Ongoing research for M.Arch thesis
"The White House, and other Counter-Narratives from the Lockdown"
references + inspiration + progress
~ Architectural representation
~ Postcolonial theory
~ Inhabited space
~ Southeast Asian studies
~ Filipina nostalgic tropical gothic
Abstract: The White House is my father’s colonial-hybrid ancestral house (bahay na bato) in Baliuag, the Philippines. The White House tells a story of a dwelling imbricated within both national and nationless histories.
Home holds a place in our personal identity beyond the architectural bounds of the houses we physically occupy. Contemporary emplacement demands movement, whether through migration, travel, or transcultural exchange. Identity, as positioned by the postcolonial writer Édouard Glissant, is linked fundamentally with change and contact with others, and yet the loss that these forms of movement demand begs the question of what—in the most ancestral depths of our being—still remains. This thesis assembles multiple fragmentary, and at times opaque, individual parts into a hybrid that offers a response to this question.
I position the site of the White House as a counterpoint to national official history and as the subject of multiple forms of exchange. My thesis tells a personal history seen through the alternating lenses of domestic space, public graffiti, and fine art. Through the representational forms of drawing, writing, and digital space—media that I offer in response to the physical house—the architecture and the histories it embodies take on new lives across time and geographic location. The topology of a palimpsest becomes the source of inspiration for a drawing series of the White House, extending the tradition of architectural drawing and culminating with a large-scale canvas panel mounted and installed for public view in Toronto, Canada. Methods of drawing, inscription, hachure, and erasure are used to document and reflect on the physical architecture of the White House. In the process, interactions between the palimpsest’s layers begin to suggest a contemporary framework for thinking about urban history.
Through this thesis, I grieve the physical loss of a house from my memory, and its metaphysical loss in the face of emergent site-less hyperculture. Facing these losses, I freely confront the future holding aspects of deep cultural identity that might still resist change.
“A lot of the work I do is about unpacking histories, notions of what power is, and who has power in our storytelling. All our communities have mat-making traditions and sat on the ground. We were grounded to the earth. These mats were largely made by women. In pre-colonial times there was no word for table, because there were no tables in the Southeast Asian Archipelago. The table in my imagery represents colonial power or a kind of hard patriarchy. The Malay word for table is maja or the Philippines Tagalog word mesa come from the Portuguese and Spanish word for table, which is mesa. In my ‘Picturing Power’ series, I was asking a very simple question of how do you colonize someone? How do you do that? So rather than an army of guns, imagine an army of tables. The violence of administration. And that violence of administration is more lethal, more violent than a gun. With a gun I may just shoot you, with a table, with administration, I will tell you who you are, I will tell you what your history is, I will tell you what is valuable to be kept in a museum and what is not, I will tell you what language means, what language you should use, what languages you should learn, what is of value…I see the woven mat as architectural, calling people to commune together, to share a platform…I think of the mats as being fundamentally feminist and egalitarian. To decolonize is to see the table and to see the mat."
— Yee I-Lann