austrian pavilion at the 9th biennale international architecture exhibition 2004
9th international architecture exhibition in venice, italy, 2004 / belgian pavilion
kinshasa, the imaginary city
curators: filip de boeck and koen van synghel
photography and videos: marie-françoise plissart
(the belgian pavillion Biennale Venice won the golden lion)
can a city exist without architecture?
and what is architecture?
how modern is modernity?
how universal is urban planning?
can urbanity be immaterial?
which urban visions does it rely on then?
these are the questions at the heart of kinshasa,
the imaginary city.
as the former capital of belgian congo, kinshasa occupies
an important place in the history of belgian architecture
and urbanism. today kinshasa has become a postcolonial
african city, where alternative modernities are generated
and new local and global identities forged.
with the exhibition, the curators intend to stimulate the
ongoing debate on the contemporary central-african urban
scape. it is a specific urban reality which invites us to
question and rethink the classic urban paradigms.
in western discourses and reflections on how to plan,
engineer, sanitize and transform the urban site and its
public spaces architecture has been given a prominent
place. it is, almost naturally, viewed as an indispensable
dimension for the creation of an urban identity.
indeed, one can hardly underestimate the importance of
the built form and of the material infrastructure if one
wants to understand the ways the urban space unfolds
and designs itself.
however, in a city such as kinshasa, the infrastructure is
of a very specific kind. its functioning is punctuated by
constant breakdown, by failure and by absence.
the exhibition is not, therefore, solely focusing on the citys
material infrastructure or the urban colonial legacy.
rather, it comments upon kinshasas urbanity, which exists
beyond the citys architecture.
the citys main infrastructural unit is the human body.
body-building and sape (the corporeal aesthetics which is
so typical for kinshasa) are amongst the most meaningful
activities in the urban space. in a very real sense, the body
is kinshasas only building that is constantly constructed
and perfected. the social relations between the more than
six million urban dwellers generate an impressive sense
of collectivity. kinshasas inhabitants quite literally embody
the market, the street, the garage, the church...
more importantly, even, these bodies form the locus of much
of the invisible modalities of urban action.
they moor the citys urban imaginaries, revealing its existence
beyond the citys visible geographical and physical reality
the imaginary city relies on anthropological insights.
the exhibition and accompanying book result from the intensive
collaboration between anthropologist Filip De Boeck,
photographer/filmmaker marie-françoise plissart and
architect/curator koen van synghel.
in 2000, after many years of field research in kinshasa,
de boeck met plissart at her first kinshasa exhibition.