Keep looking for things, in places, where there is nothing: dialogues between art practice and pedagogy of the architecture.


[Texto para uma compilação de um livro sobre educação e arquitectura que será editado pelo Departamento de Arquitectura da Universidade de Alicante sobre a Coordenação de Javier Sanchez Merina]


In 2000 Jonas Mekas, one of the most celebrated filmmakers of experimental cinema, decided to compile about three decades of home movies with small intimate records of family life: birthday parties, holidays, the first children steps, the cats, among others. This movie was called “As I Was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty”. Pieces of life filmed and intuitively organized (non-chronologically) where for almost 5 hours – one of the longest experimental films in the history of avant-garde cinema – Mekas in its characteristic hoarseness continually comments off what the viewer is watching. It was precisely in the wake of his voice that in the third chapter of the movie I heard: “Keep looking for things, in places, where there is nothing.” An enigmatic phrase that shows with great assertiveness Mekas’s way of seeing and understanding cinema, especially his capacity to confront us with three challenges:

  1. How to invent a new resistant look to the dizzying fluctuation of contemporary view?
  2. How to slow down? As a challenge to another relationship with time;
  3. What is the power of nothing? As an appreciation of the insignificant things; seduction by the peripheral places or unexpected little gestures;

In 1932, Franco-Hungarian photographer Brassaï photographed a series of small domestic objects, as well as folded, rolled, torn, and discarded papers by automatic gestures of seemingly distracted or unconscious hands. These small artifacts were photographed in close up, enlarged and presented to their usual context as a kind of ready-to-use surrealists. Once photographed, the image sentenced the fate of these little sculptures to the garbage. A small selection surprisingly titled “Sculptures involontaires” was published in 1933 as a photographic essay in the Minotaure Magazin[1]e accompanies subtitles written by Salvador Dali.

{image 02: BRASSAÏ; DALI, Salvador, Sculptures involontaires, Minotaure, No. 3-4, December 1933, p. 67}

Years later about this surprising photographic attitude, Brassaï added, in an interview to the Culture et Communication Magazine, that the strangeness of the images did not come from the reality of the objects in question but were related to the way of looking at those objects.

“People thought my photographs were“ surrealistic ”because they showed a ghostly and unreal Paris, shrouded in fog and darkness. And yet the surrealism of my photos was just reality made more frightening by the way I see it. ”[2]

Traveling around the UK and Ireland as a photo-journalist, Henri Cartier-Bresson filled hundreds of film reels with images that conveyed the nuances of a political, social and economic upheaval in the midst of World War II and even highlights of the era, such as the coronation of King George VI in 1937. A pivotal moment in British history: the King Edward VIII abdication and his replacement by his younger brother in a scenario of war uncertainty on the horizon. Bresson publishes on the pages of the communist journal Regards, for which he was doing photojournalism, a report on coronation day. In the images of this remarkable report, we are affected by two two peculiarities: the inventiveness of optical artifacts built to access the king’s figure, and on the other hand, on the other hand, Bresson’s boldness to focus his Leica’s lens on the diatribes of the crowd rather than the spotlight: the king’s passing. In fact, with this bold gesture, Bresson exposes the documentary force of images, transforming the “out of bounds” as a place of desire and imagination. It also shows us the capacity of the eye to invent the place to which it is headed, even if this place is apparently insignificant.

{image 03: Henri Cartier-Bresson GB. London. Coronation of George VI. 12th May, 1937}

Everything seems to lie in the decision of the look, the way of seeing. Still in this respect, Georges Perec published in 1982 Tentative d´épuisement d´un lieu parisien[3], an essay on the infra-ordinary, a radical experiment in which the author himself describes to the last detail everything he sees for three days on a terrace of a coffee-bar. The decision to give time to the vision made it possible, for example, to notice that “Most people have at least one hand busy,” because what you are doing it is more than watching, it is a second chance given not to the object, not even to the look, but to its own visibility.
However, this succession of encounters with the resilience of Jonas Mekas’s gaze on the non-event, the automatic gestures of Brassaï’s “involuntary sculptures” passing through the Bresson’s audacity gaze to Perec’s reading, were building in me a “thinking eye”, aware of the margins of events, slowed down and fascinated by the occasional, improvised circumstances around me. And it is on this trail of reflection that the Working at Work: formulations for involuntary sculptures project has appeared naturally since 2016. A collection of images taken with my iphone about sudden encounters with interim moments, involuntary situations, traces of ephemeral actions, precarious devices, transitional constructions, temporary subversive gestures, or more or less ironic movements. It was some of these images that attracted the sensitive attention of Javier Sánchez Merina in 2018 when I presented my work to the SWAIP Group[4] at the Iceland University of Arts. Since that meeting we have maintained a close relationship of friendship and sharing of common research interests. It was in this affective context and mutual admiration that Javier S. Merina invited me in February 2019 to conduct a workshop based on the issues, methodologies and conceptual problems underlying my “involuntary sculptures” project addressed to his architecture students at the University of Alicante The idea was designed to create a week-long intensive artistic laboratory that would constitute a speculative basis for the further development of an architectural proposal to be developed by students at the curriculum level.

The Workshop was entitled “Most of the people have at least one busy hand: essay on involuntary aesthetics”. Instead of an exhaustive report from the workshop, I believe that benchmarking your work program is more enlightening for our reflection.

 Workshop Plan

Tuesday 10:30 — 14:30
Brief introduction to my artistic practice, specifically to involuntary sculptures project, sharing simultaneously some research references around this project: George Perec, Brassai, Michel Foucault, E.T.A. Hoffmann, Thomas Hirschhorn, Peter Fischli and David Weiss, Richard Wentworth.

Framework on the structure of the workshop, work methodology and objectives.

Exercise 1 (individual):
An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris, (French: Tentative d’épuisement d’un lieu parisien) is a short (roughly 60 pages) book by Georges Perec written in October 1974 and published in 1975. It is a collection of observations which Perec wrote as he sat in Saint-Sulpice Square in Paris.

Based on the Perec´s book we will reproduce the same strategy of observation for an hour a place (to be chosen by the group) in Alicante (or a square in the Campus).

This exercise it´s about ways of seeing.
Back to the work room we will decant the registed texts, taking out some more meaningful phrases that will be spatialized in the space.

Needs: Scenario paper, paper tape, industrial felt pens.

Exercise 2 (possibility to work in pairs):
Launch of the exercise that will lead students to develop a project during the week and which will be presented on Friday morning.
The participants will put their attention on the public space, their idiosyncratic arrangement of objects in their everyday setting. Chasing occasional geometries or constructions, temporary situations, poetic gestures, improvisations. Thinking about transitority, insignificant events, empty spaces, invisibility.

Dealing with this subject everyone are invited to produce a project which could have severaldisplay formats: a photo archive, an installation based on this streets events, a sculpture, an object design, a book, a film, a performance, a street action or any kind of architectural proposition.
On the last day morning all projects will have to have a visual presence in the workspace that we will transform into a small and experimental exhibition in the school.

Friday 10:30 — 13:00
Installation of the project outcomes in the space.
Opening to the school community.
Brief conversation about the different experiences on display.

During one week the participants focused on the public space, their idiosyncratic arrangement of objects in their everyday setting. Chasing ocasional constructions, temporary situations, poetic gestures, improvisations, “involuntary sculptures”.

They looked at places where nothing happened and continued in this resilient, slow and inventive gesture.

This artistic-pedagogical experience has been enriching in several ways: on the one hand, the contact of architecture students with the freedom, plasticity and heterodoxy of an artistic project has allowed them, I believe, the possibility of problematizing the usual procedures within the practice of architecture, reinventing new approach methodologies, rediscovering new ways of looking to the “context”, as well as, fundamentally, the possibility of leaving the comfort zones to know “other ways” of thinking and thereby broaden their vision of the world; On the other hand, at the personal level, the movement of artistic research questions from the studio to an educational environment, in this case to an architectural classroom, widened the possibilities of experimentation and deepening of the project through discussion and interaction, conferring validity to the projectual doubts once limited to the intimate space of the studio. In short, allowed for a broadening of the possibilities for reflection and artistic experimentation by introducing in the process the relational, critical and pedagogical dimension.





[1] BRASSAÏ ; DALI, Salvador, , Minotaure, n° 3-4, December 1933, p. 67
[2] Brassaï, interview with France Bequette, Culture et Communication, 27 May 1980.
[3] Initially published in the book Le pourrissement des societies of the group Cause Commune in 1975.
[4] SWAIP (Social Inclusion through Arts and Interdisciplinary Practices) is an international project that aims to develop a curricular structure for a Master Course to be implemented at Iceland University of Arts aimed at artists and cultural agents using their artistic practices in close relationship with the social field.