polis: a collective blog about cities worldwide

Art + Power + Space

by Peter Sigrist

Picking up on Ivan’s reference to Gordon Matta-Clark, I’d like to consider relationships between art, power and space. The term anarchitecture, as commonly associated with Matta-Clark, provides an interesting way of thinking about these relationships. In connection with a recent AIA event on art and architecture, it implies a sort of freedom from client specifications. James Attlee sees a response to high-modernist rationalism, as well as the foundations of a more iterative, collective, locally contingent approach to architecture. He finds that Marcel Duchamp, Jane Jacobs and “self-built shanties” may have been important influences.

photo of children, homes and shops in Mumbai’s Dharavi settlement
Source: Peter Sigrist

Anarchitecture isn’t necessarily a subversion of order. While chaos may result from anarchy, it isn’t part of the word’s original meaning. If “arch” is derived from the Greek word for chief, then anarchy would mean without a chief. In that case, anarchitecture could mean building without a chief or without a single chief. Even the most powerful person is dependent on many variables, from basic food and water to heart and lungs, technology, finances, subordinates and ideas. This suggests a more inclusive notion of power.

Art has supported and threatened concentrations of power. It is utilitarian even when simply making a statement. It is not only the province of Duchamp and other artists. In its broader sense (the conscious use of skill and creativity), it can be found in movies, athletics, business and governance. It involves communication, inventiveness and coordinated actions. Art and power are closely related, playing important roles in the transformation of space. Matta-Clark’s anarchitecture offers brilliant ways of engaging with this process.