Thursday, March 25, 2010

Changes in Public Space: The Smooth or The Striated?

"The Smooth and the Striated" by Deleuze and Guattari and Animate Form by Lynn reminded me a discussion which has been taking place in Lithuania almost for 20 years.

As we all know, the monumental tradition was very viable in the fields of fine art and architecture in the Soviet Union. The ubiquitous monuments were expected to mythologize historical events or personalities which were considered important in the fabricated history of Soviet Union. Using such propaganda, the Soviet authorities were constructing a political identity in the different occupied nations (in other words, this process of “monumentalization” can be called the construction of the historical memory). For the same reason, in the capital of Lithuania, the main public square was also renamed to the Lenin’s name square in 1953. As it was common, in the centre of this square the monument in honor of the first and most known Soviet dictator Vladimir Iliych Lenin was built.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union the monument was immediately removed. However, for almost 20 years the square has been left abandoned. Till now the square has not been renovated due to never-ending discussions about how it should look in today’s independent Lithuania. Eventually, in 2006 the municipality of my city announced a call for an architectural competition, expecting to get new visions for how the square could be changed in the near future. As a result, a few architectural projects were selected by politicians to be further developed. However, the winner has still not been announced and the renovation has not been started.

The interesting reasons and consequences of this situation caused this blog entry. In fact, after reading Deleuze and Guattari text I was thinking about a few possible ways to talk about the aforementioned situation in the light of thoughts about "The Smooth and the Striated."

On the one hand, after the first round of the architectural competition selected projects could be easily divided into two categories, each supported by different groups of people. The projects subsumed to the first category are based on a traditional ideological-architectural approach, whereas the projects subsumed to the second category are based on a contemporary architectural approach.

First category of projects mainly stands for the vertical, clearly visible, symbolic traditional monument, which is expected to territorialize and focalize the space of the square, in the words of its supporters, clearly representing the past by bringing back the memories of their suffering and struggle.

The majority of the older generation, people who were strongly suffering from the communistic genocide, support this model of the space renovation. As you can notice from the image above, the model I am talking about is just another vertical symbolical monument representing the past, bringing back the representation of history again. Therefore, I think it could be a perfect example of the striation and the territorialization of space. First of all the proposed model is going to be clearly centered and vertical, moreover, lines or trajectories of the square’s visitors are going to be predetermined and subordinated to the focal point: the monument. Therefore, the nomadic trajectories and actions are not going to be possible in the square. Even the sights of the viewers are going to be pre-orientated to the unreachable sky – the top of the monument. Moreover, the monument is clearly symbolical, representing religious and national symbols.

On the other hand, there is other category of selected projects, which is mainly supported by the younger generation and which proposes a totally different vision of the square. According to the authors of such projects (below you can see the favorite model), a lot of green public space should be left around or within the square in order to enliven it and make it a friendly place for community gatherings and spontaneous activities and games.

The authors of the project, you can see above, propose to leave the square almost empty with a shallow hole in the middle, which can be used according to he needs and desires of the possible square visitors. In case of this model, the square, for instance, could be spontaneously turned into the friendly place for the skateboarders or it could just be experienced as a place for reading or playing games. To my mind, in terms of Deleuze and Guattari, the second model stands more for smooth than for striated space. In this case, the possible trajectories of movement of the square visitors are going to be unlimited in every direction, the proposed space has neither top nor bottom nor central motive, it does not assign fixed and mobile elements but rather becomes a horizontal plane for continuous variations and potentialities of being in the square. In this sense it is going to be more directional than dimensional space. Incidentally, it is not so representational compared with the first category of the projects. It remains a “body without organs” instead of an organism or organization.

Thus, at first, I found it surprisingly easy to use the antagonism between the two virtual models of the square as the illustration of Deleuzian and Guattarian thoughts about the opposition between smooth and striated space.

However, I feel that the topic would become more complex if we take into account the present situation; in this sense, actions which are really happening in the square right now. As I have already mentioned, due to the collision between two incomparable approaches (first based on historical-nationalistic position and the second one based on contemporary and democratic approach to the space) the consensus about the future of the place still has not been reached.

In the meantime, the square gradually turned into an arena for political-symbolical fights and for a number of unexpected juxtapositions. For instance, a few months ago a group of members of the association of previous political prisoners and deportees (mainly older people) have organized a demonstration and have placed a small symbolical model of their desired monument in the middle of the square. On the other hand, a lot of informal not regulated activities are taking place in the empty, non-renovated, square, too. For instance, recently, an informal flash-mob action was organized in the square. The uncontrolled group of people spontaneously gathered in the square and were blowing the soap bubbles for a half of an hour. Surprisingly, a large number of contributors participated in this event. In light of previous examples, I am curious what we can call this mode of transitional space? In my opinion, the current state of the square makes it a place without a known future, without a known trajectory in time, a space which is filled by events, far more than by form and structure.

According to Deleuze and Guattari, the smooth space does not mean homogenous, quite the contrary: it is an amorphous, nonformal space. In this connection, can the present transitional square be called the smooth and deterritorialized space? And if yes, does it mean that the implementation of any of further selected architectural models (does not matter either first or second one) can only make the place more striated?

Or maybe this example does illustrate that all inhabitated places are in constant temporal becoming from smooth to striated and from striated to smooth again? As Deleuze and Guattari write: “a smooth space emanated, sprang from a striated space, but not without a correlation between the two, a recapitulation of one in the other, a furtherance of one through the other”.

Lukas Brasiskis

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