Peering through the viewing panels of the hoarding surrounding construction sites, Malka re-frames the perception of progress and development as loss of identity.
The emotion imbued in architecture is something renown architect Sir David Adjaye often refers to. In a conversation with Carrie Mae Weems at the Vision & Justice conference at Harvard University, he said, “The narrative of architecture is one of a strong and silent storyteller, yet it is the stage in which we all perform. That stage choreographs how we behave.” The ways in which architecture and urban surroundings hold a certain power over us, informing how we feel and dictating who belongs, is increasingly apparent in the wake of rapid gentrification.
Living within constantly shifting urban centres is a disorientating experience. Every day a new streetscape is being forged. Foundations are laid. A new identity emerges. We’ve become so accustomed to the sight of cranes and development facades that we barely stop to think about the terms of this endless reinvention. In Yael Malka’s new book The Views, published by TIS Books, she draws our attention to the proliferation of construction site viewing panels in New York City.
The images describe various stages of demolition and construction, of both infrastructure and community, continually erasing the land’s history. Individually, the images have a magnetic quality. Their abstract nature destabilises our sense of what is real and fabricated, creating a visual tension that is both beautiful and disorientating. As a series, they start to unravel a darker tone that refers to displacement, racism, violence and safety. This reckoning is heightened by the markings scratched, painted, graffitied and stickered over the plexiglass. “I collect them as both living artefacts and remnants of the changes occurring in the neighbourhoods,” Malka explains, “These sites are propellers of gentrification, and the layering is a symbol of rejection and refusal.”
New York City’s architecture is striking because of its verticality. But beyond the iconic skyline, homogeneity is consuming many of the neighbourhoods. The same generic spatial language is emerging in cities worldwide, universalising everyone into a singular architecture born from the narrative of progress. Malka describes the proliferation of luxury developments as “violent.” She adds, “There’s this ‘utopia’ that many city planners and developers strive for. Although in doing that, they are wholly disregarding people and social relations. Coded language such as beautification, revitalisation and renewal is used to veil the gradual displacement of people who make up these neighbourhoods, pricing them out of their homes.”
Instead, gentrifiers are comforted by putting on a display that ‘progress’ is being made. In The Views, Malka utilises the unassuming hoarding portal as a conceptual strategy that speaks to a complex set of politics, relationships and power structures with unusual acuity. “There are so many aspects of daily life that become invisible – and that’s what I’m drawn to. That’s where I dig to find a story.”
The Views by Yael Malka is published by TIS Books, and is available here
Creative director, writer, podcaster and photo director, Gem Fletcher works across visual-cultural fields, focusing on emerging talent in contemporary photography and art. She is the photo director of Riposte Magazine, and hosts a photography podcast, The Messy Truth.