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Politics of Excavation 

From Space to Place, Exhibition at Katherine E Nash Gallery, Minneapolis, MN 



SIN NOMBRE / Sebastián, Identity unknown 

Defined by human activities, places are ever-changing, ever-decaying, and always being reborn, often through collective action and collaboration. From Space to Place is an exhibition that explores placemaking--the transformation of space into that which has a distinct identity. Curated by Artemis Hansen and Terez Iacovino, the exhibition is a platform for examining place and one's relationship to it.

The Politics of Excavation is part of an ongoing research and design project that focuses on the relationship between architecture and politics in Latin American cities. This relationship can often times be rooted in an immaterial past, making it difficult to engage through physical means. This project suggests that the pairing of architecture and forensic archaeology can give form to activities the Latin American city has disregarded or may not be ready to fully confront. These activities and histories are socio-material realities that affect our present and shape our collective future. Focusing on Montevideo, Uruguay, mapping is used to propose new realities, and ask, how can excavation become more than a means to an end within architectural discourse?

Through the mapping of geopolitical contexts, this project speculates about the link between a place of abduction and a presumed burial location.  This narrative is fictitious because it is not based on the disappearance of a specific person. Nonetheless, the neighborhood highlighted and the burial site marked are exact.  The effort here is to place a clandestine ritual within the most real dimensions of the city.


The following exercise looks at the fragmentation of the body and our ability to disassociate ourselves from its cultural image.  This is an exploration into the many abstract images embedded in the process of excavation.  This continuous set of images defamiliarizes ourselves from the fixed images of the beginning and end of the excavation process.  It visualizes the abstract exchange that occurs in-between conditions we assume to be familiar with.  The body is displaced but its wholeness is always maintained, it shows itself as the body materializes into different forms.


The perception of a continuous set of images devoid of individual meaning can transcend the uncertainty experienced at the supposed beginning and end of an excavation process. The question is how long can this perception be stretched out?  At what moment does the sense of intrigue wear off, becoming simple redundancy?  The ability to elongate three-dimensional space into two-dimensional image is a hidden quality of excavation.


The circumstance of this project is inseparable from its Latin American context and the author's own consciousness of the political and social implications of this place.  As a result, this work was developed in the midst of the exchange between Spanish and English.


Urban realities are that which we allow to inhabit the perception of the city.  It is not uncommon for portions of these realities to not be physical, presenting themselves as intangible pieces of life and memory.  In many cases  this invisibility is the only method we have to allow unsettling conditions to live in our cities. 

How do we physically manifest intangible pieces of urban reality that we have deemed perceptually threatening?
What are these pieces that we choose to maintain as immaterial  in order to preserve our comfort and distance?

In Montevideo, Uruguay,  the intangible dimensions of urban life is most striking in the archaeological pursuit for the remains of Los Desaparecidos.  Since 2005 forensic archaeologists for the Universidad de la República in Montevideo have been operating within the city in order to find hidden burial locations.  (Giaf) The invisibility of the burial ritual and the implied fragmentation of the human body are the most tangible of urban realities which these events have uncovered.  These conditions set up the framework to confront the relationship between past and present through the architectural manifestation of new rituals for what has remained completely invisible.  This project suggests that the pairing of architecture and the discipline of forensic archaeology can give physical form to activities the city has disregarded, or may not even be ready to confront.

Con solo abrir la boca uno empieza el dialogo que la majoría de la gente se niega. Este dialogo es ficticio hasta que la acción lo integra a la realidad de la ciudad. No exsite ningun acto más real que el de la arquitectura. Una integración completamente física, que aun  mantiene un misterio profundo y inquietante.   

Spanish text decribing memory as a necessary “toxic” urban condition unaware of sentimentality and unmoved by nostalgia.

La memoria es un perfume urbano de un caracter casi narcótico.  Su calidad tóxica es necesaria pero parece ser illegal como cualquier otra substancia illicita.  Si asi es, hay que convertise en adicto el perfume de la memoria. Es una addición sumamente necesaria para entender el presente por medio del pasado.


The link between history and events offers us the opportunity to engage a dialogue which is often times perpetually invisible.  This conversation is responsible for not merely explaining the past, but suggesting that in cases where absence is of the essence a new condition can be present. Even when dealing with an unnegotiable loss, such as death, architecture should seek to express new life. This new life is embodied in the expression of circumstances that would have been unimaginable if not for the occurrence of even the most brutal of events. 

What has changed? What is new? These simple questions are often ignored when architecture seeks to memorialize the most relevant moments in a society’s history only through commemoration.

Puede la muerte de forma explicita llegar a ser una manera honesta de gestionar la ausencia? La muerte es la memoria mas persistente, pero sigue siendo la más invisible de todas las realidades urbanas.


The very materiality of death is the unquestionable physical dimension of the body.  Our perception of the body in regards to absence is constructed around the funerary ritual.  Regardless of religion, performing  this ritual is fundamental in exercising the memory of the deceased.  In the case of Los Desparecidos the Uruguayan military turned this ritual into a clandestine activity.  This sinister form of burial removed the public act of the funeral, interrupting the physical and memorial transition of the body.  It is the unknown location of these grave sites that constantly operates on the perception of the city.   This uncertainty is of great relevance to the families of Los Desaparecidos, but it is also a condition that affects an entire population’s idea of the city.  Through new rituals created by the work of forensic archaeologists, Montevideo is now a city of invisible excavation.


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