polis: a collective blog about cities worldwide

Projecting Memory and Possibility on a Building Facade

by Rebecka Gordan

Being a city dweller is often conditioned by memories. Walking through a familiar city, we see things that newcomers don’t. Remembering scenarios from our past, we picture ourselves in squares and alleys, younger versions in the memorable dramas of our lives.

If we know our city better, we even imagine the history that is not our own. Collective memory makes us visualize events like political speeches, demonstrations or perhaps hostage dramas, like the one at Norrmalmstorg in Stockholm. This was the origin of the so-called Stockholm syndrome, in which hostages express empathy towards their captors. Similarly, in cities that capture us, we do what we can to feel at home. We crave history and collective memory for a sense of belonging.

Last weekend, the City Museum of Stockholm hosted a large-scale video installation called I.R.I.S. A 3-D projection took viewers on a journey through the architectural history of the museum and transformed its facade into the ornamented version originally intended in 1683, with balconies and stately statues.

Filmmaker and multimedia artist Jesper Wachtmeister also wanted to play with history and challenge our imagination. What would happen if the ornamentation was extruded and pushed out in the air? What if you could see through the wall? Or send text messages to speech bubbles that appeared from the windows? What if the facade was made of plate glass?

The result was a mind-blowing experience. A crystallized surface turned into a mirror-glass facade, reflecting the site and suggesting faraway places. The facade was reversed and cracked, changing color and shape. Adding these kinds of projections in our cities might help us see our surroundings with fresh eyes and even reduce some fears or prejudices. Instead of clinging to history, we would dare to accept new visions side by side with the familiar.

Wachtmeister has become renowned for his documentary films and art projects, often with architecture as a theme. Among his most famous works are "Test Site: North American Desert Culture"(2010), "Great Expectations: A Journey Through the History of Visionary Architecture" (2007) and "Kochuu: Japanese Architecture, Influence & Origin" (2003).

Credits: Photos from Solaris Filmproduktion.

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