touring the bush (14) : caracas revival
in their book informal city : caracas case, alfredo brillembourg and hubert klumpner, playing on goethe’s somewhat corny metaphor, describe architecture in this city not as frozen music, but frozen politics. this affirmation, wanting to be fresh, is actually more feeble and ineffective than it might seem at first hand. in caracas, architecture (like politics) is anything but frozen, and particularly difficult to grasp.
there is a whole different set of caracas and even chávez buffs, and unlike globaliphobia brats, these guys and gals bathe regularly and they usually don’t think there’s anything wrong with buying superexpensive croc birkins. they might even own one themselves. by now, we should be used to things shabby turning chic. in the case of latinoamérica, at least since the 60s, local art movements have led the way for successive waves of marginality “revivals,” taking from the heroes of yonder like helio oiticica and his tropicalian anti-conformist installations. in the past few years, contemporary art and culture cores like london or new york and even smaller-fry capitals of sophistication like paris or barcelona have been swept off their designer-clad-feet by the wit and low-key hip of latinoamérican production in contexts of adversity.
from the 2003 “structure of survival” at the venice biennale to the hyper-sarcastic pop sentence of pablo leon de la barra’s apex new york show that same year, “to be political, it has to look nice,” works that draw inspiration from peripheral precariousness have established themselves as a firm buoy in the art market. now architecture is wanting to catch up, and caracas provides a particularly engrossing platform for tempting, powerful-if-penniless architectural practices.
taking hints from sources such as the multidisciplinary (art) work of marjetica potrc, and trying to go a tad deeper (potrc's work sometimes falls short of its declared intentions, over-aestheticizing the subject matter, and, in an uncomfortable and very self-flattering gesture, keeping a ludicrous amount of faith in the gallery, the white cube, as a space of reflection) by forging stong, longer-term ties to city practices and on-site phenomena; young troupes of architects-artists-researchers-seekers have taken to the hillsides and the vertical barrios of caracas in search of answers and alternatives.
many of these initiatives and projects have been condensed by the caracas urban think tank, a sort of architectural ngo, a practice founded on critical research and alternative design projects, with a strong emphasis on practical solutions and experimental intervention. the utt was founded in 1993, and since it has withstood and embraced the jolts and trembles (political, social, architectural and otherwise) of the city, managing to bring practical, technical, semiotic and aesthetic concerns closer to the everyday experience of an exceptional urban fabric, to caracas's wastelands of modernity and makeshift proto-utopias.
informality, pragmatism, poverty, innovation, participation, action, conflict, paradox, opportunities conquered and lost. this is the raw matter of the caracas architect. this is why architectural practice and grasp requires exceptional flexibility and open-mindedness. this is why the caracas architect is often not the professional, but the average citizen.
next : caracas intervened