Ugliness, Kitsch and Value in Shaping Contemporary Urban Spaces

    • Nice November 2018
    • Presentation speakers
      • Anastasiya Halauniova, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands


    While cultural and urban scholarship is preoccupied with the concepts of ‘valuation’ and ‘beauty’, and city practitioners invest in beautification of cities as the sources for identity-building processes, as well as commodification of urban experiences, subversive potential of both ‘devaluing’ and ‘ugliness’ seem underdeveloped. This paper seeks to extend the understanding and use of the concepts of ‘devaluing’ and ‘detachment’, by building on the case of Wroclaw, Poland. This city was annexed from Germany after the WWII and partially rebuilt in the socialist modernist style afterwards that has experienced a re-evaluation since the 1990s. This process brought to a sharp relief the politics of valuation and taste. This paper focuses on how aesthetic detachment from and devaluing of socialist architecture in the city is being ‘curated’: what practices aim at translating the ‘ugly socialist’ architecture into the ‘beautiful modernist’ one, and how maintenance practices of architecture can turn into ‘doing ugly’ rather than beautifying. Contrary to Latour’s understanding of detachment as ‘poor attachment’ to a good (1999), it shows that detachment and devaluation requires an enormous amount of work. By asking the question of how the shift in taste happens and how the skill of seeing ‘beauty’ in something that is commonly evaluated as ‘ugly’ is crafted and learned, I problematise the role of aesthetic detachment and attachment as the ‘politics by other means’(Mukerji, 2012). I aim to argue for the subversive practice of devaluing and ‘doing ugly’ architecture by turning the aesthetic practice into political and moral one.