Teaching a workshop at the Architecture School Paris-Malaquais (8–12th of February 2021). By Madlen Anipsitaki
I have stretched ropes from bell-tower to bell-tower; garlands from window to window; chains of gold from star to star, and I dance.
Arthur Rimbaud, Illuminations
In Fairy tales, Francis Alÿs unfolded his pull-over’s thread in the city. Fairy tale, idea, limit, bond, trail, the thread makes up a light and ephemeral architecture in the city.
Context and objectives
The confinement reveals the need for public spaces to meet people outside one’s “strict family nucleus” or even strangers. Biopolitical power (i.e., power over the lives of individuals, cf. Foucault, 1975), leaves the door open to an “exit zone” of a radius of 1km around one’s home. How can we enter it, explore it, re-signify it not as an arbitrary limit but as a necessary opening to the other?
This workshop, after the project “A Thread network in the urban fabric” that we developed in Latin America, is our second attempt to concretize an aspect of Madlen Anipsitaki’s architecture thesis. In her project “The Parisian passage in the XXIst century: Networked passage through a block”, she develops the utopia of a passage that connects the common spaces of an existing block (courtyards, corridors, staircases etc.) and passes through the apartments, creating encounters between inhabitants and passers-by. This networked passage is a manifesto for human relations in the face of the fact that we can exchange with people at the other end of the world without knowing our neighbor.
The urban scenography interventions, “A Thread network in the urban fabric”, rarely took the thread through apartments. Instead, it developed in the public space where the two of us, Simon and Madlen, developed relationships with local actors who invited us into their private spaces. In this way we often became an extension of the thread, an invisible thread.
It was the thread as a simple and flexible material that made the trajectory possible, the connection of different spaces and people. In Fairy tales, Francis Alÿs writes:
“Here is a fairy tale for you
Which is just as good as true
What unfolds will give you passion,
Castles on hills & also treason
How, from his cape a fatal thread
To her window the villains led”
Francis Alÿs, Fairy Tales
The act of unfolding the thread conjointly gives passion, castle and betrayal as well as a path for the villains to the window of the beautiful one.
The poetic plurivocity of this act, unrolling the thread in the city, was embraced by our one week-long workshop “1 km as the crow flies”. We invited the students to a simple and playful performance related to the situationist drift. If the objective is to “let oneself go to the solicitations of the field and the encounters that correspond to it” (Debord, 1956), it is also to solicit the field and its actors in order to achieve its objective.
The performance and its documentation
The idea is to place a totem object representing one’s home (e.g. observed: coffee cup, computer, window, box, dance shoe…) at the center of a circle of radius 1km, to tie a 1km spool of thread to it, to choose a “vanishing point” on the perimeter of the circle of radius 1km, and to make the thread follow the straightest trajectory possible to reach this vanishing point “as the crow flies”. Before the thread, the students went back and forth between the map and the field, confronting their project of the passage of the thread to the “already there” and its surprises.
The fact that the students are not all at the School but in different places gives us the “privilege” of following diverse trajectories in parallel, almost out of time, from the Corsican mountains to the density of a city like Paris. Here are the 8 groups formed by the 17 students, self-designated by a bird name:
Hummingbird (Paris 5), Pink Flamingo (Paris 13), Albatross (Paris 19), Hoopoe (Montreuil), Raven (Drancy), Eagle (Poissy), Blue Jay (Toulouse), Seagull (Speloncato, Haute-Corse)
Colibri states: “Like a bird that eventually gets out of its cage, I’m off. I go to meet places and discover people. This ordinary thread is like the key to the cage. Not the one to the house but the one to my conscience. It is a reason to speak, to receive others, to hear them speak to me, to smile at them”.
With “1 km as the crow flies” we perceive the thread as an ephemeral architecture, capable of connecting public and private space by crossing spaces that are between the two (for example a courtyard, a balcony). The thread becomes capable of piercing, of bypassing spaces, of sliding from one space to another. What is the purpose of this connection? The crossing of visible and invisible limits makes us able to feel them.
“It was during one of her cold afternoons, that the thread snuck through the neighbor’s house, warming a part of her body.” Blue Jay
The thread was kept on the ground, lassoed to high urban elements; shopkeepers, building janitors, residents allowed to cross a street from balcony to balcony, a block from courtyard to courtyard, private spaces…The Parisian groups pass through building yards, the Seagull (village in Corsica) passes its thread through several houses and then over the mountain. The Eagle (Poissy) digs the notion of “almost public” to describe a sports field and a residence of closed nature but passed by. The Raven (Drancy) comes up against the closing of the park and the Hoopoe (Montreuil) against a construction site before climbing on the roof of an abandoned industrial building…
Performers and documenters, the students elicit double-edged reactions: “Being dressed all in red, and unrolling 1 km of thread in Drancy, it wasn’t easy, but when you detach yourself from the looks and from the reflections, you quickly realize that it’s an incredible experience.” Raven (Drancy), followed by the Eagle (Poissy) : “With many burglaries taking place in the neighborhood right now, people are suspicious and pulling a thread a kilometer long can look fishy.” The Eagle caricatured the reactions of surprised passersby, the Blue Jay tuned into a familiar route and captured the sound.
The Albatross group chose to focus on the reactions of passers-by and made the thread speak by quoting their reactions on their “imaginary map”.
Albatross collected the expression of the children of the neighborhood thanks to papers and pencils hung on the thread which allowed the drawings.
The intensive ended with the creation of a common imaginary map, made through the superimposition of the individual paths. The restitution took place in front of a multidisciplinary jury (performance, choreography, architecture, drawing, sociology).
Here is the extensive documentation of the students :
1 km à vol d'oiseau
OBJECTIFS Partager une approche de scénographie urbaine qui construit des situations sociales plutôt que des murs…
Tracks of reflection
The anguish of nothingness and death provokes the need to leave a trace of one’s passage on earth. The world in the Covid-19 era radiates death. The passage from point A to point B reassures by its boundaries, within which students were free.
“Finishing by joining the two parts of the thread while crossing the deserted construction site proved to be a very liberating experience. We were alone on this huge, empty construction site in broad daylight and I started running, jumping, making big gestures.” Hoopoe
“This is not a thread but an idea, a movement, memories, a story, a desire! This thread claims a freedom lost for a year. It gives us a thirst for freedom like Jonathan Livingston The Seagull.” Seagull, who left the center of the Corsican village to climb the mountain with his thread.
The group Pink Flamingo traveled in time through dance, hanging the thread from the RER station of Cité Internationale to the abandoned one of the disused railway around Paris called “La petite ceinture”, or “the Small belt”, a duality translated by photomontage, video and pursued through writing. Pink Flamingo says : “The red thread, a metaphor for a continuous flow that makes its way through the frenzy of the street”.
There is a common characteristic to handwriting and drawing as well as walking, Ingold argues. When traced on a solid surface, the linear movement embodies the “flow of life”. The thread materializes this flow, it orders the micro-situations in the heterogeneous spaces encountered by the students into a common narrative between different stories. These united micro-situations are something that already exists through walking, without the thread. The thread makes them exaggerated and it becomes the tool to better distinguish them. By observing situations more closely through the thread, we can understand difficulties and obstacles and act on them.
The thread as a tool. The thread as a pretext. The thread as an experience. The thread out of the ordinary. The thread as a provocation to create social links. The same thread passes from the Pantheon to Mathieu’s grandmother’s house. The thread, a confrontation of scales. The thread as a limit. The same thread crosses both neighborhoods and the reactions of the people around it change. The thread crosses the house and then the mountain. The thread offers a balance between the empty and the full. The thread acts as the rhythm of a trajectory in the city.
The thread of “1 km as the crow flies” for us is all of this at once, but something is still missing that I can’t define in words because there is a feeling when you unroll a thread that goes beyond the words I know. Something that the students tried to convey but that the force of the moment and the feeling itself were often impossible to communicate.
The result was finally summarized with words by Francis Alÿs, to whom we sent the documentation of the experience. He answered:
“Dear Madlen, Simon, Alexia, Charlotte, Antonin, Gabriel, Jeanne, Esraa, Myriem, Antoine, Bianca, Jeanne, Mathieu, Matthieu, Maxime, Shérazade, Cherita, Eve, Elena,
It’s light, it’s beautiful, it’s poetic, it’s sometimes funny, it’s sometimes profound, it’s always alive and above all, it’s a magnificent act of resistance to the pandemic!
Madlen Anipsitaki is 2020 SNF ARTWORKS Fellow (visual arts). ARTWORKS is a nonprofit organization exclusively supported by its founding donor, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation. Our aim is to create a fertile and nurturing environment for Greek artists through funding and public engagement opportunities. You can always learn more about our Fellows at www.art-works.gr