Can a city exist without architecture? And what is architecture?
How modern is modernity? How universal is urban planning?
Can urbanity be immaterial? Which urban visions does it rely on then?
These are the questions at the heart of Kinshasa, The Imaginary City. As the former capital of Belgian Congo, Kinshasa occupies an important place in the history of Belgian architecture and urbanism. Today Kinshasa has become a postcolonial African city, where alternative modernities are generated and new local and global identities forged. With the exhibition Kinshasa, The Imaginary City the curators intend to stimulate the ongoing debate on the contemporary Central-African urban scape. It is a specific urban reality which invites us to question and rethink the classic urban paradigms.
In western discourses and reflections on how to plan, engineer, sanitize and transform the urban site and its public spaces architecture has been given a prominent place. It is, almost naturally, viewed as an indispensable dimension for the creation of an urban identity. Indeed, one can hardly underestimate the importance of the built form and of the material infrastructure if one wants to understand the ways the urban space unfolds and designs itself. However, in a city such as Kinshasa, the infrastructure is of a very specific kind. Its functioning is punctuated by constant breakdown, by failure and by absence. The exhibition is not, therefore, solely focusing on the city’s material infrastructure or the urban colonial legacy. Rather, it comments upon Kinshasa’s urbanity, which exists beyond the city’s architecture.
The city’s main infrastructural unit is the human body. Body-building and sape (the corporeal aesthetics which is so typical for Kinshasa) are amongst the most meaningful activities in the urban space. In a very real sense, the body is Kinshasa’s only ‘building’ that is constantly constructed and perfected. The social relations between the more than six million urban dwellers generate an impressive sense of collectivity. Kinshasa’s inhabitants quite literally embody the market, the street, the garage, the church... More importantly, even, these bodies form the locus of much of the invisible modalities of urban action. They moor the city’s urban imaginaries.
Therefore, the exhibition Kinshasa, The Imaginary City zooms in on the topography of this autochthonous Congolese imagination. It offers an interpretation of the city as mental space, revealing its existence beyond the city’s visible geographical and physical reality. Underneath the surface of the material city lurks a second, invisible city. A city that exists in the autochthonous mind as a mirroring reality of the visible world. Much of the current Congolese social crisis, the subjectivity of which is lived and experienced most strongly in precisely this urban locale, situates itself in this slippage between first and second world, between visible and invisible, life and death, day and night, or between reality and its double. This has all kinds of repercussions for the ways in which the city understands and creates itself.
The city’s collective religious imagination, given form by the prominent presence of churches, clearly indicates the ways in which the invisible is overgrowing the city’s visible reality. The encroachment of Kinshasa’s churches on public space illustrates the force of their vision of the city at the centre of a new order that will start on Judgment Day. The religious transformation which Congolese society is currently undergoing has squarely placed the city in a new temporality, that of the apocalyptic interlude. A religious experience, with frequent references to the Apocalypse, Golgotha, Sodom, Gommora, or the theme of the living dead “les morts ne sont pas morts”, constantly interferes with the ‘real’ physical urban reality in which city, cemetery and refuse-heap blend into each other. The religious urban practices, such as public confessions at televised mass meetings, exemplify the changed relations between public and private space. They are also indicative of deeper changes within the city’s social networks and moral and ethic matrixes that constitute the family, kin relations and ethnic affiliations.
Within this complex field shaped by survival strategies, religion, and a city that, for lack of material means, ‘builds’ a form of zero degree architecture, urbanity can no longer be understood from a common perspective on architecture as ‘art of building’. In order to point to the relative place architecture occupies within this urban field, and in order to interpret the city beyond its architecture and to transcend the prevailing narcissistic architectural critique, the project Kinshasa, The Imaginary City relies on anthropological insights.
The exhibition and accompanying book result from the intensive collaboration between anthropologist Filip De Boeck, photographer/filmmaker Marie-Françoise Plissart and architect/curator Koen Van Synghel. In 2000, after many years of field research in Kinshasa, De Boeck met Plissart at her first Kinshasa exhibition. In the following years, they returned several times to the city together. Plissart’s photos and videos date from the period 2000-2002, whereas the video material of De Boeck and Van Synghel was produced in 2004.
The exhibition was commissioned and realized with the financial support of the Ministry of Culture of the Flemish Community for the 9th International Architecture Biennale of Venice 2004.
Curators: Filip De Boeck and Koen Van Synghel
Photography and videos: Marie-Françoise Plissart
Commissioner: Vlaams Architectuurinstituut (VAi)
Katrien Vandermarliere, director
Saskia Kloosterboer and Gert Renders, projectmanagers
Photography: Marie-Françoise Plissart
Videos: selection of fragments of the film 'Un jour, l'avenir nous donnera raison' from Marie-Françoise Plissart in collaboration with Filip De Boeck
Het beeld van de architectuur (The emage of architecture), with the nominees for the ‘Provinciale Architectuur Prijs ’95 Limburg’, in: Galerij Provinciaal Centrum voor Beeldende Kunsten, Begijnhof, Hasselt (Belgium), June 1996.
Things are the only hidden meaning of things – Young Architects in Flanders, in collaboration with Katrien Vandermarliere of the International Artcenter deSingel Antwerp (Belgium), September 2001.
Het beeld van de architectuur(The image of architecture), in: Galerij Provinciale Centrum voor Beeldende Kunsten, Begijnhof, Hasselt (Belgium), June 1996.
De nieuwe eenvoud in Vlaanderen(L'éloge de la Simplicité) in la Fondation pour l'Architecture, Brussels (Belgium), in collaboration with Marie-José Van Hee, September 1996.
Brussels crossroad of cultures, Europalia exhibition in Brussels, 2000.
Oriëntalia, exhibition on the Oriental Studies in the Catholic University of Leuven and Louvain-la-Neuve, Royal Library, Brussels, January 2001.
List of publications
(selection) Architectenportraits, to the occasion of the exhibition Nouvelle Architecture en Flandre (New Architecture in Flanders) in arc en rêve, centre d' Architecture, Bordeaux (France), June 1996.
Het beeld van de architectuur , with the nominees for the ‘Provinciale Architectuur Prijs '95 Limburg’ in:Galerij Provinciale Centrum voor Beeldende Kunsten, Begijnhof, Hasselt, June 1996.
Waiting for a Park or Tony Cragg’s open-air sculptures, in Catalogue Tony Cragg, to the occasion of an exhibition in the Open Air Museum for Sculpture Middelheim Antwerp (Belgium), September 1996.
the Quality of Quality, about quality criteria in architecture, in: Stedelijkheid & Kwaliteit, Antwerp (Belgium), red. Stefan Braun, March 1998.
Maison avec fenêtre d'or, Les trois maisons d'artistes de Hans Hartung, in: Exhibition Catalogue Hans Hartung, Principauté de Monaco, March 1999.
Hedendaagse architectuur in Vlaanderen, in: Gids Kunst in Vlaanderen, editor Kluwer, October 1999.
The Battle for the Brief, Architectural Competitions in Flanders, looking for more winners, in: Flanders Architectural Yearbook 1988-1999, Flemish Community, June 2000.
Brussels after the world exhibition 1958, a terrain vague for the international architecture, in: Brussels crossroad of cultures, Europalia, Brussels, September 2000.
The absolute space, about the architecture in the visual art of Dan van Severen in Dan, Maarten & Fabiaan Van Severen, BBL Brussels, September 2000.
Things are the only hidden meaning of things - Young Architects in Flanders, ed., Ludion, deSingel Antwerp, September 2001.
City Branding for eight Dutch Cities – From conceptual to literal image building in City branding, NAIuitgevers/publishers, Rotterdam, 2002.
(n)Ergens in Vlaanderen - (Nowhere) and somewhere in Flanders, essay on private en public space in (South-West) Flanders, in: Publiek Geheim, anno’02, March 2002.
Trapped in architecture, video interview with the American artist Jimmy Durham for Critical Tools: Third biennial neTHCA colloquium Brussels, April 2003.
De quadratuur van de cirkel, in: Clare Bataille & Paul Ibens, Ludion, May 2003.
Filip De Boeck (°1961)
Filip De Boeck
Africa Research Center
Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology
Catholic University of Leuven
B-3000 Leuven - BELGIUM
Boulevard de Smet de Naeyer 532
1020 Brussels - BELGIUM
Tel (office): +32.16.326007
Fax (office): +32.16.326000
Tel (home): +32.2.4781870
List of publications
Makers and Breakers, Made and Broken. Children and Youngsters in Postcolonial Africa, in collaboration with Alcinda Honwana (Social Science Research Council, New York), Oxford: James Currey, 2004.
Special issue Politique Africaine, about youngsters in Africa, ed. Filip de Boeck, 2000.
Under Siege: Four African Cities, to the occasion of Documenta11 (Okwui Enwezor, ed., Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2003.
Kinshasa: Tales of an Invisible City, in collaboration with Marie-Françoise Plissart, to the occasion of the Biennale of Venice, Ludion, 2004.
Marie-Françoise Plissart (°1954)
Rue du Charme, 48
1190 Brussels - BELGIUM
Tel : +322/343 59 85
Fax : +322/344 37 82
(selection) Kinshasa, Kinshasa, May 2002 and in Prague March 2003.
Brussels, Horizon vertical, UCB Brussels, January 1999 and in the ‘Galerie du Botanique’, April 2000.
Brussels architecture, Osaka, Japan, October 1997.
Photo narrative, Eeastern Michigan University, Art department, U.S.A., November 1996.
Martini, Martini, Bruxelles, Beursschouwburg, for the ‘KunstenFestivaldesArts’ Brussels, May 1996.
Bruxelles brûle-t-il ?, Brussels, Kunsten festival des Arts, Beurschouwburg, May 1994.
Aujourd’hui, Charleroi, Musée de la Photographie, October 1993.
A la recherche du roman-photo, Bruxelles, Palais des Beaux-Arts, June-July 1987. Rotterdam, galerie Perspektief, September 1987. Liège, les Chiroux, January 1989.
Genève, Saint-Gervais, November 1989.
Droit de regards, Vienne, Musée d'art moderne, décembre 1985, Berlin, Litteraturhaus, October 1986, La Haye, Centre Culturel Français, January 1987, Amsterdam, Maison Descartes, March 1987.
(selection) Equilibre et mouvement, Atomium, Brussels, January 2004.
La multiplication des Tables in Bruxelles en scène, Galerie Saint-Hubert, Brussels, June 2003.
Centre-Centrum, Brussels, Porte de Halle, January 2003.
Blend , contemporary photography in Belgium, Gent, May 2002.
Bruxelles à ciel ouvert, Maison du Roi, Brussels, November 2001.
Vacant City, Centre Brussels 2000, octobre 2000.
Jacques Dupuis, l'architecte, Le Grand Hornu, February 2000, De Singel, September 2000.
La Ville, Paris, Centre Georges Pompidou, 1994.
De Bruxelles à Brüsel (en collaboration avec François Schuiten), Brussels, 1992. Paris, galerie Thierry Salvador, 1993. Lausanne, 1993. Dudelange, 1994.
L’architecture du paysage au vingtième siècle Fondation pour l’Architecture, Brussels October 1993.
List of publications
(selection) Bruxelles, Horizon Vertical , three , Editions Prismes, december 1998.
Martini/Martini, Yang/Kritak/Sun/KunstenFestivaldesArts, 1996.
Aujourd’hui, suite photographique, Arboris, translated in German, Dutch and Danish, 1993.
Le Botanique, La Lettre Volée, Brussels, 1993.
Le Musée A. Desombres (illustrations for an album by B. Peeters et F. Schuiten), Casterman, 1990.
Le mauvais oeil, photographic story (in collaboration with B. Peeters), Editions de Minuit, 1986.
Droit de regards, photographic story (with a lecture by Jacques Derrida), Editions de Minuit, 1985, published in German, English, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, 1985.
(selection) Under Sieges, Four African cities, Freetown, Johannesburg, Kinshasa,Lagos, to the occasion ofDocumenta 11, Platform 4, February 2003.
Jacques Dupuis, l'architecte, in collaboration with Maurizio Cohen et Jan Thomaes,