SIM: When does a proposal become an Unproposal?
AA: I am fascinated by the gut reaction of the architect to propose a structure, a building, a spatial intervention, and I am wondering if there is a way for architects to refuse this. Proposals inevitably lead to a discussion of budget, investment, development, return. But when that which you propose is a ruin, or a building that could never exist outside of fiction, you are in fact unproposing a building.
SIM: The Internet, as every distributed given network, is considered to be a decentralised structure. But, when you think of the Internet as a ‘suburban’ space (as it happens in your work Domesticated Mountain), are you at the same time imagining what could be its ‘urban’ dimension? In other words, does the Internet have a kind of ‘centre’ and what could this centre be?
AA: Perhaps it is the user that becomes a ‘centre’ of the Internet suburbia, she enters this endless sprawl from her devices, her personality split and dispersed along the network. Parts of the user’s self will be on a personal social media, other parts on a sex site or an account for handicraft goods. Drifting in this suburbia is different from it’s older, urban cousin, because suburbia allows for moments of emptiness, boredom, unformed utopia, blank pages that will never load, or never update.
SIM: Do we really have choices and enough room for acting within the dominant prosumer economy?
AA: What I find interesting are sites like svpply.com where you like and want products instead of actually buying them. It’s the same with ‘dreamboxes’ or ‘save for later’ cart options. You satisfy your consuming urge without actually consuming anything, apart from the idea of products. But at the same time you rush to buy the tablet or the phone that will let you do that unconsuming, so there is really no escape from consumption, just as there is no alternative to the empire. There are versions of this economy that you can inhabit, but perhaps not a real alternative.
SIM: Is there any potential left for critical thinking and acting within the post-consumerist modes of production-consumption?
AA: Absolutely. It is a moment in the world where the citizen is constantly under attack from monster bank crises that morph into country crisis and then eventually to civic crises, so there is plenty to object, plenty to be critical about. One of the more interesting moments is when we witness what I would call recreational activism, like some instances of the occupy or indignados movements, or even riots in Athens. They are justified explosions of anger, but at the same time those rioting are also somehow enjoying themselves. And concequently they become part of a new system of exchange between crisis and riot. By rioting they perform the crisis, they consume it.
SIM: Is the prosumer still a kind of bricoleur? Or she is to limited in her choices to really be creative?
AA: She is the ultimate bricoleur, because she always makes something with whats in her immediate reach. It just happens that everything is now within reach, so we are bricoleurs of everything. Maybe that is the only real alternative to the prosumer economy, operating with what you find available for free online. Of course it’s never free because you pay with attention span. Free gmail gigabytes, but with customized ads for summer vacations appearing next to the email you sent to your friend in Greece. Or ads for riot gear, depends on the news of the moment.
SIM: What do you think of the financial deadlock in today’s building activity, with Greece being an illustrative example of this reality?
AA: I was never the type of architect that builds buildings, so I cannot really claim this has affected me, but it is a moment to reconsider the architect’s practice and how it needs to play along with financial capitalism’s market practice in order to sustain itself. It is also a moment when we need to really start understanding how the world works, and perhaps a critical practice whether in architecture or philosophy or curating can help us in that direction. Meanwhile we are operating in a field of abstraction, where bank crisis becomes real crisis and we dont understand where it came from. We’re a bit like the apes in odyssey 2001, looking at the weird bank monolith that landed in our midst.
SIM: If some of your projects could be considered to be manifestos, then to who you believe they are directed?
AA: I was always speaking to an online audience, so it could be a bunch of architecture students who follow my work, or a lolcat sitting on a toilet filming herself for youtube stardom. It doesn’t matter, the manifesto is there for the online citizen, always, whoever.
SIM: How is architecture ‘critical’ to you? Where exactly in the practice of architecture does this criticality happen? In the conception, the design, the realization, the discource produced from it or arround it?
AA: It’s critical when the purpose of the project is to communicate, to be inhabited with a discussion, when it poses rather than answer questions. Of course a realized building could do the same, it could pose social questions just by the way it invited it’s inhabitants inside. So criticality can also be the result of a building, just like a conversation.
SIM: Given that historically we have seen cases of both utopian and distopian architecture, where do you thing your work resides? How does it relates to such legacy?
AA: In that sense I might be very traditional, almost conservative. I was never interested in the modernist dream of cyberspace and technology, I was always fascinated by ruins, clouds and mountains. Those are the things that you can never have online, and my practice is inherently nostalgic. So I wanted to create electronic ruins, enjoy looking at clouds passing by, climb mountains to discover new vistas. It is a romantic practice, a looping grand tour of the emotional landscape of online.
SIM: Like you pointed out, the ruin as a cultural object has been thought about in many different ways: from Romantisism to Modernism and even Post-Moderrnism, from asserting authenticity and originality to refering to obsolescence or nostalgia. Moreover, the ruin could be preceieved both as aestheticized object, but also as an object of pragmatic functionality, for example by becoming decor, or a scenery. What is the ruin in your work?
AA: A ruin is a building on vacation. It has taken a moment to daydream, to consider a next move, its like a pause in the duties of inhabitation. But also a ruin is a building that performs a crisis, gives visual form to an event. And of course it is about nostalgia, its a building with memory, and also a building in transition, from use to nature, from recognizable volume to mountain.
SIM: Is your work about the future at all?
AA:I think it is more accurately about the present, usually it is a reaction to existing or emerging situations rather than a projection onto future ones. As I said my point of view is rather post-modernist, I think to make work that understands the world right now, it needs to be clever in that way, not necessarily ironic or a comment but it has to operate within our current system of abstraction, whether political, social or financial.
SIM: What is advancement to you?
AA: Rethinking that which is past.
This discussion was realized between Andreas Angelidakis and SIM on the occassion of his hybrid talk-screening The Unproposal: Building voluntary ruins as critical practice, which took place in June 2012 for Chisenhale Gallery’s 21 Centrury programme.