The City is the space in which modern patterns of life and art are born. This is why urban culture is an essential component in the programs of Modern Culture and Comparative Literature at the University of Copenhagen.
In a course titled “Urban Culture & Cultural Theory”, Henrik Reeh, Ph.D. and Associate Professor, introduces 50 Master’s students from all over the world to the realm of “Humanistic Urban Studies”.
This course proposes another way of approaching cities and their cultures. Indeed, urban culture goes beyond urban planning, urban sociology and architecture. Urban life has to do with perception, experience and signification. Urbanity is a matter of aesthetics.
Literary texts and visual artworks are on the program. And the topics proposed for the presentations in the weekly seminars leave room for artistic talents, not least among the students in the 4Cities – Erasmus Mundus Master Programme in urban studies.
Exhibiting such works, resulting from an academic seminar at the Faculty of Humanities, is an experiment. It is a first step on a new bridge between university and Magasin Lotus.
The title of the 2018 exhibition reads: “The Everyday as a Generator of Art”.
DATE: 9 October 2018
TIME: 10:17 am
LOCATION: Blågårdsgade (from the beginning of the street until number 23), Nørrebro
WEATHER: Partially cloudy, or partially sunny, it is difficult to decide
An inventory of some things that can be seen while walking:
62 doors, among which
23 doors leading into someone’s home
39 doors leading into some kind of commercial activity, amongst which we can find
13 bars, cafés or restaurants
4 clothing stores
3 grocery stores
2 art galleries
a bicycle store
3 office spaces
a music store
a flower shop
a taoist centre
a place specialising in ‘social acupuncture’
a shop selling cute things you do not need but will probably end up buying
and a bunch of other places whose function escapes my understanding
7 bike parking
3 parked small trucks
7 gates leading to internal courtyards
23 people sitting outside
2 buildings undergoing renovations
Francesca Spigarolo 2018
LEFT AND FOUND: “OBJETS TROUVÉS”
Situational Comments on a Parisian Collection
Every night we find something remarkable on our way home from the metro station. Obviously, certain Parisians spend their holiday month organizing and throwing away things. Next to the trash cans that concierges or superintendents already pulled into the street, small assemblages of things and stuff display a certain retro charm. The following morning, even before the daily passage of the garbage truck, everything will be gone, removed by present-day chiffonniers – ragpickers, who pass during the night and pick up whatever they find useful. We ourselves wonder whether anything deserves to go into our suitcases for Scandinavia. Silence governs the streets, dark and hot in the nights of August. Discovering a wooden tray for cutlery, we collect it and bring it home.
On the very day of our departure, a couple of old suitcases with a disposal code decorate rue de l’Assomption, the second childhood street of French writer Georges Perec. Next to our own temporary home, an entire dresser or, in reality, a cabinet with two drawers appears on the sidewalk. From a storage room in the basement or in the attic, this cabinet has made its way onto the street, out in front of a residential building with polished brass plates on the lower part of the entrance door. The dusty monument of the cabinet contrasts the exquisiteness of the apartment building.
A wooden sculpture – but probably not for very long. The contents are mostly gone. The drawers have been extracted but are not quite empty. A few objects from the past century are in there – objects that may themselves be a century old.
Somebody has been engaged in building plywood miniatures of train wagons. The bottom piece reads “Pulman”, with a reference to the Pullman sleeping wagons to which Sigfried Giedion, the historiographer and ideologist of the Modern Movement in architecture, pays homage in his Mechanization Takes Command: A Contribution to Anonymous History (1948). Danish architects and furniture designers Børge Mogensen and Grethe Meyer continued the Pullman tradition in the vertically hidden bed of their “Boligens Byggeskabe”, a module cabinet system for the modern dwelling of the mid-1950s.
The hand-writing on the wooden miniature looks like that of an adult. It takes us back to a time when toys were not yet made of plastic but of wood, hand-built – but without the use of do-it-yourself kits. Inside the drawers one finds little sets of wheels and underframes, a few rubber rings, a roll of porous electric cable and other tiny objects that are hard to identify. Metal parts suggest that the domestic workshop has generated slightly bigger train models as well. For generations, however, such things have been hibernating in hidden private spaces as traces of early modernity.
Exposed to the hot midday sun, an old fishing line from a shop located on 28 quai du Louvre in Paris is almost magical.
Worthless things? Nobody has taken them yet, although they are visible on this street corner of poet Guillaume Apollinaire’s Auteuil; his Flâneur des deux rives, published 1918, already celebrated its centennial. Remains from back in time are surrounded by a neighbourhood which illustrates the urban refurbishment of the post-war decades and the ideology of modernization. But the area also embodies a particular tradition – a process of handing over things to posterity, yet without inviting the objects ageing to encounter the light of day, let alone active human hands. Once upon a time, somebody stored things here, and before that somebody played with them, maybe in the interwar period, when cows were still grazing at this privileged periphery of Paris.
One vaguely imagines how playful children and adults generated these things as part of a life behind façades that we will hardly ever transgress. At best, the shop windows of real-estate agents keep us updated about the ever-increasing prices per square meter.
Toys of another kind – made by children and adults of the past – are now knicknacks on an unintentional monument. The leftovers from the cabinet provide variations on the “found objects” (“objets trouvés”), explored and conceptualized by the Surrealists of the 1920s.
I spontaneously photograph the cabinet and its drawers as a sculpture in the street – seen from the front and from the back, posing freely or as an element in urban space. And here we are, at the intersection of two streets in the far West of Paris – but not far from the Mirabeau Bridge: “Sous le Pont Mirabeau coule la Seine / Et nos amours”: “Below the Mirabeau Bridge the Seine is flowing, along with our love stories”, as Apollinaire wrote in a 1912 poem which soon passed from being modern to becoming a classic in France, but not necessarily amongst us.
We are here in passing; later in the day we will leave for the airport and fly home from Orly to Copenhagen. I eagerly collect the contents of the drawers. Screws, rubber rings, electric wire, perforated cardboard, small wooden boxes and a razor-blade-like knife: everything, I hope. I distribute the objects in plastic bags that fit into the cutlery drawer (found in the street), before finally storing the entire collection in my suitcase.
Remnants or dust: construction materials for unpredictable opportunities. They are suggestive traces rather than genuine objects to be displayed on a window sill or on a mantelpiece. These little things are not what people would call “flea-market discoveries”. The objects found on the corner of rue Félicien David and rue Degas are for free. What counts is their atmosphere and their semiotic potential which may take on archival functions, echoing a past where play and toys were different – a reality from which we move further and further away.
Nonetheless, these found objects recall a mixture of frustration and phantasm of my early Paris days (1980). In reality, I was staying with a family rooted in “popular” Paris throughout generations. Yet I felt compelled to approach Parisian everyday life and its historic layers, as if to go beyond my alien position as a student, a foreigner, an observer.
Would it be possible to explore or collect objects in their actual environment and, thus, to encounter a supposedly authentic and lived history? The desire to ensure cultural signs against the destruction of urban environments, and to honor the magic of quotidian things was manifest. It participated in a fascination with non-simultaneity (“Ungleichzeitigkeit”) and promoted historical reflection as the basis for active memory.
A recipe for a collective collection project was abandoned but the basic ideas are lurking decades later. The tradition of “found objects” in Surrealism and further back to the chiffonnier in Charles Baudelaire (or Walter Benjamin) may also be alive. In Benjamin’s own particular conception of the collector, the so-called allegorical dimension is prevailing; the melancholic collector projects new meaning into the objects in his possession. My early phantasms are more immediate and romantic, though, hoping for a dynamic reflection to take place (as one could say with reference to another strand in Benjamin’s thinking, notably on the concept of criticism in German romanticism).
The dream of bridging the abyss of time by rescuing or redeeming physical things – collecting and conserving them – is essential in various projects throughout the years. However, it is not until this day, in the late summer of 2015, that practices of photography and preservation go as far as to collecting objects from the street.
The objects are waiting patiently, after arriving in Copenhagen. Thanks to a series of photographs, discovered within my photos from Georges Perec’s Paris, and his second childhood street in particular, the souvenir of the Parisian “found objects” pops up and makes the latter play a main role.
How would Perec have reacted to such a move? The use of “objets trouvés”, found things, might appear too surrealistic and “insolite”, too particular, in his view which is mainly an autobiographical one. To be sure, my approach is based in the unexpected feeling of suddenly being in touch with something – toys and childhood – that I never experienced in Paris, let alone here in the 16th arrondissement. But is there a possible connection between my “found objects” and Perec’s project titled I remember (Je me souviens )?
Within Perec’s spatial hierarchy of Species of Spaces (Espèces d’espaces, 1974) – a book in which he moves from the small scale towards the big and the gigantic – the “found objects” belong to the micro-level and hardly exit the individual room. Still, the encounter with personal objects on a street corner (this is where the cabinet and its open drawers were found) is in line with Perec’s approach to urban space.
Rue Félicien David or rue Degas will never become our childhood street, but since 2001 it is part of our Paris. Our friend M. lives here and receives us, hands over his home to us when he himself is away. After all, attachment to this neighbourhood may in part explain why I instantaneously mobilise the gaze, the camera, and even the bags when encountering the sculptural cabinet on a street corner.
I am on my way “home” in more than one sense: home to the Paris apartment in order to do the luggage, and, later on, home to our own place in Copenhagen. The hastily taken photographs – seventeen pictures in five and a half minutes – may not be optimal, but they feel necessary in that very moment.
I let the found objects support the photographs – as if they were some dust of history, of the neighbourhood, of life, and ready to serve anew. Will they allow for a transsubstantiation of everyday life in an altered context? The Parisian origin of these things as well as their appearance under the intense August sun are certainly part of the story. This story adds meaning to the objects themselves, as well as to their photographic and material display in situations yet to come.
Henrik Reeh 2018
Mariia Kostenko 2018
There are times when I lie down on my bed and I sink into my sheets as the storm of nostalgia hits me. Places, faces, names, words, all rush through my head and I dream of a lost time. Memories are elusive. It is hard to grasp them while one leads to the other and holes are left unfilled. I strive for a point of reference.
I think of all the places where I have slept. No matter how exceptional or mundane, how long or short my day had been, at the end of it I have slept – somewhere. That is a point of reference. My bed, be it a king size, a couch, a torn mattress or the laid-back seat of a bus, is a point of reference for my memories.
These beds and these places however, have no meaning outside of my memories. To other people, they are simply spaces. To me, they trigger countless memories that drift away but, in the end, come home to these spaces.
Arshia Eghbali 2018