Amber De Saeger
My research revolves around the thesis that we live in a closed urban system that is essentially unfree. In modern city planning, everything has been prescribed. Forms of community-driven and informal occupations of spaces, like the ones you often see in emerging neighborhoods, get swiped away thanks to phenomena like gentrification. For every building there’s a predetermined use and project developers get the privilege to privatize public space, thereby eliminating every possibility of spontaneity.
All of these developments create a friction between the communal aspect, ‘the city that is lived’ and its infrastructure, ‘the constructed city’. This constructed city can easily be transcribed onto a map. But on what base is decided which territory belongs to whom? In line with the history of cartography, that has the tendency of ignoring natural borders and inventing political ones, modern city planning redraws borders within the city as well. It does not only do so physically (e.g. gated communities, hostile architecture), but also through the use of Artificial Intelligence. With every city thriving to become a “smart city”, there is a new strategy of surveillance to go hand in hand with more traditional forms of monitoring (e.g. physical fences). With every city thriving to become a “smart city”, there is a new strategy of surveillance to go hand in hand with more traditional forms of monitoring (e.g. physical fences)①.
So maps as well as AI have the ability to create imaginary borders that aren’t visible in real life, but still convince everyone into consensus that there are in fact, boundaries there. Can we erase these drawn lines and recreate spaces that we can fill in with our imagination? And can we, by doing so, transcend both these physical and mental barriers imposed on us from above?
I will mainly operate from my hometown Antwerp, where these developments are the most tangible to me. But since you can see the same tendencies in modernizing cities worldwide, I think it’s necessary to conduct a comparative research. I will dig into the visual archive that I already gathered and will continue to build up that archive visiting new cities. I intend to use maps and cartography as a tool and will explore its transformative abilities. My purpose is to find an artistic way to reclaim the right to public territory and the existence of blank spaces, i.e. spaces we can fill in as a community, and this as a way to regain our freedom.
① Silberman M., Till K. & Ward J. (Eds). (2015). Introduction. In Silberman M., Till K. & Ward J. (Eds), Walls, Borders, Boundaries: spatial and cultural practices in Europe. Berghan Books.
Amber De Saeger graduated as a Costume Designer for theatre at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp. She works on commission as a designer and scenographer as well as she makes theatrical works in collaboration with other artists, where they tend to look for an interdisciplinary form by mixing theatre with live music, visual art and film. In her own visual practice her background as a costume designer is still noticeable, since she incorporates textile techniques into her multidisciplinary work and often operates from the view of theatrical-like, unworldly personae.
Her practice has been a constant search for an artform that is “in between”: a visual artwork that can be presented on a stage, a theatrical installation that can be shown in a gallery. She started this search by approaching the notion of ‘costume’ in a conceptual manner, using it in installations as a metaphor to indicate different aspects of the human identity, and by extension its position in society. In these installations the role of the spectator was examined: the tension between looking and being looked at, between passively experiencing and willingly becoming a part of the work. Always having been intrigued by prevailing norms, the deviance of societal standards became a recurring theme in her work, both in a thematic way as well as in terms of form.
Recently she co-founded the artist-run initiative ‘Dingen die niet verkopen’. This space is intended to make new artistic alliances, as a DIY ever-changing space that doesn’t give priority to economic value, but to experiment. In light of her research, she intends to examine what possibilities this space can offer.