Beatriz Herráez on "Meanwhile, in the living room..."

Depending on what you are after, choose an area, a more or less populous city, a more or less lively street. Build a house. Furnish it. Make the most of its decoration and surroundings. Choose the season and the time. Gather together the right people, the best records and drinks. Lighting and conversation must of course be appropriate, along with the weather and your memories. If your calculations are correct, you should find the outcome satisfying.
Psychogeographical game published in POTLATCH 1, 22 June 1954

The exhibition “Meanwhile in the living room… (Cross section)” concludes the research project begun in 2005 by Iratxe Jaio and Klaas Van Gorkum, that looks at the recent urban developments in Vitoria-Gasteiz, the capital of the Basque Country in Spain. The growth of the city is both the central subject of study and a significant ‘alibi’ for a series of consecutive studies-cum-reflections on the modes of social organisation in the area. The artists’ contemporary ‘critique of urban geography’ delves deep into the exchanges and actions that have occurred in recent years in this context, leading to a complex web of relationships reflected by a catalogue of unexpected forms—the interiors of apartments, new architectures and urban layouts—that make up a singular psychogeographical landscape in permanent transformation.

“Meanwhile in the living room…” can be defined as a field study in time that is structured through various series of linked actions; it is an ongoing dialogue with distinctive social groups that belong to a population of no more than 300,000 inhabitants. Among others: a newly-wed couple looking forward with hope and uncertainty towards the flat they were lucky to be allotted in a raffle for subsidised housing organised by the Department of Social Welfare and Housing of the Basque Government; or the members of the Elkartzen association for social rights, that organise demonstrations, conferences and other gatherings, to reclaim the social use of vacant houses and restrictions on rent levels.

This synchronised exchange with individuals and collectives is complemented by a detailed formal analysis of the spaces that are relevant to the determination of those paths in life of the protagonists centred around the ownership, rental, or occupation of a home. Various routes are travelled through spaces such as the showroom of a furniture store displaying the homes ‘of the future’, from classic in style and advertised as being highly individual, to the ‘low-cost’ furniture exemplified by the famous Swedish chain; vacant buildings in the urban nucleus that are periodically ‘signposted’ as examples of speculative practices; and the geographical territory of Vitoria-Gasteiz itself, with various aerial views of the urban additions to the city and black and white painted murals that show a cross section of the map of the city.

For the duration of the exhibition these exchanges are extended by a series of debates and a 'dérive' through Vitoria-Gasteiz in which participants could present their subjective, or specialist, readings of specific locations. The debates feature not only the agents mentioned above but also views from the ‘outside’, of other models of social organisation, such as Christiania in Denmark, presented by the artist Lise Autógena, and the Swedish districts of Hökarängen and Tensta by the Catalan curator and critic Martí Manen.

All these elements—conversations, video recordings, drawings and wall paintings, are presented together in the exhibition space set up in the Montehermoso Kulturunea Cultural Centre, as a catalogue of documents, images and data gathered during the course of the research. The necessarily fragmentary conclusions are presented in a large-format sculptural piece: the reconstruction of a flat based on the architectural plans of the future home that has been allocated to a couple, completely furnished with DIY furniture and a television set that plays the video 'Desde aquí hasta ahí' (From here to there). This house-cum-sculpture, or prototype, functions as a container for the narratives and counter-narratives that structure the study and is ‘surrounded’ by the landscape that contains it, the various maps and diagrams in which the city of Vitoria-Gasteiz ‘mirrors’ itself. It is an arid mode of presentation that simultaneously incorporates conflicting behaviours and points of view on different levels, from the private and domestic realm to the sphere of activism. Underpinning this unusual arena of confrontation—and encounter—is a definition of the city as a flexible structure in which various modes of social organisation are in constant state of flux.

Looking closely at the protocols and urgency of ownership, “Meanwhile in the living room…” uses architecture—and its walls—as the elements for a critical revaluation of the changes effected in the political domain. Stripped of any initial function they might have served in ‘sheltering political life while conserving the processes of biological life of the family’, as borders that have been ‘decommissioned’ by the application of new biopolitical models of knowledge, these walls form the central elements in the theatrical mise-en-scène set up by the artists. It is not a question, therefore, of traversing the walls, nor of breaking them down—an “un-walling of the wall”—but of building the appropriate stage, albeit precarious in space and time, whose sole presence is already a rethinking of any consensus that might exist around the notion of the city and its domestic, urban and geopolitical organisation.

The deliberate flimsiness of the construction in the exhibition constitutes the actual threshold from which “Meanwhile in the living room…” contemplates forms of community as ‘subjects of political power’. It is a self-contained display, articulated around walls that underline their ornamental, set-like character, seemingly arranged to shelter an approximate and conformist representation of the "real thing", a television set on which filming is about to begin. The paradox of this reconstruction of the shape of consensus lies in the knowledge that it is impossible for any “choice” not to be derived from (imposed) desire. It is therefore likely that even though “the calculations are correct”, the outcome will be far from “satisfying”. With all its contradictions, this presentation exposes in a precise way the dissolution of the boundaries between the public and the private, the left and the right, in which “power penetrates the body of the subjects and their ways of life” by integrating “techniques of subjective individualisation with procedures of objective totalisation”.

Beatriz Herráez. Art historian and curator.