Site-oriented practice

The aural architecture practice that supports this research is site-oriented. This means that the practice is contextually orientated and relates to the conditions of specific spaces at specific moments. It involved research of the site prior to the design process and installation. The site-specificity was not approached as a fixed relation. Instead, site-specificity was engaged as a dynamic process of exchange between artworks and sites, with unpredictable events, ephemeral situations and transformation. I will unfold the difference between site, space and place in a broader context to clarify the meaning of my approach. Philosopher Michel De Certeau made a clear distinction between the terms space and place. He explained that “a place is the order (of whatever kind) in accord with which elements are distributed in relationships of coexistence … an instantaneous configuration of positions. It implies an indication of stability” (De Certeau 1980, 117). Contrary to place, De Certeau explained that a “space is composed of intersections of mobile elements” and in this sense, he claimed that “space is a practiced place” (De Certeau 1980, 117). Edward W. Soja argued that “the organisation, and meaning of space is a product of social translations, transformations, and experience” (Soja 2010, 80). For Soja, spatiality is a dynamic that affects our life experiences. He pointed out for “an essential connection between spatiality and being” (Soja 2010, 119).

There is an extensive literature regarding site-specific and site-oriented practices, which have been enquired by authors such as Miwon Kwon (2002), Nick Kaye (2000) or Brandon LaBelle (2006). According to Kwon, site specificity in art has dealt with the conflict between mobility and the place-identity bond, which led the genre to multiply itself in different forms of action in a possible search to find its own terrain. Kwon claims that it is the “differential function associated with places, which earlier forms of site-specific art tried to exploit”, that current site-oriented works seek to reimagine (Kwon 2002, 157). And as Nick Kaye has also explained, to move the site-specific work is to re-place it, to make it something else (Kaye 2000, 2). Kwon argues that this mobilisation of site-specific art and the nomadism of recent site-oriented practices are efforts to retrieve lost differences due to the deterritorialisation of the ever-expanding capitalist order, which tends towards homogeneity and elimination of existing differences (Kwon 2002, 157). To the space resulting from this homogenisation Henri Lefebvre called abstract space, the tool of domination (Lefebvre 1991, 370). Lefebvre remarked that “a new space cannot be born (produced) unless it accentuates differences” (Lefebvre 1991, 52). To this new kind of space he called differential space, and this would mean the “diversification of space”, with a need for “the restoration of the sensory-sensual” (Lefebvre 1991, 363).

In this critical context and in my architectural practice, I have been aware of the deterritorialisation of place within the flux of globalised techno-capitalism and its spatiotemporal controls, and also concerned for how these controls homogenise affective sonic ecologies (Lacey 2014, appendix 1). As an architecture practitioner, I eventually got interested in the production of space beyond a structured, controlled or pre-formatted order of space. Therefore, I have been experimenting how architectural design can open up spaces for multiple appropriations by its users. My approach lies in accentuating site-specific differences and multiple relationships, for a diversity of sensory-sensual experiences to be produced. My site-oriented practice seeks to produce a kind of spatial experience that Michel Foucault has described as a heterotopia, which is something that has the capacity of “juxtaposing in a single real place several spaces, several sites that are in themselves incompatible” (Foucalt 1967). Foucault got interested in certain sites that had “the curious property of being in relation with all the other sites, but in such a way as to suspect, neutralize, or invert the set of relations that they happen to designate, mirror, or reflect”. He called them “heterotopias”, “counter-sites”, “different spaces”, “of other places”. And described it as “a sort of simultaneously mythic and real contestation of the space in which we live … (it) could be called heterotopology” (Foucault 1967). This is the kind of spaces that my site-oriented practice seeks to create and that will also be discussed further in this thesis as heterogeneous space . Therefore, I could say that my aural architecture interventions create some kind of heterotopias that transform “places” into “different spaces” or “counter-sites”, by accentuating its differences. In the context of these reflections, I am interested in moving from an object to an environment and the very relational, spatial, and temporal nature of sound itself (LaBelle 2006, xii). Still, the focus of my practice is not merely perceptive, and not limited to “appropriate and create architecture for a renewed sense of listening” (LaBelle 2006, xiv). Instead, my interest is to create site-responsive aural architecture experiments that deal with “moving sound installation to public space”, and take into account an “enlarged environmental potential” (LaBelle 2006, xiv). Therefore my field work is related to field recording and acoustic ecology, towards an ecology of affect.

As it will be seen, in all of the case studies presented in this thesis, a transformation occurs: places that had particular orders and functions are rearranged and opened up for appropriation, for other kinds of practices, relationships and sensory variations to arise. I got particularly interested in the experience of spaces as unusual encounters and connections between human beings, non-humans and things. Although places are planned and designed for specific practices, there is always an open possibility or potencial which can never be determined by the place’s material order. Space is dynamic, relational, and variable. Spaces are temporally specific relations between specific subjects and their environment. Space is alive, full of vital materialities, vibrant matter (Bennett 2010), vibrational forces. In my approach, I have engaged space as a field, as relational, and energetic. So in my practice, I have developed aural architecture design methods to connect unusual or imperceptible relationships between the elements of a specific site (human, non-human), to accentuate differences and produce a new space, with multiple identities and meanings. Architecture was engaged as a dynamic assemblage to open up potentials of a site and its contingencies. In my approach, these potentials lie in the encounters and relationships between human and non-human beings. My interventions address the potential of site-specific vibrational forces, enhanced by spatial acoustics, to accentuate differences and to open up experience and communication channels towards more ecological relationships between human and non-human beings. Therefore, with the projects developed for this thesis, my aim was to open up the experience, transformation and translation of vibrational forces of specific sites to move spatial practices beyond an anthropocentric perspective, and towards an ecology of symbiotic relations.

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