In Context: Javier Arbona

January 5, 2018

Geographer Javier Arbona recontextualizes the MAS Context archives.


Mas observations 2018 in context javier arbona 01

In Context: Javier Arbona. © MAS Context.

This contribution is part of “In Context,” a series that features guest curators who browse the archives of MAS Context, uncovering new relationships between articles and establishing new topics.

Flipping through a stack of browser tabs to uncover a hidden thread within the archives of MAS Context, I found myself interested in the tensions and latent cross-provocations gravitating around ideas of social practices. In a Fall 2010 number devoted entirely to the theme of PUBLIC, editor in chief Iker Gil wrote, with lucid foresight of what was to come in various 2011 uprisings: “Why react when we can act? We want a PUBLIC that demands more and proposes more.” And that’s exactly what happened this year, it would appear.

But to judge by voices and images in MAS Context, there has not been (fortunately!) a monolithic approach within the architecture and architecture-related disciplines about how exactly to act. As citizens, practitioners, and sometimes as amateurs in the space of activism, authors have grappled with questions of civil engagement, self-reliance, and spatial reclamation. Perhaps sometimes less prescriptive than some may thirst for, the following pieces instead draw out, for me, some of the thorny challenges that emerge when space is identified, parsed, occupied, or otherwise subverted.

Karla Sierralta and Brian Strawn examined acts of resilience and adaptation to the rising disparities of petro-urbanism in Maracaibo, Venezuela. But they also highlight, perhaps without intending to, a troubling securitization of everyday life that at once comes from both the state and the citizen. David Schalliol, in contrast to the busy urbanism of Maracaibo, represents American cities through carefully isolated portraits of buildings, as the title of the feature plainly expresses. Though it’s tempting to label these as “urban decay,” nuances in the photos chart iterative changes and adaptations going on just below first impressions.

Meanwhile, Lick Fai Eric Ho finds chances for architects to work in new arrangements with networked subjects. Though I would be less sanguine than he is about the provision of an “open” infrastructure from the corporate internet, Ho’s essay indirectly shows the narrowness in typical architectural discourses that reify fixed place as the one, original setting for social practice. Candy Chang’s work, exhibited in the Fall 2011 issue, has been seminal in defining entries for architects to engage communities through geographically-minded temporary interventions in the landscape. To close this quintuplet of articles, María Moreno Carranco’s marvelous “Public Works,” about Santa Fe, Mexico, examines improvised and opportunistic ways of laboring and transacting in privatized spaces of public life. To borrow Iker Gil’s term, Santa Fe’s vendors “act” out an extra-legal space for laboring and engaging with current economic structures. Yet I would argue that there has been a notable absence of articles that embrace or even facilitate explicitly disobedient, illegal or pirate strategies to public space, judging by these and many other essays beyond MAS Context. We can perhaps learn from recent events about what such acts reveal about the limits to current architectural imaginaries.

Essay by Karla Sierralta and Brian Strawn.
Issue 4 | LIVING WINTER 09

Photography by David Schalliol.
Issue 3 | WORK FALL 09

Essay by Lick Fai Eric Ho.
Issue 8 | PUBLIC WINTER 10

Projects by Candy Chang.
Issue 11 | SPEED FALL 11

Essay by Maria Moreno-Carranco.
Issue 3 | WORK FALL 09