Decolonizing Architecture: Nottingham Contemporary Gallery

This is where my intention to blog and review all days out/exhibitions/gigs etc that Rach & I attend comes somewhat undone, I’m afraid (and not least because I’m sure you’re still breathlessly awaiting my review of the Magic Band gig from last December). No, as the title of this post might suggest, I have been punching above my intellectual weight…

Okay. The Decolonizing Architecture Art Residency (DAAR) is a collective based just outside Bethlehem, in the West Bank. To quote – extensively – from the exhibition notes:

They propose new uses for oppressive Israeli architecture. The word ‘decolonization’ implies the dismantling of the existing dominant structure – financial, military and legal – conceived for the benefit of a single group.

Wikipedia adds the following.

It can be understood politically (attaining independence, autonomous home rule, union with the metropole or another state) or culturally (removal of pernicious colonial effects.) The term refers particularly to the dismantlement, in the years after World War II, of the Neo-Imperial empires established prior to World War I throughout Africa and Asia […] Although examples of decolonization can be found as early as the writings of Thucydides, there have been several particularly active periods of decolonization in modern times. These are the breakup of the Spanish Empire in the nineteenth century; of the German, Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman, and Russian Empires following World War I; of the British, French, Dutch, and Italian colonial empires following World War II; of the Russian Empire successor union following the Cold War; and others.

With me so far? Good. Thus far, it’s looking more like a lesson on political science, not an art exhibition. But the exhibits themselves are surprising and thought-provoking. The main piece is a massive length of abstract black plastic, looking for all the world like someone sliced open a building using cheesewire.

Common Assembly

 In fact, it is a replicated cross-section of the now-abandoned, never-used Palestinian parliament building, in the district of Abu Dis in Jerusalem. Why a cross-section? Why this particular section? Because, owing to failure of the political negotiations at the time of its construction, the parliament somehow straddles the border between Israeli and Palestinian territories.

Upon discovering that the Israeli imposed Jerusalem border passes through the
Parliament, it became clear that the building is sitting, paradoxically, within three
different spaces: part within Israeli territory, part within Palestinian controlled
territory, and a small strip, no larger than the line’s thickness, exists in a legal and
sovereign limbo—potentially an extraterritorial zone. Thus we seek to reimagine the
building, and its politically and legally suspended status, as an assembly that is able
to represent all Palestinians: those living in Israel, under its occupation, and in exile.
The activation of an assembly in a legal and political void constitutes a way of
thinking and rethinking a space of relationality, horizontality and shared liberation on
which colonial reason and the expropriators of the common have built their fortunes. []

In a similar vein, the other room held The Lawless Line. I’ll have to let DAAR do the talking again, as they do it much better than I can.

In 1993 a series of secret talks held in Oslo between Israeli and Palestinian representatives inaugurated what was later referred to as the “Oslo Process”. As is well known, this process defined three types of territories within the West Bank. Area A under Palestinian control, area B under Israel military control and Palestinian civilian control, and area C under full Israeli control. When the process collapsed and the temporary organization of the occupied territories solidified into a permanent splintered geography of multiple prohibitions, a fourth place has suddenly been discovered. Existing between all others – it was the width of the lines separating them. Less than a millimeter thick when drawn on the scale of 1:20,000,it measured more than 5 meters in real space. []

So…like this.

The Lawless Line

 The version shown in Nottingham was different: a scale model, in black, that ran along the whole length of the room, encompassing sections of buildings, roads, fields, parks, and even the centre circle of a football pitch (and sections of two of the ground’s stands). What this shows, for me, is the stupidity of creating borders on a map and then expecting that border to replicate itself on the ground without any consequence at all for the population of that area. The banality and idiocy of politics. Land that is accessible and usable by nobody at all.

My own words aren’t quite enough, somehow – I came away from Nottingham with a new appreciation of what art can actually achieve by merely showing us something different and disturbing rather than just telling us what we want to hear. And Nottingham’s Contemporary Gallery is definitely one to revisit: it may be bare concrete, but it certainly doesn’t try to hide what it is, and if anything it reflects the stark reality of the exhibition itself.

Normal service will be resumed in the next post. For now, it’s back to the editing process.


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Epic Fantasist & SFSF Socialist.

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