Working title: Choreographies of Spatial Labour: Manifesting the hidden in architectural (un/re)making

Research Plan | Field of Enquiry and Rationale for the Research

My doctoral project, which unfolds between discourses of space and performance, investigates politically and spatially constructed invisibility—through displacing, containing, obfuscating, and erasing—of others and their labouring. This research as three primary aims. The first is to problematize and reveal invisibility as it is entangled with labour and the built environment—the invisible labour and labourers engaged in making visible buildings, the invisible (text-based) architectures related to visible architectures used to render certain publics invisible, and invisible/highly-visible publics labouring at erasing what stands out as visible in the built environment. Secondly, this research explores how revealing labour through spatial performances can address the important yet overlooked labour that contributes to and maintains built-environments in their multiple life-cycles, and to recognize the unseen populations engaged in such labour. Thirdly, the research aims to develop performance-based design practices that yield artefacts and systems that are open to iteration, to processes of unmaking and remaking, and to public contributions, because practices that explicitly attend to processes and those engaged in it have the capacity to critique and expand the tools of architectural practice and pedagogy. The intended contribution of this research is to positively expand discourse around politicality and performativity of space—around who and what sees and is seen, hears and is heard (Rancière 2004)—through creative works and critical review.

Three pairs of conditions of invisibility are explored to inform, and are informed by, a three-phase performative installation work:

  • Invisibility through displacement, obfuscation, and exclusion within a spatial territory, through a project drawing parallels between past internment—of Japanese Americans through F.D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066—and present detention—under D.J. Trump’s 2017 travel bans and US border-control policies; the WWII internees’ weaving of obfuscating textiles—camouflage—and government’s razing of the camps play a significant role in this current project, Intern(ed).
  • invisibility as hidden-in-plainsight through erasure, displacement, and containment at the margins, through a project on the high-visibility human and spatial infrastructure, Paris Propre, for cleaning urban space and clearing refugees from sight; and
  • invisibility through displacement, containment and exclusion outside a spatial territory, through a project reflecting on past incarceration—in sites such as the Cascades Female Factory—and present detention centres hors Australia.

Central to my practice is choreographing acts of assembling, disassembling, and reassembling, labours constituting performative spatialities that critique the reification of the (architectural) object and place value on processes, doing and doer. Through practices of performing labour, this project reflects upon the contemporary crisis of the precarious, unseen, and often migrant, workers in the neoliberal globalized building economy as featured in the Polish pavilion at the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale (Frearson 2016). Through videos shot of and by labourers on building site scaffolding, audiences feel the physical un-ease and hear about the silencing that is ‘normal’ to unfair labor practices. Who Builds Your Architecture with Amnesty International (Baxi et al. 2017) similarly call attention to experiences of migrant, and at times smuggled, labourers, confined to camps and jobs in which they are indentured servants. The importance of this topic is further established through writings by architect-theoreticians Peggy Deamer, Hillary Sample, and Mohsen Mostafavi and David Leatherbarrow, who call attention to the oversight or unseeing of the labouring processes that occur around architecture’s coming into being and becoming undone under the rubrics of work, maintenance and weathering, respectively (Deamer 2015, Sample 2016, Mostafavi and Leatherbarrow 1993). Whilst informed by these, I take a critical stance, exploring and revealing spatial labour as a performative practice, and expanding the frame to include all phases the architectural lifecycle—making, maintaining, unmaking, and remaking.

This practice-led research project also explores current spatially and legally constructed forms of containment and exclusion, and mechanisms of erasure from sight, of so called ‘others’ as illustrated in the Insecurities: Tracing Displacement and Shelter exhibition (MoMA 2016)—inside spaces of immigrant detention, ‘extreme vetting,’ and refugee camps, or outside of border-walls due to the ‘Muslim ban’—and their haunting relation to the internment and imprisoning of populations during WWII in the USA and other places. Furthermore, these sequestered populations were often engaged in forced labour, including fabrication of camouflage netting and other building components, in now razed and/or repurposed buildings and sites.

While past and present settlements of othered populations may have been either improvised/informal or built by government or non-government organizations, there are executive orders and policies, drafted or dictated, which caused these formations. Such ‘othering’ policies and government orders have spatial repercussions, from the human to the global scale. This project aims to weave together information about and qualities of past spaces of internment in the US, France and Australia, and events pertaining to them, with contemporary executive orders that again threaten to contain, excluded or eradicate certain populations considered ‘other’. As past lessons learned are forgotten and history begins to repeat itself, aesthetic experiences are important means to move the public to think and feel differently about matters that matter. Through material, spatial and performative explorations, I seek to problematize mechanisms that render the other invisible and make facts palpable to audiences. According to Jacques Rancière, democracy is an ongoing project, not a state to attain (Jovićević 2011, 109, Rancière 2004). Informed by these ideas, in lieu of presenting ‘finished’ works I seek to foreground and attenuate processes of things coming into being, that open the ‘work’ dialogically, invite and engage publics into phases of making, thereby expanding whose voices are heard and who sees and is seen

Primary Questions

  • How can choreographies of spatial labour and discursive performative installation problematize and make manifest the (in)visible in the making, unmaking and remaking of architecture and its implication in past and current political and economic regimes?
  • From a critical-activist position, how can material, spatial, and performative practices reveal and make palpable to audiences a critique of invisibility–displacing, confining, hiding, and erasing?
  • How can operations of erasure, of physical and material constructs as well as ephemeral acts of labour, become visible and sensible through performative installation?

(24 April, 2017)


Review of Creative Works and Literature