Utilitas Interrupta is a research on how the construction and subsequent abandonment of infrastructure can be taken as a form of cultural memory, an index of society’s evolving priorities. Since the dawn of time, man’s average dreams, challenges and, ultimately, accomplishments have materialised in works of infrastructure. From Babylonian hydraulics to the geoengineered archipelagos of the twenty-first century, great infrastructural works represent the apex of design achievement—and often, by virtue of their sheer magnitude, the most tangible expression of a culture’s development, ambition and might. Canals, power plants, fortifications, reclaimed lands, particle accelerators, aqueducts, telecommunications networks, dams: infrastructure is justifiably held up as the register of society’s collective accomplishment and the historical benchmark of its leaders’ enlightenment.
Burdened with such momentous responsibility, infrastructure inevitably also comes to immortalise society’s most catastrophic failures. Such debacles surround us: the infrastructural coitus interruptus of countless politician’s pet projects, stalled by a myriad of financial crises; China’s infamous ghost cities and America’s abandoned shopping malls; the abandoned concrete carcasses of unfinished hotels scattered along the banks of the Red Sea; the 3,400 airports built in the 1970s and 1980s throughout the former Soviet Union that today lie abandoned, victims of the market economy’s relentless drive towards centralisation.
This exhibition investigates seventeen case studies, transversally sampled from various points in time and space. Infrastructure rendered obsolete by the indomitable pressure of technological progress; the infrastructure of paranoia, useless by definition; vanity infrastructure, purposeless except as proof of its own existence; the foiled infrastructure of honourable ideals and unfulfilled intentions; infrastructure scuttled by misfortune or catastrophe and left to decompose; the infrastructure of the absurd, the comical and the tragic—stories of heroic deeds in which the cure is feared as worse than the disease.
28.09 – 27.11.2011
Experimenta Design Biennale Lisbon
With contributions from:
Bertin & CIE