My Dream in London
It was shocking. Suddenly I saw the Gherkin was hidden behind the Shard and the Cheesegrater in 2013. While since 2004, I always think that the Gherkin was the tallest in London. How could those London skyscrapers grow that fast? Still, it was not the end. I cannot help but the Shard does look like Sauron’s Tower from the Lords of the Rings. Does it represent evil and power? Is this some kind of nightmare?
One poster in Shoreditch made my heart sunk too– not just deeply, but to the abyss. It seemed that more of these skyscrapers are coming. It was still some kind of brown field, but the poster showed how these buildings would have been high up in the sky above the clouds. Not sure if this is a prediction of a pollution that will cover the city of London and that you have to be in these mountain height of buildings in order to survive. Or is it some sort of the man made creation of many Mount Olympus for the gods of finances?
After just one year and half of going through readings of arts, culture and philosophy, primitive capital accumulation flashes back in front of me. My understanding of it having money as your divine seemed reflected on this poster. These finances related buildings have been around for a while in the heart of East London, the (river) Bank of the banks – it grows. Just like mountains, they never stop growing, yet will these buildings explode?
I have known London for the past 12 years. I watch it near and far. Even I have left it again for the second time, I still think it was one of my habitat. During my A Level Art class in 2006 we walked through East London to see our habitat, the city of London. I wrote:
First time in London which is quite like 3 years ago, I never knew London will be so full of people either weekdays or weekends. Since I did my work experience in central, I get to witness how HECTIC it could be everyday being around it.
This fascinates me and really get me thinking all the time. No matter how HECTIC it is PEOPLE CAN SURVIVE with it especially working people and tourists. As I experienced both, being a tourist and worker IN LONDON, I survived it too, which surprises me.
Hectic, the business people working and walking around those streets, while the general public – the local community – was surrounding them too. One of the pictures I took during that trip, was then later sort of repeated, which I posted on my Instagram:
That a route you took as an A Level Art trip
Got repeated on your Postgraduate trip
How we got fascinated with the glass of Gherkin in 2006
And the glass of One New Change in 2015
City of #London has changed so much – no wonder we always want to learn and go back to it – surprisingly on the arts, learning our habitat then and now
Still, never knew that I would be witnessing this
There I was within the dreams and hopes of a growing city – if I may say, capitalistically. It seems Londoners gather and agreed that having many Olympus for the god of finances are their dreams and hopes. But who are the Londoners? The elites? Are these dreams and hopes just for the elites? Who am I, then? An immigrant who owned a student Tier 4 Visa? Can I feel or react on these buildings? Is that too high? Meanwhile, on a free newspaper, the real estates said “History in the Making” on their advertisements. Which past are they trying to pursue? The colonisation days? What history are they trying to make through property development? Whose houses or buildings are they building? So what is this narrative of architecturally story they are trying to tell?
My Dream in Bandung
In the end of 2016, it was the first time I went to Bandung by train – the first time I even tried a train journey in Indonesia. The view was just sublime when the train went fast on the high up bridges and crossing the valleys. It was the aesthetics that Immanuel Kant or John Ruskin’s-gothic-inspiration would talk about,. I could see the bunch of hills and mountains, the sunset, the rice fields, and the reflections on the water in one go. It’s a no wonder Bandung was named Paris Van Java (Read: Paris in Java Island) by the Dutch Colonials after all.
That train journey put my eyes on the same level with the hills. Looking down from above the clouds, it is surprisingly to my realisation that this could be the possible view I imagined to be seeing from inside the London’s skyscrapers. I am not sure whether the colony meant to create the feeling of having control or emphasizing the beauty of Javanese Paris. A question pops up again: does this mean that human naturally needs to get this feeling being high up above and reaching a desire of owning the world?
However, the city of Bandung was the turning point for one’s narrative of the third world countries. As Vijay Prashad explained under his article “Planetary Thinking”:
Anti-colonialism was for survival. The virulence of colonial power brought together people from across the world into a massive movement. It was this movement that drew their popular leaders to Bandung, Indonesia in 1955, where they proclaimed the origin of the Third World Project.
It was at Bandung that humanity tried to re-create itself, not in the solemn chambers of the West’s salons. It was at Bandung as well that the post-colonial powers began to articulate alternative trajectories – less arms spending, more social spending, less conspiracy against economic development and more concern for the needs of the new nations. This was the Bandung Spirit, the holy ghost of the Third World Project.
In Bandung, I managed to visit that space of Asia Africa Conference building where it all happened, where all that Bandung Spirit happened. I said on this particular Instagram post (picture above):
In the heart of the third world countries – In the heart of a revolution
Where did all that Bandung Spirit go, is it just a memory, where people just take photos now
That architecture and interior still existed, of course it was not as tall as those finance buildings in London and not as tall as the sublime hills around Bandung, yet it was another dream come true. A dream that it did not die, but flourished as a weapon to decolonise one self, to get our independence. The dream of being independent.
The trip to Bandung offered me two narratives of dreams and hopes: a story of the sublime for the colonies and the story of a some sort of a colourful political activism for those decolonising. The two narratives counter each other and have put Bandung in a state where colonisation and decolonisation coexisted. So what is Bandung now? It seems that none of these narratives stopped developing either. Or did they complement each other? Are both architectural narratives still worth to be pursued?
So, Are We Just Dreaming?
It is a panorama picture I took of London one day. It has all the buildings that become landmarks of London today. And I wonder, when this whole skyscraper competition will end. But at the same time, this is London’s willingness to create an open gallery of the architectural object, of what it is able to do.
So here I arrive in a question: are we just dreaming?
Following Nicholas Mirzoeff, I see architecture perform together with humans. He stated, “Performance, in the classic definition of scholar Richard Schechner, is ‘twice-performed behavior’”. Thus, “all forms of human activity are a performance, assembled from the actions we have taken in the past to create a new whole.” The tall glass buildings in London perform greater financially and still to be imagined. Meanwhile, in Bandung there is the Asia Africa Conference building that have fulfilled the desire of decolonization – which seems to be a dream being erased, while having its train rails to be above the valleys and leveled with the mountains – which brings us to dream beyond the beauty and enjoy the sublime like the colonials.
Mirzoeff also explained “the glass towers are built to illustrate the presumed transparency of global capitalism,” yet “the glass only allows those within to see out.” He also shared how Sze Tsung Leong’s photographs of China “rarely show people, concentrating on the buildings” which is trying to show:
…the absence of histories in the form of construction sites, built upon an erasure of the past so complete that one would never know a past had existed. And they are of the anticipation of future histories yet to unfold, in the form of newly built cities .
The view put above reminds me of an award-wining movie called La La Land (2016). The built environment in the movie seems to serve as spatial settings to Sebastian and Mia’s relationship. Towards the ending, their story as a couple that love and supported each other – including in chasing their dreams and careers in the arts – ended. Yet, they were met again in the movie’s dreamy staged epilogue – only actions and music, no dialogue between the two characters. Not only the couple went through the reality they could have, they also encountered bits and pieces of the built environment during their blossoming relationship – interestingly, after exiting a Stage Door. Again, have these characters also questioned and tickle the reality? Have they been in reality or in some sort of dream state for their financial and relationship needs?
Both Mirzoeff ‘s arguments and a part of La La Land’s Epilogue have shown that in order to live one’s (human) life, there has to be a space of built environment – a theatre to perform – so is that living or fixated? Is it fact or fiction? Is it really reality?
 Vijay Prashad, “Planetary Thinking,” in A Story Within A Story Within A Story… catalogue, Ed. Elvira Dyangani Ose, p. 198-207, Stockholm: Art and Theory Publishing, p. 201
 Nicholas Mirzoeff, How to See the World, p. 56, Penguin Random House: United Kingdom, 2015.
 Nicholas Mirzoeff, How to See the World, p. 200.
 Ibid, p. 200-201.