When Peter Swinnen invited me to make an art intervention at the Vlaams Bouwmeester’s Atelier in Brussels, I decided to opt for a similar strategy to the one used some time ago in the Speel-Vandenbroucke residence by 51N4E architects. In that work, the owners and residents of the house, Julie Vandenbrouke and Michel Speel, will have to live confronted with their uncanny doubles, which have been transformed into puppets—I’m using the word uncanny here to refer to the Freudian sense of the word, unheimlich in German. The proposal in this case is a spatial and conceptual invasion by means of the introduction of a disturbing element. A new twist played on them and on the space.

In the Vlaams Bouwmeester’s headquarters in Brussels the invasion has nothing to do with the people, but with the raison d’être of the space, creating an incongruity by showing an architecture that is not such, but mere indiscriminated building.

To this end I intend to build a reproduction of several items of an estate agent’s marketing material as a kind of parasitic entity that causes visitors’ bafflement because of its concept, execution and geographical situation, which strongly contradict the space, the Vlaams Bouwmeester’s offices, where it is placed.

This intervention will bring about a feeling of doubt or incredulity in the viewer, or perhaps will go unnoticed by the visitor, or, in case it is noticed, he may notice it in an indirect way. This would produce an even more interesting effect.  The visitors to the offices might have the feeling that the intervention is a urban project supported by the Vlaams Bouwmeester, what would create an interesting and brutal contradiction in terms, since these houses have been built —as is is told in the text “The three houses”— with complete toughtlessness. The results, although grotesque, may be brilliant, but they are unconscious, thoughtless, ensuing only from a series of mistakes and lack of foresight. Well, these houses are here what we call a McGuffin. They are a starting point, which is obviously a trivial fact, but that I use as an excuse to reflect on the intangibility of the idea. They are a necessary twist to deal with a representational code, be it in visual art or architecture. A to-and-from trip between the project and the actual implementation of a project, wether it is architectural, artistic, filmic, etc.

The project is structured around two stages:

Stage 1, private.

This first stage involves the building of three scale models of the three houses of my uncles and aunts. (This stage is completed with the text about the three houses).

1- The house of the extremely low first floor.

2-The spiral labyrinthine house.

3-The house with the scarecrow that is a selfportrait of my uncle.

When thinking about the physical realization of the project, I considered several options in my search for the one that would adapt itself best to the sense of the project, which, in a way, should be contradictory and somehow confusing for the viewer. I chose the following procedure: 

-As a first step, I decided not to pay attention to representational accuracy, that is, since I considered it restrictive, I decided to stay away from everything that was a mere compilation of exhaustive documentation about the houses.

-As a second point of action, since I had made extensive use of these three houses in many other works in a sometimes obsessive way, I thought that, as a preventive measure, I would support myself only in my memory’s representation of those houses, from a personal and maybe subjective point of view, which takes us to the third point of action.

-When considering the physical realization of the pieces, I set great store on having the minimum possible manual participation in their building. Therefore, I resorted to a local business, an estate agent’s located near the houses, and hired them to build the three scale models. I did not present them with any plan or picture of the houses, I simply described them. I told them how I wanted the models to be: as schematic as possible and with only one side finished. They made the models using exclusively my verbal description as reference.  I also requested a somewhat rough finish, especially for the “finished” side. This rough finish is reminiscent of some scale models I remember seeing in estate agent’s located in the area of Toledo where the houses are sited, models that did not have the polished finish these kind of scale models typically have.

House 1: The first floor of this house has a maximum height of 170 cm. The model represents the whole house but the second floor can be removed in order to see the interior of the house. There, inside a red circle, we can see several silhouettes indicating the proportion of my own body at 4, 8, 12, and 17 years of age. These silhouettes take us to the sculptures representing the oversized silhouettes. For the building of those figures, I turned to a firm that specialises in all kind of volumetric models. I brought them photos of myself at those four ages and asked them to reproduce them with a finish similar to that of the figures used in models to show relation to human proportions, but in an oversized scale.  The biggest of them measures 60cm. This piece portraits me at the four ages, so helping to convey the strange impression that a house becomes smaller as you grow bigger, something that may be funny but, at the same time, is very uncanny (in a Freudian sense) because it also shows how, as one grows, one might have to duck and bow down before society or before the others, while when you are a child you live within a sort of protective shield. This contradicts the idea of the house as a protective place —a house, on the other hand, that was becoming more and more unconfortable for me. 

House 2: This house is structured like a labyrinth of bedrooms which, for me, moves between what seems to be a mental labyrinthine representation and a paranoid rhizome. Consider, for instance, the fascinanting idea of being forced to cross a bedroom to get to the other and, by so doing, have a bedroom transformed into a crossing point… 

This house’s swimming-pool has also been emphasised: it is excessively deep and short. Again, we find a space that its dimensions have transformed in an “inhabitable” (here, unusable) space.

House 3. My uncle, only builder of the house (something he was terribly proud of, although, as it happens, the house was of an extreme simplicity), topped the building with a scarecrow which he considered to be an identical, perfectly faithful self-portrait, fact that invites a quick psychological analysis of the scarecrow as something moving between self-representation and signature. In the scale model, following the same strategy used in my representations at four ages, he appears oversized.

This leads us to the second stage, the one which could be considered the public stage.

In Spain, since the 80s, there has been a massive and indiscriminate construction of houses, bungalows, villas, housing developments, and so on, that did not follow any town planning scheme, a process in which the authorities, which have seen themselves involved in serious corruption cases, have taken part engaging in the fraudulent reclassification of lands.

Furthermore, most of these houses have been built without the intervention of an architect, without passing any kind of aesthetic, quality or environmental adequateness filter or control. Massive construction has led to the shocking situation the whole country has seen itself confronted to since 2008: the building of countless of these constructions, whole towns, are nowadays suspended and there are half-done housing projects everywhere. We see ghost cities, towns where no one lives and where, in the majority of the cases, only the foundations have been laid. This situation is widespread all over the country and, albeit indiscriminate building produced monsters, these same constructions, when left half-done, are something inbetween a creepy monument to nonsense and an image with a morbid touch of beauty.

The three houses of my relatives were built in the 80s, the start of the building frenzy in Spain, which would reach its peak in the 90s and at the beginning of 2000s.

For the physical realization of this second stage, I turn to my memory once again. When I was a child, I was strongly attracted by those watercolours one could see in the estate agent’s display windows used to represent what the finished construction project would look like. There were always very colourful and represented in an idyllic way what it would be to live in those houses. These watercolour depictions gave way to computer generated images, but I have deliberately kept the painting format because it is better suited for what I remember and have in my mind. I took a tour around some of these ghost cities (as I said, they are easy to find), took some pictures and then painted the watercolours myself. In them, thus, there is a personal manual participation, my only intervention in this sense in the piece. For obvious reasons, I was not able to find someone who could reproduce my idea exactly as I saw it, I made a couple of attempts which didn’t work out, so I decided to do it myself trying to emulate the representational style of these watercolours. These paintings are a complete contradiction in terms since they show the houses in a half-done state, abandoned, full of debris, in dirty environments, with no one for many miles around.

As a result, these watercolours/ad go from being a means of commercial advertising to reveal a paradigmatic situation. These constructions have been suspended for years and in this way they have given rise to the Nietzschean idea of the ruins which are apparent before the building is built, an idea that implies that the final project was that from the beginning. In order to support this idea, I commissioned what would be the culmination of the work: a scale model of a house which is half built, with only the foundations laid. A contradiction in itself which shows that the final project is that the house remains unfinished.

· A house might be a lethal weapon (2014)














Read text at the opening talk of the "A house might be a lethal weapon" in the Atelier Vlaams Bouwmeester, Brussels, Belgium (2014)

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