Territory as a Project
Preface for the catalogue of Trouble in Paradise – Polish National Pavilion at the 17th Venice Biennale, edited by PROLOG +1. Warsaw: Zachęta — Narodowa Galeria Sztuki, 2000. Platon Issaias with Hamed Khosravi.
In recent years, many architects, urbanists, planners, geographers, political theorists, philosophers, curators, cultural and economic institutions of power, have been occupied, one could say obsessively, with the challenge to ‘redefine the countryside’. It seems that in the context of climate emergency and planetary genocide, and with urgent demands for alternative forms of production and modes of human and non-human existence, social and physical spaces that seem to present a counter-paradigm to the dense, metropolitan environment of continuous growth, have been placed (again) to the centre of our attention. Genuine efforts have been made to dismantle the over-insisting ideological diagram of western modernity that approaches the rural paradigm as a problem.
Since the birth of the modern nation state and the rise of imperialist, colonial powers, the countryside has been treated as an outdated and pre-capitalist, pre-modern ruin, within which, the polarised and polarising schema ‘centre’-’periphery’ has been intensifying the already asymmetrical power relations and never-ending exploitation of rural and indigenous populations. And yet, it seems that this trend is often exhausted into two alternative outcomes: historisation, ie. a quest for a genealogy of the countryside and ‘rurality’ as political forms, or re-conceptualisation, an attempt to revisit the dialectical opposition ‘urban’-’rural’ in favor of the latter as a critical project. There are two problems that emerge with the above, which our short intervention, but also the Polish Pavilion in the 2020 Venice Architectural Biennale as a whole, have tried to address. The first, has to do with the value and instrumentality of a ‘general theory of rurality’. Can we imagine an alternative that allows for a multiplicity of experiences, struggles, differences, historic and contemporary, to emerge?
Here, the importance of diverse case studies is essential. These would not only bring neglected examples to the forefront, but most importantly, would challenge the dominant Eurocentric, western historiography. Secondly, the ‘urban’-’rural’ dichotomy could also lead to a series of confusions that has to do with the way the latter is defined in opposition to the former. It seems to us that quite often spatial and social typologies and diagrams of rural, suburban, peri-urban, remote, indigenous forms of habitations are mixed into one and unified ‘non-city’ modes of living and topologies. When this happens, we end up replicating, if not intensifying, the violent asymmetries that have produced these categorisations in the first place.
Collage with the use of photos by Michał Sierakowski, archive of Trouble in Paradise exhibition in the Polish Pavilion at the Venice Biennale of Architecture, 2020.