Deep Space @ TRACES

TRACES is a three-year research project investigating the role of contentious heritage in contemporary Europe.

Lecture & Discussion @ TRACES, Politecnico di Milano School of Architecture, via Ampère 2, Milan, 25 January 2019


TRACES is a three-year research project investigating the role of contentious heritage in contemporary Europe. By deploying an innovative research methodology based on an artistic/ethnographic approach, TRACES analyses challenges, opportunities and practices inherent in transmitting difficult pasts and heritages.

“TRACES – Transmitting Contentious Cultural Heritages with the Arts: From Intervention to Co-Production will conclude its three years research programme with a two-day conference “Transmitting Contentious Cultural Heritages with the Arts”, that will take place in Milan on 17-18 January 2019. The symposium is conceived to provide a critical overview on the main findings and results ensuing from the investigations and the Creative Co-productions developed within the project, as well as to foster the critical debate about the transmission of contentious heritages and the process of “Reflexive Europeanisation.” The meeting intends to promote an inter-disciplinary and forward-looking discussion aimed at opening new perspectives based on the Project outcomes.

The Simposia will culminate in the opening of TRACES final exhibition, “Contentious Objects/Ashamed Subjects”, curated by Suzana Milevska at the Politecnico di Milano.

The project Contentious Objects/Ashamed Subjects is a research about research: it is based on a long-term cross-disciplinary curatorial exploration of art-based research and artistic research projects. However, the exhibition is not about just any kind of art or artistic research. Focusing particularly on various methodologies, artistic research methods and strategies that are employed by contemporary artists the exhibition features those artistic practices dedicated to durational and exhaustive cross-referential investigations of difficult tangible and intangible cultural heritages: reflected in images, objects, spaces, and events that have problematic pasts or inhabit present contentions.
In this respect, some of the pertinent questions that triggered the exhibition concern which objects, images and spaces are considered contentious cultural heritages (Sharon Macdonald), and how they are transmitted and reflected in the European ‘culturalscapes.’ These issues are extrapolated regardless of whether the researched materials are included or displayed in collections of various European art and cultural institutions, or they are presented in public spaces or kept in other contexts.

The exhibition aims to map and critically reflect the state of art in both, the field of artistic research methodologies and in research-based art practices that deal with the shame linked to contentious heritage and its associated images, objects, entire museum collections, monuments, architectural objects, or public spaces. The stereotypical and racialised representations; institutional reluctance to acknowledge the questionable provenience of unlawfully acquired objects and unethical sponsorship; as well as propositions of how to deal with the repressed memory of spaces once inhabited by conflict or are marked with contested monuments dedicated to disgraceful historic figures or events; collective memory about commoning movements that contested the appropriation of public space; are just some of the researched topics addressed in the projects presented here.

Most importantly, in bringing these projects together, the exhibition addresses the possibility for catalysing social change and fighting recent hateful outbursts from the far right in Europe and elsewhere (e.g. anti-Semitic and anti-Roma sentiments, racism towards indigenous and black populations, and prejudice towards LGBTQ communities) in the context of current debates regarding the reciprocal relations between art, academia and political activism at the intersection between institutions of art and civic society as well as other socio-political structures.

Furthermore, the exhibition explores the application of various theoretical and research methodologies (already developed in art history, museology, anthropology, ethnology, sociology, pedagogy, political sciences, etc.), together with artistic research methods, artistic media, strategies and actions in terms of their specificity, appropriateness, applicability, and efficiency in accomplishing these challenging goals, on both ethical and conceptual levels. The projects include, but are not limited to, the use of critical analysis of vernacular art, field trips, photography as research, lecture performances, interviews, focus groups, hybrid records, critical databases, video essays, curatorial forensics, militant image research, institutional critique, thought experiments, social intervention, participatory research of art made in prison as well as elements of material culture, re-enactment, activist campaigns for naming and renaming, counter-monuments, social design, agonistic research, critical friend, creative co-production, petition, public apology, manifestos, critical and social advertising, advocating and lobbying for decolonisation, repatriation and restitution.”

Deep Space is a long-term investigative program initiated to deal with politics of memory, controversial monuments and heritage.

“Deep Space: Re-signifying Valle de los Caídos” is one of the activities and pop-up events, led by international artists and researchers, that has been organised over the entire duration of TRACES final exhibition “Contentious Objects/Ashamed Subjects”, curated by Suzana Milevska.

Valle de los Caídos (Valley of the Fallen), the Francoist monument built between 1940 and 1959 close to Madrid, will soon be emptied of Franco’s remains. As it risks becoming a cenotaph—an empty burial monument—and it is at the centre of heated public discourses surrounding its future, Valle de los Caídos is paradigmatic of the difficult processes of re-signifying controversial monuments.

In October 2018, as part of the Deep Space independent artistic project and long-term investigative program, Hybrid Space Lab curated the international, interdisciplinary workshop “Deep Space: Re-signifying Valle de los Caídos” in Madrid.

The reliance on artistic practices and applied disciplines transgressing the arts field, such as architecture and media studies, to approach controversial heritage interrogates how these disciplines and their interaction may contribute to the re-construction of memory, exploring the potential of integrating diverse methods to process historical wounds.

By favouring artistic engagement with memory making, “Deep Space: Re-signifying Valle de los Caídos” aims at establishing a place for dialogue and proposals on possible future visual and sensual heritage landscapes in the Valley’s contentious spatial and affective context.

The workshop’s special focus lay on networked digital and physical tools that allow transforming the site without physically touching it. These tools also enable the integration of side-lined voices within the vision of a polyphonic monument, counterbalancing the site’s totalitarian narrative, paving the way from recognition to reconciliation. The workshop kick-started the “Deep Space” exploration, focusing on how future heritage sites could look, feel, sound like, and how their digitally enriched features could affect memory-making processes.

Elizabeth Sikiaridi and Frans Vogelaar are the founders of Hybrid Space Lab, a Berlin-based Think Tank and Design Lab.
Hybrid Space Lab is a laboratory for cultural innovation, a cultural breeding ground for the development of groundbreaking concepts and for the promotion of innovations that contribute to positive changes in society and the environment.

Since 1997 Prof. Elizabeth Sikiaridi has been teaching design at the Landscape Architecture Department of the University of Duisburg-Essen and the University of Applied Sciences Ostwestfalen-Lippe. She was born in London and grew up in Athens. She studied architecture at the École d’Architecture de Belleville in Paris and at the TU Darmstadt, worked in the architecture office Behnisch & Partner in Stuttgart and was an Assistant Professor at the TU Berlin.

In 1998 Prof. Frans Vogelaar founded the first worldwide “Department of Hybrid Space” at the Academy of Media Arts Cologne. Frans was born in Holland and grew up in Zimbabwe and Holland. He studied industrial design at the Design Academy in Eindhoven and architecture at the Architectural Association School of Architecture, London, and worked in the Studio Alchymia in Milan and the Office for Metropolitan Architecture in Rotterdam.

Both Elizabeth and Frans are lecturing broadly internationally, among other as Visiting Professors at the Politecnico di Milano.

Hour and venue:
h. 16.00 | Galleria del Progetto, Politecnico di Milano, via Ampère, 2, Milano

Pop-up events program and info at: “Contentious Objects/Ashamed Subjects”

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