By Marilyn Bauer
The Cincinnati Enquirer
The Slovenian conceptual artist Marjetica Potrc arrived in Cincinnati last week directly from Venezuela.
"I was working in the barrio in Caracas," she says. "There were 200,000 people living there. It struck me how similar the barrio is to a gated community. It is the same intent. There is controlled access, limited ways in and out. And it is private versus public space, each personal parcel negotiated separately."
Potrc, along with 20 students from the University of Cincinnati's School of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning, is building a "roundhouse," a kind of lightweight, portable dome that will be installed as part of the opening show at the new Lois & Richard Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art on May 31.
"This type of shelter was originally designed for use by international relief workers to aid people made homeless by natural disasters," says Thom Collins, senior curator for the CAC. "By working with a young generation of architects, Marjetica encourages the consideration of the ways the roundhouse might be used in future practices to aid those in need."
Potrc is not a social worker; she's an artist interested in social consequences. An urban anthropologist concerned with migration, she has been investigating the shifting terrain of the contemporary city for the past decade. She is a champion of what she refers to as "individual initiatives" in the building of cities, from shantytowns to the most exclusive planned communities.
"The materials we are using here in Cincinnati are universal materials - not indigenous materials," she explains. "They are found all over the world and used in all types of building."
Her lifesize architectural projects are born out of in-depth research into specific migrations. The roundhouse she and the DAAP students are working on will be made of recycled and reclaimed building materials using Internet plans for non-professional builders.
"It is interesting to know that this same structure, conceived by Buckminster Fuller, is a building that is used throughout the world," she says. "It has been used for relief work during the earthquakes and floods in South America and is preferred by Australian aborigines over the state-provided housing available to them."
Potrc, a recipient of the Guggenheim Museum's 2000 Hugo Boss Prize, creates structures that critique the unequal distribution of the world's wealth and resources.
"There are few artists working today that are as sensitive to social life in a global economy with ever-shifting and dissolving borders," says Collins. "She's interested in architectural models that have the power to improve social life in a variety of economical and political situations around the world."
Collins notes that by working with students, "she's offering them something she hopes they will take with them when they leave school."
Marjetica Potrc's take on:
Never-ending cities: Every three days, more than a million people move to cities. But they don't move to cities like Ljubljana (Slovenia) or Munich.
Deserts: I heard that it's actually possible to buy a piece of a desert. It must feel fine to possess a part of what remains an empty space on earth.
Urban void: Think about Pompeii. Tourists worldwide take pleasure in the ruins of ancient cities. Back at home, the attitude towards ruins changes. What do you think is more uncomfortable than looking at an abandoned house from your own living room?
Deserted cities: The less I know about the civilization that built the place, the more I enjoy strolling around it.
Gated communities: More than 8 million Americans isolate themselves behind walls, thus expressing will for personal control, safety and the pleasures of sharing time with like-minded people.
Shantytowns: Shantytowns and gated communities are the two fastest growing forms in the contemporary city.
Container architecture: In Belfast, containers and similar no-style structures are popular and widely in use. They feel fine, too. I heard someone say: 'We want our children to be in a nice place,' while talking about a school in a container.
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