The film by Urban-Think Tank reminds us that the Smithsons’s ideas about the ties between buildings, users and architectural sites no longer have the value they once did
Any architectural form is only a question of the amount of energy invested Presented by Philippe Rahm
This time I had prepared in advance, and prepared well. I had decided to speak about the film The Column by the Albanian artist Adrian Paci from the first day I agreed to write this column and had just been waiting for the right time. I waited months before writing about it. It is a video with a romantic feel, recording the story behind the creation of a marble column, starting from a block purchased in China and transported by sea to Europe, to Venice. Although nothing very sensational happens, the video keeps spectators glued to the screen as it emanates a somewhat mystical appeal, like a mantra. It narrates, in its entirety, the route taken by a piece of a mountain transformed by a dozen or so workers, who travel with the block and sculpt it during the voyage, combining the movement with human action and its cultural impact, its ability to lend meaning to objects. This is what I wanted to speak about, this sculpture born in the middle of the ocean on a journey from East to West, a fantastic voyage, one of times past, a fable that is actually extremely material – because it also deals with the problem of the artist’s need to produce, be efficient and gain time since time is a luxury, an asset and it is money. This is a metaphorical journey but a terribly concrete one. It is important to be specialised and it is important to know what you are doing, how to do it and why you do it. Art leaves very little room for improvisation. My plans were upset a few days before delivering this piece when I received a pleasant surprise in my email box. I found a message suggesting I watch another film. Struck by the professional promotion and seduced by the title, The Disappearance of Robin Hood, I started watching it and, although complex, I grew fond of it. It is a tender piece that seems made with a huge heart and deals with an important topic.
I am always intrigued by artists who master several languages and pass through several disciplines. I try to understand how and why they do it and so I watched that documentary until the end, and with a certain enjoyment. Presented recently in London, the film is the work of a group of intellectuals and designers called Urban-Think Tank which, in this case, are the directors or rather the documentary-makers. Looking closely at the end result, it seems clear that their principal argument centres on the building seen as a social phenomenon, although they decide to tell it as a story without the traditional tools of the erudite documentary or flashy film-making techniques. Very simply, without the arrogance of “making a film”, it is simply a desire to create a recollection, like a memory-box of images and records to remember something that will forever be lost. The documentary explores the origins and ideas of a social housing estate on the outskirts of London: Robin Hood Gardens, designed by the architects Peter and Alison Smithson in the late 1960s. The Urban-Think Tank tries thus to reignite the eternal discussion on the housing crisis being faced by London and many other metropolises today. Using interviews, the film records the history of the building and its community, necessarily interlaced with the life of the city. The interviews are simple and personal. They lack the scientific perfection typical of masters such as Frederick Wiseman or Errol Morris’s desire to change the future. In the end, the Urban-Think Tank work reminds us that the Smithson’s ideas on the connection between the buildings, users and architectural sites have lost their former value. Time passes and utopias pay the price. In 2017, they began demolishing the estate to make way for one of the many large luxury regeneration projects seen in all the large metropolises today. What springs to mind is the comparison with the eternity of Paci’s sculpture, as if to say two parallel worlds whose life only just touch. Houses, objects, squares and columns, worlds that intersect with some remaining and others disappearing. Piero Golia (Naples, 1974) is an artist and impresario in Los Angeles. Urban-Think Tank is an interdisciplinary collective that engages with the themes of social architecture and informal settlements.
This spread: Scenes from the film The Disappearance of Robin Hood, directed by Klearhos Eduardo Papanicolaou and produced by Alfredo Brillembourg with the support of Hubert Klumpner (U-TT). Director of photography: Daniel Schwartz