THIRTEEN WAYS OF LOOKING AT THE CITY*

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Curated by Daniel Serafimovski
Assitant Oliver Ilievski

Projects by:
Exhibition space 1
Viktorija Eremeeva, Maksim Naumovski (Mihail Fjodorovich Eremeev and Boris Mihajlovich Eremeev); Martin Guleski; Mitko Hadzi-Pulja; Vlatko P. Korobar; Violeta Bakalcev, Minas Bakalcev; Zoran Petrovski
Exhibition space 2
Slobodan Velevski, Marija Mano Velevska, Ognen Marina; Vlado Danailov, Monika Novkovikj, Gordan Vitevski; Jovan Ivanovski, Vladimir Deskov, Paolina Miluševa, Biljana Temelkovska, Ivan Nikolovski, Sanja Lilitkin, Nina Karangeleska Todorovska, Martin Efremovski, Sanja Taseva, Bisera Krckovska, Aleksandar Baldazarski (photography); Zivko Popovski, Goce Adzi-Mitrevski, Minas Bakalcev, Mitko Hadzi-Pulja, Martin Guleski. Dimitrije Golubovski, Domnika Boskova, and a group of motivated students from the Faculty of Architecture, UKIM University, Skopje
Exhibition space 3
Damjan Momirovski; Gjorgje Jovanovik; Minas Bakalcev; Filip Jovanovski

SIA’s new architectural exhibition, Thirteen Ways of Looking at the City*, initially entitled Other (New) Perspectives on the City, intends to provide exactly that: an overview of new/other ways of looking at the city, in this case, the city of Skopje. The selected works, projects and studies are either ongoing research-based investigations, or works which reflect particular passions and interests of the individual contributors, in relation to specific architectural /urban /sociological themes. Some of these ‘City Studies’ and ‘City Studies’ have been developed as part of academic research projects; others are the result of a more personal relationship with the city. In both cases, the studies express the various authors / architects’ appreciation and commitment to the city – their city – something, which may otherwise be questioned in view of the dramatic transformations of numerous buildings, streets and public spaces, which the city has endured (and that have been permitted to take place) over the past five years.

The ensemble of selected works are an attempt to reappraise the city’s existing qualities, some of which have been violently аnd systematically altered, transfigured or even erased during the recent period of intense urban re-development. The city has become a continuous construction site, transformed beyond recognition by the assertion/imposition of an incongruous ‘new’ architectural style and cultural identity. At the same time, the denial and erasure of the qualities of the modernist city is tantamount to an eradication of the city’s collective memory. The works collected and assembled within this exhibition are a reflection of/on the possibility of retaining and restoring the city’s collective memory, even when (and perhaps precisely because) the losses are already significant. The citizens’ attempts to counter the questionable socio-cultural agenda of the current government, as expressed through activist initiatives such as ‘We Love GTC’, are an indication that not only architects but also ‘ordinary’ citizens value and love their city and its buildings; citizens whose lives have been touched by the Architecture of the City. The works of the architects, artists and other authors included in this exhibition, reflect in various ways, the civic activism that has surfaced in response to the unfathomable policies and bizarre urban phenomena that plague the city.

The exhibition Thirteen Ways of Looking at the City, as implied by the title (borrowed from Wallace Steven’s poem Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird) is an attempt to approach a particular theme from a number of different, parallel perspectives, through varied media and working methodologies – uniting, thereby, a number of possible views of the subject, observed over a span of time. The exhibition brings together authors who represent a number of generations; the works are arranged within three of the gallery spaces at SIA, grouped loosely around particular themes or narratives: City Studies and City Stories; City Mappings; Monuments and Actions. The exhibition format enjoys and celebrates both the similarities and the differences between the works and projects, unifying them only with certain curatorial elements, such as the project descriptions, the use of frames, the format and manner of displaying the work on the walls and in the space, etc. Several of the projects include elements of writing, as part of the works; some could even be described as being primarily text-based studies, or studies of spatial aspects in texts by others. The inclusion of extensive written pieces, and the litererary aspects of the displayed works, is also intended as a critique of (but also as a form of antidote to) the phenomenon of the ‘one-night-only’ exhibiton format – where most viewers principally attend only the event of the opening evening, or the exhibiton ‘preview’. Instead, this exhibiton invites repeated views (as presumably all exhibitons aspire to) – encouraging repeat visits, which, like lingering and browsing through books in a library, are not unlike the episodic reading and rereading of chapters of a book. The possibility of such an experience for the viewer is further enhanced by the somewhat domestic feel of the gallery spaces at Serious Interests Agency, which also enables the whole exhibition to be viewed as an installation, or as a collection, an archive of works.

The exhibition shows the city of Skopje as seen from above, with aerial photographs from a distant past, through images from the Eremeev family archive. It shows the city from within, uncovering the hidden qualities and potential of the ‘invisible’ or less visible spaces of the city (the public spaces which we have grown accustomed to and only now begin to fully appreciate – now, that they are being lost), through a typological study entitled ‘Invisible Skopje’, a study organized by Studio Skopje and led by Jovan Ivanovski. The exhibition also features drawings and models of several important local modernist buildings, prepared by Prof. Martin Guleski, whose passion for model-making started in his childhood. These ‘model architecures’ are not only models of specific buildings in the city, but also ‘model examples’ of valueable architecture. This model study represents an exemplary activity of analysis and documentation of a specific architectural heritage, in a society which has not yet fully developed an appropriate mechanism for the proper appraisal and protection of the important works of architecure it has inherited from its not-so-distant ancestors.

Alongside these city studies are a series of more personal ‘City Stories’. In what appears to be an article from a journal, entitled ‘Four Doors and a Wall – Alberti in my Home’, Prof.Vlatko.P.Korobar reflects on the fine spatial qualities of a particular modernist house in the city. This is a house by an unknown architect; a house which has been the home of the Korobar family for over half a century, and a house which has undergone a number of transformations. It is also a house whose organisation and spirit (largely due to the central ‘four doors and a wall’) is reflecive of Alberti’s well-known analogy between ‘the house as a small city’ and ‘the city as a large house’.

Artist /architect Filip Jovanovski documents a series of artistic actions, showing the intimate conditions in which some of the key recent actions of civil disobedience have been prepared. This new work shows some of his ‘hidden actions’ or less visible aspects of his public works, including a video of the artist campaigning for citizens to show their support for the GTC building (the City Commercial Centre – one of the city’s key modernist buildings, designed by architect Zivko Popovski and his collaborators), prior to the recent public referendum in relation to the proposed protection of the building’s original form. In relation to this, Prof. Minas’ reflections on ‘living with GTC’, as developed through his 11 Thesis about GTC (from the book 111 Tezi za GTC, edited by Filip Jovanovski and Ivana Vaseva), highlights the urban qualities of this particular building and its role in the city, as well as in his own life. Through an accompanying series of photographic obervations, co-authored with Violeta Bakalchev during daily walks along the construction-laden river banks in the immediate vicinity of their home (in and around the GTC centre), the two architects discover amidst their everyday surroundings  another dimension, almost another world of self-growing plants and flowers, confirming the possibilty that one fine day, ‘the city will once again be blossoming’.

The exhibition includes thirteen ‘City Studies’ and ‘City Stories’, works which are primarily by architects, and several of which are collaborative efforts by numerous authors. Other works and projects could have been included as part of this ensemble. However, the exhibition ‘Thirteen Ways of Looking at the City’ is not seen as a finite event, but as part of an ongoing research project (in relation to the ‘Skopje Open Archive project, initiated by architect Daniel Serafimovski in Spring 2014), and will continue with two further related exhibitions. The following exhibition, entitled ‘More Stories about Buildings and the City: Transformations’ (tbc), will focus more specifically on various aspects of recent urban transformations in Skopje, as evidenced through academic or personal research projects. The final exhibition in the series, (with ‘Art and the City’ as a working title), will focus on the relationship between a number of artists and the city, highlighting artistic interventions in public spaces. Together with a series of public debates and seminars, the three exhibitions and related discussions will conclude with a book, serving as documentation of the exhibited work and as a reference for other ongoing / future research projects related to the city.

………………..

*The exhibition title makes refeence to the poem by Walace Stevens, entitled “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”, from his first book of Poetry “Harmonium’ (published in 1917). The poem consists of thirteen short, separate sections, each of which mentions blackbirds in some way. Sight is the dominant perceptual modality and the poems are almost cinematic; in the poems first stanza, it is as though a camera focuses on a mountain panorama and then zooms in to the blackbird and its roaming eye. Although inspired by Haiku, none of the sections meet the traditional definition of Haiku poetry. The poem may be interpreted as one of Wallace Stevens’s exercises in perspectivism; perspectives issuing from the poet’s imagination, which (in the spirit of philosophical nominalism) can unify the world in various ways. Literary critics have also suggested that the poem alludes to the Cubists’ practice of unifying a number of possible views of the subject, observed over a span of time. The poem has inspired a number of musicians, and specific musical compositions, while the title has often been paraphrased in music album-titles, articles, books, and anywhere else a particular topic bears examination from a number of different perspectives.

Perhaps a more personal reason for using this title is by way of making reference to Robert Harbison’s book, entitled ‘Thirteen Ways: Theoretical Investigations in Architecture’. In this enigmatic book, the author (who is a colleague and friend of ours in London) uses a formally poetic narrative on architectural history and theory to discuss numerous architectural works, as seen through ten themes (sculpture, machines, the body, landscape, models, ideas, politics, the shared, subjectivity, and memory). Aldo Rossi’s ‘Scientific Autobiography’, which could be seen as a precursor to Harbison’s ‘Thirteen Ways’, and where Rossi combines a series of poetic reflections on art and architecture with personal experiences (as a way of explaining his position on architecture), is another key reference for this exhibition’s form and structure, which aims to collect and juxtapose a number of parallel views on the city, as well as personal passions, experiences or working methodologies, into a greater, poetic whole.

We thank the many contributors for their collaboration in this collective effort.

**The essay title makes reference to the new work by Violeta Bakalchev & Minas Bakalcev, first exhbitied as part of this exhibition, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at the City”.

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