I recently came across the work of Ivars Gravlejs, a Latvian artist and photojournalist. His project, entitled “My Newspaper,” chronicles his absurdist, subversive alterations made to contributions to the Czech newspaper “Denik.” Gravlejs writes, “The aim of this project was to make an absurd, ‘nonsense’ manipulation over the media manipulations.” Here are four of my favorites:
It’s curious. There isn’t any explicit revolutionary project to these manipulations. Gravlejs isn’t trying to bring down the system with any kind of overt violence. Of course there is an artistic message here regarding media manipulation, a subversive thesis on truth and objectivity in photojournalism, and we could even go so far to say he’s prying open a crack in capitalist ideology, allowing for a space of resistance, using the system against itself, so to speak.
All that being said, they’re not revolutionary images per say (save for the image that speaks to the police about death). But they do enunciate a very specific formal position. And in this regard (speaking from a structural standpoint), they become, we could say, utopian. By this I mean, the space created by his project highlights a hidden potential in form itself. We can ignore the content for a moment and simply observe the space opened up by this type of work: an ideological between-space.
The space he works in is part of the capitalist structure (his photojournalism is published on the front pages of major newspapers). Which is to say, he’s not working as if there were an outside to the system (making fringe art), nor is he resisting the system directly (political art). He has found a useless space, rather, a leftover space that exists only as a structural remainder. And by working there, in the in-between, he opens up incredible possibilities.
Analogically, we can look to architecture to better understand the significance of this kind of remainder space. In architecture, spandrels are the spaces left between arches and their rectangular enclosures. Spandrels represent a decorative kind of interstitial space. They are part of the system, but exist as a kind of accidental necessity. Not quite part of the wall, not quite part of the arch, spandrels are remainders, gaps in the structure.
Interstitial spaces like these are common in architecture, and can range from small spandrels to entire floor-between-floors, like those used to house machinery in laboratories. Zizek writes on the potentiality of such spaces, “Do spandrels not then open up the space for architectural exaptations? And does this procedure not expand to buildings themselves, such that a church or train station might be exapted into an art gallery, etc.?” He goes on to say, “The struggle is up for grabs here – the struggle over who will appropriate them. These “interstitial spaces” are thus the proper place for utopian dreaming” (Living in the End Times, 278, emphasis added).
Zizek is spot on. This, indeed, is the key to utilizing form. Our aim then, our project from here forward should be: utopian dreaming. Let’s explode this notion outward, and open the interstitial fissures of space that will allow the utopian light of potentiality to pour out. This shouldn’t be difficult, as our ideologico-symbolic world is full of such remainder spaces. Gravlejs opens up this space within media, while books like House of Leaves can be said to do the same with text (457-9):
merges inside a v
ery large room w
here everything about
House of Leaves not only deals with the interstices of architecture, and the terrifying, god-like possibilities it opens up, but Danielewski also re-iterates the importance of this project by doing the same thing formally. His text literally occupies the interstices of the page:
These spaces are our dreaming spaces. The houses inside ourselves, the endless shifting hallways and spiral staircases that stretch down, down, down to our universal core. Let us occupy not rooms, but hallways! Let us be wanderers within the shifting labyrinths of our symbolic reality, let us find the ideological gaps in form and use them as our site, as our very homes. Revolution doesn’t have to be a reactionary project – it can be a positivist, utopian one. Interstitial spaces are the key.
So what would it mean to expand these spaces within music, film, dance, art and thought? What would interstitial sexuality look like? Interstitial politics? How can we make sure we’re always appropriating and evolving these interstitial spaces, allowing them to become evental spaces? Perhaps dreaming itself is our psychic interstitial space. Perhaps dreaming can only happen in between-spaces, only in the floors-between-floors, the spandrels of our symbolic world?
These are the spaces for radical beginning, for newness. Let me write you a message, then: meet me there. Meet me in interstitial space. Let us search out the interstices of our own hearts and use this space, formally, to change the world. Us, the utopian dreamers.
Inger Christensen writes on meeting (Butterfly Valley, 70),
with our backs to our meeting we go away from our meeting and farther and farther into our meeting, which is things’ meeting with things, which is times’ and places’ meeting with time and place, which is morning and evening in March, season and aftertime, opened and closed, at the same time you and strangers
let me here at the brink of the whiteness, the unknown, write a short message: to you, my love, neither life nor death, but this word we use so often, in our foreign language we have called it love.
And that’s what it takes to meet someone in interstitial space. That’s the fuel for utopian dreaming, for true, universal revolution. So let this labyrinthine house shift infinitely, I say, let a thousand combinations of hallways and rooms create a thousand openings for newness. Let us live in these spaces, build art in these spaces, make love in these spaces and find Truth in these spaces. Meet me there. And once we’re there, let me write a short message to you, then, my love: dream.