Exhibition text, Essay



Introductory essay to the exhibit OnSpace by Mark Balint displayed in November 2022 in Zurich.

Susceptible to ambivalent appropriation and unprecise usage like few other words in our language, space itself has lost its meaning. Confused not only with what hides beyond our atmosphere but also with everything that lies within it, we don’t really talk about the (non)matter.

Having conceived of it as an absolute category, as little sister to time herself, Newton had participated in provoking mankind, instigating the subjugation of every accumulation of ground in reach. Labeled, measured, terraformed, refurbished, intersected, projected, constructed; space as territory became the ultimate commodity. Enslaved to human imagination alone. Lines on paper lead to the construction of entire worlds. And ultimately, to an unhealthy conception of what spatial design is all about, which survives in dust-collecting academic institutions until this day.

It needed the concept of relativity, introduced by Albert Einstein in the first half of the 20th century, to shake the conviction that time and space are to be treated as absolutes. Neither time nor space should furthermore be intelligibly described without acknowledging in the same breath the malleable existence of their counterpart. This brought about a juvenile appreciation for the interconnectedness of space-time categories. For the strange referentiality of every minuscule object in existence to something far grander and unconceivably more complex. Here arises a new understanding of space that is not based merely on containers and the objects within them. Terms like relation, relativity, dependency, reference, and network thereafter enter the discussions on everything from physics to the social sciences. The transformative effect is hard to underestimate. While the historical nation state and ideological archipelagos persisted throughout the second world war, the newly set tone invites unprecedented descriptions of reality. Narratives that present their meaning only through a reading from the side of the other, the outsider, the stranger.

The end of the century displays its own spatial will. With cities exploding over their industrial boundaries. Witnessing the implosion of their former symbolic centers. Turning them into voids. The periphery, retracting and expanding under the inflicted urban pressures, a battlefield of constant identity crisis. Supercharged internationalism and neoliberalized globalization propel the uprooting of communities and cultures worldwide. Giving birth to a new species of humans: migrant, native only to the universe. Rippled by these violent struggles over space, calls for the right to the city, the right to control the processes of urbanization gain volume. With every extremity of the urban sphere being pulled at, the categories of rural and city are finally sublated. And, as described by Henri Lefebvre, a condition urbaine mondial emerges. Within this sprawling form of existence, meaning isn’t granted by cultural institutions, governmental dictums, nation states or religious pretexts any further. It is laboriously produced through local inhabitations.

The humanities and social sciences had conclusively rejected the territory or the container as a fundamental Denkbild shortly before the turn of the millennia. This reorientation towards space, alongside the insight that spaces are a social product, promised to reconquer the ability to act and design within the political and professional sphere. And for a first time, the historical lens concedes its role as the predominant interface with reality to spatial observations. First images from space visualize decisively what Einstein had promised all along: A rocky blue pearl on an insatiable dark canvas, only to be fully grasped from outside earth’s atmosphere. A precious, fragile, rare sight.

Today we have fully grown accustomed to questioning the absolutisms of previous times and to describing the world in our subjective terms. Almost to the extent that one could believe there is no ground left on which to talk about a common reality. Circumstances have further complicated. Our world is hyper-functional and junk-spaced; quantum-urbanized and green-washed; socially mediated thus collectively alienated; screentime-enlightened within the post-factual. Space grew bigger and the world smaller. It has more dimensions now. Cyber, crypto, coded, binary realms populate an intangible surreality. Revealing another fact of our existence not yet cognizant to previous generations. Space is built of light, and its fabric made from photons. Undulating by means of energy and impulses. Filling the void between every object instantaneously, being at many places at an instant.
Matter is precarious. It allows us only to talk about frameworks and structures, the boundaries we have to overcome. Space is abundant. The source of the plentiful, an accumulation of simultaneity. Our hunger for it insatiable. One must swim in it, and dive as if lost. As different shades emerge relative to the retina it hits. Varying flavors occur respective to the tongue it is savored with. We can see it pulsating when we shift our attention from the heavy objects to the crystalline mass between. It is not an object of time, but momentary. Only truly existent in the presence of consciousness.

Our current instruments possess the power and precision to tell us stories of time that last only 247 zeptoseconds and draw maps of spaces that extend across 13.6 billion light years. But still, our lived experience does not reflect these unconditional categories. Our time passes slow when we feel unoccupied and runs through our fingers like fine grained sand when we most want to hold on to it. There is an attachment to the particulars. It is at the intersection of time and space, where location and hour meet in a moment, where we start to grasp the nature of spatiality. The reality of space is never just factual. Nor is it ever just fictitious.
We strongly believe, for all the previously accounted anecdotes, that in order to talk about space, we must enter into another sphere of thought and find new tools of communication and interaction. Our conception of space is like any of the previous ones, in the same way that it is like none of them whatsoever. We share with our ancestors a common curiosity, naivety, inadequacy, and insufficiency. A curse of our time, as of any that has come before it. We reflect back with the inescapable ignorance over the forgotten dramas and comedies of past days. While we project with the inexhaustibly deficient gaze of our current time into a future yet to become.
To do this, we kindly but emphatically call for help. As it is hopeless to talk about economics without considering human wellbeing inside an economic context, it is meaningless to talk about space only in terms of matter, order, and the appearance of surfaces. It is necessary to transmute own experiences through the lenses of multiple sensorial stimuli. We must feel the thickness of the air and smell the odor of a certain location to understand its distinct texture. Announcing its value for us personally and in relation to the multiplicity of the lived environment. We must not only learn how to talk about space collectively but also how to think spatially as a species, as a conscious body of isolated cerebral motors. It remains critically hazardous to hand the responsibility over to architects alone.
One point should come across crystal clear in this maelstrom of reminiscence: To talk about space is to position oneself in space first. And positioning requires creating, acting, and inhabiting.

The conscious visitor might have noticed that, while the exhibition itself is called ON SPACE, this written attempt at an introduction to the displayed objects touches on the broader subject of SPACE ONTOLOGIES.

With ON SPACE, the artist invites you to an account of his personal experiences, emotions, relations, associations, friendships, loves, fears, optimisms, potentials, interpretations. The title refers to this subjective form of positioning within the multilayered reality of our current world. To sum things up: in this room you are dealing with a modest but humorous comment on space as a sphere of exploration. ON SPACE means action. Diametrically opposed to off spaces, the exhibition emphasizes this important distinction between an active or passive form of interaction within spatial form. Space has to be activated first in order to enter into a state of productive transformation. It must be loaded with layers of energy, acknowledging all facets of it that we currently perceive. The toolbox is diagrammatic, symbolic, superimposed, contextualized, referential, relative, contradictory, strategic, sometimes just emotional. It is tailor made for a curious Odysseus, navigating towards the many horizons of spatiality.

With SPACE ONTOLOGIES we unlock another modification of possibility space. One that tries to unify the artistically expressed forms by touching on the context of thought from which they emerged. With this extended approach towards an ontology of space, we start the endeavor to formulate the presented ideas on a descriptive level. It touches on the question of memory, not singular but collectively shaped. With different rationales and sensualities. It asks for a contemporary theory on the nature of existence and the essence of space. It remains an open question: How can we address space as something concrete, when its character escapes our grasp so reliably? What does it mean for individuals to position themselves in a spatial context, to produce the underlying structure and the attributed meaning of their habitats? And how can the active practice of forming a position within our spatial boundaries reflect on our human nature as a whole? This remains a modest attempt. Showcasing one of many possible approaches. Unpolished, unrestrained, and embracing its adolescence. Inviting you to position yourself in its dimensions.