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Unfinished Cities

Cities in a state of perpetual motion, mainly in the Middle and Far East. Exhibition at De Bond Cultural Center Bruges, Belgium, until 18 October 2015. Part of Bruges Triennial 2015.
Aug 2015

Bruges is the capital of the province of West Flanders in the Flemish Region of Belgium. It has a population of approximately 117,600 (in 2013), of which around 20,000 live in the Historic Centre, a World Heritage Site of UNESCO.

From 1200 to 1400 Bruges was the economic capital of Europe north of the Alps. In the 15th Century it became the center of Flemish art. The famous Jan van Eyck (ca. 1390-1441) lived and worked there.
Over five million people visit Bruges each year. What would happen if they all suddenly decided to stay? What would be the impact on a protected historical city like Bruges if, overnight, it became a megapolis? This is the premise for the Bruges Contemporary Art and Architecture Triennial 2015 that takes place from 20 May - 18 October 2015, with art projects in the public space, 3 thematical exhibitions, and parallel events.

Unfinished Cities, on view at De Bond Cultural Center Bruges focuses on cities in a state of perpetual motion, mainly in the Middle and Far East where cities constantly change as a result of urban development or speculation, as a result of destruction during conflicts and reconstruction once they cease. Thus they permanently balance on the brink of being in a state of ruin and construction.

In contrast to the extreme of the preserved city of Bruges one can cite, for example, Beirut. For a long time the Lebanese capital was also the economic capital of the Near East. However, repeated occupations and a gruesome civil war [1975-1990/2006] turned the city into an eternal ruin, in which its entire precious heritage was lost. Beirut was rebuilt following the civil war in 1994.

Ziad Antar's captivating series of black and white photographs Beirut Bereft. Architecture of the Forsaken. Map of the Derelict depicts unfinished, destroyed and abandoned buildings in the Lebanese capital. The belief in modernity prior to the civil war and the destruction caused by the war itself portrayed in a single ghost town.

In her series Fragments the Panamanian artist Iraida Icaza explores 19th century glass negatives from the Middle East held at the British Museum. By reinterpreting these found images of archaeological sites and ancient ruins, Icaza gives us insights into the way remnants of our civilisation may look like millennia ahead of us. In the imagination of the viewer, these images evoke mythologies of 'Fallen Cities', as well as collective uncertainties regarding the fragility of our own world.

In the hypnotising video Once Upon and Awakening by the Afghan Lida Abdul we see men in black robes trying in vain to demolish a giant damaged building with ropes. Is it impossible for us to ever completely erase the heritage, the memory? Or is man compelled to go on creating ruins?

In his satirical film Exteriors the Iranian director Alireza Rasoulinejad shows how the capital Tehran is the result of a Western modernity imposed by the Shahs between the Fifties and the Seventies, and how it still clashes with the way people want to live there. The film is an explicit wink at Woody Allen.

We also find homemade ruins in the Gulf States and Saudi Arabia. New parts of the city are constructed in the blink of an eye whereby old parts are torn down and rebuilt or abandoned as ruins. It happens in fashionable Dubai as well as in the Holy City of Mecca. There the Great Mosque is no longer the heart of the city; this honour now goes to the gigantic Makkah Clock Royal Tower Hotel, one of the tallest buildings in the world.

The Saudi photographer Ahmed Mater illustrates the Holy City's transformation in his series Desert of Pharan. In Golden Hour giant yellow cranes appear to bow to the Great Mosque or the Kaaba. Or do they simply represent the irrepressible expansion of the Makkah Clock Royal Tower Hotel?

Sami Al Turki, also from Saudi Arabia, projects a number of dreamy buildings, floating above empty landscapes. They are castles in the sky, metaphors for the price of land that are simply unaffordable for many Saudis.

The German photographer Michael Wolf with his penetrating series The Architecture of Density paints a picture of the highrise buildings in Hong Kong. It is an abstract and almost impenetrable network of architectural designs, in which all human presence appears to be spurned. In his Tokyo Compression we see how the inhabitants of Tokyo are pressed against the windows of crowded underground trains.

This sense of dehumanisation recurs in Urban Fiction by the Chinese Xing Danwen, who photographs models of skyscrapers under construction.

The Chinese artist Yang Yongliang combines traditional designs of imaginary landscapes with images of today's destructive construction boom. As a brutal sobering of the collective memory.


(From texts provided by the Bruges Triennial of Contemporary Art and Architecture)

Unfinished Cities

Cities in a state of perpetual motion, poised between a state of ruin and construction, mainly in the Middle and Far East.

20 May - 18 October 2015

De Bond

Buiten Smedenvest 1
8000 Brugge
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Part of Bruges Triennial of Contemporary Art and Architecture

Till-Holger Borchert
Michel Dewilde

Unfinished Cities - Participants:
Lida Abdul
Ziad Antar
Iraida Icaza
Ahmed Mater
Alireza Rasoulinejad
Sami Al Turki
Michael Wolf
Xing Danwen
Yang Yongliang

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Bruges Triennial of Contemporary Art and Architecture, 20 May - 18 October 2015, Belgium. Curators: Till-Holger Borchert, Michel Dewilde.
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