Stereoscopic Duplication, 2009

or The Game of Spillepeng and Its Definitions

Page 1

Space does not possess its own ontology, there is no antecedent, essence or primary nature which would rule over the built domain and which would have to be opposed to human praxis. There are ‘different natures’, extending from the most virginal to the most artificial, natures which coexist in a simultaneous whole. This materialism, this veritable ‘physicalism’, redefines the world as a complex place in which man rediscovers his capacity for definition, for intervention.[1] (Dominique Perrault, 2003)

Photolanguage - Stereo Malmo 1This article reflects on Photolanguage’s use of stereoscopic photography to record a newly created landscape on the northern edge of Malmö in Sweden for a project called Land-Use Poetics.[2] Along with eight other participants, we had been invited to respond to the rapidly changing patterns of land-use in and around the urban agglomeration of Malmö through the production of work for an exhibition at the Museum of the Sketch in the nearby university town of Lund.[3]

The stereoscopic lens produces a doubled view of the photographic referent. The resulting prints are usually viewed through stereoscopic glasses, which reconfigure the two views into a single, 3-d image. Our exhibition at the Museum of the Sketch included a series of stereoscopic prints displayed on plinths to be viewed without glasses. This incomplete use of the technology had the aim of fragmenting and defamiliarizing the landscape, producing within each print twin photographic fragments of near duplicate scenes. The two images, when viewed unassisted are, moreover, separated by a dense black band. This would be the blind spot in the reconfigured stereoscopic view, corresponding to the difference in the position from which each eye of the human viewer perceives the scene. We happily incorporated this pictorial variable as an additional effect of aesthetic defamiliarisation, created by the deliberate miss-use of the technique. When printed, the blind-spot of stereoscopic photography appears like a void in representation, a crack in photographic vision that seems ambiguously both generative and engulfing.


Photolanguage - Stereo Malmo 2The photographs were taken in a land-fill landscape called Spillepeng, the municipal garbage dump of Malmö. Spillepeng is effectively a new earthwork peninsula built on refuse, projecting into the Baltic sea. The growth of Spillepeng has been so rapid that contemporary maps do not record it.

In a conversation with researchers from the university of Malmö we were informed that Spillepeng means the ‘counter’ or ‘marker’ used in a game, such as the counters or pieces in chess.[4] It was unclear from the conversation as to why the area had been so named. Our colleagues surmised that it refers to some form of gaming activity that once took place there. It seems apt, at least, that the creation of this new peninsula, this activity of land-formation, should be associated with the language of gaming: with a throw of the dice, the municipal authorities transform the profile of the coast, and new land is created faster than it can be drawn.


Photolanguage - Stereo Malmo 4Spillepeng: a game of land formation played with waste.

We explored a completed section of the Spillepeng landscape, its hill spurs planted with thicket shrubs and pollarded trees, and a valley bottom replete with a small stream and appropriate marshland plants. From this landscape’s highest hillock we viewed the front line of new land creation beyond to the west. The active land-fill site resembled a huge fort of the 18th century. Waste had been bagged and stacked into steeply sloped masses, like bastions and barbettes. These would soon receive their moulded landscape coating and veneer of planted surface to become, one would guess, a seamless extension to the terrain on which we stood.

Human presence is sparse in the completed Spillepeng landscape. Not yet normalised to the standards of a landscape of recreation, occupancy is limited to the likes of municipal workers, researchers and nettle pickers. The surface layer still somehow exudes a sense of the mechanical violence that formed it. It has the rawness of the recently planted. Self-seeded species have begun to colonise and appear as conspicuous invaders amid the planted scheme: figures of hope and menace in equal measure. Wind-blown waste matter is profuse on the hill spurs, and the stream has quickly become the receptacle of heavier dejecta.


Spillepeng: a game of hazard played with history.

Spillepeng seemed strongly representative of the wider processes of transformation taking place across the Malmö agglomeration, whereby new patterns of land-use rapidly replace those of the historical landscape, often erasing long-standing social and economic practices. However, Spillepeng, as that rare event of actual new land formation, presents most acutely the questions inherent in the act of change, specifically, of society’s very ability to positively affect the course of change, to create difference rather than perform mere repetition and replication.

Photolanguage - Stereo Malmo 6Spillepeng: a game played with pieces of landscape; a philosophical inquiry into the question of modifiable destiny.

In an essay on the photographic silk-screen works of Andy Warhol (in which Warhol famously used techniques of copying and repetition), the art historian Thomas Crow observed that the ‘repetition of the photographic image can increase […] sensitivity to it’.[5] In the case of the works of Warhol the aim of sensitisation or re-sensitisation to the image addresses the representation of death in the media. (We recall that Warhol not only reproduced portraits of celebrities who suffered early deaths but that he also revealed a wider fascination with death in popular culture in works such as Gangster Funeral, 1968 in which a grainy press photograph of a graveside funeral is repeated five times.)


In a similar way, our use of stereoscopic duplication at the Museum of the Sketch sought to construct imagery that ‘sensitised’ or re sensitised local visitors to the artificial and constructed nature of the Spillepeng terrain. Through a pictorial aesthetics of defamiliarisation and estrangement (the effects of duplication and variability in the production of the stereoscopic print) we might suggest that the images infer underlying effects of alienation and disconnection from the historical landscape and the social practices that formed it. But these duplicated landscapes also embrace forces of change and transformation through a more extreme ‘proposition’ for transformation in our use and miss-use of the documentary medium of photography. In this terrain of the new peninsula our aim was to produce imagery that kept alive the hope of difference or, as Dominique Perrault puts it, the prospect of ‘definition’ and ‘intervention’ through ‘human praxis’.

We might, as a final remark, reformulate this aim in terms of a more general question regarding the task of documentation itself: In the context of the professions of architecture and design and their channels of media dissemination, how can we make images of the new (new buildings, new landscapes) that contribute to the project of difference and transformation, rather than simply reinforcing the processes of replication, commodity and reification?

[1] Dominique Perrault, ‘Elementary Dispositions’, A+U 391, April 2003, pp 70-76, p. 73
[2] Land-Use Poetics was an art-based research project initiated by Maria Hellström Reimer, Professor at the School of Arts and Communication, University of Malmö.
[3] Land-Use Poetics, Skissernas Museum, Lund, 22-29 March, 2009.
[4] This information was provided by Gunnar Sandin and Staffan Schmidt.
[5] Thomas Crow, Modern Art in the Common Culture (Yale, Yale University Press, 1996), p. 61

A version of this text was published in P.E.A.R. (Paper for Emerging Architectural Research), issue no. 1, ‘Copy and Duplication’, 2009

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