Tianjin / Paris
To the contemporary eye, the architectural modernism of the 1950-70’s may now be retroactively linked to the decline of the post-war welfare state, but the extent to which these towering structures continuously provide social housing for less affluent communities in the French suburbs is still very much apparent. Rediscovering the distinctly internationalist sentiments of forgotten homelands, Tang Nanjing’s (1990-) Entré Le Béton (2018-19) explores the feeling of ‘Saudade’, a Portuguese term describing the mixture of melancholy and hope these buildings can evoke.
“[…] Sympathy exists in the concrete. Just as we plant the same seeds around the world, they are turning into the same suburbs and satellite towns, only the residents are different.” – Tang Nanjing
Indeed, for a European continent ravaged by the horrors of World War II, these cement mastodonts provided stability and social coherence to those terrified at the mere suggestion of bombers hanging above the clouds. “The reconstruction project allows people traumatized by war to dream of a good life based on equality and cooperation but framed in the concrete forest around the circumference of the city,” Nanjing reflects in her artist statement.
Fast-forwarding to present day, these areas have since decayed considerably, often suffering from poverty and crime. Our collectivist deities have seemingly abandoned the modernist project, leaving us little but deteriorating playgrounds, empty plazas and destitution in their wake. But for Nanjing, their apparent disinterest in the ideals of yore offers an opportunity for reflection and a promise of future connections across national boundaries.
Written by Asbjørn Killen Jahn