(ENG) Once upon a time there was a little street in the small polish town of Torun. Its name – Ul. Ciasna (Narrow Street) – emphasized its most pronounced morphological characteristic: a space compressed between two century-old brick walls, two high darkened clay planes that smothered the sky above. Those planes were united in their upper part by three unequal arches, which tore the air and seemed to prevent the definitive compression of that space. The street wasn’t just narrow, it was the narrowest amongst the narrowest streets in town and that fact increased its exceptionality among its inhabitants. A strange form of recognition eventually emerged through the years. Like all unplanned rituals that progressively take their places in a process of informal imitation and divulgation, it started as a shy manifestation until it became a weekly event. Young newlyweds started to go to Ul. Ciasna standing in the centre of the street smiling to the photographer, making this place the framing of their happiness. This action accentuated the aura of mystery that emanated from the street making it assume definitively its condition as an unroofed gothic nave.

“Narrative is inherent in the urban experience. Every story is a story of travel. Language is constructed on spatial metaphors that unwind along the diegetic timeline, in these terms narrative actions can contribute to the description of practices that organize space.” (1)

The landscape is a place tattooed with narratives. Its design, its organization, the signals, the trails of past actions, the absences and presences tell us stories, show and cause states of mind. There are forces that inhabit the place and built their identity or, to be more exact, identities for every reality that is mutable and relative to the individuals that compose it. Urban public spaces, because of the higher density of events, people and objects, are the places where the narrative character is more intense, where the confrontation between stories is more evident and the concentration of people intensifies the meanings and makes necessary the existence of more signs and impositions that rule the chaos of the collective, creating a spatial and social complexity that adds new layers of reading to the landscape.

The matter that shapes the place has tangible and intangible dimensions. Trying to simplify the analysis of a metabolism known to be complex, let’s assume that architecture is the discipline that draws its most tangible characteristics and that it is in the thoughts and actions practiced upon the place that lay the intangible dimensions of public spaces. As a studio, our attention has progressively derived from the design of space to the exploitation of the forces that act upon it – the political, social and economical dimensions and the way they cross each other in a mutable whole of difficult referral. It’s the growing awareness to the narrative richness of the urban space that has led us to explore a line of work that seeks to act literally over this aspect by introducing concrete narratives in the public space. Stories, messages born from the perceptive nature of the urban spaces, from the registered physical impressions and from the spirit of the place – understood in this context and Christian Norberg-Schulz’s genius loci.The installations that explore this line of work have the word and text as their raw material. There is an inherent visual pomp to each one but that is not the main focus. The dispositive serves only as a support for the narrative idea we want to explore. It’s the word and its intrinsic narrative capacity, as well as the meaning(s) of the message introduced in the specificity of the intervened space that rule the whole process of creation and experimentation.

In Long Streets for Short Stories (2) – MOOV’s first narrative installation – the structure of the story comes directly from a process of reflection on the possibilities of perception of a plot along an urban route, in this case, the full length of a street. In abstract terms, the street was understood as a bidirectional ‘walkable’ channel. The same place, two directions that design different approaches to the space. The narrative should possess these qualities too. The same text, two different stories. So we created a bidirectional narrative, two stories composed by the same sentences but with a different meaning if they were read in the ascendant or descendant direction of the street.

The installation was materialized into 24 exterior-ready fluorescent light bulbs attached in pairs. Each set had the same sentence printed facing both opposite ways. A narrative structured design to tease and raise questions, defying the public to follow the course of the street and to find out the logic of the story. The narrative draws the path. The path tells the story. A tragic story that ends in hope for those who go downwards, a story of hope that ends tragically for those who are going up. In Long Streets for Short Stories the perception of the street is emphasized through a narrative process which in some way reflects the spatial experience.

Another dimension that has been guiding us in this line of work is the intention of creating narratives from the pre-existing material. It’s words, sentences, messages ransomed from their original contexts and organized in such a way that they would integrate a new intrigue. We’re interested by the possibility of adulterating the original message through the displacement to a new context, of introducing a hidden dimension in what is in front of everybody’s eyes.

In Long Streets for Short Stories the twelve sentences are quotes gathered from two opposite groups – recognized artists and mediatised serial killers. The positioning of the quotes in the plot, without mentioning the author, removes the symbolic weight of who said them, whilst creating an obscure layer that is latent in the narrative and which is accessible only to whom, by any reason or coincidence, recognizes one of the quotes and its source. By decontextualizing the speech, we intended to open the piece to the issues related to message manipulation in the public space and media.

In Soap Catharsis Wall (3) – another of the narrative installations developed by the studio – the text is built from a series of sins and perversions collected in several online forums. These are internet pages where the exchange of intimate information under the cover of the voyeuristic anonymity can be understood as a collective catharsis, the intimacy willingly exposed by millions to appease the soul. The project aims to bring this phenomenon from the virtual world to the urban space and confront, in quite a direct way, the universe of the individual memory with the public space’s underlying collective memory.

This installation was assembled in a street where the occasional lack of bricks underlines the passage of time in the walls that shape it, wounds that tell us stories of abandonment and conflict. The piece heals these material wounds with micro-narratives that draw a space of union between intimate and public, spirit and matter. The sentences, short and powerful by the intimacy they expose, are presented sealed inside bars of light and glycerine soap made so that they would fill the voids of the absent bricks. The vertical morphology of the street combined with the smell of the soaps creates an intense sensorial space populated by confessions, traces of larger stories left to the imagination of the reader. The place, temporarily populated by this new narrative constellation, would be the stage of the gradual dissolution of the soaps by the sun and the rain. The sins would be consumed with the material degradation of the installation and the choir of confessions silenced in the roofless gothic nave, in the narrowest street of the town – Ul. Ciasna.

MOOV, February 2011 

(in DIS:PLACE - Dédalo Magazine N8)

(1) PIETROMARCHI, Bartolomeu, The (un)common place – art, public space and urban aesthetic in Europe, Fondazione Adriano Olivetti with Actar, Barcelona, 2005, page 15

(2) LONG STREETS FOR SHORT STORIES – urban installation developed for Pilg Street, Tallinn (Estonia), 2008. Exterior fluorescents lamps, sentences in self-adhesive vinyl. Piece co-authored by the artist Miguel Faro.

(3) SOAP CATHARSIS WALL – urban installation developed for Ul. Ciasna, Torun (Poland), 2009. Glycerine soaps, sentences printed in transparency sheets, LEDs. Piece co-authored by the artist Miguel Faro.