Baustelle und Botanik, Chantier et Botanique, is a body of work inspired by my dad who worked as a road sign contractor and by the vagabond weeds that grow between the cracks of our urbanity. Grands Travaux Urbains, the construction company my dad worked for, was specialised in road signs. He ocassionally took me to a few construction sites, which had the effect of making me look at how things were made but also think about who made them. Who doesn’t like to open a machine to see what is inside? The building sites are like an open machine, showcasing the forces at play within our society, technically and administratively. They open up an unsuspected and overlooked metabolism.
But building sites are also a compression of time, telling both of what has been and of what will be.
I decided to look at the present of this activity and to consider these locations as sites of investigation, in order to conduct an archeology of the present time. These are sites of transition, of invasion and they often display self invited guests such as weeds that often breed upon them, partly because of the moving of the land that takes place. And I looked at the objects used, which often bear the names of animals (such as grue/crate), their intrinsect visual qualities but also all the layers of meaning they hold, which speak to me of manual labor, practical knowledge, temporary architectures and social classes.
The research is developed as part of the School of Commons, at Zhdk, Zurich University of the Arts and aims to bring together artists, historians, scientists and curators to explore the hidden facets of our societies’ building sites. We hold study day trips, workshops, conferences and are planning a publication.
"The land was untouched, calm and busy at once, unconcerned, when the dumper arrived, followed by tiltrotators, concrete pumps and cranes. Or perhaps it had already been shaped by human design when the bulldozers made their way through. In any case, the earth was turned, a mechanical ballet put in place to alter the nature of things. The building site ballet tells of things that were and things to come. For building sites are transitory spaces, in between time, but also forms. ‘Nature’, landscapes, pristine or hybrid, are shaped in the process of constructing. Our aim is to explore the way textures are literally and metaphorically stirred in a building site, and to explore the way it brings disorder upon the land to implement new orderings. Just as the model of the architect is not a mere reduction, a lesser entity than the building to come, but a matrix that contains the future to be, the building site speaks to the process of reality coming into form. We will look into the objects of the construction site, whose values rest largely into their function, despite their resilient aesthetic, and enquire upon their status in between the practical and the sculptural. We will consider the beings living onto a ground temporarily transformed into a wasteland, its particular ecosystem at the edge of civilization – where civilization comes into action, and being, but whose representative do no dwell in. And we will pay particular attention to the archeology of the building site, a place associated with archeologic exploration itself, as well as often constrained into per chance archeologic minutiae; yet whose own formation has much to say of our societies visions, desires, and muted mechanics. The building site, hidden behind tarpaulin and temporary walls, ultimately disappearing behind erected structures, offers a privileged entry into the unconscious forces of urban positivism. In The statuary gardens (1982), Jacques Abeille describes the visit of a traveller into the country of statuary gardens. There, the land secretes anthropomorphic statues, which are looked after by gardeners, from embryonic nascent shoots to full bloom. Similarly, the research project on ‘Baustelle und Botanik’ will aim to walk into the statuary gardens of our building sites, to glimpse the roots of our urban metabolic pulse."
Anne-Laure Franchette and Gabriel Gee for TETI Group