Gender dynamics, normative transgressions, solidarities and self-defenses.
21.02.2022 - 25.02.2022, HEAD – Genève x EPFL

Des corps dans la nuit 
analyzes the materiality of nocturnal spaces -its sensory, programmatic, atmospheric or separative qualities- and how they participate in the perpetuation of the capitalist and patriarchal domination matrix. Profusely fantasized and represented as time-spaces of all dangers, insecurities and risk-taking at the charge of the victims -often female-, the nights of Western cities are also claimed and invested as possible territories to subvert, divert, disturb, and transform the established patriarchal norms. "Making Space", the title of the manifesto of the feminist architects' collective MATRIX from the 1980s, announces an architectural strategy of resistance through space. 

When Iris Marion Young defines in 2002 the notion of gender as: "a particular form of social positioning of bodies experienced in interaction with each other within historically and socially determined institutions and processes that have material effects on the environment in which people act and reproduce power relations and privileges among themselves", she underlines the central role of spatial experience in the social construction of gender. The transformation of the inhabiting bodies’ environment, the architectural action, seems then to open the possibility of a subversion of the normative structures in action through the lived experience of space.  

"During this workshop, we began to unravel the night’s western imaginaries"

During this workshop, we began to unravel the night’s western imaginaries as a space-time of fear, insecurity, and abnormality, producing a gendered polarization of bodies and urban spaces. Through feminist/queer methodologies, we explored the night as a possible place to renegotiate domination patterns. We explored spatialized and spatializing subjectivities to outline how night spaces support these violences and to thwart them. The transformation of our bodies’ environment -from clothing to the street- will be a vector for a possible resistance through space. We will delve into protection, spectacularization, disappearance, disturbance as strategies of performative self-defense, on the surface of the skin, through the lived sensory experience of a gendered body in its constructed environment.

To approach these mechanisms and potentially subvert them, each group of students combined a night site in the city of Geneva, an architectural project strategy, as well as a film/series/novel scene. These combinations allowed them to situate and position their research. The scene, translated to the Geneva site, allowed us to analyze the intersection of time, space and social situations, considering the bodies, socializations and subjectivities that inhabit the night world.

To embody these intersections of human and non-human bodies, temporalities, and social processes, we worked during the week on the construction of photographs that stage and situate the performative objects and bodies. Mock-up, collage, and drawing have been used to construct the frame, the point of view, and the elements of each scene. 

It is a question of asking ourselves: for whom do we draw? for what situations? what do we (re)produce by doing so? How do the non-human bodies we design interact with human and social bodies? Can they performatively turn patriarchal reproduction on its head? Can we redefine the subjects-individuals for whom we work and the scales at which we interact with them? If the worlds and our perceptions of them are constructed and unjust, then we can defend ourselves. These few words from Elsa Dorlin invite us to do so:

“By freeing the bodies from the clothes that hinder the gestures, by deploying the movements, by diverting, deviating the use of familiar objects (umbrella, pin, brooch, coat, heels), by reviving muscles, by exercising a body that lives, occupies the street, moves, balances, the feminist self-defense establishes another relation to the world, another way of being. By learning to defend themselves, the activists create, modify, their own body schema - which then becomes in the doing the core of a political conscientization process”.

The waiting 
Reinterpretation of a scene from the movie Ghost Tropic, Bas Devos, 2019.

An architectural narration by Nour Keller (EPFL), Valentine Robin (HEAD Bijoux), Ilona Roux (HEAD Mode), Meryem Saffi (HEAD EPFL) & Fanny Tauxe (HEAD AI).

She had been walking for hours now, lost in the cold and darkness of the night. Around her, not a car, not a pedestrian, no noise could betray a human presence. Her hands and feet were beginning to burn. She tried to hide her nose in her scarf. She looked at her watch: 4:20. She did not feel bad, but not very well either, the city at this hour is transformed into a theater of dreams, one quickly feels victim of her own condition, alone in the unknown, all the shades, all the noises, take an aspect of danger.

At the end of the road, about 500 meters ahead of her, a gas station, like a lighthouse in the night, pierced the black veil of darkness with its large green neon lights. The price of diesel, 2,10CHF a liter, made her grimace. A man behind the counter was repetitively counting the coins in his cash register. As she squinted, she thought she saw greyish cylindrical shapes beyond the building, too big to be real. The factory, lost in the concrete jungle, looked like a mirage. There was an aura of mystery about the place. She remembered her childhood fascination for similar places, this feeling of magic, of excess that she felt at the foot of these giants. She couldn't help imagining the many dark experiences hidden between these walls, in the bowels of these iron monsters. Beyond the barbed wire she saw surveillance cameras, all pointed at the silos.

Drawn by these places, her movements became little by little automatic. She checked her wallet lit up by a yellowish streetlamp, still nothing, not enough to buy a coffee to last the night. Her eyes started to become heavy and her body, full of shivers, was getting numb little by little. It is at this precise moment, now 10 meters away from the station that she distinguished an element she had previously omitted. It was a bus shelter, at first sight normal, cold, standing straight on its supports. As she approached it, she saw an indescribable shape mixing with the blue of the metal.

She blinked once, twice, as if to check that she wasn't dreaming, but nothing, the shape was still there, swallowing up half the shelter. And now it seemed to breathe in a peaceful way, maybe due to the wind that had risen. This monstrous form, like a heap of flesh, hollows, bits, arms, bumps, fat, was holding out its arms in a welcoming way. In the middle of this dripping mass, of this emaciated body a deformed face smiled to him. The fear which had initially petrified her, was transformed little by little into warmth.

The initially repulsive creature took the form of a welcoming friend, inviting her to take shelter and forget the austerity of the sleeping city for a few hours. Lulled by the gentle movements of the monster's arms wrapped around her body, she drifted off to a peaceful sleep.

The crossing
Reinterpretation of a scene from the movie Titane, Julia Ducourneau, 2021.

An architectural narration by Léa Porretta (HEAD Cinéma), Lou Tissot Daguette (HEAD AI), Alice Proietti (EPFL) & Léo Taillefer (EPFL).

The sun is setting. The streetlights are lighting up.
The shouts of young soccer players are breaking the silence.
The Crossing.
This path between darkness and light.
There are those who walk, and those who stay.
Dark place for the groups, lighted place for the passers-by.
In the open and in the shelter, both are used.

She arrives.
Luminous but hidden.

Wrapped in her cocoon, armed, strong, but reassuring. 

She protects herself. 

Protects us. 

Nothing can wait for her, we are there.
We appear at her side, between darkness and light.
We are omnipresent, unconscious. 

In the chiaroscuro, we appear. 

We exercise our power.
Armor of war, between iron and mesh.
Nothing crosses her, but she, crosses.
We are multiple and at the same time singular.
The cocoon transits, the cocoon drags and invites itself.

The further the path goes, the more the darkness swallows us, embraces us.
We take place.
The barrier slams.
We inhabit the place, we create ourselves, we deform ourselves. 

We disappear
We are only one.

Indiscrete subversion 
Reinterpretation of a scene from the TV show Buffy, the vampire slayer, “Hush”, S4E10, Joss Whedon, 2000.

An architectural narration by Salome Djeranian (HEAD Arts Visuels Cinéma), Aurora Lajci (HEAD AI), Théotime Serre (HEAD Media Design) & Waldemar Fierro Rubio (EPFL)

To this day, we still don't know if she's a myth or if she really exists. Some residents say they have seen her crossing the footbridge with a cane, others pulling a shopping cart. 

"I once helped her pick up her books."

Student or centenarian? At nightfall, her mirrored hood and visibility cape dazzle all the facades of the housing units overlooking the inner courtyard. 

"All we know is that she has superpowers."

The body in movement which strolls along this ramp cannot see who is looking at her. 

"Usually, the fountain turns off at 8:00 p.m., but that night it was as if its roar had been replaced by the sound of clashing metal”.

It is however the central axis, the convergent point of crossings and meetings. From now on, this place seems to maintain a mystery. This repeated performance gives the feeling of not being able to observe as one pleases.

"The other time I was smoking my cigarette at the window, and I thought someone was calling my headlights from the railing".

The breakaway 
An architectural narration by Mélissa Steenman, Louise Chappuis & Noa Sbaï 

Avenue de l’Ain, 11pm

It is dark. I don't want to go by the road. I'll take the tunnel, it's more convenient. I go down the stairs. I pass by the barrier. I have the music on loud. I sing the lyrics to my favorite sound: "How long did you think we were going to tell each other our lives? When I get there, you know what's gonna happen. If I paid, it's not to look at you" Too much Koba the D. A woman arrives in front. I can see her face. She looks down, then looks away. I don't think she noticed me so I stare at her. The light is so bright that I can see her outfit, which is rather cute. The red neon lights draw my attention to her skin. Stylish these neon lights by the way, maybe I could shoot my next clip there. I see the girl speeding up, she is surely in a hurry. I can smell her perfume as we get closer. I often take this tunnel. Sometimes we sit down with the guys and have a few beers and smoke some smokes. I took a snap of the tag "Geneva is the jungle". The lion is too stylish, but I prefer the monkey, it is better. I get out of the tunnel. It's ok, it was short. Just enough time to listen to some music.  I continue to my home quietly.

Avenue de l’Ain, midnight

Tonight, after school I went to my friend Anna's house, we watched a movie and talked about things. I stayed there for a while and now I must run to catch the last bus. Once I'm near the stop, I remember; I must cross a tunnel that goes under the road to reach it. I am standing there, in front of my bus stop. Several lines separate us with a few cars racing by without slowing down. Come on, I go through the tunnel, after all that's where pedestrians like me must go. I go down this ramp. Little by little I begin to hear voices echoing. Before entering the tunnel, the light is already dazzling me, I hesitate for a moment. I have no idea who I will meet in there. I think about the bus that will be there in a few minutes and I start to walk. I enter the long corridor. In front of me, before the exit, there is a group of guys not much older than me. They are smoking cigarettes, lulled by the sound of Booba. Some of them are sitting, some standing, some slumped against the walls. I count one, two, three, four and then, damn it; they've seen me. 

Their heads all turn at the same time then, complete silence. I move forward looking around, I don't want to appear vulnerable to them. And then if it is, they are harmless. The wall on my right is full of tags, I look at the blazes in the paint to see if I recognize any of them. All guys. They overlap each other. The wall on my left is a huge mural. I can read "jungle city - Geneva" surrounded by animals. I pass first a chimpanzee with a cap and a gold chain, then a menacing snake with a red halo. A lion, an elephant, and a crocodile. Intriguing choice of animals, only fearsome predators. The Kings of the jungle. I wonder which animal I am in this space when someone interrupts my thoughts; "How're you doing miss? I remain frozen for a fraction of a second, looking at my interlocutor and not doing anything. I see them all now, I am a few meters away from them. They remind me of the animals on the fresco, laughing among themselves and staring at me with a smile. There is the chimpanzee, the lion, the crocodile, the snake, and the elephant. At this moment, they are the predators, and I am the prey. This is my place in this space that belongs to them, that has always belonged to them. The chimpanzee with the cap insists; "I asked you a question, miss, are you okay?" then follows a string of questions such as "where are you going?" "what's your name?" or "give me your snap!". I want to tell them that I just want to go home, and that I don't have a snap because it's out of fashion. But I don't say anything. I end up being vulnerable, weaving my way between their still bodies as they laugh and call out to me. I end up passing them, hurrying along, and pretending not to hear their insults. My heart is beating fast, I'm finally fine but I'm still freaking out. I tell myself that this is crazy, I always find myself in situations like this, I always end up not saying anything, not confronting them. This time it was enough.

2 days later, Avenue de l’Ain, 23h

It is dark. I don't want to go by road. I'll take the tunnel, it's more convenient. I go down the stairs. I don't hear my music anymore but sound coming from downstairs. I take off my headphones and I hear: "Thank God I ain't got to smack a bitch today. If I see you in the street, your ass is done. I don't need your opinion. Do what I want." That's a bit extreme, isn't it? I arrive next to the barrier. Two women sing the lyrics at full volume with their cigarettes in their mouths. The red neon light shines on me. I can't hide. They look at me and laugh when they see me coming. I look down. Is it my outfit that makes them laugh? I thought my outfit was stylish. It's the same as Koba the D. I see that there are several of them. I've never seen these women. Are they from the neighborhood? We're usually the ones who hang out here. I don't understand. I want to go on my way, but I see ropes that bind them together. I hesitate. If I don't go on, it will look suspicious. They'll think I'm afraid, and since when am I afraid of some chicks, and then it's the shortest way home. But hey, they're a pain in the ass with their ropes, I'll have to duck and be careful with my new tracksuit. There is no way around it. I see them covering the tags I like so much. They are taking over our place. If I had been with my guys, we wouldn't have let them, but now I'm alone. I feel stupid. I think I'm even scared. I've been there. I'm okay. It was long. I'm going home as soon as possible.

Same place, same time 

I decided to come back in this underground tunnel that connects the two bus stops. But this time, I am not alone. I came back with my friends. We took paint sprays and music. We go down the ramp which leads to the corridor, we laugh, we shout, we impose ourselves already. Once inside, it is magic, the too bright neon which dazzled me before makes henceforth reflect the spangles on our clothes. They and I had the idea to tie ourselves together. Several ropes connect us all to each other. While I take out my sprays, Estelle and Mel light up cigarettes while dancing to Rico Nasty. I see another friend slumped on a wall preparing her next painting. Then, all together, we start to paint. We occupy all the space. We replay these horrors from years ago from guys who believe they live in a jungle, while we live are the one living in the jungle. We undergo it every day since we were little, we learn to sneak, to walk through dark alleys changing sidewalk, to keep quiet not to risk being hit because they don't like it when we answer. At work, at school, by our relatives or strangers, we constantly kneel. This time, they can't do anything, we are together, tied up, we take our place. I see glitter, strong people who have decided to stand up for an evening to leave their marks. I hear sprays, laughter, music sung by iconic singers and rappers. Our strings create a labyrinth, they tangle together without blocking our movements. I see guys trying to get through. Some go backwards, they just must go through the road, I don't care. Others skim the walls so as not to have to step over our ropes, others still get involved in this mess that faces them. We don't size them up, the music is loud, and we talk loudly. I do not know what they think but I do not care, I am with my girlfriends and that is all. And I know we won't always be there to stand up to them, but we did it once, we can do it again.

Photos : Morgan Carlier, Pool Photos HEAD - Genève
Visual identity : Gabriel Vuillemin 
Workshop leaders : Julien Lafontaine Carboni, Paule Perron

The participation of Marion Fonjallaz and Morgane Hofstetter during the week, and of Karine Duplan, Nayansaku Mufwankolo, Vera Vilardebo Sacchetti, and Dieter Dietz on the last day of the workshop, lead to wonderful conversations around the student productions, we deeply thank them for their precious inputs. 

Biographies :

Julien Lafontaine Carboni (iel) is an architect. They graduated at ENSA Paris-Malaquais and currently end a PhD research at the ALICE Laboratory, EPFL. They published in several architectural, philosophical and anthropological journals such as Architecture and CultureTabula Rasa and Plan Libre. They investigate non-visual epistemologies to thread spatial histories; bodies, gestures and words enact and perform spatialities, implying other forms of historicity concealed by the architectural disciplinarization. Thus, their aim is to replace architectural political agency in gestures themselves, while proposing a critical architectural historiography and theory. They are activist within the DRAGlab at EPFL.

Paule Perron (she) is an independent architect. Since she graduated from the ENSA Paris-Malaquais, she has been developing a practice between research and project to question the perpetuation of domination patterns through the study of mutual influences between spaces and bodies, especially focusing on gender studies. She recently co-founded minor, a collective practice, while teaching at HEAD — Genève as an assistant for both the Interior Architecture department and the Domotopie FNS research project. She currently coordinates the Des Corps dans La Villeworking group at the Maison de l’architecture Ile-de-France. Her work has been published and exhibited in various magazines and institutions such as Plan LibreArchitecture d’Aujourd’hui and the Villa Noailles.