, the video After Glasnot and the Matryoshkas refers to the permeability between public and private spheres. There is a disturbing discourse in the video on the lack of transparency and the manipulation that are prevalent in these processes. Finally, a small device incorporated into the showcase demonstrates the interview in which Daniel Silvo converses with the president of Slovenia Danilo Turk about the link between art and political and economic powers, which are the same thing these days.
“Plattenbau” (from “Platte”, panel, and “Bau”, house) is a building constructed with prefab concrete panels to solve the grave housing problem in areas devastated by bombardments during World War II. Gigantic settlements were built with this material. They were generally of low quality, in densely populated suburban areas, despite which they were considered a desirable alternative and were in high demand with respect to the old buildings. Following the reunification, demographic decline, the restoration of historical developments and the construction of modern apartments have been factors contributing to their massive desertion, estimated at around a million units. In consequence, many have been dismantled in order to be moved elsewhere in future, or they have been demolished; only a few are slated for refurbishment. An example of this type of settlement, called “Neubaugebiet” (new areas of development) in German, was that of Petrzalka, deteriorated to the point of becoming the most dangerous neighbourhood in Slovakia.
The Petrzalka and Karl Marx Allee watercolours contrast the “Plattenbau” typology with that of a less basic, more pretentious, yet colossal construction that flanks the avenue whose plan is almost a carbon copy of Prospekt Nevsky from Soviet Leningrad, in Stalin’s favourite “wedding cake” style.
The current historic situation of profound crisis requires a reconsideration of the social model, following the collapse of the current one due to its exhaustion and the perverse dynamics into which almost all its actors have fallen. Whereas in the Europe of totalitarianisms the memory of its cities was attacked, redesigned based on imposing avenues, megalomaniacal monuments and enormous residential hives, since the nineties we have been witnessing a similar process with the deconstruction of much of the heritage of our cities by replacing landmarks in the collective memory with works by star architects and shopping centres that do not fit into the adjacent urban fabric. Rem Kolhaas calls this “Junkspace”, which often takes place in areas from which their inhabitants have been uprooted, forced to move into the crowded outskirts. On the other hand, during the “boom” of the sixties the historical city centres had been abandoned by the professional middle class, who moved to residential areas with single family homes. More humble classes, many of whom were later subjected to evictions, succeeded them. With the crisis, there are thousands of uninhabited houses, sometimes even left vacant prior to ever having been inhabited, which makes the housing problem extremely painful. The video shown next to the installation of boxes/blocks completes the panorama of these desolate realities.
Against a background such as this the artist’s and intellectual’s responsibility, their role as unflagging critics, analysts of tensions and processes who are creative when it comes to proposing valid and independent alternative solutions, must transcend rendering an ideological option, and embrace a deep commitment beyond craft and design, fostering the transformative action of citizens in private and public realms. Meeting this challenge in a display of audacity and humour, in the series Royal Palace the artist presents some structural and aesthetic modifications to this building, representative of a country and its Monarchy, which are essential for turning it into public housing. These computer graphics incorporate photographs of blocks of working class neighbourhoods in the outskirts of Madrid into some engravings of the Orient Palace, yet another unoccupied residence. This would entail a revolutionary intervention, not only socially but also environmentally, as it would be an economizing land practice.
With the project of this exhibition, comprising sculptures, watercolours, computer graphics, videos, a cardboard installation and an aquatint modified with tempera, Daniel Silvo plays his part in that he protests against some situations and outlines specific actions in keeping with a programme of searching for answers to the pressing problems of our society that do not preclude the accomplishment of certain priority objectives such as the defence of equality, diversity, sustainability and so forth.
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