Funny how i am always reluctant to spend one hour and a half in a train to check out some exhibitions in Milan but would not think twice about taking the plane to Barcelona or Valencia and have a short(-ish) train ride on top of that just to go to Castellon. I've never really toured Castellon. I have no idea whether there is a castle, i never visited the Gothic Concatedral de Santa Maria, i was told the beach is pretty neat but never saw it, not even from afar. All i come to see is EACC. Opened ten years ago, the Espai d'art contemporani de Castelló / Castellon's Contemporary Art Space initially focused its mission on the debate and the diffusion of recent artistic practices through a program of thematic exhibitions and activities that include music, cinema and workshops. EACC doesn't take its location in a city most of us had never heard of as an excuse to explore only the hackneyed and revel in safe names. Its programme is edgy, inspired and adventurous. Recently they had a retrospective of John Cage's work. The next show will be dedicated to the one of the few artists who saved the last edition of Documenta for me: Saâdane Afif.

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Photographer credit: Pascual Mercé

A few weeks ago, EACC opened Are You Experienced?, a series of three installations by Ann Veronica Janssens. Sometimes described as 'sensorial environments', 'immaterial sculptures' and 'spatial abstractions', her installations are the result of a carefully-studied transformation of the space. Each of them uses different strategies to play with visitors' perception.

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The night of the opening, people were queuing in front of a big translucid box installed on the esplanade in front of the EACC. Vapour was escaping from the door each time someone would get in or out of the container. It's the Blue, Red and Yellow pavilion, a proposal consisting of a volume built with metal whose polycarbonate walls form cells covered by transparent films in blue, red and yellow. But no one tells you that. You get inside the tank and wonder what is happening around you. Bodies get lost in the mist, voices are lowered, you walk carefully through a dense coloured mist that changes hue according to your position. You can hardly distinguish your own hand, let alone the shadowy outlines of other people. They simply vanish. The only things that seem to be tangible are light and colours.

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Photographer credit: Pascual Mercé

Inside EACC, Janssens designed two side-specific and apparently minimalist interventions: one based on sound and the other on light. Colours, visual light and sound effects, are combined to both re-purpose the architecture of the space and appeal to visitors' senses.

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Photographer credit: Pascual Mercé

As the artist herself has said, the situations she creates are not reducible to (more or less spectacular) formal effects "but must be perceived in a context that could be considered political. They occur, for the most part, in a public space without imposing a fixed form or being directly prehensile. They are ephemeral sculptures whose action consists of being dispersed in a given space, infiltrating this space rather than imposing upon it. In effect, I investigate the permeability of contexts (architectural/social/cultural/political) even as I propose a form of deconstruction that fragments our perception of these contexts".

Using only intangible means - humidity, sound and light, fleshed out with colour or softened by mist - the artist manages to shape the spectacular, to give borders and boundaries to the awe-inspiring.

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Photographer credit: Pascual Mercé

Ann Veronica Janssens interviewed by Michel François.

On view at the EACC until March 29, 2009.
two hour ride from Barcelona and a mere one hour-something ride from Valencia
Previously at EACC: REACTIVATE!! Part 1, Urban reanimations and the minimal intervention; REACTIVATE!! Part 2, Instant urbanism; Reactivate!! Urban refuges and atomized garden.

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The REACTIVATE!! exhibition at the at the Espai d' Art Contemporani de Castelló, near Valencia (Spain), being an almost endless source of wonders i tried to cover last week (see REACTIVATE!! Part 1, Urban reanimations and the minimal intervention and REACTIVATE!! Part 2, Instant urbanism), i still have a last story in my magic bag to share with you:

Some of the projects presented in Castellon were commissioned by the contemporary art center to engage in a site-specific fashion with the theme of 'remodeled spaces and minimal interventions.'

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The most poetical installation was created by ex.studio, two Barcelona-based Mexican architects Patricia Meneses and Iván Juárez with an impressive portfolio chock-full of projects that investigate and experiment with new ways of relating space with society.

Designed as minimal spaces for auto-reflexion, the Refugios Urbanos are 6 suspended semi-transparent pods that temporarily invade the building of the EACC and its public space.

Looking like chrysalids, the flexible structure can only contain one person. Its very delicate walls allow the inhabitant to enjoy privacy as well as a softly blurred view of the surrounding world.

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Refugios Urbanos proposes new ways to inhabit and imagine space where people are both part and parcel of the city and isolated from it in order to better contemplate it.

A second project worth its weight in blog ink is María Navascues, Ramón Francos and Celia García's Atomish Garden

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It all starts with the Pet Garden! At the opening of the Reactivate!! exhibition, visitors were invited to adopt a piece of garden. Each of them would take home a plant or plot of land to take care of it. Like real pets, owners can take them along for a walk in the street. They also require a lot of care and attention.

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The flower pot comes with a code giving pet owners access to the Petgarden website that gives them all the necessary instruction to pamper their botanical pet. Besides, they can share with other woners the story, health news and adventure of the plant on a blog. Current technologies enable thus the various parts of this 'atomized garden' to form a community able to stay in virtual but close proximity.

All images courtesy of Espai d' Art Contemporani de Castelló. For info, the third project commissioned by EACC for Reactivate!! was POTLATCHNIÑO by Rafael Sánchez-Mateos Paniagua + Susana Velasco + Jordi Carmona Hurtado from Ludotek.

REACTIVATE!! is a two-fold exhibition which runs until late August, at the Espai d' Art Contemporani de Castelló, near Valencia in Spain. The first part, which i covered earlier this week (see REACTIVATE!! Part 1, Urban reanimations and the minimal intervention and Retired priests have all the fun) engages with recent architecture projects which makes the most of disused, outworn or inadequate urban spaces and buildings to create striking new edifices. On the cheap and with jaw-dropping results.

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Heri & Salli, Real Landscape-Real Mistake. Photo : Heri & Salli

The other half of the exhibition is dedicated to contemporary urban interventions that appear to put into practice that which the Situationist International developed as radical urban critique and theory.

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Views of the exhibition. Images courtesy of the Espai d' Art Contemporani de Castelló

Borrowing from Situationist strategy of détournement, the temporary and modular architecture projects presented in this section of the exhibition use existing structures and buildings to generate new scenarios and redefine the city as a site for play and appropriation. Interestingly, the way they regain control over space is totally at odds with the current 'no loitering' trend.

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Views of the exhibition space

Dozens of projects were selected for the exhibitions and the first one i'd like to mention is 'parasiting' one of the walls of the Espai d' Art Contemporani de Castelló itself since 2005.

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Santiago Cirugeda, Prótesis Institucional. Photo: Pascual Mercè

Called Institutional Prosthesis, Santiago Cirugeda extension of the contemporary art center represents an attempt by both the architect and the EACC to foster a reflection on the construction of public space, citizen participation, organization strategies and new urban scenarios emerging from artistic practices.

Two cells of approx. 50 m2 each sprout above the square in front of the art center. Access to it is independent from the rest of the museum and anyone in the city can rent the space for free to organize discussions, workshops, meeting, conferences, etc.

A quick selection of other projects that visitors can discover at EACC:

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Kawamura-Ganjavian, Locutorio Colón. Photo: Alfonso Herranz

The installation by Ali Ganjavian, Key and Maki Portilla-Kawamura, with the collaboration of artist Tadanori Yamaguchi, consisted of a free call centre to Latin America located in Plaza de Colón in central Madrid during February 2006. The idea was to encourage this square to live up to its name (Colón refers to Cristóbal Colón, the Spanish name for Christopher Columbus) and be characterized by transatlantic communication made possible by Colombus five centuries ago.

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Microutopias.Images europaconcorsi

Microutopias, by IaN+ with Marco Galofaro, proposes the recycling of architecture and aircraft carriers to create moving landscape. The idea evokes Hans Hollein's 1964 Aircraft Carrier City in Landscape, the concept of an aircraft carrier dragged in the middle of the fields to create a new city. But instead of remaining anchored in the landscape, the war machines of Microutopias are moving fleets that host humanitarian and cultural activities.

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Atelier Bow Bow, Super Driving School 'Made in Tokyo'. Photo: Atelier Bow Bow

Atelier Bow-Wow also studied the possibility to re-purpose existing structures. Their Made in Tokyo project suggests a greater understanding and respect of authentic local development. Rather than demolish areas of the Japanese capital to construct new skyscraper districts, the architects propose to be inspired by the resourcefulness found in the city and add new functions to existing buildings. A map details the examples of the concept they found around the city: tennis court, lake and Japanese garden on the rooftop of a plant, a shrine on top of rented commercial spaces, an apartment house with the role to hold up billboards one can see from airplanes landing or taking off, etc.

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NL Architects, Basket Bar. Photo: Luuk Kramer

NL Architects's dazzling Basket Bar on the campus of the University of Utrecht is a basket ground over a grand café.

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The Bar has been sunk 1.2 metres into the ground. Outside, an 'orange pool' links a sunken terrace, a mini-amphitheatre and an entrance to the café with wheelchair access. The roof provides an unusual setting for a basketball court which features a middle circle made out of glass.

More images

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Permanent Breakfast, The ongoing breakfast in public places. Photo: Friedeman Derschmidt

Conceived in 1996 by Austrian artist Friedemann Derschmidt, Permanent Breakfast is part game, part reality show and part gastronomical event. Its rules are very: one person invites other persons to breakfast in a public space. The guests commit themselves to organize another public breakfast with different persons in a different place as soon as possible, and so on and so forth. Following the snowball principle, there would be 1.6 mio. people publicly breakfasting no later than on the tenth day.

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Urban Nomad Shelter by Electroland, Los Angeles 2005. Photo: Electroland

Urban Nomad Shelter, by Los Angeles based Electroland, is designed to 're-brand' a category of city dwellers in need of visibility: the homeless>. Electroland's shelters have therefore all the characteristics susceptible to appeal to the cool crowd and stop anyone willing to brush them away from the streets, they are stylish and come in a bright range of colours. The homeless will find them easy to move around, inexpensive, light and transparent (apparently when you are out of view of the police and other people, anything could happen to you).

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The inner courtyards of the Museumsquartier in Vienna host several cultural organisations, museums and cafes. By designing and installing all over the place 116 over-sized furniture elements, Popelka Poduschka architekten turned it into a playground. In summer they wander in herds through the yards, every year in different colours and formations. Come Winter they are piled up and transformed into building-like structures, inside one can enjoy punch and DJ-music.

REACTIVATE!! is on view at the Contemporary Art Centre of Castellón, ESPAI, until August 31, 2008.

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As announced two days ago, here's a lengthier report about REACTIVATE!! Espacios remodelados e intervenciones mínimas (Remodeled spaces and minimal interventions), an exhibition which takes place until August 31 at the Espai d' Art Contemporani de Castelló, an hour away from Valencia.

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View of the exhibition. Image courtesy of the Espai d' Art Contemporani

Curated by Francesca Ferguson in collaboration with Pepe Ballesteros, REACTIVATE!! is merging two exhibitions organized last year by the Swiss Architecture Museum in Basel (S AM). The resulting show brings together a cluster of recently-built projects which demonstrate how resourceful architects and designers can transform disused, outworn or inadequate urban spaces and buildings into efficient, and even aesthetically striking edifices. Although they emerge from different cultural contexts, these architectural endeavours have one thing in common: their transformation is achieved by drawing upon the existing structures and using only minimal means and resources. As the curatorial statement mentions, They show how an aesthetic of the unfinished and the makeshift can reshape our notions of useful - and useable - space, asking the question: can lo-tech and laissez-faire design present relevant alternatives to the driving force of urban renewal?

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Osa-Offfice for subversive Architecture with Studio+44, Künsthülle Liverpool. Photo: Juliusz Sokolowski

All the works on show make visitors reflect (once again) on the little sustainability involved in building spectacular museums, concert halls and skyscrapers and on the shortcomings of thoroughly planned and rationalised urban environments. Furthermore, the works selected in this section of REACTIVATE!! demonstrate that 'making the most of what we've got' can go hand in hand with inspiration and sparkle.

Here's just a selection from the 17 projects on view in Castelló:

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FNP architects converted a pig sty dating from 1768 into a "Matryoshka dolls house". A prefabricated timber structure, with openings to match those of the pigsty, has been hoisted directly into the old stone walls but without touching them. They added a roof on top of the structure. Et voilà!

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FNP Architekten, S(ch)austall. Photo Zooey Braun

What make the result great and quirky is the architects' choice to leave the windows where they were originally. They probably made much sense for a pigsty but look deliciously odd and random for a house.

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EM2N, Hardbrücke Railway Station. Photo Roger Frei

EM2N's Renovation of the Hardbrücke Railway Station in Zürich is a dream example of how much the 'less is more' approach can be effective. Visible from far away two ueber-simple red and white illuminated panels tie the railway station to the fabric of the city, strengthen the identity of the railway station and facilitate the orientation. More images.

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Flores y Prats Architectes, Nave Yute's Textil Warehouse, Barcelona. Photo: Hisag Sozuki

Despite the fact that they were no allowed to touch the side of the buildings which were protected for fire regulations, architects Eva Prats & Ricardo Flores tripled the storage capacity of Yute's Textile Warehouse at the outskirt of Barcelona by going upwards, raising the existing building and reorganizing the interior spaces and circulation throughout. The appealing red and yellow colour that wraps the factory like a piece of textile comes from the use of corrugated iron.

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The part of Frankfurt's east harbour lying behind the market hall area is a no man's land made of gravel, dumps, cranes, and containers waiting to be shipped somewhere. That's where Index Architekten worked to extend upward a bunker from the times of World War Two and turned it into that new Holy Grail of cities: a cheap space for artists' studios and an Institute for New Media.

Demolishing the bunker would have been too expensive, so would have been a restoration of its leaking hip-roof. Consequently, the architects built a wooden box on top of the structure.

Also part of the exhibition: Freitag's container Flagship store, Big Tanks and Retired priests have all the fun.

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View of the exhibition. Image courtesy of the Espai d' Art Contemporani

REACTIVATE!! Espacios remodelados e intervenciones mínimas (Remodeled spaces and minimal interventions) takes place until August 31 at the Espai d' Art Contemporani de Castelló, near Valencia, Spain.

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A couple of days ago, as i was in Valencia for Campus Party, i made a short trip to Castelló to check out REACTIVATE!! Espacios remodelados e intervenciones mínimas (Remodeled spaces and minimal interventions), an exhibition which takes place until August 31 at the Espai d' Art Contemporani de Castelló. A first part of the show highlights how, with minimal means and resources, architects and designers are adapting spaces and buildings to entirely new uses.

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REACTIVATE!! is by far one of the most captivating shows i've seen this year. I'll come back to it with more details later on. In the meantime, i thought that one of the projects i discovered there deserves a post on its own.

It has always taken a lot of threats, coaxing, promises of sweets and later on new outfits to convince me to set foot inside a church or any other religious building. Recently i felt my resistance almost melting when i saw pictures of what the Czech designers of Qubus Studio had done with the baroque St. Bartholomew's Church in Chodovice, Eastern Bohemia.

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Image by Miguel de Guzmán

But what almost converted me to catholicism is the renovation of an abandoned seminary somewhere in Northern Extremadura by Andrés Jaque Arquitectos, a Madrid-based office 'specialized in politically innovating projects'. The Spanish architects were commissioned with turning the Casa Sacerdotal Diocesána de Plasencia into a residential house for retired priests. Not only did they transform the 15th century building with an 19th century extension into a gorgeous and frisky place, they also took the assignment as an opportunity to foster debate and participation within and without the religious community.

Miguel de Guzmán, Andrés Jaque and Enrique Krahe divided the old garden into plots, one for each priest. Instead of a unified garden, the result is what Jaque calls 'a political garden' where each individual had to make a decision regarding his plot without looking for a consensus.

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Another genius touch was to invite the priests to grab whichever lamp they used and liked in their previous houses and have them hung in a brilliant mix-match fashion around the building. Participation is even requested inside the chapel. Priests have to move around the benches, open and close the doors in order to define and perform the rituals.

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Photo Miguel de Guzmán

The Casa Sacerdotal is colourful, has an undeniable sense of humour and is downright iconoclast under several aspects: old washing machine doors are used as windows in the laundry space, some of the corridor floors are made of rubber, counter screens from a bank are recycled and used in the 'self-service chapel', the benches have wheels to make them mobile (they are called bicibancos, bikebenches), light comes from every corners and is reflected in bright green, pink or yellow, etc.

Quite understandably some of the clergymen found the design innovations frivolous, apparently they are reluctant to use the re-configurable chapel. The place actually looks more like a fancy nightclub or an art gallery than a religious residency. Must be what makes me feel irresistibly attracted to it.

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Photo: Miguel de Guzmán

More images by Miguel de Guzmán.

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