Monumentality

 
 

This is a proposal by Madam (Marco Ginex and I) for an installation at the inaugural exhibition at the Shanghai Architectural Culture Centre (designed by Ando), for which several practices were invited to develop responses to a given theme in relation to China and its architecture. We were given the theme monumentality, with their explanation:

"The desire for monumentality roots deeply in the spatial politics of China. All design techniques of creating monumentality in history, from ancient Egypt to 19th century new classicism, can be found, adapted to buildings throughout the nation. The aim is to embody the power and imagination of a regime."

We were asked to alter the content and presentation of our proposal. Whilst we were happy to develop the formal themes of the work -the frame of its content- we were not willing to water down the main thrust of the installation, so at least the idea lives on here.

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Monumentality is a quality derived from a combination of two factors being inherent in a phenomenon. The first is that its existence affects an unusually large number of people. The second is that those people who it affects are marked in some way deeply and permanently by it. Physical scale is not key -although often present- because Monumentality exists by virtue of the quantity of people and the degree to which they are influence. So for example, while a large building may affect only its immediate residents and environment, a small piece of parchment in the British Library, the Magna Carta, is referred to as the origins of all democracy in the Anglo Saxon world, and is revered, talked about, and Monumentalised by hundreds of millions across four continents.

^The British Library Magna Carta

The greatest edifice of our late modern world itself has even less physical presence than the Magna Carta, but similarly the Internet is transforming, for good or bad we do not know, the very structure of our relationships to each other, to our governments, to our society, and between cultures. Judged in effect, its scale is titanic, representing unprecedented opportunities for freedom of thought, expression and exchange of ideas without the need for physical movement. In this immaterial world of potential freedoms, the Chinese government have erected an equally colossal immaterial barrier, one that in scale of affect is proportionate to the internet itself. The Great Firewall of China restricts every single internet user within the borders of China, controlling what information they can share and access, what they can see, and what they can know.

^Map of the Internet

The Berlin Wall held captive generations of Berliners, highlighting in its oppressive and ubiquitous presence their dreams and hopes for freedom of movement within their own city. At Checkpoint Charlie residents could peer longingly across to another world, and imagine life on the other side. The collective power of the checkpoint, the monumental longing that it encapsulated (bearing no relationship to its diminutive dimensions), was directly proportional to the scale and pervasiveness of the Wall, and the insidious system of control it was a part of.

^The Berlin Wall

The Great Firewall of China directly affects 500million Chinese Citizens, and more indirectly. This is no doubt colossal, but we propose that by adding one computer which bypasses this system of control entirely, one computer that is a gateway through the Great Firewall, publicly accessible to whoever wishes to use it, in a public space in Shanghai, that by doing this we would be allowing something Monumental to take place. Like Checkpoint Charlie, the power of this one computer and the freedoms, uncertainties, excitement and fear it encapsulates, will be in direct proportion to the scale of China?s censorship at any given moment during the laptop?s existence.

^The installation was located facing the base of the main staircase of the museum

Our installation will be a gateway through The Great Firewall of China. At once solemn and celebratory, ecstatic and terrified, individual and universal, we propose a small but intense space to contain the censor-free-link.

This aedicule, or small gateway shrine, is placed at the centre of the museum?s circulation space, where in full sight, one person at a time, any visitor can step down an aisle of waiting observers, to explore on Chinese soil, exploration without limits.

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