Do It Yourself!

A short overview of the Re:orient project seems the best key to this catalogue, as it represents the prehistory of the ideas manifest in the installation.

We began our six-month work with field research, to gather information about the life, habits and experiences of immigrants from China and other Far Eastern countries living in Budapest. We concentrated on how the city is used and how people try to settle in what is often meant to be a temporary residence. We wanted to learn about the motivations, opportunities and obligations that inform the behaviour of these communities in Budapest , and we hoped to find out to what extent they are influenced by economic rationality, cultural experience, the attitude of the host community, and the aspirations of the individuals. Several of the essays in the catalogue rely on interviews or group discussions with members of the Asian communities, which concern the way they use the city (Chinese, Hungarians, Generations, Cities), the media they consume (Home Abroad; Cherries and Silence), and their social networks (Guanxi). Budapest-Chinatown sums up the work of a three-strong division of our team, who approached the issue from the perspective of the structure of settlements and the life of the city, examining three locations in detail (the Józsefváros Four Tigers market and the Ganz Works across the road; Asia Center and China Mart in the north of the city; and the Dragon Center in the east.) They wanted to see how these isolated places - the markets are in the "rust zones" of the city, while the new developments are green-field investments - have begun to connect to the city, what primary links and subtle influences have appeared in the nearby neighbourhoods - e.g., whether the presence of the Asian community is denser there (population, restaurants, churches, scenes of cultural consumption, urban signs, etc.).

Another team surveyed the goods on offer at Asian markets and shopping centres. On the one hand, they wanted to determine the proportion of building materials within the goods imported from the Far East , and to see how this ratio has changed over the past few years (Made in China). On the other hand, they wanted to explore the central theme of the installation, the potentials inherent in low-tech, from the lighter with the pocket light, through illuminated door handles, to speaking doors, and from the objects to the scale of architecture, of urban systems (The Fragments of Architecture and the Peace of Instability; After the Economy of the Place - New Territories in Architecture).

Some in the team were meanwhile collecting sound samples at the scenes mentioned above, with the intention to reconstruct the cultural environment that emerges from the sounds and noises around us (Sound Spaces).

Very soon, the main tracks of the investigation proved to be pointing in the same direction, and at the end of the second month we started to systematise our findings and distil our knowledge for the installation. This was also when we decided that the knowledge base of the project, and its background, would be embodied, complementing the exhibition to be built in Venice, in the catalogue and the website, and that the exhibition would address, apropos of the low-tech issue, the question how the deluge of cheap, often repulsive, objects could be given a new value and life through design. Emerging from personal space, the culture of gadgets, which appear everywhere and become part of everything, constantly transforming our environment, may open, when used in urban space, new perspectives in the discourse on, and the planning of, the public space. The masses of these objects represent cheap components, and their use a valuable, new vision, for a number of low-budget development strategies - e.g., community housing, cheap urban regeneration programmes - that ultimately concern most city dwellers in the world, and for individuals who are compelled to use DIY means to improve their environment. The complex systems emerging from the multitude of objects and the networks of production-transport-commerce have their own added value, or intelligence, if you like, which has its lessons both for design (production technologies, logistics, management) and development.

I would like to express our gratitude to the Sinologists collaborating on this project, especially to Gergely Salát, who contributed an essay (A History of the Transitory), and to Éva Horvát, who kindly provided us with the photos, without which it would be difficult to understand this catalogue.


Attila Nemes