University of Calgary

Catherine Hamel on architecture as an instrument for social reconstruction

Submitted by jwalla on Mon, 2012/02/27 - 10:17am.

A painting hangs displaying a hill covered in green vegetation with a gouge revealing red soil. In the vicinity lays a chaotic pile of bricks. “This is my home in Rwanda.” What strikes one in this painting is the full erasure of the original home. There is but a gouge revealing red soil and in the vicinity the chaotic pile of bricks. This had been a large homestead, not a small structure easily moved. In violence, the home was taken brick by brick. A treaty was signed after agreement at the conclusion of political negotiations. It attempted to guarantee the security of the people and their property. A home was returned brick by brick.

The return of the home as a pile of bricks! Though the scale differs, though the actors differ, there is commonality in the scripts with the contamination of water that flows; the discarding of deforested land; the abandonment of depleted soil; the return of carcasses where once was flesh. There is commonality in the violence of material profitability and its indifference to how it affects certain social realities. This painting and its wounded space expose acts of violence and material repurposing. It is not war and the relentless assault on humans that is of interest, but the parallel with material appropriation in the environment in the judicial systems at play. Environmental repurposing with a vengeance, less blunt but not necessarily less barbaric.

My interests lie in the potential role of architecture as an instrument for social reconstruction. Reflection investigated on this theme include identity and estrangement in the context of post-war reconstruction and exile; architecture and justice; memory in the scarred body and the voicing of political experiences in public space. These topics are explored through teaching, drawing, making and writing. I am particularly interested in the repercussions of objects made in their ability to activate space and its inhabitants towards a more just society. Justice is a complex topic with numerous incisions into space. My current work explores the potential for justice through subtle disturbances. It is a potential to instigate change, not by altering existing systems, but the attitudes towards them.

Current Work Sampler:

  • Repurposing With A Vengeance: A dance Of Restrained Acts Towards Justice. Architecture and Justice: Judicial Matters in the Public Realm, Temple, N. & R. Tobe, eds. Ashgate Publishing Ltd: UK, April 2012.
  • Listening To The Hand: writing & drawing. Boulder Pavement: Arts And Ideas, Issue 002, January 2011, Banff Centre Press: Canada.
  • I speak of the house, a home today, and tomorrow a ruin, stolen and resurrected. Ethics, Evil and The State, 6th International Conference. May 2012, 
  • To My Beirut of Flesh and Blood: Tearing Air to Draw Displacement. Storytelling: global reflections on narrative International Conference. May 2012
, Prague.
  • The country from which my face comes is no longer. Alberta Foundation For the Arts, Travelling Exhibit 2012-2014.
  • South Health Campus | Alberta Health Services. Working group for the Art Committee for Way-finding & Art Programs

Catherine Hamel is an Associate Professor of Architecture at EVDS. Click here to view Hamel's profile.

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