viewpoint

Look, and you will see

For architectural designer Khensani de Klerk, who is currently completing a post-grad in Architecture and Urban Design at Cambridge, seeing begins with a vantage point

Photograph by Lebogang Tlhako
Photograph by Lebogang Tlhako
Photograph by Lebogang Tlhako
Photograph by Basetsana Maluleka
Photograph by Basetsana Maluleka
Photograph by Lebogang Tlhako
Photograph by Thalente Khomo
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Only through seeing can one read.
Looking, a lot like hearing,
involuntary.
Overhearing, often scandalised as so.
Although
The main difference remains clear
The eyelids can simply
Close
There lies choice
There lies privilege
There lies opportunity
To open
So wide
Dilating
Relinquishing control
To see
To read
To interpret
The changing colours,
Patterns, conditions
Relinquishing the idea
That stasis
Constitutes reality
Wherein
Statsis
Is a
Myth.
Let this be a known
reality.
To see
[As far as one can,
Consciously aware]
Is really
To me
About being.

One of the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic is that we’re all hyperaware of the limitations of our physicality. Covid-19, like a computer virus, has revealed a ‘glitch’ in the system of development. Curator and writer Legacy Russell identifies such a glitch as a mechanic of disruption that prompts an awakening. In its catastrophic path, the pandemic continues to reveal the inherent inequalities in capitalism and nation-state concepts. A much-needed subversion is at play. Dominant members of society are having to consider expanding the conversation beyond the parameters of physical property. This multifaceted discursive room is palpable through digital gathering, which in turn has put a spotlight on the growing need for equal access to the internet. Institutions are being forced to bridge this gap and combat the capitalistic status quo of infrastructural inequalities.

For all of us, the physical domestic space has grown in importance.

I echo bell hooks’ sentiment in Black Vernacular: Architecture as Cultural Practice when she writes about how all residents are designers of their own spaces despite their class circumstances. The architectural discipline, traditionally a top-down structure, will inevitably be disrupted. I believe the creative innovations of interior adaption brought on by the pandemic and lockdown will contribute to architecture being a horizontal collective act. 

Of course, material privilege affords a literal response to this process of adaptation. There is no doubt that marginalised people have carried – and carry – an advanced interior within ourselves. Through traversing both central dominant capitalistic spaces and marginal fringe spaces of struggle, we have a constant awareness of what hooks identifies as ‘centre’ and ‘margin’. Cape Town’s city plan is predicated on this, with the affluent CBD thriving at the centre and the unattended Cape Flats suffering at the margin. 

Understanding life as an expanding experience of diversity suggests that we all view a mutual physical world from a plethora of different vantage points. As a Black woman, I am affected by multiple oppressions of race, gender and class; I am aware that my vantage point is a result of intersectional experiences. Proximity to the centre – or privilege – establishes another fundamental characteristic of vantage point. An awareness, a critical gaze, of our points of view gives us the ability to make decisions that amplify the effects of our intentional and unintentional actions. 

To be able to assess our own positions in this world means that we may have a say in the trajectory of our positions. This requires choice. Choice in a stratified society requires privilege and freedom.

Freedom requires room.

“By looking at other stories and seeing other perspectives we can explore this terrain of diverse vantage points – a woven geography of collectivity we call the world.”

In 2020 we all experienced an awareness of our mortality. Perhaps if this global crisis has served as a lesson, the overarching forces at play – the ones that pin conditions to our vantage points – will normalise seeing as a method of manifesting imagination. Because this precious universe of imagination cannot be sustained passed our corporeal lives, we must find a physical space to manifest in. Especially if we want a future driven by creativity and imagination.

Here lies the value of storytelling. 

If I had the means, I’d provide everyone with a physical interior – an object, garment, room – to manifest the stories of their imaginative energy. It’s a vulnerable task to look within oneself and attempt to explain the contents. To manifest oneself into a space – to design – embraces vulnerability and gives the designer autonomy from the design. That design, once it lives by itself, can be seen by others. To experience, read and learn this design can be a liberating act – to see!

Looking is only an entry point for seeing. Whilst looking, it is easy to close one’s eyes – perhaps out of fear, perhaps to avoid. Once one’s eyes are shut, the process is halted. Seeing, on the other hand, is continuous, progressive, an act with a forward movement. Once one has seen something, understood it, or perhaps simply questioned it, one cannot un-see. The process of seeing does not necessarily require a continuation of looking, but it does require a willingness to enter the process by looking. In this sense, the process of seeing is very much an act of reflection, of imagination, of fantasy, of dreaming; a creative and instinctive act.

What a collaborative act – to see!

There are limitations to how we look, but by no means are they static and unchangeable. The lens – or theodolite – is a traditional Western surveying tool used to, supposedly, see objectively; to map land. However, to be on the ground, to emboss geography, is to impact its appearance over time. Our explorations cannot be seen in isolation; they determine and design this shared social and physical landscape.

To explore beyond the perception of the parameters of the lens, I would argue, is closer to seeing reality than believing the projected image of structures that attempt to pin our vantage points. Not to mention the expansiveness that lies beyond our peripheral visions, that we glimpse, sometimes, through dreaming or sharing our dreams.

By looking at other stories and seeing other perspectives we can explore this terrain of diverse vantage points – a woven geography of collectivity we call the world.

To begin, simply look.
And eventually you will,
See.

* Images in the above slider gallery were all created during lockdown in 2020; Photographs courtesy of Lampost Luminaries

BIO:

Khensani de Klerk is an architectural researcher, designer and performer from Johannesburg, South Africa. Her efforts are centred on one core principle: To normalise architecture as an intersectional tool that can give people agency to be active designers of space. She considers herself a multidisciplinary artist, finding a language in spatial, written and auditory explorations. She is the founder and co-director of Matri-Archi(tecture) and part of Hunguta collective. She is currently reading an MPhil in Architecture and Urban Design at The University of Cambridge with her research focusing on safe space, infrastructure and social provision in hopes of reducing Gender-based violence in Cape Town across urban design, architectural and public policy levels.

Follow Khensani and Matri-Archi on Instagram: @khendek // @matri_archi