Eye Level

Adrian Blackwell, Ossi Kajas, Stefan Canham and Rufina Wu

Curated by Tomas Jonsson

Building 5 of Suvilahti District Helsinki, Finland

August 21-23 2009

Presented in collaboration with the Irresistible District activities organized by Namastic Art Collective, in homage to the 100th Anniversary of the Suvilahti District, Helsinki. Eye Level brings together the work of artists and architects Adrian Blackwell, Stefan Canham, Rufina Wu and Ossi Kajas whose recent work critically engages with representations of informally organized and contested places.
Looking critically at patterns of urban space development, Finnish Urban theorist Panu Lehtovouri identifies a fundamental source of tension between notions of ‘Concept City’ and ‘Weak Place’: “… ordered visual representation (concept city) is often taken as real, leading to the belief that cities and their public urban spaces can be designed with no deeper problem…Throwing meaning in unlikely sites creates ephemeral attachments or deeply felt moments (weak place). The idea entails a redefinition of the notion of place so that it is not closed and physically bounded but rather open and porous, more about experiential nearness than physical proximity.”
Eye level consider the way that photography is used to create new opportunities for understanding these spaces beyond conventional planning or development visions, and how local uses and desires can be articulated. What role do these photographs, and their photographers, play in influencing the degree of precarity or stability of these spaces? How does photography operate as a tool for creating agency and awareness?

Panel Discussion: August 23, 4:30 p.m.

Panu Lehtovuori, Ossi Kajas, Stefan Canham, Tiina Paavilainen, Moderated by Tomas Jonsson

Exploring the possiblities of photography as artistic research into informal developments in urban form. The discussion will draw from an understanding of critical and theoretical currents around the photograph as an archival record and a tool for agency and representation. How can photography and other forms of representation articulate the subtle interrelation of people and the environments they inhabit, and to what aim?


Ossi Kajas (Helsinki): images of Makasiinit and Suvilahti districts
The Makasiinit district in Helsinki was a warehouse area occupied in the early 90s by cultural producers as a production, exhibition and community space. Markets, concerts and other informal activities became increasingly popular, but despite efforts to maintain this quality, development pressures finally gave way to new proposals for the site. Makasiinit was lost in 2001 with the city council voted in favour of moving forward on development plans for the area. Despite protests, the site was finally lost in a fire in 2006, which destroyed almost all physical traces of the former use of the site. Images of Makasiinit that exist on the internet are predominantly of the fire and resulting demise of the site, while few other images exist. These photos are of a time and places that no longer exist in real life, but instead as virtual places.

Rufina Wu & Stefan Canham: Portraits from Above
Photos: Stefan Canham (Hamburg); Drawings / Texts: Rufina Wu (Vancouver).
“Portraits from Above aims to uncover the creative cultural energy of Hong Kong’s rooftop communities to a wider public. In the absence of officially sanctioned space, marginalized groups develop innovative tactics to make room for themselves. Such informal building practices typically occupy a subordinate position in the formal discourses on the city. The project reveals how rooftop communities are inextricably linked to their local neighbourhood and social networks. In face of the government’s current tabula rasa approach of urban renewal, however, the future of this Hong Kong legacy remains precarious.” – Portraits from Above, Stefan Canham and Rufina Wu

“Portraits from Above” is a collaborative project by Rufina Wu and Stefan Canham, documenting informal settlements on the roofs of high-rise buildings in Hong Kong through a combination of texts, drawings and photographs. Measured drawings reveal the structure, functionality, and creative energy of these self-built spaces. Text records convey residents’ stories as they relate to the specific modalities of life on the roof; high-resolution photographs present interior and exterior spaces in all their detail for the viewer to “read.”.

Adrian Blackwell (Toronto): 9 Hanna Avenue
A camera is a small room into which light enters through an aperture. These photographs are made using a pinhole camera that is a scale model of the room it is intended to photograph. Five of its six interior surfaces are lined with film, each one capturing a different surface of the room. The camera itself is fixed to the ceiling so that the room can be described in its totality. These images are part of a thirteen image series documenting workspaces in a former munitions plant. These spaces were cheap to rent, generous in volume, well lit and easy to adapt.

territory = factory Adrian Blackwell with Xu Jian, David Christensen and Martin
Kedzior and assistance from Joshua Cohen, Zhang Jingyan and Yan Xiaowen.
Project for City: Open door – the 2005 Shenzhen Biennale of Urbanism / Architecture
curated by Yung Ho Chang

The factory territory that covers the eastern half of the Pearl River Delta is in constant transformation. Its apparent banality, low tech construction and repetitive typologies, form the key to its flexibility, creating the most productive light manufacturing zone in the world. It is also an experimental space where the social compact of revolutionary China was undone. The state’s most privileged citizen, the proletariat, was divested of her or his position, and remade as a person without status, a migrant in a foreign territory. This project uses text maps and pinhole photographs to describe this unprecedented urbanism.


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