Antwerp

Alicia Framis

It’s hardly unusual for an artist to question contemporary society, but it is surprising to receive genuinely poetic yet straightforward answers. Days after seeing Alicia Framis’s “Remix Buildings,” her latest contribution to shaping a better world, I was still haunted by her propositions, which are fantastic in the truest sense of the word. These proposed interventions in the public domain—shown in the form of color photographs of her maquettes—are in no way cryptic, and they avoid the hermetic intellectualism and easy sarcasm that have become so commonplace.

Example: The Dam Square in Amsterdam has an exciting history. It was here that, in the late ’60s, a diverse group of revolutionary students, peaceful hippies, and left-wing intellectuals started a “revolution” that really did remake Holland. It is now hard to remember that, until then, Holland had been one of the most narrowly religious countries in Europe; it was transformed virtually overnight into the liberal, tolerant country we know today. So it is no coincidence that in Framis’s Immunity Square, Amsterdam, 2000, illegal immigrants are offered shelter, political asylum, in that very square. “By order of the King, no one shall be bothered who reaches this open embassy,” are Framis’s words. A solution for the tremendous problem of millions of political and economic refugees who try to seek shelter in Europe? Obviously not. But as a statement it certainly works. And it may not be as impracticable as one might think.

Another interestingly provocative proposal would fuse a cinema and a hospital. And what city would be a better host for this project than Los Angeles? Imagine being hospitalized and able to watch, in full-screen Technicolor, this year’s Oscar winner American Beauty, for example. And imagine that you become, in a strange way, part of a play between fiction and reality yourself, since this Cinema with a Hospital, Los Angeles, 1999, is open to the healthy as well. OK, this may sound pretty outrageous—but, then again, why not? In any case, it’s a great exercise in questioning how fiction touches reality and how death is entangled with life.

An even stronger gesture in that direction is Metro with a Cemetery, Metro Châtelet, Paris, 1999. We honor our deceased friends and family by banishing them to cemeteries away from daily life. Wouldn’t it be better to incorporate them right into the heart of the city, and is it so far-fetched to confront busy subway riders with death and transience? A wall in the station, full of light, is reserved for urns: on it are recorded the names of the deceased, together with their dates of birth and death. There are places left open, waiting for others, waiting for us. The beauty of this project lies not only in the thought but in the aesthetic structure Framis designed, which succeeds in confronting the viewer on a formal as well as a philosophical level with the only thing that matters, the search for a new equilibrium between life and death.

Without exception these “Remix Buildings” succeed in reflecting on issues that are genuinely important yet overlooked in a society dominated by pure economics, however efficient. But of all Framis’s proposals, the one for Amsterdam may be the most urgent. Let’s hope that the Dutch Queen Beatrix, born with a sort of political immunity herself, can be persuaded to agree.

Jos Van den Bergh