Counter-Current: Topography of An Urban Space / Dan Robert Lahiani

Dos à la Mur, 2019, digital photograph, inkjet print on baryta paper, 148.5 x 107cm

The photograph Dos à la Mur is the result of an everyday observation of the conflicted construction site on the river Mur in Graz, Austria. The construction of a hydroelectric power plant and its related dam has a direct impact on the turbulence, flatness, speed, and height of the water flowing.

In the photograph Dos à la Mur, the worker, in a nonchalant standing posture, is the vanishing point of this contested political, ecological, economical stage. Standing in the middle, he is striking the pose— as if he was about to pack a suitcase and doesn’t know where to start.

The river Mur which constitutes a south-to-north axis splits the city into its western and eastern parts and constitutes a landmark of the city’s social distribution. As I live in a monastery in the northern east, and my studio is located in the southern west in the industrial zone, I cycle every day through the city, passing from one bank to the other. I gather sensory information from the urban space on the way to my studio, systematically trying to detect the transition between industrial, peripheral, baroque zones. If the different zones of the city are not clearly demarcated, the change in water-energy along the river is significant (cf. other photographs). The change in turbulence and flatness of the water flowing is noticeable and gets my attention every day. The river Mur is an open border overlooked by bridges allowing local inhabitants to go from one bank to the other. If this geographical separation is commonly associated with the presence of immigrant habitations on the western part, the water passing through the city has become a contested area characterized by continuing conflicts between local citizens groups and the renewable energy industry. Indeed, despite influencing the water turbulence, the construction of this new series of hydroelectric barrages will reduce the distance of water flowing and affect local ecosystems.

Passage, 2019, digital photograph, inkjet print on baryta paper, 82.5 x 62.0cm

As I am cruising through the city with my bike, I decide to stop in the middle of the street and to look around me. My phone shows 18:23. It also shows, through an app, that the façade I am staring at is actually a sports complex closing at 18:30. I have no reason to visit this place, but I do. I tie my bike to a post. I enter the architectural structure. I feel legal and illegal at the same time. I randomly reach the 3rd floor. There, I see a corridor. I have 4 minutes left before the closure. I decide to take the time to make an auto portrait with the help of my tripod.

Day 16. The photograph is a long exposure, a self-portrait shot in an unknown public building in Graz, Austria, at the closing hour. My entering inside this sports complex is detached from any type of need or desire and has no emotional justification. It is the result of a “forced vagabondage”.

Kunst am Bau, 2019, digital photograph, inkjet print on baryta paper, 57 x 47.4cm

I draw new topography lines between the city and its periphery, taking advantage of my ignorance of the place. I, therefore, can entirely dedicate the exploration to my senses and transform into a human detector of forms, textures, smells, points of energy or lack of energy. Always seeking for composition. I photograph and create my own landmarks of the city, inside the industrial factories/habitations. I penetrate its depths going around buildings in circles, photographing the flesh of construction areas. Through my fixed 35mm lens, I comprehend my distance from any architectural entities or fragments of matters. My body can feel whether it is moving away or getting closer to what/who I interact with.

Day 6. I noticed recurring pipes on buildings. The photograph “Kunst am Bau” shows the first of a series — located in the peripheral zone of Graz. This motive appeared to me as an object dialoguing with the modern architecture of the building and its surroundings. The particular aesthetics of the object had me considering it as a “Kunst am Bau” piece  (“Percent for Art”), a program which is used to fund public art around buildings. Through photography, I attempt to emphasize this harmony and set down my own landmarks of the urban space to help me comprehend the city.

This artwork was created In the frame of a collaboration and exchange program between Art Cube Artists’ Studios and the Styria Artist in Residence Program, Graz