Sean Snyder

Whether it is urbanism as an indicator of built programmes and conceptual promises, or more generally space caught up in geopolitical determinations and market dynamics, or even the architectural implications of US presence, military or otherwise, on locations abroad—whatever Sean Snyder researches has a narrative dimension at some level of its coming together. Because the phenomena he investigates, the places he travels to and the material he researches, documents and arranges, are at some level interconnected through their inevitable entanglement in one and the same geopolitical situation. And because they are entangled, they can be told and woven into a story, albeit provisionally. And because they are arranged, visibly or not, around Snyder himself as animator of the journeys, he is also the implicit guide through the research as well as the choreographer of its presentation.

One of the master-narratives in his arrangements is the city as paradigmatic contested site, over-determined by economic exchange and the corresponding circulation of information and media images. In Two Oblique Representations of a Given Space (Pyongyang), Snyder addresses these conditions directly by juxtaposing a (re-worked) North-Korean propaganda film with amateur footage by an American tourist trying to document the city unofficially against the constant command to stop filming. Snyder creates a non-picture of the situation by combining the two versions. Both are presented in their problematic status and together demonstrate the impossibility of any conclusive representation. Most of the time, the material accumulated would easily support the much more paranoid constructions of conspiracy theorists, a tendency Snyder counters not only by importing himself into the work, albeit obliquely as the report’s witnessing author. More importantly, he also avoids totalising accounts by suspending the material used in its particularity and in its very contingency, contrasting private and public sources, official and illicit representations as well as claims, in such a way that the very difference between what is factually there and what is textually claimed becomes a shift in degree much more than a categorical difference.

Since his investigations concern sites of power and the ways this power is negotiated, documents as well as claims and statements all contribute to the arrangement in question. And because the vocabularies he solicits and the niches he addresses determine and challenge each other, negotiation of the films, models and photographs exhibited is passed on to the spectator, who will have to make sense of it all as far as possible. Rather than simply analysing, the work raises questions about the very conditions and possibility of engagement as such and only ever proposes connections to be made, suggests spaces for investigation and highlights some of the irreconcilable incongruencies of the present day power configurations articulated in architecture and urbanism.

By Edgar Schmitz


"Two Oblique Representations of a Given Place (Pyongyang)"
(2001-2004) (Video 1 17.33 minutes, Video 2, 5.44 minutes, 2 track non synchronized video projection) Courtesy Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris.