Performing Spatial Labour: Rendering Sensible (In)Visibilities around Architectures of Internment
This doctoral project correlates two seemingly separate conditions of invisibility currently at the forefront of architectural discourse. One is invisibility perpetuated through spaces of internment or detention. The other is hidden architectural labour shouldered by office interns and on-site construction workers. Through a practice-based investigation I ask how installations and performances employing architecture’s instruments—drawings, models and texts—can make sensible, or knowable through the senses, the camp as a recurrent condition. Through this inquiry, practices of erasing, obfuscating and forensic un/re-making have emerged, contributing to a critical praxis that I call spatial labour.
The research draws upon political philosophy’s distinctions between work, as produced object, and labour, as ongoing process, and the centrality of both the “doing and [the] thing done” in performance studies (Diamond 1996, 1). The research also questions the invisibility and hypervisibility of creative labour. The “distribution of the sensible,” theorized by Jacques Rancière, offers a political lens onto sensible, or aesthetic, experience shaped by labour’s spatial and temporal partitioning (2004, 12). The ultimate division, of those reduced to what Giorgio Agamben names “bare life,” manifests under the state of exception as the camp (1998, 8, 174). As spaces called forth through governmental, performative utterances, performance and architectural theories offer critical perspectives from which to interrogate these spatial artefacts and performatively challenge power.
The project is framed through two case studies of government-mandated and now-demolished camps. The first examined four WWII-era Assembly or Relocations Centres created through Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order #9066 in which Japanese Americans were interned and contracted to weave camouflage for the US Army. These internment camps were located in Santa Anita and Manzanar (California), and Poston and Gila (Arizona). The second investigated Paris’ Centre d’Identification de Vincennes (CIV) created in 1959 under France’s State of Emergency Law to detain Algerians during their war of independence.
Situated and archival research revealed five protagonists (sites, governments, building-professionals, witnesses, and the interned). It exposed internees’ labour weaving camouflage, moulding bricks and fabricating scale models in the US, and French internment as an intended obstacle to Algerians’ earning their livelihood. Spaces, traces, atmospheres, and public records of the protagonists’ experiences informed my iterative explorations. I conducted these through architectural drawing and erasing, physical and digital (un)modelling and text-ile work. I looked to precedents in visual and performance art practices of erasing, redacting, whiting-out as well as cleaning-away and un-making and re-making space as models of practice. I re-purposed architectural modes of representation to uncover evidence at what Eyal Weizman calls the “threshold of detectability” (2017, 20). I shifted architectural practices away from making completed architectural works and towards cyclically performed labours. The most significant outcomes included Intern[ed], States of Exception and Palimpsest. They revealed subtle yet complex differences between redacted, erased, palimpsestic, and scarred US sites, and obfuscated conditions around the site in Paris. The resulting drawn, photographed, video and material traces of these performed spatial labours will be installed in Hobart’s Plimsoll Gallery so as to choreograph visitors’ experiences.
Through critical and performative spatial actions this research contributes to scholarship, creative practice and activism implicating architecture in propagating invisible labour and exposing the ubiquity of internment and the built environments’ role as a tool of oppression. Performing spatial labour enacts this critique by rendering these erasures sensible.
Agamben, Giorgio. 1998. Homo Sacer: Sovereign power and bare life. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press.
Diamond, Elin. 1996. “Introduction.” In Performance and cultural politics, 1-12. London; New York: Routledge.
Rancière, Jacques. 2004. The politics of aesthetics : the distribution of the sensible. London: Continuum.
Weizman, Eyal. 2017. Forensic architecture : violence at the threshold of detectability. New York: Zone Books (MIT Press).
The exegesis is available for download through the UTAS Open Access repository (OAR).