The contradictory encounter of the full and the empty.

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In Spain, as well as in other European countries, we have witnessed in the past five years how the recession and the economical decline has constricted the way we live, specially when talking about housing and shelter. With the pervasive downturn in the economy surrounded by political and ethical crises, one of the biggest manifestation in the Spanish territory is the proliferation of abandoned buildings which has been registered on an inventory by Julia Schulz-Dornburg as part of her series “Modern Ruins”. The impact of these images is strong, as strong as the image of an eviction can be, because they represent the crisis of values we’re immersed due to our capitalistic approach to life. “Modern Ruins” represents the ruins of political thought.

This photographic work is a demand for re-question our identity, our notions of collectivity, of our social and cultural needs. Every single image here becomes part of a cadavre exquis which all together complete the idea of constructing images as a complaint or an evidence of a failed opportunity. Schulz-Dornburg has been constructing images to record the recent past, to be part of our memory in order to keep alive the mistakes that will give us force to react and start taking action against corruption and speculation. This world in flux presented by Julia’s photos requires the active participation of the viewer, a complicity and understanding of a message that is indeed a manifesto itself. A manifesto of contradictions, of uncertainty, of the unfinished. Sarah Wigglesworth recently pointed, “Considered objectively, there is always the same amount of space around us.” So it’s up to us how to use it. Looking at these photos, it seems like all those years —the years of speculation, of fast economic growth, of failure— we were living in a constant state of horror vacui, when every single square meter of territory was supposed to be built, to become a massive edifice. In this context, the work of Julia Schulz-Dornburg is somehow creating pictures for the economical crisis, showing through an art work the contradictory encounter of the full and the empty to visually present the conflict of a country with its territory full of empty buildings and to show all the possibilities that lies behind this evident decay.

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But instead of keep repeating the same discourse about the Spanish crisis, maybe it’s most interesting to think how to respond to the current situation.

“[he taught] that over time the movement of the yielding water
will overcome the strongest stone.
What’s hard —can you understand?— must always give way.”

—Bertolt Brecht [Poems, 315]

If a few years ago speculation has been the hard [in the Brechtian sense] albeit it was on hands of a small percentage of the population, what is the hard now is the energy emerged from those years and it’s clear manifestation in movements like #15M or the group Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca [PAH], who are working to stop and transform the foreclosure processes, being capable of stopping housing evictions and even forcing legal framework changes. In these years of history, the importance of visual archives like “Modern Ruins” is more than valuable. It shows the evidence of systemic failures, such as capitalism and bring us an extense landscape for action and for imagination. Frederic Jameson wrote on his book Archaeologies of the future that imaginings are all collages of experience, constructs made up of bits and pieces of the here and the now, and following this idea it is fundamental to recognize that we are tracing new paths for the future composed with all these pieces segregated in a territory that wants to recover from those lost years.

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The utopian city has always been a dream, but, as Walter Benjamin wrote “The history of dreams is still to be written. Dream participates in history.” In a country where it has been estimated that there are more than 20,000 skeletons of unfinished buildings, the work of collectives such as Todo por la Praxis and their project increasis give us clues about how to fight for that dream. Julia Schulz-Dornburg started by giving us the reference, the places… the images; and architects now should become part of this citizen laboratory to develop strategies for activation of these disused buildings in order to create self-managed facilities and services for neighboring communities.

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— This post originally appeared as an article at Uncube 09. “Constructing Images”, April 2013.
— The work by Julia Schulz-Dornburg can be visited on her web-site
— More info about the exhibition “Modern Ruins” in Berlin.

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