Conceptual Cluster 7: Container Technologies
Soil from Palestine – Superkilen as Egospheres
In 2011 the artist group SUPERFLEX travelled from Copenhagen to Palestine with Hiba and Allaa, two young women with family history in – but as it turns out, barley any memories of – Palestine. The mission of the journey was to reach the site of the former village of Hiba’s and Allaa’s grandparents, and bring back an object for Superkilen from there. I follow the women’s journey in an almost 30 minutes long sequence of four films uploaded at Superkilen’s homepage and on Youtube (for an introduction to Superkilen, see previous posts). The expectations seem to build up as the women, guided by Hiba’s grandmother on a loud crackling cell phone, searches the wide undulated landscape for traces of their ancestors.
‘She says to look for two stones that look like sofas, which are hard to see, but we should walk straight upwards.’
Five minutes into the third film the promising atmosphere seems to be exchanged by resignation and exhaustion.
‘It’s all torn down, now it all looks the same.’
The redemptive turning point comes with the sudden appearance of a local shepherd.
‘He says that an old lady came by a few years ago, which might have been my grandmother. And she recognized this place as her own parents’ house, just here.’
His story is declared to be true by the old woman on the cell phone, and the treasure hunt is officially over. The sofa-resembling stones remain unfound. The last part of the film is a description of the process of transporting the object, e.g. a plastic trunk full of soil, from the hillside in Palestine to its final destination – Nørrebro, Copenhagen.
More than 20 years before Superkilen was launched, Margaret Thatcher claimed the individual’s stranglehold on the common in her much cited statement on the death of society: ‘there is no such thing as society; there are only individuals, individuals and families’ (Thatcher in De Cauter 2004, p.81). The increasing individualization of society has been an insistent theme in social science during the last century. De Cauter argues nevertheless that individualization, paired with an immense disinterest in the concept of society and solidarity, has only recently been transformed into an official ideology of hyperindividualism. Sloterdijk enters a similar discussion when describing how life mechanisms during the 20th century has been caught in ‘a centrifugal force that scatter individuals into their own world cells’. A process leading to an ontology of separateness. Separate world cells (egospheres) are produced and supported by the practise of self-objectification through ego-technical devises such as mirrors and diaries (Sloterdijk 2007 p. 98). Sloterdijk describes how the contemporary apartment is no longer a place where the get-together of individuals is undertaken, but a place that supports ‘the pairing of the individual with himself’. We stand, according to Sloterdijk, before a crisis of the second person, where individuals are taking themselves to be ‘the substantial first, and their relationships to others to be the accidental second’ (Sloterdijk, 2007, p.96). A condition described by Elías Canetti as ‘a society in which every person is depicted, and prays before his own image’ (Canetti in Sloterdijk 2007 p.99).
So what about Superkilen? Can Sloterdijk’s notion of egospheres cast new light on the far-fetched idea of traveling 2000 miles only to bring back a trunk of soil to the construction site of an urban park in Copenhagen? Does Superkilen make more sense, when regarded as a space for meeting – not the other, but the self? Hyperindividualism, as described by De Cauter, celebrates the passage of information through the subject. A similar preference to strong authorships can be traced in the design concept of Superkilen. Here every object – may it be a bench from Cuba, a manhole from Israel or soil from Palestine, is connected to a story, and to memories from past times and places far away. The site becomes a collage of strong subjectives, of materialised (self-) reflections on exile and belonging. The egospheres at Superkilen are however, unlike the individual apartment, not hidden, but explicitly exposed to others. Such exposure of the personal turns the space into a field of what Sloterdijk calls ‘connected isolations’ (Sloterdijk 2007 p.92), a space that enables the establishment of (if nothing else) brief relations to the accidental second. Is the design concept of Superkilen to be understood as an attempt to create connection where the common is considered a lost cause?
Lieven de Cauter ‘The Capsule and the Network: Notes for a General Theory’ in Capsular Civilisation: On the City in the Age of Fear, Rotterdam: NAi Publishers, 2004.
Peter Sloterdijk, ‘Cell Block, Ego-Spheres, Self-Container’ in Log 10, 2007.
Alice Jardine, ‘Of Bodies and Technologies’ in Hal Foster ed. Discussions in Contemporary Culture, New York: DIA Art Foundation, 1987