Unit Framing Statement
“The cyborg is a condensed image of both imagination and material reality, the two joined centres structuring any possibility of historical transformation"
- Donna Haraway
Unit 18 is interested in contemporary structures of power which interject or envelop existing contexts, rupturing continuity with haunting otherwhere’s, and otherwhen’s: White paint over messages of the revolution in Tahrir Square, Cairo; an Italian-themed gambling complex in Johannesburg, a rapper’s masterplan for a net-zero city in Senegal. We take on the landscape of the hyperreal – spaces which are augmented, and quite strange – cities, buildings, and programmes which combine the original and localised; with the nonspecific, global, and replicated, often emboldened through machines and technology. Last year, our work aimed to reveal and recognise that which has been violently erased or altered in particular spatial contexts by these interjections. This year, Unit 18 shifts to study and reimagine the interjections themselves – which are often insurgent, alien, plastic, cyborg, and new. We ask - where do these come from, what are they made of, and why are they here?
To begin to answer this, we claim surface as a site. For our purposes, all of architecture is surface. Surfaces can hold that which is inside or outside a body, they can be a visual response to a gaze, they can define, order and identify use. Yet, surfaces can be spectral: they can be permeable, malleable, and plastic, they can reveal or conceal. Surfaces can tell the truth or lie. A surface is a dream of what space wants to be, the fantasy or specter of how space, building, or city wishes itself to be seen. The facade and screen become important architectural agents to understand and reimagine the creation of the virtual and the ‘dream’. The line between the model and the real, the authentic, and copy is blurred and haunted. Here, the morality of architectural surfacing is at stake, and we use this to interrogate and counter remnant legacies of coloniality and biased forces of power which have and continue to disenfranchise local communities, economic processes, and cultures through the controls of access and use, and erasure of ‘inconvenient’ bodies through surfacing.
Supersurfaces will delve into research that tackles the way surfaces, skins and facades mediate, translate and transmute information, data, and history. We will attend a ghost-tour through a spectral, virtual gaze, of six haunted ‘surfacings’ on our continent - that include Durban’s ‘Golden Mile’ - a landscape re-veneered to copy Miami’s beachfront; as well as sites in Senegal, Johannesburg, and the Eastern Cape in South Africa.
Supersurfaces draws inspiration from and links to the cinematic works and writings of Harun Farocki in questioning the role of the surface in framing our engagement with history and power; the works of writers such as Judith Butler, Sarah Ahmed, Arjun Appadurai, Donna Haraway, Avery Gordon, Walter Benjamin, Hito Steyerl, Ruha Benjamin, Michel Foucault, Michael Sorkin and the work of Forensic Architecture among others. Supersurfaces, as a broader research project, aims to engage with theoretical thinking about space; public, private, and political, through architecture and contemporary design.
Methodologically, we use the architectural prototype – a device that is sited between the real and the hyperreal – for research and design. Architecture has thrived on the presence of the ghostly prototype: from phantom cities to model cities, prototypes that were never built, to mass-produced, globalised models. Here, we use it to simultaneously deconstruct (to lay bare the sometimes grotesque inner and underworkings of architecture), while also to speculate and test new arrangements. We prototype using several iterations of representation to show a passage of both evolution through time, and what is the remnant of the original, toward the augmented and altered. This is promoted through the bolstering of skills in the making of static or moving drawing, model and set-making, as well as virtual reality and film.
We invite critical, experimental thinkers to contribute to pursuing final propositions of new, rigorously considered, supersurfaces with their adjoining spaces or programmes, which communicate alternate positions towards the framing of power in overlapping and interjecting contemporary architectures or spatial systems, to be collated into a physically and virtually large-scale, projected Supersurface installation at its fruition.