The Storefront for Art and Architecture’s collapsible/exploding/intruding space, where walls pivot out onto the sidewalk, is currently hosting an exhibition of Dutch artist duo Haas&Hahn. Like the space that hosts their work, the duo’s projects, enacted in the favelas of Rio, are imposed onto the fabric of the city, blurring the boundaries of public and private.
Taking advantage of the unregulated dynamics of the ghetto, Haas&Hahn’s projects take the form of community enterprise, educational mission, supergraphic design installation, and public art project, all at once. Three projects are on view, offering the viewer an overview of the development and maturation of the artists' conceptual approach. What’s quite fascinating is to see the evolution of their stance taken toward architecture from the safety of mural art to the boundlessness of graffiti. As Jean Baudrillard wrote of the difference between the two:
The graffitists themselves care little for architecture; they defile it, forget about it and cross the street. The mural artist respects the wall as he used to respect the limitations of his easel. Graffiti runs from one house to the next, from one wall of a building to the next, from the wall onto the window or the door, or windows on subway trains, or the pavements. Graffiti overlaps, is thrown up, superimposes (superimposition amounting to the abolition of the support as a framework, just as it is abolished as frame when its limits are not respected).
Haas&Hahn began with a mural: a boy flying a kite. A simple statement with social concerns, inspired by a local kite-maker and owner of a barbershop, encouraging these City of God souls to take up the joys of kite-flying rather than automatic weapons. Their next project transformed the banks of an oddly shaped concrete stairwell on the hillside into a stylized river of carp.
Their latest project and further proposed projects, however, superimpose a single geometric design over a group of houses, the painting “run[ing] from one house to the next,” irrespective of individual architectural structures. Their installation at Praça Cantão in Santa Marta takes the form of a vibrant color spectrum projecting over the various walls and balconies of a group of houses; young members of the community actualized the project, learning skills of painting and earning a wage to transform their neighborhood. The work unites the community in a common project, while the colors unite the architecture formally, creating a “continuous territory,” as it is described by the director of Storefront, Eva Franch i Gilabert. Thus any individuation of building or self, those limitations are done away with, abolished in favor of community action.
Plans for further interventions are also on display, including some in New York City. Imagine Stuyvesant Town awash in Technicolor. Proposed for the recent of Festival of Ideas, the project was shot down because of bureaucratic difficulties (surprise, surprise). Unless Haas&Hahn are ready to tackle the bureaucracy and community interests a la Christo and Jeanne Claude, their best bet is to continue their work out on the fringes and in the favelas. Unless New York can be convinced to someday learn from Rio…
(*Images: Haas&Hahn, courtesy of the Storefront for Art and Architecture.)