– Spring/Summer 2004

Marjetica Potrč: The Politics of the Uninhabitable

Julieta González

Tags: Marjetica Potrc

The uninhabitable: shantytowns, townships.
- Georges Perec, Espèces de Espaces

The uncontrolled urban manifestations and 'informal' architecture found at the margins of the megalopolis are the subject matter of Marjetica Potrč's borderline practice between art and architecture. Formally trained as an architect, she now performs exercises in the politics of the uninhabitable. Her 'urban' and 'architectural' structures map out individual building 'solutions' to the endemic housing problems which effect the poverty-stricken inhabitants of the third world, solutions which she has found ingenious in terms of survival in a global, neo-liberal economy. In the exhibition spaces of the museums and galleries of the first world Potrc builds structures that summarise the underlying principles of the models encountered during her research, and in doing so, draws a cartography of this 'new' or, rather, 'informal' urbanism. This, in turn, outlines the real lived connections between modes of social organisation and community, and the particular politics of governance and housing.

Potrč's work is neither political nor architectural in a direct sense. In the museum space, the 'constructions' are devoid of any real function regarding shelter. Instead they become aesthetic vehicles that seek to dramatise contemporary architecture and its approach to this very concrete problem of housing in the third world.

Potrč's work can be inscribed in a long-standing tradition of artists who have worked with architecture, some of whom have collaborated with architects to produce real buildings, others who have questioned architecture from within, articulating a critique that ultimately unravels in an acknowledgement of the failure of architecture's utopian aspirations. The twentieth century produced countless experiments in urban planning and architecture, a wave of experimentation that naturally extended into the realm of art and avant-garde

  1. Wodiczko's work, even though it shares similar aspirations to Potrc's, deals with temporary shelters for the homeless and in no way implies an architectural or urban programme for the development of these 'prototypes'. The Situationists, on the other hand, indeed had a social agenda in mind, rooted in Marxist thought and politics, however their experiments were progressively acted out on the psyche of the city-dweller for whom the dérive would constitute an alternative to the time-constraints imposed by post-industrial society and economy.

  2. One notable example is the 1927 Weissenhofsiedlung in Stuttgart (Federation for Work: Home Living) directed by Mies van der Rohe with the participation of himself, Walter Gropius, Le Corbusier, J.J.P. Oud, Peter Behrens and other architects.

  3. Beatriz Colomina has written extensively on the subject in Autonomy and Ideology. Positioning an Avant-garde in America, New York: The Monacelli Press, 1997

  4. Ibid., p.311

  5. One of the highlights was the famous Kitchen Debate of 1959, in which the differences between East and West during the Cold War were discussed in the context of the American National Exhibition in Moscow, this time taking political debate to the arena of domesticity.

  6. This conceptualisation of a world in crisis links Marjetica Potrč's installations to the exhibition of war-time prototypes at the Museum of Modern Art in the 1940s, since these were the product of crisis - the war, an eventual bomb-raid - and not the manifestation of a given style related to peace-time aesthetics and design.

  7. Kenneth Frampton coined the term 'critical regionalism' to define architectural and urban practices that recognised and responded to the cultural specificities of site, in the process acknowledging architectural methods but at the same time aimed towards modern architecture, without giving in to the weight of the vernacular. Recently he has spoken of a novel operational strategy developed by Spanish architect Manuel de Sola Morales, 'Urban Acupuncture', which consists 'making catalytic, small-scale interventions with the condition that they should be realisable within a relatively short period of time, and capable of achieving a maximum impact with regard to the immediate surroundings'.

  8. See Hans Ulrich Obrist, 'Interview with Marjetica Potrc', ARCONOTICIAS, no.24, Summer 2002, pp.55-59

  9. 'As for the heterotopias as such, how can they be described? What meaning do they have? We might imagine a sort of systematic description - I do not say a science because the term is too galvanised now - that would, in a given society, take as its object the study, analysis, description and "reading" of these different spaces, of these other places. As a sort of simultaneously mythic and real contestation of the space in which we live, this description could be called heterotopology.' Michel Foucault, 'Des Espaces Autres', in Architecture/Mouvement/Continuité, October 1984. This text was written in 1967.

  10. This work's inclusion in the Venezuelan Pavilion at the 1995 Venice Biennale was censored by Venezuelan cultural authorities because it did not convey an appropriate image of the country.

  11. In a video interview at the PBICA Potrč says that one of the amazing things about Caracas is that you can do your shopping from your car during rush-hour, referring to the swarms of street vendors who in the face of unemployment and a terrible economic and social crisis have had to resort to this form of informal economy, yet she does little to reflect on the living-conditions of these vendors who live in extreme poverty. It might be a spontaneous solution but it does not solve the real problems affecting society at large.