The Building in Pieces

Recalling a similar gothic fascination around the ‘ruin’ in the 19th century German Romantic tradition, in the modern city the uncanny surfaces in the disquiet conjured by the ‘unreason’ of abandoned urban sites. There is an unknowable quality to the disused building; its emptiness embraces the possibility that there could be something strange and foreboding hiding in the recesses beyond our sight. In being empty, a site becomes enterable. In such a way, the opacity of these spaces presage that ‘the uncanny is something which ought to have remained hidden but has come to light’ (Freud 2003 [1919], 13). Transparency and sight are associated with the visible exterior of the building while the interior, in the absence of regular and surveilled use, constitutes a punctum caecum - a blind spot. Untethered from its former function, the building’s insides become a phantasmagoric landscape of the uncanny.

This stop suggests ways to read the space of the vacant building that transgresses its discursive and material ‘façade’ as impenetrable and private. Participants are encouraged to physically occupy empty private space, and while the tour does not outline a means of access, it does suggest that the site is vacant and accessible. Such exploration enacts a risk discourse foregrounding affects of fear and trepidation, or as Ferrell describes, ‘criminal erotics’. The participant’s act of choice is central to their capacity to experience space through risk and willingness, and suggests more significantly that the individual’s relationship to the city is extensively scaffolded by distinctions erected around the private and public sphere. Lefebvre suggests that the ‘defining characteristic of private property…is a closed frontier’ (1991, 90), yet qualifies the frontier as ‘always permeable’. In this sense, we can understand the boundaries of propriety and property as contingent upon individual choices to either uphold those divisions, or breach them.

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“The Building in Pieces,” Street Art deTours, accessed October 20, 2017, http://streetartdetours.com/document/1060.

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