becoming unreal

2021, Mixed media video installation, consisting of 4K video, 14‘38“, color, sound, plexiglass, digital print on alu-dibond, 150 × 100cm, palm tree

“As global forms are articulated in specific situations – or territorialized in assemblages – they define new material, collective, and discursive relationships.”

Stephen J. Collier/ Aihwa Ong

The twilit foyer opens onto a glass curtain wall with a geometric design that lets in the evening light. Another view through the space is provided by two reticulated and tapered windows that control the flow of air and light. Yet another view of the facade from the inside reveals narrow vertical bands of light with geometric ornamentation on the broadened side wings. In between are details of unique aspects of the architecture, which the camera slowly approaches. In longer shots, it pans over the interior and exterior surfaces of striking buildings. What they have in common is the absence of life. Devoid of people, silent and with an aura of sublimity, these scenes are captured by the camera. Only an almost imperceptible drone sound—slowly rising to a crescendo, becoming more bell-like and somber, conveying a quiet unease—accompanies the images, which change from distinctive interiors to the opaque, semi-transparent yet mirror-smooth facades of skyscrapers.

The first few minutes of Viktor Brim’s video work Becoming Unreal (2021), created during his residency in Istanbul, capture recent architectural and construction projects in the metropolis on the Bosporus, including modern mosques, the new Istanbul Airport, and hotel buildings. In the sequences that follow, it becomes apparent that real buildings are being alternated with digitally constructed spaces, and this perception creates moments of sudden change: for example, between the existing hotel corridor with a view of the city and the fabricated hotel room, complete with a television screen displaying high-rise projects as well as an animated video about escape routes in the event of an emergency. In the spacious foyer, with light screens in the wall paneling and recognizable surface textures—seemingly surreal in its built perfection—it is only the symmetrically arranged potted palms with clearly visible shadows and the incidence of light from an imaginary mountain landscape in the background that indicate that the room is a digital construct.

Futuristic ceiling details segue into modernist miniature architectural models that float in front of a mountain panorama with clouds and fog built in the software program Blender. As a landmark, the airport with its prominent beacon looks almost lost against the gloomy and dramatic mountain backdrop. Here, the models of new buildings drift into a hyperreal, abstracted world at lofty heights. The latter acts like a projection screen, forming the backdrop for these suspended structures presented as signature buildings. Viktor Brim works with the tilting of these designs into the hyperreal in a subtle yet striking manner, for his imagery experiments with the repetitive rhetoric and aesthetics of digital image films as well as modularized building scenarios. They focus on investments in new prestigious properties or speculative bubbles of entire neighborhoods, which transform and gentrify cities at great speed, primarily by increasing real estate prices and often neglecting social aspects. The artist is interested in the complex global economic and capitalist processes involved in this, as Collier and Ong have problematized with their study of assemblages as sites of technological, political, and value-adding change.[1]Stephen J. Collier/Aihwa Ong, eds., Global Assemblages. Technology, Politics,and Ethics as Anthropological Problems (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2005), p. 4.

His project, as he recounts in a conversation, began with the megalomaniacal infrastructure project of Istanbul Airport, designed by Nicholas Grimshaw. This was tellingly dubbed a “mosque of mobility,”[2]Cf. Ulf Meyer, “Moschee der Mobilität. Neuer Flughafen Istanbul,” in: FAZ.net, 30/11/2018, https://www.faz.net/aktuell/feuilleton/nicolas-grimshaw-baute-den-flughafen-in-istanbul-15916213.html (accessed 19/08/2021). thus alluding to the neoliberal, hypercapitalist and indiscriminate nature of buildings: whether hotels or houses of worship, the only thing that matters here is recognizability created by form or ornamentation, as Viktor Brim succinctly articulates with Becoming Unreal by giving the impression of a visual essay.

In his analysis of late capitalism and postmodernism back in the 1980s, the Marxist philosopher Fredric Jameson examined these increasingly rapid processes of production and exploitation. He identified a close connection between aesthetic design, architecture, and economics, in so far as the mechanisms of allocation, expansion, and value creation in construction are progressively becoming part of a global economy that visibly and virtually generates transformation processes in built space.[3]Fredric Jameson, “Postmodernism or the Cultural Logic of Capitalism,” in: New Left Review 146 (1984), pp. 59–92, here p. 56. As documented by the empty spaces, presented free of human intervention, this development moves away from the subject toward quasi “inconceivable hyperspaces,”[4]Ibid., p. 80 increasing in both dimensions and abstraction, as they are presented in Brim’s digitally constructed architectural designs.

This is demonstrated in both the real and the futuristically animated images: the spherical form of an abandoned square with striking wall ornamentation in the evening light, or the floating dots of light from the ceiling fixture in the great hall of an imposing mosque with arched windows eventually transition from an enigmatic space with a white, shuttered portal to a serpentine, mirror-smooth honeycomb structure that opens onto a piazza. Its perforated, white domed roof reveals refractions of light with a uniformly blue sky and is faintly reminiscent of Jean Nouvel’s multi-billion Louvre Abu Dhabi project, with its layered structural steel dome and design using premium materials and techniques. Investment in such an architectural project functions as an asset, and as the sociologist Saskia Sassen has pointed out, it transforms the city, as many of these acquisitions can be used for speculation. The value of these buildings, as well as the digital technologies associated with them, are stimulating and transforming the global financial flows that exist independently of their local contexts.[5]Saskia Sassen, “Urban Digitization and Financial Capitalism,” in: TATuP. Zeitschrift für Technikfolgenabschätzung in Theorie und Praxis/Journal for Technology Assessment in Theory and Practice 30/1 (2021), pp. 70–73.

Viktor Brim is concerned with this exact Global Financial Centers Index, which rates similar large-scale infrastructural projects according to certain criteria that allow cities to become global market leaders. Not only does his video work Becoming Unreal visually and emphatically demonstrate this complex and rapid transformation into something intangible and unreal, he also expands it into a spatial installation. At Walzwerk Null, the video is projected onto a free-floating pane of glass, while two photographic works on the opposite end wall and side wall each portray the model views shown in the film. The potted plant from the digitally constructed virtual environment casts its shadow into the exhibition space and simultaneously raises the question of where we as viewers are situated: Are we not already in the middle of this hybrid urban reality?

Lilian Haberer

References

References
1Stephen J. Collier/Aihwa Ong, eds., Global Assemblages. Technology, Politics,and Ethics as Anthropological Problems (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2005), p. 4.
2Cf. Ulf Meyer, “Moschee der Mobilität. Neuer Flughafen Istanbul,” in: FAZ.net, 30/11/2018, https://www.faz.net/aktuell/feuilleton/nicolas-grimshaw-baute-den-flughafen-in-istanbul-15916213.html (accessed 19/08/2021).
3Fredric Jameson, “Postmodernism or the Cultural Logic of Capitalism,” in: New Left Review 146 (1984), pp. 59–92, here p. 56.
4Ibid., p. 80
5Saskia Sassen, “Urban Digitization and Financial Capitalism,” in: TATuP. Zeitschrift für Technikfolgenabschätzung in Theorie und Praxis/Journal for Technology Assessment in Theory and Practice 30/1 (2021), pp. 70–73.