The swamp challenge is not about re-discovering our true identity, but rather about meeting with our intrinsic hybridity that transcends the human as a hermetic organism. Blurring the line between human and nature, the swamp prompts us to reimagine our relationships and potential interchange in the posthuman turn. Just as, along Bruno Latour’s lines, we have never been modern, the swamps have never retreated: they have been in the background as an invisible symbiosis of different forms of life, as an interaction of elements and organisms, as a part of our denigrated premodern subconscious, of our urbanized fears and nightmarish dreams that signal the exposure to the danger of the unknown and induce into watery motion both objection and attraction to the uncanny.
So how do swamps foster a shift in thinking? In what ways do the wetlands provoke our repressed imagination? How could swamps benefit architecture, given that every construction project starts from land reclamation? As we know, Venice itself has a swampy past and uncertain future. Its ancient inhabitants moved from the mainland to the nearby marshes and found a refuge on the sandy islands.
The “floating city” was built by applying solid foundation of wooden stakes and platforms to stabilize the moving environment of the wetlands. However, swamps did not cease to exist. They just colonized the city from within, the same way the city’s structures intervened into the waters.
In fact, swamps have always been bigger than us. They are each interactions of several networks, combining heterogeneous forces and multiple layers into complex biosystems together acting as a brain that exceeds predefined bodily limits and infiltrates our living environments. Our technological engagement, based on the fluxes of information through digital networks, might get inspirations from its organisational structure - reminiscent of a cybernetic dream by Stafford Beer – a viable system organised in such a way as to meet the demands of surviving in a changing environment.
In this context, the theme of “immaterial materiality”, as formulated by El Lissitzky, becomes an important point of reference. Materiality of the swamp is both present and absent, as it accumulates persistence of objects by constantly setting them in motion as well as producing multiple spatial articulations, and thus opening up an imaginary space for continuous transformations. Swampy environments remind us of the immateriality that is always at stake in every materiality, even that of architecture. The reconsideration of wetlands brings a challenge both to material and to mental architecture of the human, as a reminder of the danger in reduction, present in every formal language, preoccupied with pragmatic considerations, rather than celebrating the informality and incompleteness of its objects.
The Swamp School tutors and interlocutors will elaborate on our capacities to engage the environmental impacts we currently face and point to how following a different course in and with the swamp could reshape the world in which we live. The heterotopic swamp prompts perspectives on these new conditions for the ecological/built environment, ripe for imagination and dialogue with possible futures.
The Swamp School connects the swamp as a real space, a viable and occupiable space, and then pivots to use its physical qualities (murky/thick, confusing, amorphous, unnavigable, still or stagnant in its timelessness — like the twilight zone or a dream world, yet fertile!) as a metaphor for the headspace/hallucinatory state, emotions, and process of thinking about the possibilities in the swamp. The swamp is global and primordial, opening up a cosmology to reframe space, time, causality, and freedom.
A problematic space becomes a perfect place to reflect on problematic divisions. On what basis is ownership or territory defined? Which occupants of a place are agents and which are witnesses? Where can a new language be found, and what new aesthetic can it offer? What is material and what is not? What is the relationship between matter and imagination? How is materiality revealed in architecture? What is tomorrow? Perhaps today we must celebrate the long-maligned swamp!