An Experiment in Intervals II – Bathhouse No.5

Tskaltubo, translating to ‘living water’, is a region of Georgia famous for its bathhouses and sanatoriums, many of which were built during the Soviet occupation. Today these grand emporiums stand abandoned, some housing the so-called Internally Displaced Peoples involuntarily moved off their lands, others acting as sites for local contraband and touristic indulgence. Enveloped in mildew, the swell of forestland commences its reclamation of these sites.

In ‘Architecture from the Outside’, Elizabeth Grosz explores the impossibility of architectural utopias and raises the potentiality of spaces of ‘inbetweenness’, or intervals: sites of transition, where experiments in spatial and temporal arrangements form possibilities of alternate futurities. Drawing on Irigiray’s feminist conception, the Interval can be seen as a mode of inhabitation – a subversion of the containment imposed by patriarchal paradigms and their architectures of excess (Monstrous Architectures).

At Bathhouse No.5, a lone figure commences an experiment in such an interval;
an alternate purposing of the once Monstrous Architecture, now a dormant space. She trespasses alongside the encroaching forest’s swaying vines. The histories, narratives and ideologies imprinted upon the site suspend in this temporal ecological entanglement – an opening for anew.

The piece, first improvised in silence, is accompanied by Mozart Piano Concerto No. 23 in A minor played by Maria Yudina. It is rumoured that this recording was made as per the request of Joseph Stalin. A request that caused such stress that it exhausted three conductors before the piece was completed. But the pianist Maria Yudina was unperturbed. In response to his praises for her work, Yudina wrote him a letter, vowing to pray for his sins against the people and the country. Although her arrest was prepared, Stalin spared her life. He is also said to have listened to the recording in his dying hours.

Video (07’37”)/ Photography (#11)


An Experiment in Intervals III – Violet Desert

For Georges Bataille, monstrosity regarded not simply what was against the sacred or divine, but that quality which materialised in the machinations of state violence and industrial and capital exploitation: the smokestack, the factory, the industrial zone. These were apparatus denoting spatial territories that were seen to materialise a disorder under God. 

An Experiment in Intervals III – Violet Desert, reads the site of the industrial park in Barreiro, Portugal through the lens of ‘monstrous architecture’. Shaped by the industrial expansion brought about by Companhia União Fabril, the site exists in a liminal zone. It is haunted by the promises of economic prosperity and the failure of such promises. Despite this, or perhaps because of this, the site houses plural identities and multiple futures. It is representative of both monstrosity as threat and opportunity.

‘Violet Desert’ is a play on the title of Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1964 film Il Deserto Rosso (The Red Desert). Renowned for depicting stark scenes of industrial architecture, Antonioni’s protagonist Giuliana (Monica Vitti) is tormented by the alienating force of living within modernity. Her growing neuroses reflects Antonioni’s desolate vision of the capitalist world – the conflict of a modern brain and a tired worn out body. However, Giuliana’s inability – or unwillingness – to inhabit such a dichotomy also speaks to another aspect of the monstrous as located in the power of the unruly feminine to transgress the status quo. 

The monster exists historically as the deformation of ‘natural law’ – the corrupted off-spring of the classical Man as perturbed by the fecundity of the Feminine. In the context of colonial, patriarchal and capitalist ideologies, the children of modernity have grown to represent this off-spring; our alienation and hybridity a contemporary monstrosity. 

Monstrosity therefore signifies an opportunity to come undone through discontinuity. It is an invitation to actualise an Interval as a disruption-negotiation of our before-after. As Karan Barad asks, can the fragility of monstrosity help us transition from our “political and spiritual rigour mortis towards a living raging animacy?”. Can monstrosity be an opportunity to arrive to our living-being despite, and through, the ideological hauntings that history imposes?

Two-channel Video (09’34”)/ Photography (#2)