LHE is not dead, paper
LOST HIGHWAY EXPEDITION. Highway is lost. Expedition is lost. Lost is found.
written by Iva Petkovic
Professor: Enrique Walker
Barcelona Institute of Architecture. The Ordinary.
The architect of today cannot avoid stepping into all kind of ambiguities emergent from the conditions of contemporary life; even it doesn’t tackle the field of architecture. A comprehensive analysis of current conditions should include a mixture of urban phenomenon, political and social processes. Architecture and urbanism are necessarily a reaction to time and events of social flows. One should have the sensibility to recognize new contexts and thereby new potentials, in which new architecture can be born. This expedition used the opportunity to expand the field of possibilities that one flanerie can contribute to the field of architecture, as well as whole social and political system.
The “Lost Highway Expedition” was initiated by Centrala Foundation for Future Cities and the School of Missing Studies [SMS]. It is a multi-annual project based on the exploration of Balkanization, Europeanization and mapping the unknown future of the Balkans with all of its economical, political and cultural complexities. Set up as an active massive movement of individuals that created a contemporary city themselves, participants were plotting a route from Slovenia, through Croatia, Serbia, Kosovo, Former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro, to Bosnia from July 30 to August 25, 2006. The collective pilgrimage consisted of local and international artists, architects, sociologists, art historians, curators, and web designers. The findings are to be a step forward into the constant reshaping of the contemporary definition of Balkans and Europe, while conducting an experimental study of the highway connecting the cities and states in the undergoing current transition. Being an interdisciplinary and cross-national research, this movable city aimed to question the state of limits and borders as irrelevant and crucial at the same time, sensing its future evolution and articulation expanding to the territory. An intricate question to research was the possibility of finding future spatial instruments deriving from the experience of the new architecture and urban landscape of Western Balkans. The ideological reason for forming the expedition is to restore the dignity of this territory that currently holds bad connotations. The intention of the trip was to generate new projects, art works, networks, architecture and politics based on experience and knowledge found along the highway, colored with the cognition and experience of the participants.
The Nineties were the period of burying the concept of Yugoslavia as a symbol of striving for the utopian communist dream for national unification. Western Balkans is the term appropriated by the outside world to all the countries in this region that are in a waiting line to enter the European Union. It is a common name for all of them, but at the same time holds strong connotations of separation, fragmentation and misconnections. The ‘highway of brotherhood and unity’ was made by massive voluntary gatherings throughout the former Yugoslavia in order to connect the capital cities of the whole area, but it has lost its cotemporary meaning and ideology. Physically restored after the war, this infrastructure looks just like another European highway with no local identity, acting as a linear mechanism of the territory linking districts of new developments by private interests. Originally the expedition set out to find out more about these processes and to speculate about them as valuable material for building free nations and states inside the Europe.
The travelers, of varying backgrounds, professions, perspectives and motivations, brought together through self-initiative together experienced the changes and layered stories of the route. Walking the paths of complete oblivion and fragmentation, trying to connect the missing dots, their senses tuned to the future formula of the forgotten, abandoned and avoided. The trip was made of the unexpected, which stressed the power of experiences. They were searching for a collective notion in the post-war scarcity of connections and networks. The traveling architects, including several of the founders of the trip, sought to discover new architectural scenes and responses to a landscape of deviations. They took the discontinuity of the existing route in order to reach the point of joint future of the complex region. This was most obvious of the informal building processes along the route, which became one of the main targets for investigation, captured as visual transformation. Showing the anomalies as a potential of design, they pushed the boundaries of the field. What was left behind and rejected as quotidian of low level architectural practice became a strong laboratory test for further development strategies.
Beyond the territories of the banal exists a whole world of potentials that should be investigated before being rejected. Byproducts of sprawl around the highway filled participants with enthusiasm and openness towards the extraordinary inventions of postwar Yugoslavia. Taking photos and doing automatic writings were some of the media used to capture the findings. The highway becomes part of a liquid space attractive to wander through making continuity of disorientating affective tensions. The space was made an objective passion terrain, where like in Situationist drifting the everyday reality is captured.
The Lost Highway Expedition was a self-organizing collective voyage of individuals, free to join or leave the group at any point and for as long as necessary. This temporary society was expected to show the level of self-involvement as a principle to engage with each other challenging the constant exchange between hosts and guests, while all rules are being established according to the unfolding of the journey. They were realizing their travel following personal aspirations and attitude toward the relevant subjects for their context, while individuals from the expedition could bring always their own events and ideas. By erasing social hierarchy within the group the accent was put on collective creativity. The borders among people and among the countries within which they traveled became softer. The use of pshycogeografy was in favor for exploration of margins in need of redefinition. The search for content and potential in the absence of apparent identity opened new relationships of connectivity. The necessity for free and playful inventive strategies for exploring the misconnections of the highway showed new awareness of the urban landscape. Perhaps the very nature of the self-organizing structure of the trip influenced the type of inquiry on which each of the participants set out to investigate, and even upon their derivative findings. With full freedom of the individual to define the trip for themselves, it seems an uncanny coincidence that most of the documentation centers on images of self-organized and unregulated structures and communities along the path.
Architectural observations and findings weren’t the primary targets, however the assumption that not having a clear objective for the trip and allowing for the process of entropy among individuals and territory had a large impact on what would be chosen as finding. A group of individuals co-evolved in their motivations for action, and found themselves attracted to the terrain and the encounters. Becoming flâneurs, individuals were strolling along the highway, changing cities and places very often, combining tourist behavior with complete alienation, having a similar state of consciousness about the problem. Meandering freely through the territory was the instrument that appeared to be the interesting finding in architecture. Self-organizing and developing the personal agenda of how to participate, had unintentionally imposed as a media of reflection.
Ultimately the findings are not delivered straightforwardly, but rather abstracted as a series of observations, expositions, conferences, workshops, interactive web, dynamic mappings, and participatory cultural events, with constant deliberate hesitation to name the joint finding. Therefore the trip is understood as a network of explorations, giving a strong ability to evolve from individual to common sense, but activating a personal evolution among all individuals involved. Necessity for not forcing a common thought about the trip and sensibility to cultivate the ambiguity and diversity of the findings, constructed the instability of conceptual potential of results to evolve and be tested through time. It appears to be a constant process of recuperation of the image of Balkan, strengthening differences just as connecting them. This decision to remain vague in the conclusions of the work is itself a finding. Though social more so than architectural, this understanding of the process by which the project may remain relevant to the most people and have the chance to evolve into the future with the highest intensity is in fact a finding in itself. The trip is still unfolding through the lectures still given and articles still written, as well as through personal narratives surrounding and the connections and observations that were born of it.
Nevertheless, it is obvious that even though randomly entering the project, there is a notion of preconception of the trip. The territory was precisely chosen with the attitude of diversity and entropy that could provoke a requestioning of the rigidity of Europe. If there were architectural findings along the way, these haven’t gathered sufficient attention so as to make an impact on the field. However, in reflection of the trip one realizes that this was never its determinate aim. The trip was about connectivity, not only of a highway, or even of fragmented nations, but of people. The testing and findings of this trip were social, and architecture and art were its toolset. The experiences of the 200 travelers, and the way in which the trip lives on in their work and in their lives attests to the success of the intention of the project.