The Aesthetics of Infrastructure

November 21, 2011

Ashok Sukumaran is part of the current Cubitt exhibition "The City is a Blazing, Burning Bonfire". He proposed this discussion as a way of listening to Owen Hatherley's evocation of a vital and equitable modernist style, while exploring "infrastructure" as a reality and metaphor of distribution systems, technological affect, and struggles to build.

"The City is a Blazing, Burning Bonfire"
23 October 2011 - 28 December 2012

Among the peculiar ways in which modernism as style developed in the Indian "subcontinent", two big families of structures are still standing. One could be called PWD (public works department) style, the aftermath of socialist modernism in the Nehru/ Corbusier era, whose "temples of modernity" also trickled down into blocks of flats, electrical substations, milk booths, neighbourhood water tanks and other structures that deliberately ignored traditional aesthetics, practices and markets, in the attempt to build a new society. The second would be what Ravi Sundaram has called "pirate modernity", the non-ideological and often non-legal proliferations that arose to fill in gaps in the grid, so to speak, and by which large populations have accessed water, energy, films, music, resources and ideas. The current situation is of intense commercial and "global" pressures on these regimes, both of which have a strong aesthetic and egalitarian dimension. Contemporary infrastructures (attempts to produce or evoke the equitable, open, accessible, or exciting at a certain scale; similar to traditional public spaces, by different actors including artists, architects, community groups, technologists, the state, etc) are looking at the victories and losses sustained by these and other standing structures, in attempts to imagine and build new ones. Yet infrastructures are complex beasts, also capable of great divides between what they look like, and what they do. Hence, aesthetics.

Ashok Sukumaran is an artist. He has an interest in archaeologies and materialities of technology, and in aesthetics beyond art.
Owen Hatherley is a writer and architecture critic. He is the author of Militant Modernism, 2009,  A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain, 2010, and Uncommon, about the pop group Pulp, 2011.

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