uni.li embassy for a cultural identity

The synthesis or semester project during my Erasmus exchange at the University of Liechtenstein was titled “EMBASSY for a CULTURAL IDENTITY” (don’t ask me about the capitals). The program of the semester was to first create a passport of our own identity, it wasn’t supposed to be a classical passport with names, places and dates but more subtle. The focus was on our own cultural identity, not on our countries/nation’s identity though. I built a pinhole camera that resembles my affection to photography. In the end it didn’t work. I don’t know if it was my fault or the developer’s. The idea was that photography is not only something I’m attached to, but a camera is a tool that keeps moments that shape my identity and therefore the film becomes an important part of the passport. That all the pictures where empty in the end could mean something as well, but I’m sure it doesn’t reflect reality.

After the passport, which took us quite long we had to find a cultural identity that we want to work with. Preferably that would be an cultural identity that we are somehow attached to. What a cultural identity is wasn’t defined by the teachers but basically left to our own interpretation. Among the topics was an embassy for retired ballet dancers in Russia, an embassy for fairy tales on Mainau island in Lake Constance, an embassy for journeyman where they could work and sell their goods in Austria, an embassy for the youth with no future – highly skilled but nevertheless unemployed young people where they can exchange with older generations in Liechtenstein, an embassy for nomad students, that live in the dorms of the University and may more. “Embassy” wasn’t really defined either which made it hard in the beginning to see where this all would lead. My understanding of an embassy in this context became a place/thing/act where the identity is somehow concentrated in the inside but exudes to the surrounding and invites people to experience it.

I chose photography as cultural identity with which I wanted to work. As explained above photography is definitely an important part of my life and so I really enjoyed to work with it and to find some new things that I didn’t know of before. My conclusion was that with the intervention of digital photography as well as the rapid spread of internet technology, the value of a picture has decreased. We can see that if we compare the attention span that people have today compared to decades ago.

The research question could be phrased as: “How can the embassy (re)create a value for the picture as opposition to the massive point and shoot mentality of smartphone photography?”

Reading historic stuff about cameras and photography didn’t really help to find an architectural approach. When we had to built a conceptual model of our cultural identity I got an old second hand camera and dissembled it, took the most important parts and rearranged them in an unusual, almost useless manner. I then built a box where I put a piece of developed film inside and all the optical parts of the camera started to create different perspectives of the same object, the little piece of film. I liked the effect of having the same object but looking at it differently and turning the camera inside out in a way. As we had to pick a place at the same time it was very clear to me it has to be an alien place. The Times Square in New York City feels like the most obvious place to me. It’s not like there are no pictures at Times Square or nobody took pictures of it, but exactly the opposite, Times Square is one of the most visited places in the world and covered with so many flickering screens that the focus on a single picture becomes impossible. How can the embassy change that?

The hard part came when I tried to formulate this conceptual model into a real building. During my research I came across Abelardo Morell, a Cuban-American artist that uses the camera obscura principle to project the outside’s picture onto a wall, objects or the ground and then takes a picture of this setting. I liked this basic principle of the camera obscura, more or less the predecessor of our cameras today and thought of doing the same in my building. Different perspectives create a different debate with photography and offer a widened view. More information can be found on my eight panels from the presentation.

Last but not least, the fullsize plans of my final presentation! Fell free to zapp through!

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