top of page

CHAMBRE ART: What is good for the bees?

‘A hybrid of physical and virtual space’: a reconstruction by Forensic Architecture of the bombing of Rafah, Gaza, 1 August 2014. Photograph: Forensic Architecture

Starting with the current edition (April-May '21), we have decided to change our editorial line, and we did it by choosing one main theme per issue, in order to discuss its many nuances across the various sections we cover, such as Art and Architecture, Cinema, Fashion, Graphic Design.

We thought of a sort of fil rouge for all the sections, with these macro-themes which will then be explored by each of our editors over the upcoming weeks.

So today with this new #ChambreART piece, I’m thrilled to introduce to you the new main theme for this issue.

The theme we've chosen is…(*drum roll…)...The sense of Community and the Analysis of Society.

The sense of Community. What am I bringing to the world?

The artists, architects and researchers I have chosen, by the likes of Alfredo Jaar, Mona Hatoum, Teddy Cruz & Fonna Forman and Eyal Weizman Founder and Director of Forensic Architecture, they all, in different ways, have these macro-themes in common: the analysis of Society, the sense of Community, identity belonging, dislocation and disjunction, the complexities of exile, displacement, the sense of loss and separation caused by War and the importance to be involved within the present.

A work - artistic or otherwise - stops being self-referential when there is a Community (with a capital C) at stake, therefore it becomes a work in relation to something else. When a work is aimed at sharing in a community and reflects, reveals the question: What am I bringing to the World? What am I sharing that is true? Then change takes place. Be aware of the scope of artistic work that is not ours. See it as a mission.

The form in which the message is conveyed may differ from one another. Let's discover some examples.

Analysis of Society. The work as a social mission.

There are many similarities, likenesses between the Estudio Teddy Cruz + Fonna Forman, a research-based political and architectural practice, based in San Diego and Forensic Architecture's research practice based in London (Goldsmith University). But while Forensic Architecture (FA) is a research agency, primarily concerned with the analysis of mere data, investigating human rights violations, that works in partnership with institutions across civil society, from grassroots activists, to legal teams, to international NGOs and media organisations, to carry out investigations with and on behalf of communities and individuals affected by conflict, police brutality, border regimes and environmental violence; the Estudio Teddy Cruz + Fonna Forman operates in the territory, advancing border immigrant neighborhoods as sites of cultural production, from which to rethink urban policy, affordable housing and civic infrastructure.

We can see the mission of FA clearly in the project THE EXTRAJUDICIAL EXECUTION OF AHMAD EREKAT On 23 June 2020, Ahmad Erekat, a 26-year-old Palestinian, was shot by Israeli occupation forces after his car crashed into a booth at the ‘Container’ checkpoint—between Jerusalem and Bethlehem—in the occupied West Bank in Palestine.

According to his family, he was driving to run errands for his sister’s wedding taking place on the same day. FA reconstructed the event that happened as a research work to find the truth and share it.

3D model of 'Container' checkpoint, Credits: Forensich Architecture.

Position of Ahmed's body as he is shot six times. Source: Twitter Israeli Police, 23 June 2020.

Position of Ahmad's body at 3:53 pm. Source: Facebook - Credits: Forensich Architecture.

On 23 June 2020, Ahmad Erekat, a 26-year-old Palestinian, was shot by Israeli occupation forces after his car crashed into a booth at the ‘Container’ checkpoint between Jerusalem and Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank. Working in collaboration with the Palestinian human rights organisation Al-Haq, Forensic Architecture’s Palestine Unit was asked by the Erekat family to examine the incident. Using 3D modeling, shadow analysis and open-source investigation, we established the circumstances of the crash of Ahmad’s car, the use of lethal force, the denial of medical aid that followed, and the degrading treatment of Ahmad’s body. Our analysis raises major questions about Ahmad’s killing that raise doubts in the Israeli army’s claims and call for further investigation.”

Another way of operating in the same field is seen in Teddy Cruz.

Teddy Cruz is recognized internationally for his urban and architectural research of the Tijuana-San Diego border. His investigation of this geography of conflict has inspired a practice and pedagogy that emerges from the particularities of this bicultural territory and the integration of theoretical research, pedagogy and design production. Cruz is currently a Professor of Public Culture and Urbanism in the Visual Arts Department, and Director of Urban Research in the UCSD Center on Global Justice. With long-time research partner, UCSD political theorist, Fonna Forman.

The theme of community and social issues in the field of Art is so fascinating on one hand and on the other hand quite tricky because there is always the lurking risk of doing a “political art” as something rhetoric, something that is a façade, something that is “cool” and trendy, but in the end you don't even know what you are talking about; so, it ends in itself overshadowed by patterns and customs that are swept away in the cyclones of trends and in the complex world of the art market.

Being aware of that, the projects led by Cruz respond in a real way to a real need, bringing a real improvement in a discomfort situation. But what is most astonishing is how from a situation of disadvantage the place is enhanced as a site of cultural production.

Cruz and Forman lead a variety of urban research agendas and civic/public interventions in the San Diego-Tijuana border region and beyond. Their work blurs conventional boundaries between theory and practice, and merges the fields of architecture and urbanism, political theory and urban policy, visual arts and public culture.

Let’s see for instance the project “Living Rooms at the Border” with CASA FAMILIAR which consists of a 13,469 square-foot mixed-use project in the historic heart of San Ysidro, a predominantly Latino community in the City of San Diego.

The back-and-forth movement of materials, people, and ideas across the United States–Mexico border between San Diego and Tijuana has long been an important focus of Teddy Cruz’s practice. In 2001 Cruz began working with the community-based nongovernmental organization Casa Familiar to develop a pilot housing project for an area of San Ysidro, an American city just north of the border. According to Casa Familiar—which advocates for and assists the marginal community in such areas as immigration services, education, and job placement—some two-thirds of San Ysidro’s homes are multifamily; the median income for residents is sixty percent lower than it is in the rest of San Diego County.

In addition to providing a new type of affordable housing, the team sought to stimulate political, economic, and social transformation.

Having studied a variety of ad hoc uses of land in this formerly homogenous suburban area, Cruz aimed to create a complex system of housing, with integrated shared space that would acknowledge and exploit the dense, multiuse, and often illegal development that is standard there. This decade-long undertaking has resulted in the incorporation of alternative zoning categories in San Ysidro, appropriate to the city’s density and its citizens’ income levels, as well as designs for two small-scale projects to be constructed on abandoned or underutilized lots beginning in 2011: Living Rooms at the Border and Senior Housing with Childcare. Connected by pedestrian alleyways, the two projects will integrate affordable apartments with community centers and highly flexible multi-use indoor and outdoor spaces. In a radically pragmatic and integrative approach to architecture, Cruz has sought to understand the fabric of the neighborhood and create projects that institutionalize it.

“Living Rooms at the Border” was designed by Teddy Cruz + Fonna Forman In partnership with UC San Diego’s Center on Global Justice, Living Rooms will incorporate a UC San Diego Border Community Station. The Station will engage UC San Diego’s faculty, students, and research institutions with the unique culture, and people of the San Ysidro-Tijuana border community.

Living Rooms at the Border is made possible by New Markets Tax Credits allocated by Civic San Diego, grants from the PARC Foundation and ARTPLACE America, and the County of San Diego. Financing partners include Capital Impact Partner and Citi Community Capital.

A model of Estudio Teddy Cruz + Fonna Forman’s “Living Room at the Border,” a mixed-use, affordable housing project being developed in the border community of San Ysidro, CA in collaboration with the community-based non-profit, Casa Familiar. All the credits: Teddy Cruz + Fonna Forman

A model of Estudio Teddy Cruz + Fonna Forman’s “Living Room at the Border,” a mixed-use, affordable housing project being developed in the border community of San Ysidro, CA in collaboration with the community-based non-profit, Casa Familiar. All the credits: Teddy Cruz + Fonna Forman

A model of Estudio Teddy Cruz + Fonna Forman’s “Living Room at the Border”. All the credits: Teddy Cruz + Fonna Forman

Cruz looks at how to re-invent the border immigrant neighborhoods into a common space for a common good, for public welfare. Their work emphasizes urban conflict and informality as sites for engaging public policy and civic infrastructure, with a special emphasis on Latin American cities. How a situation of degradation in the smells of border areas can actually become a valuable asset for re-thinking the concept of community - in his case linked to architecture - and therefore the concept of living.

The artistic work as displacement, sense of loss, identity belonging, Theatre of War.

Another perspective related to the analysis of Society and the work as something that explores the conflicts and contradictions of our world is undoubtedly the way used by the renowned Palestinian artist Mona Hatoum.

Mona Hatoum, Hot Spot III 2009, Photo: Agostino Osio, Tate © Mona Hatoum

Mona Hatoum after her studies at the Slade School of Art, she started to develop ideas around gender and race, and began to explore the relationship between politics and the individual through performance. In the late 1980s she began to make installations and sculptures in a wide range of materials. These often use the grid or geometric forms to reference to systems of control within Society. She also has made a number of works using household objects which are scaled up or changed to make them familiar but uncanny.

Mona Hatoum, Light Sentence 1992, Photo Philippe Migeat, Tate © Mona Hatoum

To conclude the overview we can't help but take a look at Alfredo Jaar another renowned artist, architect, photographer and filmmaker originally from Chile who lives and works in New York City.

Alfredo Jaar is mostly known as an installation artist, often incorporating photography and covering socio-political issues and war—the best known perhaps being the 6-year-long The Rwanda Project about the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

The Rwanda Project, (1994 - 2010) Photo: Alfredo Jaar

On November 3, 1998, Alfredo Jaar addressed his Rwanda Project (1994-1998) as part of the MIT Department of Architecture Lecture Series. As Jaar explained, "What brought [him] to Rwanda was the way the press was reacting to the tragedy. You would find a little dispatch saying, 'Thirty thousand bodies are washing down the Kagera River.' And that was buried on page seven of the newspaper." Quite significantly, the title of his presentation was "The Sound of Silence," implying both the world's resonating silence while the genocide was happening and his own experimentation with the inclusion of music into his projects. In fact, by using text, sound, and smell in his works, the artist, who went to Rwanda as a photographer, reacted to the media's saturating use of graphic imagery when portraying tragic events. His encounters were also so unique and shattering that, after returning, the photographs seemed inadequate for relaying them. Jaar has thus far dis- closed only six of the 3,000 that he took in Rwanda.

He said:

"The experience was so radical that I had to start search- ing for new ways to deal with images and with other things. I had never used music in such a way. I had never used smell. If you had told me five years ago that I was going to do an installation with smell, I would have laughed at you. At that time, I would have thought that this would be the most ridiculous thing I would ever do. Me working with smell. And I came up with this. And the incorporation of music, the importance and meaning that music is now gaining in my work. I'm searching. In a way, these are all essays in representation."

The Rwanda Project, (1994 - 2010) Photo: Alfredo Jaar

The Rwanda Project, (1994 - 2010) Photo: Alfredo Jaar

He has also made numerous public intervention works, like The Skoghall Konsthall one-day paper museum in Sweden, an early electronic billboard intervention A Logo For America, and The Cloud, a performance project on both sides of the Mexico-US border.

A Logo for America, 1987, Photo: Alfredo Jaar

A Logo for America, 1987, Photo: Alfredo Jaar

A Logo for America, 1987, Photo: Alfredo Jaar

I would love to end with the Lament of the Images and also take a step back in History.

Talking about Society and the Sense of Common Good, I can't help but come back to the Roman Empire by quoting a famous phrase of Marcus Aurelius who said ages ago that which is not good for the bee-hive cannot be good for the bees.

In our present times what is good for the bees?

Words: Elisabetta Gazzoli


We do not own the rights to any of the pictures in the article. All the rights go to the authors of the pictures.


bottom of page