Hosted within the context of The National Museum, one of the Oslo Architecture Triennale main partners for this year’s Mission Neighbourhood edition, MYCKET’s installation turns the institution into a queer-friendly venue with the ambition of both raising “awareness of how architecture and design can support differences and create a more tolerant world” as well as ensuring a welcoming space for the local Oslo queer community. Throughout this interview we discuss MYCKET’s research on night-clubs and queer spaces and how this had helped them develop a design attitude which supports diversity and helps shape communities independent of the scale or nature of the projects they embark upon.
KOOZ We would like to start with a brief introduction to your research on queer spaces and architecture. Could you tell us a bit more about your practice, approach and what you do to raise awareness on how architecture and design can be more inclusive?
MYCKET Although MYCKET is Mariana Alves Silva, Katarina Bonnevier and Thérèse Kristiansson, it is truly a wider collective project which counts an infinite network of collaborators alongside our queer community. MYCKET was founded ten years ago at a time when we were all operating within the realm of academia. Whilst teaching, we soon realised that the critical and theoretical discourse was much more advanced when compared to actual, tangible proposals and designs so we decided to come together and start making.
Whilst teaching, we soon realised that the critical and theoretical discourse was much more advanced when compared to actual, tangible proposals and designs so we decided to come together and start making.
Supported by the Swedish Research Council and ArkDes (the Architecture Museum of Sweden), we embarked on four-year research on queer nightclubs, spaces which played such an important role when we were growing up both in helping us find ourselves, and as incredible platforms where the larger queer community could come together. During this time our research led us to the design and realisation of numerous performative re-enactments and of fourteen nightclubs. Throughout the study of queer nightclubs, by exploring a variety of materials and both spatial and social strategies, we were able to test a multitude of situations which always had, at their core, the ambition of making people feel welcome and safe. Our ambition was to touch the many hundreds of people who enjoyed these spaces and, hopefully, help nurture a more diverse and inclusive discourse to architecture and design. In conclusion to the research, we wrote a manuscript / theatre play titled “When Walls Speak” where we let the walls and interiors tell the architectural story and theory of these queer spaces. As a material artefact and object, this was also shared with an entirely different crowd.
Our ambition was to touch the many hundreds of people who enjoyed these spaces and, hopefully, help nurture a more diverse and inclusive discourse to architecture and design.
KOOZ MYCKET works across a variety of mediums which include large-scale theatre productions, permanent public spaces, artworks, theory production, education and lectures amongst others. How do these projects inform each other and develop as a continuous body of work?
MYCKET All our work is deeply intertwined and rooted with the act of doing and the space of performance. This is largely due to our background in theatre and interest in the power that situations, as the switching of identities, hierarchies, and genders – also inspired by carnivalesque rituals can create. Role play is a significant technique to overcome racism and sexism as for instance in Forum Theatre. Of course, before that, theatre and fiction have also been deeply entrenched with the act and power of imagination, along with what they represent in the context of our contemporary society and the ordeal of “being wrong” because of who we are.
If we look back to the research on queer nightclubs and the manuscript, the latter, for example, directly served as a basis for the installation here at the National Architecture Museum. Looking more carefully to the last pages of “When Walls Speak” one can make out a Troll exiting from a trash pile which leads us to our current artistic research. Financed by the Swedish Research Council for Artistic Research and affiliated to Linnaeus University, this endeavour explores the folkloristic to imagine a diverse and more socially and environmentally sustainable approach to inhabiting our planet.
All our work is deeply intertwined and rooted with the act of doing and the space of performance.
The work undertaken with the nightclubs shaped us as designers and architects who have learned how to host, how to care and who are not scared of the uncertain. This is of pivotal importance even when scaling up and working with larger public installations as, for example, with Kepsen/ The Ball Cap – a place for dance and movement. Developed within the context of Råslätt, a suburb outside of Jönköping, the project evolved through continuous conversations with both the neighbourhood, the local grassroots movement, especially the dance academy Mix Dancers, and the municipality to ensure the creation of a safe space for young girls where they could go and dance. Not surprisingly, although initially predominantly thought of for a specific group, the intervention is now used by other actors of the community and supports an open community. Skills of hosting and caring, which are essential in designing meaningful spaces, are not taught at architecture school and are attributes which we have come to acquire through our experience of designing nightclubs.
KOOZ This year’s Oslo Triennale explores the role of the neighbourhood and the importance of communities. What role do communities hold for LGBTQ+ people? To what extent can we talk about a queer infrastructure?
MYCKET Community for queers is often not tied to the neighbourhood but rather to a larger network within the city and to specific meeting places. On the 25th of June of this year there was a terror attack here in Oslo at the London Club & Pub aimed at the queer community. In response to this event, it was incredible to see how the community came together to support each other, especially looking to specific minority organisations such as SALAM and Skeiv Verden. Rather than being frightened and being put off by the cancellation of the Pride parade, which was supposed to occur shortly after, all these groups came together physically and arranged two “un-official” parades. Thankfully, in a sign of reconciliation, the “official” parade was held last week and was attended by numerous Norwegian politicians, including the president of the parliament, giving a strong message of unity and solidarity. It is impossible to think of how queer people would have managed without the support of their community and of meeting places as the London club. In this sense, we like the definition of a queer infrastructure which is structured around permanent spaces as the clubs and association as well as temporary spaces such as the parades.
Community for queers is often not tied to the neighbourhood but rather to a larger network within the city and to specific meeting places.
KOOZ How and to what extent does the project “Heaven by Mycket” respond to the need to have this kind of queer infrastructure within our cities?
MYCKET Of course, for us, this made the staging of our installation even more charged. In a contemplative section of the exhibition, we added a small memento of the terror attack, a wreath of roses, as the shooting took place at Rosenkrantz Street.
At a wider, infrastructural level, we have since the beginning of this exhibition, together with the curatorial team of The National Museum of Architecture, had numerous meetings with local organisations and people to ensure that “Heaven by Mycket” would be one of those spaces within the queer infrastructure of the city, which could be used for meetings, workshops and parties for the queer community and beyond.
We had a little bit of a sneak peek into the ballroom performance of this coming Saturday (24th September) and it was so beautiful to see how this young group of adults was using and appropriating the space, rolling from the bed down the stairs and on the bar. With our work we believe that it is important to open the museum to groups that wouldn’t generally visit or feel comfortable within institutional spaces.
The National Museum of Architecture ensured that “Heaven by Mycket” would be one of those spaces within the queer infrastructure of the city.
KOOZ You designed a space that is staged within an institution, and is part of Oslo Triennale, so how important are cultural institutions as catalysers for these kinds of conversations?
MYCKET We think that it is so important, and we are all impressed by the National Museum of Architecture and how it has taken the ambition of establishing a more inclusive discourse around queer culture beyond the exhibition, as a way through which to look at their own organisation. Beyond this specific institution, it is also extremely interesting to look at what is happening throughout Norway with Queer Culture Year 2022 as many institutions have started looking inwards, with a queer perspective. This internal work is very important to avoid generic “pink washing” and mascot-like treating.
We find it important to work with institutions, and although we can have a lot of institutional critique, we know what large impact they have on society. Beyond underground spaces, we really want to engage with a wider audience that otherwise would not experience our world. We believe institutions are key in shaping greater solidarity and alliances. Here we need to underline that we are talking from our position in this part of the world where we are situated right now. Our attitude could be very different in another context.
As architects we are too concerned with the appropriate daylight conditions that we do not even consider what our buildings could be doing throughout the night-time.
KOOZ Can we effectively talk about an inclusive architecture that is sustainable and safe for people regardless of their age, gender, race, religion and disability today? How many steps forward have we effectively made from the times of Phyllis Birkby? How many more do we need to make?
MYCKET All societies are based on more or less visible norms, this normativity manifests also in architecture which span from the building to the city and the country. For example, at the scale of the building, architectural discourse is daylight centred and tends to forget the potential of night-time architecture. Which is problematic in this part of the world as a lot of activities happen after sunset due to Scandinavia having dark winters. As architects we are too concerned with the appropriate daylight conditions that we do not even consider what our buildings could be doing throughout the night-time.
At the scale of the city, we have a strong norm focusing on the rich cultural and active life in urbanity, rather than discussing the reality, potentiality, and necessity of rural society. Which also creates a hierarchy where the stories about life in the sparsely populated areas are reduced or simplistic. This affects where and how people can imagine living their lives.
In Sweden, at the scale of the country, there is an extremely strong southern norm which stems from the colonisation of the north, including Sapmi, for the purpose of the south. Everything is portrayed as happening in the south of Sweden whilst the north, which accounts for 2/3 of the territory, is ignored in the political conversation. Nonetheless, there is shift occurring which has largely to do with activism and raised awareness of deforestation, climate change and the indigenous rights movement.
In Sweden, architecture is still unfortunately a profession mostly limited to the upper middle class. For a more diverse architecture, we need an educational system which is based on multitude.
If we focus on the scale of buildings and look, for example, at housing in Sweden, on a technical level they are not falling down on us. However, from a social standpoint the so-called neutral design - with the presupposed ambition of accommodating everyone - is not neutral at all, but rather stems from a patriarchal perspective bound and shaped by outdated norms.
If one walks around a street in Stockholm and looks to the variety of people and cultures who inhabit the city and then looks to the housing units which are being constructed, one immediately notices a significant discrepancy. Of course, the construction of such architectures depends very much on who sits within the government boards, the financial, construction and property managements, all the way to the social and cultural demographic of the architects who are designing these buildings. In Sweden, architecture is still unfortunately a profession mostly limited to the upper middle class. For a more diverse architecture, we need an educational system which is based on multitude.
Following the ideas of the theorist Chantal Mouffe, we believe that conflicts - in our case spatial conflicts in urban space - are much more a sign of democracy and respectfulness then when no conflicts occur. As designers, we depart from the very particular in designing spaces that are tailored to a specific, often spatially marginalised, group. In the next step, these spaces are free to be used by everyone. A “neutral” design is in fact targeting a specific group, the white urban middle class, who also gets reduced by it.
The art- design & architecture group MYCKET was initiated in 2012 by the designers, architects and artists Mariana Alves Silva, Katarina Bonnevier, Ph.D., and Thérèse Kristiansson. MYCKET tries to work from a set of interacting perspectives; queer, feminism, class, anti-racism, the more-than-human. Their artistic research practice, which often takes place together with others in large networks, has generated a breadth of results; large-scale theatre productions, permanent public spaces, costumes, details, works of art, instruments, exhibitions, animations, performances, text and theory production, education and lectures. Between 2016-2020 and 2018-2020 respectively, MYCKET expanded to including interior architects Ullis Ohlgren and Anna Märta Danielsson.
Federica Zambeletti is the founder and managing director of KoozArch. She is an architect, researcher and digital curator whose interests lie at the intersection between art, architecture and regenerative practices. In 2015 Federica founded KoozArch with the ambition of creating a space where to research, explore and discuss architecture beyond the limits of its built form. Parallel to her work at KoozArch, Federica is Architect at the architecture studio UNA and researcher at the non-profit agency for change UNLESS where she is project manager of the research "Antarctic Resolution". Federica is an Architectural Association School of Architecture in London alumni.