© 2005 by Elfriede Dreyer

Non-place

Moór Gallery, Franschhoek, Western Cape

24 September – 16 October 2016

Curatorial statement, Elfriede Dreyer

Generally speaking, space is neutral and “lifeless”. It only becomes transformed into place through people’s activities and practices, when meaning becomes allocated to physical space or when a sense of belonging evolves. People personalise space and turn it into places of significance by crafting own worlds of interest, passion and significance around the ideals of happiness, survival, safety and a better world. Place is strongly related to site (Sandin 2003, 72), “as a wish for something to be built there … as a pre-existent form of place”. Place and site reflect a process of habitational reordering  (Sandin 2003, 72), and seen from such a temporal perspective, the ideal place would then entail the final, fulfilled habitat.

Besides space and place, contemporary theorists have coined the idea of a non-place that, according to French anthropologist Marc Augé‘s (1995) definition thereof, is not so much about a lack of place as its negation, as a a kind of anti-place. Airports are fascinating non-places where people just move through. They “exist at the fringes of time, of space, of national boundaries and legal jurisdictions” (Tyers 2015). As a result of high levels of crime and violence, for instance, cocooning (as another form of anti-place) has emerged in the form of security patrolled residences that are springing up in many cities. The non-place is connected to late modernity’s identity of continuous change and nomadic drifting from place to place in search of better conditions or other more profitable circumstances. In this sense, a place is constantly negated in favour of another ‘better’ place, all entailing traces and fragments of utopia, or a kind of splintered utopia (Augé (1995, xvii). Such non-places are constructions of place that change continually according to perceived ideals.

As a specific offspring of the digital age and supermodernity, many non-places have been transpiring through the construction of virtual space of cinematic experience, the Worldwide Web or mobile space, and continue to emerge as the world becomes more and more globalised. The non-place here refers to negation of (fixed) place through continuous browsing through virtual space and the ongoing construction of imaginary or virtual spaces that do not exist in the true sense of the word, but can become as real and meaningful as a physical place. Augé (1995, 113) describes the digital age as consisting of many non-places that are like ‘bubbles of immanence’ that blow and burst; these non-places are mostly fleeting, yet highly personal, and function as worlds-in-other-worlds. Through various communication technologies and physical means, the multiple virtual bubbles or cocoons function through networks tied to the rest of society and the world:  “… non-places mediate a whole mass of relations, with the self and with others, which are only indirectly connected with their purposes” (Augé 1995, 94).

Through the emergence of the idea of non-place, human sense of place has become permanently altered, since the ambivalence inherent in the non-place challenges the idea of a fixed identity of place. The liminal, in-between non-place is both real or virtual, and contains a hybrid combination of reality and dream. Incongruously, non-places exist, yet remain imaginary, since they are always premised on volatile projected frameworks of meaning.

The seven artists participating in Non-place deal with aspects of non-place through, for instance, the construction of virtual travellers maps (Titus Matiyane);  connected worlds-in-worlds (Lothar Böttcher); sites of prospect and transformation (Diane Victor); non-places of construction and deletion (Frikkie Eksteen); ambivalent grids of inscription and negation (Eric Duplan); utopic and dystopic places where hope is gained and lost (Loeritha Saayman); and the non-place of desire (Pascual Tarazona).

Elfriede Dreyer (curator)

Sources quoted

Augé, M.  1995[1992]. Non-places: introduction to an anthropology of supermodernity, transl. J. Howe. New York/London: Verso.

Sandin, G. 2003. Dealing with non-place in exploitation, belonging and drifting. Nordisk Arkitekturforskning  2:67-85.

Tyers, R. 2015. Confessions of an airport-lover. The ‘Non-place’ in a global village. https://thesocietypages.org/sociologylens/2015/10/20/confessions-of-an-airportlover-the-non-place-in-a-global-village/. 20 October, accessed 12 August 2016.