2016 Chicago, US

Lost and Found – Phantoms of Space and Times*

About

Date: 3 October 2015 – 3 January 2016.

Chicago Architecture Biennial

Lost and Found conveys the multiplicity of narratives that are legible in Johannesburg’s landscape of mines. On a satellite map, a zoom-out view of the city shows yellow-and-white sand mountains—massive and imposing man-made nature scripted by subterranean gold—so vast that their monumentality lays bare the scale of exploitation by the colonial and Apartheid regimes. The minescape girdles the areas that belong to differing race groups, not only acting as a symbolic memory of political struggle, but remaining a physical barrier between the various groups that were defined during Apartheid. A reversal of the lens—zooming in on the dust mountains— reveals architectures beyond the limits of formal planning and design. The mountains are sites of invisible cities. A face-mask, an old rubber glove, and a makeshift pick-axe. A frosted glass bottle with a label etched in Dutch script. Plastic drive-in movie posters advertising a Valentine’s Special. A Zion-Christian star badge, which has become host to a coral-like formation of turquoise crystals. In Lost and Found, our minds fill in the stories contained in these mysterious artifacts. Loose connections are fostered between the actual place, the maps, the artifacts. The distinction between physical objects and imagined history is blurred.

On a satellite map, a zoom-out view of the city shows yellow-and-white sand mountains— massive and imposing man-made natures, scripted by subterranean gold—so vast that their monumentality lays bare the scale of exploitation by the colonial and Apartheid regimes. The minescape girdles the areas that were once restricted to differing race groups, not only acting as a symbolic memory of political struggle, but remaining a physical barrier between the various groups that were defined during Apartheid.

In a reversal of the lens—zooming in on the dust mountains—reveals architectures beyond the limits of formal planning and design. The mountains are sites of invisible cities. A face-mask, an old rubber glove, and a makeshift pick-axe. A frosted glass bottle with a label etched in Dutch script. Plastic drive-in movie posters advertising a Valentine’s Special. A Zion-Christian star badge, which has become host to a coral-like formation of turquoise crystals.

The mine dumps are eroding, but as they erode, and layers of dust and sediment and upheaved, histories are being uncovered. For example, an unmarked cemetery was recently unearthed on the Langlaagte mine dump. The bones had turned blue from chemical interference of the acid mine water, but archaeologists were still able to determine, from surrounding evidence, that these were the bones of Chinese labourers. The leftover architectures gave many clues of this history, but it is nowhere to be found in history books.The mine dumps were used as a buffer strip, for a long time in history, thus considered a non- place, an uninhabitable line.

But the boundaries themselves are new territories – they are spaces which do not strictly belong to anyone, and a range of ad-hoc activities and architectures have formed within them. Johannesburg mine dumps secrete visceral colours from the metallic pigments and after effects of the mining the earth. The type of mining (gold, coal, diamond) and the geological conditions of the soil affect the formation of the colours of the pigments.

This is a key geographic indicator of the fragments. Structured by the colour of the metallic compound, we arranged petri dishes with the evidence of the architectures that we have found, along with corresponding research drawings and mappings. Excerpts of factual texts accompany the fragments, allowing the viewer to collage the stories in their mind, resonant with the way that we compiled the research. Much of the information is missing.

These fragments and excerpts not only provide an understanding of past oppressive and capitalist architectural and urban devices within the city, but also alert us to the challenges the architecture must engage with for the future of these lands – whole sections of settlements falling into the hollow ground, a man who fell metres into the ground and burnt from the waist down from coal burning underground in an abandoned mine, closed decades before. New architecture in these spaces will always have to engage with the aggressive and sinister phantoms of the past activities on the land.

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Notes