'In Reserve: Concerning the Architecture of the Reservoir' was a 3-month multidisciplanary residency programme for 7 artists to research and curate an exhibition on Modernism in Europe and its relationship to American industrial buildings in the early 20th Century.
Text by: Alison Hugill
In 1925 Walter Gropius published Internationale Architektur, a photographic survey of what he considered the iconic feats of modern architecture at the time. Alongside images of Bauhaus buildings – the Meisterhäuser and school building in Dessau among them – and well-known buildings by members of the Deutsche Werkbund, he mysteriously integrated several pictures of North American grain silos. Gropius had never been to America at that time: his fascination with the concrete industrial architecture of the silos began with a transfer of images. These structures indicated, for Gropius, a new will-to-form (Gestaltungswillens) that would define the coming architectural age. Internationale Architektur reveals a first but unconscious encounter between architecture and agriculture. The research of the Bauhaus Lab, exhibited here, begins where Gropius' fascination left off. The Lab delves into the complex networks of agents and ideologies, multilayered history and global geography hidden behind these monumental idols of industry, and their relationship to storage practices worldwide. Conceived in three scales, the project looks at the geographies of storing on the domestic, local, and global level. As food production became industrialised, transformations in the domestic sphere kept pace: the storage objects in the household reflect these changes in a particular way.
OBJECTS OF STORAGE
The Objects of Storage presents the biographies of six items, revealing their social history in the steady narrative of standardisation and supermarketisation that defined the 20th century. Each object harbours within it a history of domestic politics and indicates great changes in the role of women in relation to the home and consumer markets, as well as conceptions of storage in times of scarcity and abundance. The objects tell a story of changing social relations under market capitalism, and the effects of industry on patterns of consumption. They act as proxies for an analysis of gender inequalities, class-consciousness, the military industrial complex that accompanied their inception.
SYSTEMS OF STORAGE
The project's point of departure is the complex system of grain elevators in Buffalo, New York: the Systems of Storage maps and visualises their significance from the fields, to the transportation infrastructure, to storage and transnational dissemination. The maps reveal the invisible connections and flows of grain, and the volatility of the stock exchange at a time of fresh speculation on grain reserves. The Buffalo Elevators epitomized a huge transformation in agriculture, from family farming to industrialisation. The decline of traditional small-scale farms in the Western hemisphere was already brought to light by Karl Kautsky, in his influential 1899 book The Agrarian Question. By the early 20th century, grain elevators were symbolic icons of an age of rapid expansion, innovation, speculation, and social upheavel. The rampant disuse of these structures today is an indication of their waning impact. What new system will take the grain elevator's place?
POLITICS OF STORAGE
A modern approach towards agriculture was introduced with the grain elevators, shaped by the principles of optimisation, rationalisation and profitability. Among industrialised practices, agriculture has the peculiar and unique problem of confronting natural processes: different seasonal rhythms, soils, and topographies. The Politics of Storage invites us to consider the more contemporary phenomenon of global seed banks, and monoculture farming as a widespread and unsustainable agricultural practice enacted worldwide. The present resource shortage and climate change increases the critical nature of interrogating these practices. As new patterns of monopolisation, standardisation and optimisation of agriculture emerge, the international seed banks express these new and problematic global encounters between architecture and storage.