The Future of Strijp-S | Baltan Laboratories
Roberto Pérez Gayo and Gabriel Maher, The Future of Strijp-S: Infrastructures for Participation,
Installation shot by Barbara Medo. Baltan Laboratories, 2020
Roberto Pérez Gayo and Gabriel .A. Maher
Artist in residence
06.03. – 26.04.2020
Online Publication Presentation
5 – 6 pm
Text by Lieselotte Egtberts
Design, bodies and identities
In 2019, Baltan Laboratories and housing cooperation Trudo initiated the residency ‘the Future of Strijp-S’. Aim of the residency was to develop cross-sectional experimental and innovative thought on the future of urban development in the Strijp-S neighbourhood of Eindhoven. Selected participants for the residency were the designers Roberto Pérez Gayo and Gabriel .A. Maher. I met with Pérez Gayo to hear all about their residency at Baltan, and the research they conducted there.
Although having independent practices, Pérez Gayo and Maher have collaborated on different projects for a long time. Both designers work with a critical and analytical approach towards (social) design. Working through a queer, non-binary and intersectional framework, they focus particularly on the effects of design and designing on bodies and identities. By investigating and deconstructing designed spaces, like architecture or media, they construct how the particular infrastructures within these spaces relate to our bodies and identities.
From factory to innovation
For Pérez Gayo and Maher, the residency “The Future of Strijp-S” started with a contemplation on the past: “For us, before being able to look into the future, we considered it is also important to look at the history of the place before we can make any decisions on how to move forward. We proposed to make our residency period very design-lead research, about what has been happening, and what has been the role of design shaping the neighbourhood.” Historically, Strijp-S was an industrial factory zone, built by the electronics company Philips. In the 1990s, the company left Strijp-S, leaving the neighbourhood from what was first known as ‘the forbidden city’ open to innovative developments that stimulate creation and experiment. “That was, of course, one of the moments that has been beautiful for us to understand. Philips leaves, and then: What do we do? Who are we? What is this place? Suddenly, there is this moment of thinking in which Eindhoven constructs itself, as the city of design, technology, innovation, as a creative heart in the country.”
These last words summerise the perception of the identity of Strijp-S. To deconstruct this self-image of the neighbourhood, Pérez Gayo and Maher collected all kinds of data. These include things like policies on a national, provincial, municipal and local level, from which they extracted the governmental guidelines on diversity, conservation, housing and more. They looked at the management, organisation and infrastructure of the area, and collected all documents on urban planning. Along these lines, Pérez Gayo and Maher further researched all media outlets in the neighbourhood and its residents, including both offline and online media. Here, the constructed identity seems to ‘performs’ itself: a Youtube video shared by the city of Eindhoven sketches the neighbourhood as a place where industrial rawness meets young, artistic promises. It is a narrative that has been popularised since the deindustrialization of certain districts in New York in the 1950s and ’60s, causing a flourishing art scene with artists like Nam June Paik and Robert Rauschenberg moving their studio practices inside the big, heigh-ceiled lofts. The last decades, this idea of industrial deserts turned into (temporary) creative hubs have popped up all over again.
Opening up the discussion
Even though for some people, these urban developments do not mean much, the governmental policies concerning them have real-life effects on the daily lives of people living and working. In order to understand who are living in, working at and visiting Strijp-S, and what the overall design decisions in the place mean for them, Pérez Gayo and Maher not only collected tons of data, but also organised public moments: “For us, it is important to identify patterns within the information we collected, and also points of tension. By creating different moments where people can come inside and access these sets of data, we can organise them in such a way as to open up a critical dialogue. Out of these dialogues, we can rearrange the data again, and present it in other formats and spaces furthering the dialogue.” With these open discussions, Peréz Gayo and Maher open up their archive of data, keeping it alive.
Infrastructures for Participation
To my question, if their research includes an additional recommendation on the future of urban planning, Pérez Gayo answered: “It’s important for us to state that it is not our role, within an artistic research process, to deliver recommendations on the future of urban planning. However, we may contribute to the future of the area by revealing, visualising and making tangible the processes by which identities, social relationships and power dynamics are produced and reproduced. Our aim is to use this material to open up a space for questioning that also prompts an active process of accountability on the impact and effects of design. We ask the question, how is design instrumentalized as a tool for the organisation and management of bodies and identities? And as such, how does the act of design and designing contribute to physicalizing and inscribing in public space structural divisions across intersections of gender, sexual orientation, class, race, age and body-ability, for instance.”
Even though Pérez Gayo’s and Maher’s residency is over, this process of dialogue is still going on. Coming May 28th, the two designers will publicly present their publication online, as a “new entry point into their body of research”. The exhibition “The Future of Strijp-S: Infrastructures for Participation”, where Pérez Gayo and Maher brought their research together as a continuation of their dialogues, will reopen for visitors again in June 2020.
Website Roberto Pérez Gayo
Website Gabriel .A. Maher
Read more about the Future of Strijp-S: Infrastructures for Participation