PERSPECTIVES

Weaving a Thread Network: Panhard Building———Latin America

I have stretched ropes from bell-tower to bell-tower;
Garlands from window to window;
Chains of gold from star to star, and I dance.

Sentences from Arthur Rimbaud’s Illuminations (1873-1875)
Thread network at SNCF Gares & Connexions and AREP headquarters on 25 May 2018. Photo by ©Jean-François Candeille
Thread network at SNCF Gares & Connexions and AREP headquarters on 25 May 2018. Photo by ©Jean-François Candeille

The MASI Collective is made up by Madlen Anapsitaki, an architect and urban scenographer, and Simon Riedler, a sociologist. Before working at AREP, where station design nurtured her reflection on the uses of places people pass through every day, Madlen wrote a thesis manifesto on passages in the 21st century (“A passage creating networks through an urban block”, under the supervision of Luca Merlini). Her intention was to use urban stagecraft to explore the relationship between public and private realm as well as between residents, working people and passers-by within urban blocks. By “urban stagecraft” we mean the use of urban space as a stage, where residents and passers-by meet and connect. Simon works in the shanty areas of the Paris Region, challenging preconceptions and striving to open a dialogue between their dwellers and local residents. Inspired by the sociologist Emile Durkheim, we consider integration as a society’s ability to create bonds between its members.  

 

Our goal is to help people fit in in their local community by inventing situations that rekindle their enthusiasm for everyday life. That’s how we had the idea of representing social bonds with a thread network built and taken over by the community, in a realization of the utopia of a networked passage. This time, it’s not the networked passage that runs through the apartments, but the thread itself that actually builds the network. This network connects diverse social backgrounds and investigates their relationships, as if connecting the house in Tati’s Mon Oncle with the setting of Playtime. As Jean-Pierre Vernant wrote: “Between the banks of the same and the other, man is a bridge”.

Thread network at SNCF Gares & Connexions and AREP headquarters on 25 May 2018. Photo by ©Claude Le Breton

We launched the thread network on 25 May 2018 at the former Panhard building in Paris. Surprising, fun, and unexpected, the first performance lived up to expectations and was even better than we had hoped, creating a hiatus between what we had imagined and the realization. And it is the realization that we would like to explore here to showcase the creative potential and how it helped strengthen bonds within AREP and Gares & Connexions.

We started weaving the network before the day of the event. Every day we stretched invisible threads to connect people at AREP and SNCF, paying close attention to workplace safety rules within the Panhard building. Constraints soon morphed into “creative constraints”. For example, as we had to hang the threads high enough so that they wouldn’t get in the way, we came up with a fixing system that could be accessed by anyone, whatever their height. We believe that this constraint-driven creativity was one of the highlights of this first performance.

Thread network at SNCF Gares & Connexions and AREP headquarters on 25 May 2018. Photo by ©Claude Le Breton

We had imagined a thread unwinding from one person to another, but had considered the process in individualistic terms and assumed that every participant would use the thread in the same way: unwind the thread, fix it to a pole before handing it over to another, known or unknown, person. Our obvious goal was to create a network connecting the greatest number of people. We succeeded thanks to the participants, who demonstrated an active involvement rather than a passive attitude. This much welcomed, though unexpectedly broad, interaction triggered original ways of unwinding the thread through space: although throwing threads from one floor to the other was theoretically not allowed, people spontaneously did so to spread the network in a playful but appropriate manner.

The thread network brought play into the workplace. According to sociologist Erving Goffman, social interactions between everyday-life actors define the perception of everyday life and separate it in frames, such as work and leisure. By putting forward an original expression of social interaction, we hoped to ephemerally question the serious work environment within the Panhard building. Our hopes were met thanks to the broad participation in the event. Goffman argues that social actors embody social roles (the role of the employee, for example) that make them wear masks, such as seriousness. Our intention is to make people drop these masks through play and spontaneous creativity, where seriousness temporarily gives way to surprise or indifference, curiosity or doubt, rejection or enthusiasm. At some point during the event, the red thread gets between a woman and her screen. She loses her temper, takes it out on the person who unintentionally unwinds the thread in that direction; then her attitude changes, she apologizes and they smile at each other.

Thread network at SNCF Gares & Connexions and AREP headquarters on 25 May 2018. Photo by ©Jean-François Candeille

Attitudes towards the thread network change through time, in the same way that social and ethnic identities are not set in stone, but go through a process of perpetual construction.  The thread network, ephemeral, is part of a three-stage process comprising the set-up, the unwinding and the dismantling of the network. During the set-up we devise a flexible plan in accordance with the site layout, keeping the process out of sight to avoid spoiling the surprise. The unwinding of the thread demonstrated that the participants’ improvisations outperform our imagination. The moment was so intense that we weren’t able to take in at a glance the entire network formed by the thread and the bonds it created. The dismantling implicitly unveiled both the creativity of the participants and the bonds created thanks to the crossing paths of the threads, which filled with poetry the second floor and the space around the atrium. Finally, the thread itself was used in different ways: as a material and a tool during the set-up, then as a living medium helping weave connections. At the end, during the dismantling, it unveiled the path followed to build the network. And as one of the participants pointed out, even if the network is no longer in place, the bonds it helped forge still are.

Thread network at SNCF Gares & Connexions and AREP headquarters on 25 May 2018. Photo by ©Claude Le Breton

The thread network performed in the Panhard building is the pilot of a wider project with an international scope, heading to six cities across Latin America with the support of universities, architecture practices and local communities. The red thread used on 25 May 2018 will be reused and woven together with a local thread to form a network in Guatemala. Then the red thread and the Guatemalan thread will be part of the next network in Costa Rica. After that, the red thread, the Guatemalan and the Costa Rican thread, all three will be included in the Ecuadorean network. One thread leading to another, we will weave an international network that will also travel across Chile, Brazil and Mexico before returning for a performance at the Panhard building in Paris, a year from now. Our first stop is Pasaje Rubio in Guatemala City, an allusion to Madlen’s thesis manifesto on passages in the 21st century.  

 

Collectif MASI

Thread network at SNCF Gares & Connexions and AREP headquarters on 25 May 2018. Photo by ©Jean-François Candeille