The value of the infra-ordinary

With Phantom. Mies as Rendered Society, architect Andrés Jaque and his Office for Political Innovation bring visibility to the hidden, imperceptible layers that are essential to keep a building like the Mies van de Rohe Pavilion running.

Many images come to mind when you think about the Mies van der Rohe Pavilion : a modest pavilion in comparison with the large infrastructures built for the 1929 Barcelona International Exposition; a design that is simple yet with great architectural force, full of reflections and transparencies and metallic, cross-shaped pillars. It also reminds you of terms such as "minimalism", "open plan" and "spatial continuity". But you're unlikely to think about how it's cleaned, where supplies or replacement parts are stored, or who feeds the cats that patrol it both day and night.

In the new installation Phantom. Mies as Rendered Society , architect Andrés Jaque and his Office for Political Innovation have sought to bring visibility to these hidden, almost imperceptible layers that are essential to keep a building of this kind running. Work to reconstruct the pavilion started in 1983, and the new building was inaugurated in 1986 in its original location. Ignasi de Solà-Morales, Cristian Cirici and Fernando Ramos were the architects appointed to research, design and oversee the reconstruction of the Pavilion.

In the introductory text to the installation, Jaque refers to Walter Lippmann's The Phantom Public , where it is stated the public exists only as an illusion, a myth, and inevitably a phantom. The Mies van der Rohe Pavilion now revealed to us is full of phantoms. Each of the objects that Jaque has rescued from the building's basement to illustrate the work carried out by people for years, invisible to the tourists and grand events at the Mies Foundation , tells us new stories that until now had remained locked away in a basement. It could appear to be a superficial installation, without any great meaning, an attempt to politicise the unpoliticisable , or an overly ostentatious show of the "disobedience " that Jaque has emphasised in his work for some time. But we can also see that this accumulation of obsolete objects and the exploration of the boundaries between architecture and art mentioned by Miquel Adrià creates a coherent story, an almost archaeological work, uncovering pieces worthy of a curiosity shop, revealing to the audience a fabric of relationships and activities that, in a visitor's normal experience of the pavilion, is concealed behind its rule-abiding and universally-understood architecture. In this regard, there is a clear reference to the film Koolhaas Houselife , in which Ila Bêka and Louise Lemoîne show us around a house in Bordeaux through the experiences of cleaner Guadalupe Acedo, revealing areas that are usually not seen in traditional architectural reportages.
Top and above: Andrés Jaque, <i>Phantom. Mies as Rendered Society</i>, Mies van der Rohe Pavilion, Barcelona. Photo Miguel de Guzmán
Top and above: Andrés Jaque, Phantom. Mies as Rendered Society , Mies van der Rohe Pavilion, Barcelona. Photo Miguel de Guzmán
Compared with the various other exhibitions previously held in the pavilion, from Muntadas to SANAA by way of Ai Wei Wei, the biggest difference with Phantom is that it is not designed to be seen, but rather to be closely listened to, because it tells a story, or many stories. You can make your way around it in the manner of a small scale flâneur , wandering aimlessly around its more than 1,000 square metre area, and be amazed by the impressions of the materials and objects you come across — sun damaged curtains, cleaning materials, mop buckets, ladders, damaged signs, cat food bowls and the remains of the original pillars, cross-shaped and rust-aged.
Andrés Jaque, <i>Phantom. Mies as Rendered Society</i>, Mies van der Rohe Pavilion, Barcelona
Andrés Jaque, Phantom. Mies as Rendered Society , Mies van der Rohe Pavilion, Barcelona
Just as Georges Perec wrote The Infra-ordinary as a form of "interrogation of the quotidian" and a way of showing us the value of small events and the most minimal of situations, Andrés Jaque makes us reflect on architecture and society through the lens of micro-ordinary situations and objects that may have long ago lost their power to surprise us.

If Lippmann asserts that the public is a "mere phantom", an abstraction dependent on a "mystical concept of society" then Phantom could be the mise-en-scène that reveals a counterpoint to these ideas, since this mystical concept of society is mixed up by the gradual appearance of many players. Suddenly, the image of Mies van der Rohe retreats into the background, and what we see before us is society, just as it is, free of mysticism... it is the people who clean the water tanks, a couple who invade the pavilion and sleep there with their dog before being thrown out, or some local residents who come along every night to feed the cats that wander around the pavilion. Despite the fact that visitors are not allowed to sit on the famous Barcelona chairs, an assortment of damaged and threadbare cushions shows that people are also disobedient beyond the confines of IKEA!
Suddenly, the image of Mies van der Rohe retreats into the background, and what we see before us is society, just as it is, free of mysticism... it is the people who clean the water tanks, a couple who invade the pavilion and sleep there with their dog before being thrown out, or some local residents who come along every night to feed the cats
Andrés Jaque, <i>Phantom. Mies as Rendered Society</i>, Mies van der Rohe Pavilion, Barcelona
Andrés Jaque, Phantom. Mies as Rendered Society , Mies van der Rohe Pavilion, Barcelona
One (of the many) thoughts that remains with you after visiting the pavilion centres around the difficulty that architects sometimes experience in conveying such diverse concepts. When you read the exhibition statement, it seems to contain an excessive use of political terminology that gets lost in set phrases and distances the visitor from the clear and forceful message inherent in every aspect of the installation. This message has no need for grandiloquence in order to express its importance, which is understood in a simple way as you discover each object, each hidden story: we are all members of society, and the threads of these social relations are what give meaning to architecture.
In El Horror Cristalizado , Josep Quetlas wrote that "Biography, the epoch and the general course of history are guarded and remain open in this work. Guarded, open and waiting… for whom?" The answer could be that they are waiting for someone to bring them up out of the basement and put them on show in a decent setting for a few days. Ethel Baraona Pohl (@ethel_baraona)

Through 28 February 2013
Phantom. Mies as Rendered Society
The Mies van der Rohe Pavilion
Av. Francesc Ferrer i Guàrdia 7, Barcelona

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